The Hon. Tony P Hall
ICAS Annual Liberty Award Dinner
University of Pennsylvania
December 20, 1999
Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422
The Case of Hunger
The Hon. Tony P Hall
I am grateful to Dr. John Merrill for agreeing to accept this award in my stead, and know you will leave tonight better informed after hearing Dr. Merrill's insights. I was fortunate to have him with my delegation to Japan, North Korea and South Korea in August, and the United States Government is fortunate to have him at the State Department.
Hunger and Human Rights
Too often, humanitarian concerns -- like hunger -- and human rights are thought of as separate issues. Having worked for many years on both, and been inspired by the energetic and committed people who are the heart of organizations that focus on these issues, I am encouraged by ICAS's interest in the nexus between the two.
As precious as the rights of free speech, free worship, and a free press are, it is hard to imagine any right that is more crucial than the right to food. Yet, too often governments and human rights advocates use a regime's abuse of human rights as an excuse to deny assistance to hungry people. Nowhere is this impulse starker than in responding to a famine.
The motives behind such policies usually are good: to encourage oppressed people to rise up; or to deny resources to a regime that does not seem to have its people's best interests at heart. But the results usually produce just the opposite of what's intended. Starving people almost never rebel -- until the crisis passes. In a famine, no one has the energy or the health to do much more than scavenge for enough food to stave off death. In fact, lethargy is one of the hallmarks of severe hunger: the eerie silence, particularly among young children, is telltale evidence of famine victims' suffering.
Instead of pulling in opposite directions, human rights and humanitarian impulses and organizations should be focused as one on the challenges of ending hunger and expanding human rights -- and the United States Government should be at the forefront of the fight. The odds against our success are overwhelming because we out outnumbered by countless people and special interests determined to keep people poor.
Nor will it be easy to unite across the wide gap between theory and protest, which are the arsenal of a human rights campaign -- and the need to compromise in order to achieve practical results, which is the situation aid organizations face. But the success of one is essential to achieving the goals of the other.
President Clinton's decision to lift sanctions on North Korea is part of an effort to bring it into the mainstream of the world's nations and expose it to the currents that have positive effects on other countries. His decision follows Seoul's diplomatic initiatives and Pyongyang's clear signal that it no longer wants economic isolation. That signal marks an enormous change from North Korea's decades-long policies, and the change it will bring will spill over into its culture -- hopefully leading to improvements in human rights at the same time new economic policies are ushering in relief from famine.
This year, the world marked the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was not a day for celebrating, as the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights said. Instead, it was a time for reflecting on the strides we have made toward the Declaration's goals, and an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the work still to be done.
We reached this milestone as the dust from the end of the Cold War was still settling. Tremors continue to rumble, but most countries have found their footing and, for the first time this century, there is a broad consensus in favor of market economies. And there seems to be a momentum for democracy that in the past year alone has brought down dictators long thought to be invincible.
Of course, this list of successes could be a lot longer -- but its contents have surprised most observers, made more than a few not-yet-toppled dictators nervous, and encouraged human right advocates to believe a ripple effect may bring positive change to other countries.
Common Goals, Different Routes
The people who advocate development, and those who protect human rights, share a common goal. Their approaches differ, but the people they aim to help are the same. And the work that both do strikes at the injustice and suffering that are fertile ground for wars and other crises.
By easing the deprivations that color every aspect of poor families' existence, development can help remove barriers that keep them from speaking out for fairness and justice. And by helping people raise their voices and pressing governments to listen, human rights advocacy can help these same people get a say in what kind of development best responds to their needs.
The challenge, I believe, is to answer these questions honestly:
For decades, developing countries allied with the Soviet Union argued that economic development must come first, political freedoms second. This position is largely self-serving, and no surprise when it comes out of the mouths of military rulers. But in fairness, it is also an expression of people who know that poverty is a kind of hell, one that traumatizes anyone who has ever been in its grip and drives them to do almost anything to escape it.
Americans should be able to understand this: many of our ancestors were fleeing poverty when they immigrated to the United States. And our parents and grandparents? experience of their hardships will echo in the way they talk and act decades later.
My point is, the Cold War no longer forces the two camps to harden their position. The experiences of a wide range of nations show that the fastest route out of poverty is a parallel track: one that presses for political rights, and one that develops economic opportunities. Both are needed; one without the other simply doesn't produce results.
That is a lesson for those who would put human rights a distant second. We are right to say, as President Clinton told China this year, that countries "cannot purchase stability at the expense of freedom." But those blessed with freedom should learn the lesson too. If we aren't willing to take a country's concerns about economic development seriously, we'd be foolish to expect any country to swallow its pride and reverse decades-old policies.
Too often, the United States has pressed for political and civil rights without helping lay a foundation for economic growth. Without confidence that their children won't starve, without a basic level of health that frees people from the sickness and disability that poverty breeds, without some education and literacy -- many people we think we are helping find that the right to be involved in their country's political process to be hollow.
Hunger and absolute poverty don't always motivate people to take to the streets and change the policies that are keeping them down. More often, they drive people inward, to search for their piece of a shrinking pie -- and fight with other desperate people who are after the same piece. As Latin America and Russia's experiences show, unless people see that democracy is accompanied by better living conditions, they may not cherish their right to elect their own leaders, and build upon it.
A Win-Win Option
The way to make the most of the window of opportunity that accompanies the end of the Cold War, especially on the Korean Peninsula, is not to continue the counterproductive "chicken-or-egg" debate over whether to push human rights or human development first.
The win-win solution is to redefine development to embrace methods that empower the poor; and to redefine human rights to include work that will help people escape poverty. In addition to being a proven route to success, this solution also could unite the voices of development and human rights activists against those who are working hard to defeat any effort that empowers people.
Aid, Rights Protections Reinforce Each Other
What is happening in North Korea is one of the best examples of the power of humanitarian aid I have ever seen.