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Third Meeting
Date: December 11, 2019
Time: 13:15–17:00
Location: Harry S. Truman Building, Washington, D.C.

In Attendance
Mary Ann Glendon, Chairwoman
Peter Berkowitz, Executive Secretary
Kenneth Anderson, Commissioner
Russell Berman, Commissioner
Paolo Carozza, Commissioner
David Tse-Chien Pan, Commissioner
Jacqueline Rivers, Commissioner
Meir Soloveichik, Commissioner
Katrina Lantos Swett, Commissioner
Christopher Tollefsen, Commissioner
Duncan Walker, Designated Federal Officer
F. Cartwright Weiland, Rapporteur

Approval of Minutes

Rapporteur F. Cartwright Weiland drafted these minutes.  I have certified their accuracy.

Mary Ann Glendon signature

Public Meeting: U.S. International Human Rights Principles since World War II (Part I)

The Commission convened at 13:15 in the Dean Acheson Auditorium for a public meeting.  After commissioners introduced themselves to the audience, Chairwoman Glendon invited Commissioner Carozza to share a few words, since he is the chair of working group that will focus on the international human rights principles the U.S. has ascribed to since World War II.  Carozza informed the audience that the Commission is entering its second phase of meetings, turning from America’s Founding and constitutional tradition to post-World War II human rights norms, institutions, and legal commitments.  Carozza lauded the day’s speakers, complimenting their work for combining academic rigor with practical, real-world application and impact.

The first speaker, Michael Abramowitz, then took the stage.  Abramowitz is the President of Freedom House (FH), one of oldest human rights organizations in the United States.  Abramowitz described as “daunting” the task of appearing before the Commission, given its academic pedigree.  He expressed his deep appreciation for the invitation to provide testimony, and praised Glendon for what he considered to be an enduring contribution to the international human rights project – documenting Eleanor Roosevelt’s work on behalf of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in her book A World Made New.  Abramowitz said that Eleanor Roosevelt was one of first honorary co-chairs of FH.  He went on to describe the early years of the organization, when one of its core motivations was the fight against fascism.

Abramowitz stated that, from FH’s perspective, the chief problem facing the international human rights project is not deficient institutional architecture but rather an inadequate defense by the world’s democracies.

Abramowitz described FH’s work as consisting primarily of programming, research, and advocacy.  He stressed that the organization not only identifies human rights abuses in its reporting, it also seeks to address those problems through various means.  FH is best known known for its annual report “Freedom in the World,” which measures freedom based on 25 indicators across 7 categories, showing how countries are improving or declining across a broad spectrum.  (Its methodology, Abramowitz said, is derived from the provisions of the UDHR.)  The United States is one of countries FH considers.  FH favors a pragmatic and adaptive approach to human rights promotion, based on the belief that human rights are universal, and freedom cannot flourish under autocratic regimes.  Democracy is key, and although America has made mistakes in its foreign policy over the years, the importance of democratization internationally should not be underestimated.  Responding to the Trump Administration’s criticisms of international bodies, Abramowitz urged the United States against withdrawing from the United Nations (UN) or other entities that facilitate multilateral policymaking.  He instead encouraged it to exercise its influence as a participant and advocate, saying that there is great need for U.S. leadership.

Across the world, Abramowitz remarked, there is a patient campaign being waged by authoritarians to undermine and “cripple” democracies. Freedom is eroding even in former strongholds where it was protected for decades.  Former communist nations, as well as parts of Latin America, that have shown great promise in the past are now on shaky ground. FH’s work has shown a decline in freedoms in roughly half of the world’s 40 strongest democracies.

Abramowitz criticized the President of the United States, saying that the president’s critique of the free press, his policies restricting immigration of refugees and asylees, and his “harmful rhetoric” are being exploited by demagogues around world.  Still, Abramowitz added, there are signs of hope – recent protests in Hong Kong, ongoing developments in Lebanon, and others.  Abramowitz, citing these conflicting trend lines, said the human rights movement is at an inflection point.

