“A Positive Track of Human Rights Policy”: Elliott Abrams, the Human Rights Bureau, and the Conceptualization of Democracy Promotion, 1981–1984

  • Rasmus Sinding Søndergaard
Part of the Security, Conflict and Cooperation in the Contemporary World book series (SCCCW)


During its first term, the Reagan administration incorporated human rights into a strategy of rolling back communism through democracy promotion. The State Department’s Bureau for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, under the leadership of Elliott Abrams, played a crucial role in this process. This chapter examines the introductions to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, so far largely ignored by historians. In these introductions, Abrams sought to merge human rights with democracy promotion to legitimize the administration’s foreign policy at home and abroad. To this end, the introductions redefined human rights as civil and political rights and argued for the superiority of democratic systems as protectors of human rights, presenting the promotion of democracy as ‘a positive track of human rights policy.’

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rasmus Sinding Søndergaard
    • 1
  1. 1.Georgetown UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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