Clinton Speech Should Make Clear America's Commitment To Human Rights

For Immediate Release

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Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

Clinton Speech Should Make Clear America's Commitment To Human Rights

WASHINGTON - Today, Secretary Hilary Clinton is scheduled to make a major foreign
policy address setting out the Obama Administration's vision for U.S.
global leadership in the 21st century. In anticipation of her remarks,
Human Rights First is calling on Secretary Clinton to make clear
America's commitment to human rights.

To date, the administration has consistently stressed its commitment
to promoting human rights abroad and has emphasized that broader and
better respect for human rights globally serves the national security
interests of the United States. In talking about this approach, senior
officials – including President Obama and Secretary Clinton – have
talked about engagement with America's rivals and adversaries, as well
as with friends and allies. They have spoken of the mutual interests and
mutual responsibilities of governments to uphold human rights, and they
have termed their approach principled pragmatism.

"Secretary Clinton has asked that America's human rights record be
judged not on rhetoric, but on results.  She is right that actions speak
louder than words. But by clearly outlining the administration's human
rights objectives and priorities in today's speech, Secretary Clinton
can better make the case for how engagement is designed to achieve
them," said Elisa Massimino, Human Rights First's President and CEO.

Human Rights First notes that while it is true that many human rights
problems are challenging and some may be beyond the capacity of U.S.
foreign policy to remedy, given the importance that the Obama
Administration attaches to human rights as a foundation of international
peace and security, it is not unreasonable to expect credible,
principled policy proposals that respond to pressing global human rights
problems. Until now, it has been hard to point to successes for the
Obama administration in this regard.

Secretary Clinton's speech is a time to address these concerns head
on and to tell the world how the Obama Administration plans to address
specific challenges, including:

  • Russia: The much-heralded reset of relations with
    Russia has not impacted the disturbing slide towards authoritarianism in
    that country.  Basic freedoms of expression and assembly are curtailed
    for the government's non-violent critics.  Human rights defenders and
    independent journalists and threatened, assaulted and even killed with
    impunity.  Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton should make clear that the United
    States will no longer rely on the U.S-Russia bilateral commission as
    the primary mechanism for promoting human rights in that country. She
    should go beyond stating that the Obama administration disagrees with
    Russia on human rights and should say publicly that continued human
    rights violations will interfere with developing closer relations in
    other areas.
  • Iran: In Iran, U.S. diplomatic efforts have
    focused on building international support for efforts to prevent Tehran
    from developing nuclear weapons capacity, not on ways to support
    protesters struggling for the right to choose their own leaders or for
    women and religious minorities seeking equal treatment.  As evidence of
    severe violations of human rights continues to mount – such as activists
    in prison, peaceful protesters killed in the streets or subjected to
    torture and rape in prison, and human rights defenders forced to flee
    for their lives – the absence of an urgent policy response from the
    United States has become a glaring omission.  Secretary Clinton should
    make clear that the State Department will build a substantial
    international effort with likeminded countries on human rights as part
    of the security issues that dominate the international agenda.
  • Egypt: Even in countries with which the U.S.
    government enjoys close bi-lateral relations, like Egypt, the lack of
    clear policies to address well-known and long-standing human rights
    problems is a concern.  For example, the U.S. government continues to
    call for Egypt to hold free and fair elections in forthcoming
    parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for later this year
    and 2011.  U.S. officials continue to make these statements, even though
    they know that measures taken by the Egyptian government after the last
    round of elections in 2005 make it virtually impossible for opposition
    candidates to stand in the presidential election and have undermined
    domestic efforts to carry out independent election monitoring to
    minimize abuses.  Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton should lay out clear
    benchmarks identifying the reforms necessary for free and fair elections
    to take place and pledge to hold the administration's Egyptian partners
    accountable for these commitments.
  • Sudan: It has been almost a year since the
    Obama administration unveiled a new Sudan policy.  In addition to being
    unevenly implemented, this policy has been ineffective in dealing with
    the government in Khartoum. It is now a matter of months before two
    critical referenda on that country's future.  How the U.S. galvanizes
    international action to prepare for this moment and avoid a return to
    war in Sudan will be a major test of this administration's global
    leadership. Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton should commit to providing
    strong U.S. leadership on Sudan and, more broadly, commit to taking
    action whenever atrocities are threatened by – among other efforts –
    addressing the role of third-party enablers who help sustain the world's
    worst crimes.

Though it would be unfair to demand instant results from policies
designed to promote human rights abroad, Human Rights First notes that
leadership demands a candid appraisal of problems that exist. It also
demands a willingness to confront violators with their responsibilities
and, at the end of the day, to implement policies that set a course for
tangible improvements in conditions on the ground.  A U.S. government
that is seen as advancing human rights and freedom at home and around
the world will make America stronger and contribute to improved global
peace and security.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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