Abramowitz suggested three topics for the Commission to study and address in its work:

  1. How to ensure that the internet remains a space for free discussion and civic mobilization. FH’s work has shown internet restrictions, arrests of users, and online censorship are on the rise globally, that activists and journalists are under attack, and that elections are in jeopardy as information is being manipulated and fake accounts are created and used.  Abramowitz described China as the worst violator in this regard.
  2. How to counter the growing influence and power of authoritarian states, which currently promote an “alternative model” that mimics and distorts the basic components of democracy.  These states nominally maintain elections, courts, and constitutions – but, according to Abramowitz, their leaders (figures like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, and Viktor Orban) use pliant legal systems to undermine civil societies and silence criticism.  They enjoy relative impunity for these wrongful actions.
  3. How to engage U.S. allies that have been accused of human rights violations – like Poland, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia.  Abramowitz said that this task requires a delicate balancing: the U.S. must acknowledge and preserve longstanding positive relationships while, at the same time, call its friends to account for their failings.  He said that this has always been a challenge, but that the “balance” for some countries has become “lopsided” (in other words, that their human rights failings outweigh any benefits the U.S. gains by cooperating with them).  Abramowitz encouraged the United States to “not act like human rights records don’t matter.”  He said that if the U.S. lowers standards for others, it risks doing so for itself, too.

Abramowitz closed by asking the Commission to act as a “catalyst” in achieving reforms.

As the question and answer portion got underway, Carozza spoke first.  He asked what, in Abramowitz’s view, is the source of the current weakness of commitment to human rights in the United States, wondering if the lack of enthusiasm was attributable to (1) a sense that America currently does not have its own house in order, and/or (2) recent foreign policy military interventions that have gone poorly.  Abramowitz responded that the Iraq War soured in American minds the idea of democracy promotion. That is part of the reason why FH tries to educate people to know that democracy promotion does not necessitate military intervention.  Abramowitz said that another reason human rights enthusiasm has waned is because of liberal democracies’ failure to address their citizens’ everyday concerns, which has provided openings to demagogues to exploit and fill.  Finally, he cited the immense impact of technology that humanity is still coming to grips with, and which can be manipulated by authoritarian politicians to erode freedoms.

Turning to other concerns, Commissioner Pan noted that, although Abramowitz had urged the Commission to not prioritize certain rights over others, FH, in essence, does just that – by emphasizing civil and political freedoms over social and economic rights.  Abramowitz responded that while it is true that FH does not measure the extent to which countries uphold social and economic rights, the organization still recognizes those rights as important.  When Pan asked whether the Commission should make the same prioritization (i.e. emphasizing civil and political rights over social and economic rights), Abramowitz did not directly answer.

Berman pointed out that, during his remarks, Abramowitz had not only criticized U.S. policy of the current and past administrations, but also spoken about how other democracies have failed, too.  Berman took this to mean that whatever is wrong about the human rights project is “not just an American problem,” and that if other countries suffer from a human rights “malaise,” the U.S. may be able to learn from them.  Berman asked Abramowitz for examples of democracies that have faced rights criticism.  Abramowitz pointed to Western European countries, which, like the U.S., have had to balance national security concerns with human rights protections.

Tollefsen said that Abramowitz’s comments about countries masquerading as liberal democracies while trampling on rights were well-taken.  Tollefsen invited Abramowitz to speak more about the subject.  Abramowitz answered that countries retaining ostensible (but largely fake) features of democracy serves two main purposes: legitimizing a nation’s rule to its own citizens, and legitimizing states’ authority to other states.  Most countries, Abramowitz said, now feel like they must hold elections in order to garner domestic legitimacy and international respect, but that does not preclude authoritarian powers from attempting to shape the election terrain inside their borders.

