The Foreign Service Journal, June 2013

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2013 31 of small, relatively less important countries that the United States holds them to a higher standard simply because it can. Congress and Human Rights Congressional activism on human rights policy can be traced back to the 1970s, when a variety of factors—includ- ing the Watergate scandal and U.S. interventions in Southeast Asia and Latin America—prompted increased oversight of the executive branch in areas like intelligence and human rights. It was also during this period that some lawmakers, fore- most Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash., challenged the Nixon and Ford administrations on détente, an initiative to ease relations with the Soviet Union through linkages in areas such as arms control and trade. The fruit of their efforts was the Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking trade to the emigration of Soviet Jews, which passed over the objections of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Congress also established a commission to oversee the 1975 Helsinki Accords, a set of agreements that sought to commit the Soviet Union and its satellites to allow small openings for civil society in return for increased trade with the West. issue that’s motivating them, and then go figure out how you work with them.” Experts familiar with how human rights issues are handled both on Capitol Hill and in the State Department say policymaking is hin- dered by mistrust and poor communication between the two branches. The differences are attributable to departmental culture, politics and, in some cases, ignorance about the other side’s motives and methods. Moreover, some members of Congress see their role as upholding American values abroad, while the State Department is responsible for maintaining a balance of principles with core national interests. “Congress plays a very valuable role in reflecting the basic values of the American people,” says Mark Lagon, a former direc- tor of State’s office to monitor and combat human trafficking and a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer. Still, he says, “Congress makes mistakes. It needs to hear from the execu- tive branch about [policy] subtleties.” Some experts on human rights policymaking also point out that measures like the Magnitsky Act give the White House leverage to take on major powers like Russia and China, thereby countering perennial complaints from governments The Magnitsky Act is the latest chapter in the perennial debate between the executive and the legislature over human rights policy. Anne Wenikoff FSO Elise Mellinger, right, who currently serves as a Pearson Fellow in the office of Senator Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., discusses the Foreign Service with Elise Egan, a staffer in the office of Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minn., following AFSA’s April 26 educational session on Capitol Hill.