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The War on Terror: U.S. Foreign Policy and International Human Rights

Honorable Donald Fraser

June 19, 2003


Full text of Remarks by Donald Fraser, The War on Terror:

U.S. Foreign Policy and International Human Rights


Summary of Remarks

Former congressman and Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser made the case that the U.S. government should find a healthier balance between the interests of national security and civil liberties. He expressed his hope that the government would realize that a greater respect for international law would serve our long-term national security interests and protect and promote human rights worldwide. Fraser also contended that the rule of law is the world's ultimate protection against abuse - and that the Bush Administration's unilateral actions weaken international treaties, international law and institutions like the United Nations. 


And Fraser found disturbing parallels between the Bush Administration's war on terror and former governments' waging of the Cold War. He said the US is supporting other nations that abuse their citizens' civil liberties simply because that nation also supports the fight against terror. Fraser remembered that in the early 1970's his House subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements detailed how for many years the United States' zeal to fight Communism led it to assist or support the violation of human rights abuses in many countries that claimed to be anti-Communist. The US, he said, became the instigator of serious human rights violations rather than its defender.


Fraser suggested these valuable lessons that need to be applied today in our fight against terror:


  • We should not let fear overwhelm us or drive an ideological agenda; 
  • The most powerful way that the U.S. influences human rights practices in other countries is through our example of a functioning democratic society - one that models democracy in action; and
  • Human rights are central to the vision of an international community based on the rule of law.  Renouncing treaties, disregarding international humanitarian law, and working against multilateral institutions encourages critics of human rights and those individuals and nations that disregard the rule of law. 

"Over the long run," Fraser said, "the best way to improve our security is to build on our strengths.  Strengthening relations with other democratic nations and our international institutions is the best long-term path to reduce the likelihood of attack and to achieve the safety that we are seeking.  We should use our power and influence to move toward the ultimate goal of a world governed by the rule of law."




Donald Fraser has had a distinguished career in public service to the state of Minnesota and the Nation, including nearly 40 years in public office.  Fraser served as State Senator in the Minnesota Legislature from 1955-1962.  In 1963, Fraser was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota's 5th District, where he served until 1978.  He was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chaired the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements.  During his tenure, Fraser initiated the first comprehensive study of U.S. foreign policy and international human rights and authored several laws requiring the U.S. Government to give greater attention to human rights issues.  He is widely credited with creating the legislative and bureaucratic underpinnings of U.S. human rights foreign policy.  In 1980, Fraser was elected Mayor of Minneapolis and served for thirteen years until 1993.  Maintaining his deep commitment to promoting education, democracy, and international human rights, Fraser is currently a member of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, Chairman of the Minnesota DFL Education Foundation, and President of the Southeast Minneapolis Council on Learning.  He also is a member of several non-profit boards including Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.  Fraser teaches and lectures widely on international human rights.