Swett asked about internet freedom.  In her view, the United States government (USG) is doing far too little to promote uncensored web access internationally.  She emphasized that the relevant technology that can do this already exists, but USG is not adequately funding it.  She wondered why the U.S, has been so anemic and encouraged FH to lobby harder for internet freedom.  Abramowitz sympathized with Swett’s concerns, but also pointed out that Radio Free Asia has played a major role in exposing internment camps in China, suggesting that U.S.-funded technology is still having a positive effect. Swett also inquired about moral leadership, saying that while U.S. introspection and self-questioning is “good,” she was concerned that that the U.S. may have “gone too far.”  She wondered if self-doubt negatively impact the boldness with which the U.S. seeks to protect human rights.  Abramowitz agreed that humility in general is desirable, but added that, despite the developments Swett was concerned about, human rights activists still pay close attention to the United States, suggesting the country still has stature.

Returning to a topic raised by Swett, Anderson praised FH’s internet freedom report as cutting edge, saying that it had assisted him in thinking conceptually through different categories and had added to his general understanding of disinformation and election meddling campaigns.  Anderson said that nonetheless he was left wondering about Russia:  If the United States demands that Russia not enter the U.S. media space, then, out of a sense of reciprocity, must the U.S. take equal measures and eliminate funding for, inter alia, Radio Free Europe?  Responding, Abramowitz distinguished between various wrongful actions.  Arresting journalists and shutting down websites (actions Russia is guilty of), he said, are categorically different from disinformation, which he described as more vexing because of free speech concerns.  Abramowitz further suggested that “bots” do not have “human” rights and that perhaps more transparency is needed internationally to show which entities and/or nations are funding various media programs and campaigns.

On a different topic, Rivers referred to Abramowitz’s statements in which he urged the Commission to not to establish a hierarchy of rights. She asked him to expand on why and whether, in the UDHR, a defensible hierarchy exists.  Abramowitz said that he was not sure what the Commission had in mind in this respect, and that FH not aware of any “excess” of rights that might counsel in favor of establishing a hierarchy.

Berkowitz then asked about how FH thinks through the notion of sovereignty, especially when one nation’s right to self-govern, when considered to be absolute, could allow it to commit what many other nations would deem to be violations of human rights. Abramowitz said that FH is conscious of this and other “clashes” of rights.  He said that the organization endorses diplomatic balancing:  The U.S. at times has no choice but to engage with rights violators but, when it does, it should be candid with them about their flaws.

Berkowitz followed up by recalling that Abramowitz, during his presentation, had said that presidential rhetoric can be damaging when it comes to protecting human rights.  Berkowitz wondered whether, conversely, the impact of statements in support of human rights (for example, Secretary Pompeo’s remarks on behalf of international religious freedom) can be measured as positive.  Abramowitz indicated that FH has not attempted to measure the impact of such statements.

Soloviechik asked whether America’s approach to rights is universal.  Abramowitz cited Glendon’s own scholarly work and said that, based on the existence of the UDHR, there is such a thing as universal rights, but countries will enshrine and protect those rights in different ways.  He added that strong democracies are more equipped than other political regimes to handle rights that are in tension with one another.

Carozza asked about FH’s preference for the term “liberal democracy.”  He noted that there are other terms, like “representative democracy” and wondered if there was any significance to these labels or perhaps a “best” type of democracy that FH promotes.  Abramowitz responded by saying that, in FH’s view, pure majoritarianism is undesirable.  For a regime to be morally legitimate, there has to be pluralism with checks on power and respect for minorities.  To function well, a democracy’s attitude cannot be “you win an election, so you can do whatever you want.”

Pan asked whether, in Abramowitz’s opinion, the United States is exceptional when it comes to protecting human rights.  He also requested Abramowitz’s opinion on what more the United States could be doing in the realm of human rights.  Abramowitz asserted that the U.S. has a special role to play.  As for what more it should be doing, he mentioned defending the independent media, speaking out more against human rights injustices, and increasing its use of legal mechanisms like the Magnitsky Act.

