SECRETARY of State Shultz seems to be taking his own look at human rights -- at, for instance, Chile, deservedly a litmus test. The first human rights gesture made by former secretary Alexander Haig was to start removing the Pinochet dictatorship from the official American dishonor roll, the list of nations whose human rights records deny them normal status, including eligibility for military aid. Mr. Haig presumably was acting under the influence of a theory then in vogue holding that the United States can and should be prepared to work with authoritarian governments, notwithstanding their flaws, to contain the larger menace posed by totalitarians.
In the 20 months since, the case for making up to Chile has seemed only to improve, in the eyes of many in the Reagan administration. There is the familiar security argument. There is a business interest. There is the consideration that since the United States' post-Falklands foreign policy interests and developments in Argentina point toward resuming military assistance to Buenos Aires, Chile should not be treated differently. There is the difficult life of our embassy. There is the passage of time. So why not let Chile in from the cold?
Here's why: Chile simply has not made the "significant progress in complying with internationally recognized principles of human rights" that the president must certify to qualify Chile for aid. Just recently it moved to expel eight of its critics -- four of them human rights activists -- amid charges of torture. Nor has Chile cooperated in a second statutory requirement to bring to justice the figures indicted by an American grand jury in the assassination, in Washington, of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and an associate.
Beyond these telling particulars, there is the matter of the general validity of the Reagan administration's human rights approach. The administration has been contending, for example, that El Salvador qualifies for aid. The evidence is at best mixed: although some improvements have been noted, total outrage was the only appropriate reaction to a Salvadoran court's recent freeing of the men suspected of murdering two Americans and a Salvadoran involved in land reform. The president can expect not a spot of credibility for his certification of El Salvador, however, if he blinks in Chile where the evidence is clear-cut.
Mr. Shultz, it appears, is influenced by considerations like these. He is not one to make a human rights decision merely on the basis of a broad theory attempting to distinguish authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Chile remains uncertified.