What ever happened to such pearls of wisdom as "information is power" or "know thine enemy?" Scholars, historians, journalists, policy analysts and diplomats will no longer be able to turn to the Commerce Department's World News Connection for material from countries under U.S. sanctions--such as Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Libya. The service provides full texts of speeches, information from national news agencies and editorial comment from non-English newspapers, not to mention facts that never make it into the media.

World News Connection is the division of Commerce that was designated as the successor to the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service for public distribution of materials on countries around the world. The embargoed countries, now deleted from the database, are where that source material is most important since it is often difficult to get original material in good translation, academics and policy analysts argue.

The World News Connection announced its policy change in a report about Y2K compliance. "In addition, you will notice some changes to the sources represented. For example, we have deleted sources from the countries contained on the U.S. Department of State embargoed list," said the notification buried deep in the report.

The legal catch is that because of sanctions, the United States cannot pay copyright fees for these materials. "The United States has unilaterally bombed Iraq, Sudan and Libya, but we cower at the prospect of a copyright dispute?" asked Gary Sick, a former member of the National Security Council. "Couldn't we just put the funds in escrow? This information makes an irreplaceable contribution to U.S. national security. It informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible."

In 1997, a congressional attempt to cut funding to the information service was defeated in the face of public protest, so the demand is out there. In fact, hefty subscription rates make the World News Connection financially self-supporting. The monitoring of television, radio, news agencies and the print media will continue, but the transcripts for countries under sanction will only be available to the U.S. government. Could Secretary of Commerce William Daley, who is responsible for the decision, please explain?

A Need for Vigilance

Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Washington Post columnists and editors yesterday that "without eternal vigilance" racism is going to be "a terrible human rights problem." She gave as examples the rise of right-wing parties in Austria and the recent closing of industrial plants in the United Kingdom because of strikes protesting discrimination against of Asian workers. She said preparations are underway for an international conference in South Africa on racism and the means of combating it worldwide.

She said the Indonesian Human Rights Commission has asked her organization for help and detailed guidance to start looking into violations that followed the Aug. 30 vote for independence in East Timor. Although the United Nations also will be conducting an inquiry, she said it is "important that there be ownership of the problem and inquiry in Indonesia." Robinson said she is encouraged by the Indonesians' work and sees such groups as the seeds for a civil society there. She said victims are already naming their torturers and assailants, giving detailed evidence on guerrillas and militiamen, some of whom, she said, wore militia T-shirts in the morning and Indonesian military fatigues in the evening.

She said it will be up to the Security Council to decide how far up the chain of command blame will be assigned and to consider whether this warrants an international tribunal. Robinson said she is strongly in favor of having a permanent international crimes tribunal rather than having to keep creating ad hoc tribunals with judges to be appointed in complex situations.

On the difficulties of getting figures on refugees and missing persons in East Timor, Robinson said since 98 percent of the population who voted were registered, that should be a point of reference. About 700 East Timorese activists are in hiding in Java alone, she said. "How many more are hiding elsewhere?" she asked. Nongovernmental groups are also hoping to put emphasis on human rights in Indonesia, which seems to be "embarking on a voyage of self-discovery on where it is going in the areas of democracy and human rights."

Robinson said human rights outfits linked to the United Nations are lacking resources for conflict prevention and are incapable of being effective in certain situations. Her colleagues saw the violence coming in East Timor, she said, because intimidation began when people started registering to vote. By the time the voting was over and retaliation began, 70 percent of the people had already gone into hiding in the hills.

"We, the United Nations, the civilized people guaranteed the East Timorese. If we tell people come and vote under our own auspices, we ought to be able to save their lives. We have to think about having a rapid response force," she said.