Berman pressed him on the “speaking out” point, asking if the USG should prioritize “naming and shaming” countries publicly or engaging in more quiet forms of diplomacy.  Abramowitz said that the two are not mutually exclusive and that there is no “cookie cutter” approach.  What works for one country may not work for another.  Swett added that it is important for the USG to listen to the recommendations of “on the ground” human rights defenders because they may know what “gets under authoritarians’ skin.”

Glendon concluded by thanking Abramowitz, saying that she was confident that many of his perspectives will find their way into the Commission’s final report.


The Commission then invited the second speaker Dr. Miles Yu to the stage.  (Yu was born in China but immigrated and went to graduate school in the U.S.)  He is a professor of military and diplomatic history, currently on detail from the U.S. Naval Academy.  Yu works as a member of the Office of Policy Planning (S/P) at the Department of State and was invited to speak regarding China and the particular human rights challenges it poses.

Yu began by describing China as a monumental challenge, specifically mentioning the threat to human rights that its growing state power and technological capabilities (artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology) represent.  He said that the U.S. perception of China is often binary – on the one hand, Americans associate the country with a rich cultural heritage (panda bears/the Great Wall/Confucianism), while on the other, they find its contemporary ethos – one shaped by a socialist, Leninist creed — problematic.  Yu said that, in his remarks, he wished to examine three questions: (1) What is the historical legacy in China when it comes to rights?  (2) What is the contemporary ethos regarding them?, and (3) How do the two relate?

When it comes to China’s traditional legacy, Yu pointed out three core elements:

  1. Confucianism forms the philosophic bedrock of traditional Chinese society.  Above all else, it aims to maintain social stability and a harmonious society, objectives that require the establishment of a moral and social hierarchy in which each person has a specific social status that is difficult if not impossible to change.  Confucianism also dictates a code of social relations in which there are clear divisions of authority: for example, ruler vs. subjects, husband vs. wife, and father vs. son.  Obedience, rather than equality, is stressed.  The cultural emphasis is on social duties, so individual rights are viewed as less important.
  2. Managerial imperialism – Throughout most of its history, China was ruled by dynasties in which a very selective system identified the smartest and most talented people in the country, who then were required to serve the ruling regime.  Yu called this management structure one of “elite capture.”  An obsession with managerial centralization helped China excel at what Yu deemed societal mediocrity, as individual initiative was stifled.  He quoted Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote that “Travelers tell us that Chinese have tranquility without happiness, industry without progress, stability without strength, and material order without public morality.  With them, society gets along fairly well, never very well.  I imagine that when China is open to Europeans, they will find it that finest model of administrative centralization in the world.”
  3. Ethnic homogeneity – Over 90% of the population is Han, so ethnic minorities are not as predominant in China as in the modern West.  The prevailing cultural attitude is often that “everyone should act like the Han majority.”  Yu referred to “majoritarian self-awareness” and elites reframing historical losses as wins:  Those non-Han people that conquered China are not considered “foreign” because they ended up adopting Chinese customs and habits, indicating the superiority of Sino-culture.

Then Yu shifted to China’s contemporary sociopolitical ethos, which can be traced back to Mao Zedong, who in 1953 said that “the core force that leads our cause is the Chinese Communist Party; the theoretical framework that guides our thinking is Marxism-Leninism.” As he did with the traditional legacy portion of his remarks, Yu made three main points.

