©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.

This month’s addition to Social Education’s series on human rights consists of a lesson plan on the topic of how the United States should conduct foreign policy toward a nation with a record of human rights abuses. The lesson plan is derived from educational resource materials developed by Amnesty Internationa#146;s Human Rights Service Corps. For more information about the Corps and to obtain additional teaching materials on human rights, contact Amnesty International, 304 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003; telephone 202 544 0200.


Human Rights and Foreign Policy: A Lesson Plan


Amnesty International Human Rights Service Corps


As citizens in a democracy, U.S. citizens can influence the actions of their government. On a daily basis, the United States deals with nations that abuse the human rights of their citizens. This activity examines the making of foreign policy based on human rights concerns.




Grade level




One to two class periods



Handouts 1 and 2



Note: Instead of leading students through the discussion of the imaginary nation described in Handout 1, you might wish to move directly to a discussion of a real case. The checklist of Handout 2 could be used to guide your discussion.

Distribute Handout 1 and have students read it. Point out that this nation is a composite of characteristics that are present in many nations. This profile can easily be rewritten to reflect a government with politically left leanings and avowedly pro-American opposition groups.

Ask students to assume that there has been an election in the United States and a new administration has taken office. This new administration is reevaluating its foreign policy options. The students are advisers to this administration and must present policy recommendations.

Distribute Handout 2. You may prefer an open-ended discussion rather than one controlled by this checklist. If so, use this list for your reference.

Divide students into small groups. Have them first select their foreign policy approach (Part A). Then have them identify the particular strategies they would employ (Part B). Challenge them to consider the implications (political, economic, social, humanitarian) of the strategies they have adopted.

Have each group report on the strategies it adopted and its justifications for them. Try to ensure that the following concerns are raised about foreign policy decisions: morality/humanitarianism; national security interests; antimarxism and other hostile ideologies; support for democracy; and economic investment.

Ask students if Shenzi reminds them of any real nations. This might lead into an extended class discussion, or to research projects in which students could examine the following questions:

A. What are the similarities between these other nations and Shenzi?

B. What is U.S. policy toward these nations?

C. What should U.S. policy be?

Have students write letters—to their congressional representatives, the State Department, and the President—in which they report what they have learned, and ask for clarification/explanation of relevant American policies. This could also be an opportunity for them to recommend policy.

Handout 1


Nation of Shenzi: A Profile


Shenzi is a nation to which the United States provides aid and with which it has diplomatic relations and trade. It is ruled by an elite that controls most of the land and has become rich. The majority of the predominantly peasant population has remained poor with inadequate education, health, and social services. The Shenzian government claims to be instituting reforms that will improve the life of the peasants.

However, the government feels threatened by what it describes as leftist groups employing terrorist tactics to overthrow it. These groups claim that they stand for democracy and freedom and pledge to install a democratic government that will provide genuine justice for all.

There is ample evidence that the Shenzian military and police have engaged in torture, restricted freedoms (e.g., press, speech, assembly), and detained citizens without trial. They have also been accused of political assassinations and “disappearances.” The government argues that these are not normal times for Shenzi, and that it must maintain order, obtain information about the activities of the terrorists, and silence the voice of opposition if it is to carry out its reforms.

The rebels operate in rural areas away from the media, the government, and human rights observers. They have also been accused of employing terrorist techniques. Some have been documented; however, others have been difficult to substantiate.



> Population: 7 million

> Gross National Product per capita: $650

> Distribution of household income held by top 10% of population: 40%.
Bottom 20%: 5.2%

> Distribution of land ownership held by top 5% of population: 85%.
Bottom 50%: 12%

> Amount of economic aid received from U.S.: $150 million (average of last 3 years)

> Amount of military aid received from U.S.: $85 million (average of last 3 years)

> U.S. private investment has increased by 250% in past 5 years

> Infant mortality rate (deaths per 1000) 1965: 130; 1990: 89

> Literacy rate 1965: 38%; 1990: 63%

> Government ruled by Shenzian
National Party (SNP) since 1972

> Last election: 1972



Handout 2


U.S. Foreign Policy Options


What do you want the government to do? Check those approaches you would like them to adopt.


Part A

Overall Approach


Part B

Specific Strategies

Military Assistance to Government











Foreign Assistance (Nonmilitary) to Government









U.S. Investment and Trade with Other Nations