Human Rights in Foreign Policy: Rhetoric and Reality

My name is Erica Willis and I am a senior at the University of North Georgia.  My research topic pertains to the role of human rights within foreign policy and the way in which rhetoric and policy differ.  I am taking a historical approach to my research, first looking examining Jimmy Carter’s human rights policy throughout his presidency, then looking at the way the Obama Administration approaches the subject of human rights within its foreign policy.


I first became interested in this topic while taking a foreign policy and Jimmy Carter class.  As Carter’s legacy and one of the cohesive threads running throughout his presidency, I decided to research the application of his human rights policy.  I became especially interested in the lack of interest and policy concerning the blatant human rights abuses within Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.  Throughout my research at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library I began to see a correlation between the normalization of relations with China and this violation of human rights rhetoric.  I then explored the idea of the function of human rights within foreign policy and the manner in which it is employed.  When President Obama entered office, his rhetoric on human rights greatly mirrored those idealistic goals of Carter.  I intend to examine and analyze the way in which both administrations have tended to sacrifice their idealistic commitment to human rights in favor of national interest, in some instances blatantly overlooking human rights violations in consideration of what they have viewed as more consequential or stable foreign policy goals.  I intend to analyze and more fully understand the function of human rights policy within foreign policy, and the reasons the rhetoric and the reality are often times in conflict


As a history major, my approach is concerned with the historical aspects of human rights rhetoric- beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- and the way that this has been violated based on the realities consequences of certain situations.  I think that it is important to understand how human rights policies have been used in the past- or the lack thereof- to understand the way in which foreign policy relates to national interest.  I am really excited to explore this topic more fully, as well learning more about the research you all are conducting.

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