  1. In communist China, “rights” are determined by economics – All rights are determined by each individual’s economic and material circumstances.  The “haves” have all rights, the “have-nots” have no rights.  Democracy (including attributes like individual rights) is considered to be “bourgeois” and essentially fake because countries that claim to be democracies are in the capitalistic West, which is ultimately governed by money, not popular sovereignty or moral ideals.
  2. China adopts the Marxist view that “labor is holy.”  From this perspective, capitalist societies are beset with a general sense of “alienation,” because the wealth created by labor is not owned by laborers themselves.  The result is that the creator (laborer) is haunted and tormented by his own creation (material wealth).  The bourgeoisie is decadent and parasitical because it thrives only by exploiting laborers and not by working and producing.  In general, China views labor as the means by which one becomes “a good person” free of decadence and debauchery.  The classic Marxist theory on human nature is a powerful founding creed of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and it was first detailed in Karl Marx’s “Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844.”  Yu pointed to the modern-day China’s Reform Through Labor (Laogai) camps (the equivalent of modern day Soviet gulags), as well as today’s concentration camps in Xinjiang, in which Uighur Muslims are being detained, as disturbing manifestations of China’s view of labor.
  3. China, in theory, endorses the communist goal of the eventual elimination of the state.  But in the traditional Leninist view, the state must be strengthened in the last stage, which is today, in order to be eliminated.  (Yu referred to this as the “Dictatorship of Proletariat” and flagged various pieces of cultural evidence: Chinese financial institutions called the “People’s Bank,” the military known as the “People’s Army,” and a popular newspaper named the “People’s Daily.”)

Yu said that in 21st century China, the “historical legacy” and “contemporary ethos” outlined above blend together.  To show how they relate, he turned to one key series of events in modern Chinese history: the advent of the opium wars in the 1840s, which brought two things to China: First, a deep sense of national humiliation, which Chinese blamed on the state being too weak.  Second, there were modern Western ideas that provided alternatives to the hierarchy-obsessed Confucian moral and political order. One of these alternatives was Christianity, which was introduced to China after the Opium War.  “Christian socialism” began to spread, which led to the Taiping Rebellion that sought to establish an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical utopian society in China.  It took the Chinese government more than 10 years to suppress the rebellion, and millions of people perished.  Yu said that the regime survived and used the uprising as proof for why equality cannot be embraced as a social organizing principle.  This, Yu said, was the beginning of China’s efforts to build a stronger and more powerful state in order to avenge post-Opium War humiliation.  And of course, he added, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today continues to support the strengthening of state power not only because Lenin said it was necessary, but also because embracing this foundational creed keeps the CCP in power.  Yu’s overarching point was that two powerful forces – nationalism fueled by past humiliation, and Leninism – are what motivate China’s drive for revival and global dominance.

Yu closed by characterizing modern day China as a “dictatorship in name of majority.”  He said that the Chinese government does not understand that “there is something beyond the reach of majority” – namely fundamental rights that exist in an untouchable domain.  Thus, the Commission can play an important role in reminding the world (including China) of this moral notion and upholding both the American rights tradition and the international human rights movement.

Then the question and answer portion got under way.  Carozza asked Yu to clarify how the U.S. conception of rights differs from China’s.  Yu said that the chief distinction was that, in America, social status does not determine which rights inhere in your person.  Whereas the whole idea of “universal” rights does not have purchase in China, which views rights more as state-granted privileges.  Yu spoke about the May 4th Movement that occurred in 1919, which embraced the ideal of democracy in China but was hijacked by the urge for a stronger state.  (The MIT political scientist Lucian Pye wrote an influential paper on this point, “How China’s Nationalism Was Shanghaied.”)  The American philosopher John Dewey was in China lecturing around the time of the May 4th Movement and advocated for American-style Chinese federalism as a solution to China’s quagmire, but his appeals gained no traction.  Ironically, Yu said, it was in a Chinese state “outside of China” that found a “cure” to the “strong state syndrome” and embraced democratic ideals – Taiwan.  The only group inside China that has expressed similar notions is made of Chinese dissidents, who unfortunately American leaders stopped meeting with in the 1990s after President Bill Clinton delinked human rights from trade with China.

Berkowitz pointed out that there are different accounts of what Chinese believe regarding human rights.  Yu acknowledged that indeed there were, but he continued to emphasize that rights talk is often narrowly focused on economics.  He added, however, that in Confucianism, there are tracts in some ways similar to Thomas Jefferson’s writings and preamble to the Declaration of Independence.  The second most prominent Confucian sage, Mencius, for example, expressed a notion similar to the Western governance ideal of “consent by the people.”  So while they are not the same as American or Western notions, there exist Chinese moral ideas that are related to rights.  Overall, however, Yu felt that Confucianism is a very reactionary political philosophy.

