The State Department has told Congress in reports released yesterday that the United States is actively seeking to improve human rights in six countries where abuses have been cited.
The State Department reports - on human rights conditions and U.S. efforts in Argentina, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Peru and the Philippines - were originally submitted to Congress on a confidential basis in order to avoid diplomatic complications in the countries concerned.
However, the House Committee on International Relations, which requested the information under the provisions of the recent Foreign Military Assistance Act, insisted that the reports be made public.
According to the State Department data, released yesterday by the House committee, U.S. diplomats as well as military officers have been trying to convince foreign governments to improve the civil liberties of their citizens and be more tolerant of dissent. U.S. officials pointed out that publicized abuses can lead to criticism in Congress and, in extreme cases, a cutoff of U.S. support.
The State Department traditionally has been hesitant to exert pressures in this area because of the sensitivity of foreign governments and the charge that the United States seeks to interfere with the governments' internal affairs. When representations have been made, the State Department often has gone to great lengths to keep them quiet.
Growing congressional interest and direction, reinforced by strong campaign statements by President-elect Jimmy Carter that the United States must stand for human rights abroad, is causing greater U.S. activism.
American policy under the new law would deny military aid or arms sales to any government that engages in "a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." By majority vote of both houses, Congress can reduce or cut off aid or sales to an offending country.
In each of the six reports released yesterday, the State Department recommended against a cutoff because of overall foreign policy considerations. A House committee statement accompanying the reports indicated an independent congressional study will be made.
The most extensive U.S. efforts and the gravest human rights problems covered in the six reports were in Argentina, where a military coup overthrew President Isabel Peron last March. The State Department said more than 2,000 Argentinians were killed in the preceding three years of left and right-wing terrorism, and that political violence including police-military vigilante squads has killed at least 1,000 more since March.
U.S. diplomats in Washington and Buenos Aires have repeatedly raised the subject of human rights with the Argentine government, including lengthy personal presentations to President Jorge Rafael Videla, his interior, justice and foreign minister and most other members of his cabinet, the State Department said.
In addition, Pentagon officials and the uniformed U.S. military attaches in Buenos Aires consistently raise the problem with the Argentine military, the report said.
"No other substantive subject has been discussed more often with the incumbent Argentine government than human rights," the State Department said. It quoted the Argentine government as saying that the current situation is temporary and that normal conditions will be restored within a short time. The State Department said it is "monitoring the situation closely."
According to the State Department, human rights problems and U.S. efforts in the other countries include:
Haiti - A "basically authoritarian" government with little tradition of democratic rule is slowly improving the political atmosphere. However, peaceful political gatherings are not permitted and about 100 political prisoners, according to U.S. estimates, remain in prison.
The United States has raised the subject of human rights "at every appropriate occasion" in talks with senior Haitian officials. The U.S. ambassador sent a human rights letter to the Haitian foreign minister stressing key points of a speech on the subject by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and welcoming an exchange of views.
The United States had pulled out its military training mission in 1963 due in part of human rights abuses. An "extremely modest" military training program concentrating on air and sea rescue was re-established two years ago because of a "substantially improved performance" on human rights.
Indonesia - A large number of persons, estimated by the Indonesian government at less than 35,000, remains in detention as a result of a 1965 coup attempt. After a 1974 crackdown, the press is reportedly becoming freer again.
U.S. officials including the ambassador have had "frequent discussions" with Indonesian officials about human rights. Ambassador David D. Newson in a Jakarta speech said some Americans are concerned about relations with a nation still imprisoning persons without trial. The speech was widely reported in the local press.
Iran - About 2,800 to 3,500 persons sometimes referred to as "political prisoners" are being held. Probably about 100 to 150 of those jailed neither advocated nor practiced violence. Torture of prisoners has been reported, but the shah claims it is no longer used.
U.S. officials have discussed human rights with Iranian officials in private, in the belief that "handling this subject privately would be most effective in the Iranian context." U.S. military sales to Iran will total $2.8 billion in 1976 and 1977.
Peru - The Morales Bermudez government, which took power in a bloodless coup in 1975, is more moderate than the one before but still authoritarian. Politicians and journalists were released from prison in an amnesty program. But recently some opposition activists were jailed or deported and several magazines closed after public protests against new austerity measures.
The United States has not raised specific human rights cases involving Peruvians, but has emphasized the United States commitment to human rights. A $900,000 military training program and $20 million military credit sales program is "carefully monitored to avoid any U.S. government contribution to regional tensions or to any direct or indirect violations of human rights."
Philippines - President Ferdinand Marcos governs by decree, and political parties are inactive. Estimates of the number of political prisoners range from about 500 to 6,000. There are documented reports of torture, although "explicit government policy at the political level" does not favor the practice. Mass media "carry nothing critical of the government and are essentially controlled."
U.S. officials have held "wide-ranging and numerous discussions" with key Philippine officials about U.S. concern for human rights. However, a U.S. aid cutoff could bring the end of American military base privileges there - currently being renegotiated - and could "seriously affect regional stability" in Asia.