Cover image for Freedom on fire : human rights wars and America's response
Freedom on fire : human rights wars and America's response
Shattuck, John H. F.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
390 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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JC571 .S453 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As the chief human rights official of the Clinton Administration, John Shattuck faced far-flung challenges. Disasters were exploding simultaneously - genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, murder and atrocities in Haiti, repression in China, brutal ethnic wars, and failed states in other parts of the world. But America was mired in conflicting priorities and was reluctant to act. What were Shattuck and his allies to do? This is the story of their struggle inside the US government over how to respond. Shattuck tells what was tried and what was learned as he and other human rights hawks worked to change the Clinton Administration's human rights policy from disengagement to saving lives and bringing war criminals to justice. He records his frustrations and disappointments, as well as the successes achieved in moving human rights to the centre of US foreign policy. interview the survivors of Srebrenica. He confronted Milosevic in Belgrade. He was a key player in bringing the leaders of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda to justice. He pushed from the inside for an American response to the crisis of the Haitian boat people. He pressed for the release of political prisoners in China. His book is both an insider's account and a detailed prescription for preventing such wars in the future. undermines human rights at home and around the world. He argues that human rights wars are breeding grounds for terrorism. Freedom on Fire describes the shifting challenges of global leadership in a world of explosive hatreds and deepening inequalities.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A self-described "human rights hawk," Shattuck has had a three-decade career including a term with Amnesty International and culminating in a stint as chief human rights official in the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1998. Shattuck's years of experience give impact and insight to his analysis of a post-Cold War environment that restricted U.S. intervention in human rights catastrophes that cost as many as five million lives. Bureaucratic infighting and public support (or its lack) were, he argues, exacerbated by a "Somalia syndrome," making the administration unwilling to risk the domestic fallout from further loss of lives. Shattuck spent his government career trying to overcome that structure of obstacles with at best mixed success. The strength of the book is its four case studies. Rwanda, according to Shattuck, was a genocide that might have been prevented. In Bosnia, eventual U.S. intervention did break a decade-long cycle of killing. In Haiti the U.S. succeeded in building an international coalition to step in before human rights abuses became catastrophic. And in China, "politics as usual" left human rights issues trampled in the dust. Shattuck combines morality and pragmatism, arguing that even before September 11, the costs to the U.S. of not intervening quickly and decisively in developing human rights crises outweighed the advantages of remaining on the sidelines. Without assistance, states collapse, and failed states become centers of disorder and loci of terrorism. Shattuck correspondingly calls for a redefinition of international security, based on early warning of human rights crises followed by preventive measures, and, where necessary, direct intervention, including military force. Recent events in Iraq will factor into readers' weighing of Shattuck's argument. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Shattuck, a former assistant secretary of state and self-described "human rights hawk," draws on his experiences in the Clinton administrations to argue forcefully and persuasively that the United States must work with other nations to fight terror decisively whenever and wherever it emerges. He recounts his role in failing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda just after the U.S. fiasco in Somalia, and he strongly criticizes U.S. reluctance to intervene as well as French complicity in protecting the Hutu perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsis. He also discusses how the United States was finally persuaded to intervene militarily in Haiti and shows that the partial success in Haiti affected Clinton's willingness to take decisive action in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor. Against these "successes," he contrasts Clinton's decision to give China "Most Favored Nation" status without forcing it to institute substantial political reform. Shattuck ends his book by postulating "strategies for peace" based on prevention of terror through diplomatic means, measured intervention against terror, principles of justice, and building peace by helping to build a nation. A clear and vivid account of how U.S. foreign policy failed to fight terror and repression in the 1990s and what it augurs.-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Shattuck shares his experiences as the chief human rights official (1993-1998) in the Clinton administration and conveys what he believes the role of any US administration should be in combating gross human rights violations that threaten international stability. He argues that the world needs an international system of human rights, which is in the best interest of the US to support because of its global political, economic, security, and moral interests. However, he adds that there are several obstacles to mounting a serious effort against human rights violations owing to the US's tendency to ignore them or delay taking action, the Bush administration's preoccupation with terrorism, the isolationist mood in Congress, and bureaucratic gridlock, among others. Shattuck discusses in detail his experiences, mistakes, and successes in the cases of Rwanda, Bosnia, Haiti, China, and Kosovo. In his conclusion, he outlines strategies for peace that include "preventing state failure and heading off conflicts in states that have failed"; improving early warning and conflict prevention; opting for more active intervention; putting time and effort into peace building, and ensuring justice after human rights violations. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. E. Conteh-Morgan University of South Florida

Table of Contents

1 Rwanda: The Genocide That Might Have Been Prevented
2 Rwanda: The Struggle for Justice
3 Haiti: A Tale of Two Presidents
4 Bosnia: The Pariah Problem
5 Bosnia: Facing Reality
6 Bosnia and Kosovo: Breaking the Cycle
7 The China Syndrome
8 China: Collision Course
9 Strategies for Peace Chronology State Department Organizational Chart