Pan returned to Yu’s comments regarding Chinese ethnic homogeneity and “tyranny in the name of the majority.”  In light of those notions, he asked Yu how stable he considered modern Chinese society to be. Yu characterized China as somewhat unstable.  He attributed this fragility, in part, to the Chinese regime’s lack of respect for minority rights, as well as to the lack of information that exists due to government censorship.

Glendon asked Yu if there was any ray of hope.  She referred to recent biographies of a Chinese representative to the UN during the 1940s, who was a formidable intellect and also forcefully lobbied for the UDHR to be adopted.  She asked Yu if China was reaching a point when it can finally acknowledge this “larger than life” character.   [Rapporteur’s note: Glendon was referring to Peng-chun Chang, who was a member of the UDHR Drafting Committee, but she did not mention him by name.]  Yu responded by saying that the UHDR is not a “hot topic” in China currently.  Although Yu did not mention Peng-chun Chang, he did speak at length of famed Chinese diplomat Wellington Koo.

Berman asked why the USG has for many years refused to meet with Chinese dissidents inside the U.S. embassy in Beijing.  Yu cited a failure of leadership.  Further explaining himself, Yu said that the original architect of modern day U.S. policy toward China was President Richard Nixon, who admitted just before his death that the U.S. may have created a “Frankenstein” in opening its door to trade with China.  Yu said Nixon was partially right: The U.S. hoped that China, as it developed economically, would eventually embrace our ideals, but that did not happen.  Yu said the U.S. needs to change its “anger management” approach to China, by which he meant that many past China policies were not based upon what the U.S. should be doing but rather on avoiding tension or conflict.  He added that Trump is very popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong because he signed a recent piece of democracy legislation that could lead to sanctions on Chinese officials for cracking down on the protesters.  Yu also brought up a line from a recent speech delivered by Secretary Pompeo at the Hudson Institute – “the Chinese government today is not the same as the Chinese people.”

Rivers asked why, if Confucianism recognizes the importance of human duties, it does not recognize the corresponding, reciprocal notion of human rights.  She further wondered if economic growth is the reason why many Chinese people do not seem to embrace the notion of rights.  Yu responded by saying that economic growth should not be interpreted to signify widespread societal contentment, since it has entailed huge wealth disparities and social inequality.  Also, with economic gains, there are heightened expectations for justice and rights protection.  For example, there is a growing concern in China over what might be deemed property rights, as the Chinese government builds “golf courses and trash incinerators” on people’s lands. China is also very concerned regarding protests in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong.  The CCP does not want images shown of people demanding that their civil and political rights be respected.

Tollefsen raised the issue of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, asking whether the situation could worsen in the future.  Yu reminded him that the internment camps in Xinjiang are not a “new” development, historically speaking.  Yu said that the Chinese official in charge in Xinjiang “used to do same thing in Tibet.”  Regarding the prospect of China possibly continuing and/or expanding the camps, Yu said that it depends on whether government ultimately considers its efforts to have been successful.

Staying on this topic, Rivers asked what the CCP wants Uighurs “to do” exactly.  Summarizing, Yu said that the party wants them to give up their religious and ethnic heritage, because, in the CCP’s view, Islam “contaminates” their thoughts.   Yu further mentioned Han Chinese men being sent to sexually consort with Uighur women allegedly for the purpose of building “affinity” and assimilating them into majority culture.

Citing Confucius Institutes on U.S. college campuses and the intimidation of newspaper journalists in some places, Swett spoke about how China is exporting its model internationally. Her point was that oppression is not just happening inside China but also across the world.  Yu expressed agreement with Swett, saying that he is concerned about Chinese model succeeding.  He joked that when his computer crashes, he instinctively wonders if China was the cause.  He also brought up America’s National Basketball Association (NBA), which recently faced widespread criticism for essentially siding with the CCP regarding Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

Despite his concerns regarding America’s retreat from the world, Yu called America resilient.  Borrowing a phrase from FDR, he said that, when it comes to China, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  He said that U.S. defeatism should have no place.

Swett brought up China’s social credit system, which Yu called a state mechanism to mold individual behavior.  Yu characterized it as “very scary” in that “it doesn’t give you a second chance” and there’s “no room for mistakes.”

Soloveichik asked if Christianity was acting to further democratic values in China.  Yu responded that there is really no such thing as an independent church in China, mentioning recent controversy over Pope Francis ceding some bishop selection authority to China. Yu also said that the Pope has said some “not helpful” things that elide distinctions between economic and unalienable rights.

Anderson brought up a recent conversation he had had with someone who said that, in order to protect universal human rights, the United States must more aggressively utilize military “hard power” in order to signal American confidence to China.  But, the person told Anderson, the flip side is that the U .S. must also be willing to assert its values.  Anderson invited Yu’s evaluation of this hard-plus-soft power theory.  Yu held China to be better at public military diplomacy than the U.S.   While the U.S. enjoys decisive military advantages over the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it does not publicly acknowledge this fact often enough.  Yu’s view was that, while U.S. officials need not exacerbate tensions by making inflammatory statements (“We’re going to bury you unless you release the Uighurs,”) they can and should be tougher in their language. Yu further pointed out that U.S. alliances also provide it with an important advantage over China.

Yu concluded his remarks by lamenting that the U.S. sometimes fails to see itself as a leader.  What is needed, he said, is excellence without arrogance.  The Chairwoman and Carozza thanked Yu for his participation and provocative remarks.


When the audience was invited to pose questions to the Commission, one representative from the Council for Global Equality said that, while interesting, the “deep dive into China” seemed out of place based on themes the Commission previously indicated would be addressed during the December meeting.  The Chairwoman explained that there had been last minute scheduling conflicts for certain speakers, and that is why Yu had spoken at a meeting earlier than was initially anticipated.  She expressed appreciation for Abramowitz, who had covered the announced topic (post World War II U.S. human rights commitments) in great detail, and also mentioned upcoming speakers for January and February, when the Commission would stick more closely to its schedule.

A representative of the Brazilian government spoke next, praising the Commission.  She said that values matter, and that the current Brazilian government was elected “because of values.”  She expressed that, through the Commission’s work, the United States can enlighten other nations.  She encouraged the Commission to define key human rights terms and concepts, and to shed light on which rights are “truly untouchable” – not as “conservative” rights, but rather as “human” ones.  She also encouraged the Commission to explore how human duties are tied to human rights.

A representative from Amnesty International, echoing earlier comments by the Council for Global Equality, complained that one of the day’s two speakers had diverged from the previously announced topic, which was America’s post World War II human rights commitments. He also expressed his concern that the Commission might establish a hierarchy of rights.  Commissioners said that no determinations have been made regarding whether, or how, to include such a hierarchy in their final report.  They suggested that Amnesty International’s concern illustrated the need to clarify key terms and concepts.

A representative from the Heritage Foundation mentioned reservations that the U.S. had attached to its ratification of the ICCPR, and also mentioned that the U.S. has not ratified the ICESCR.  Carozza responded that, while that is true, legal obligations that the U.S. has imposed on itself via treaty ratification do not collectively represent an exhaustive list of “all” human rights.  Carozza mentioned principles contained in the Helsinki Accords as one example of rights widely seen as universal that are not contained in treaty obligations that are binding on the U.S.


Commissioner Hanson was unable to attend this meeting.

The Chairwoman will brief DRL on the structure of the UDHR on January 10.

Next Meeting

January 10, 2020 | Dean Acheson Auditorium, Harry S. Truman Building, Washington, D.C.

Expert witnesses: Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Watch), Diane Orentlicher (American University).

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future