Following are remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at the Human Rights First Annual Summit, Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2013, "Human Rights: Advancing American Interests and Values."
Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you so much Elisa for your incredibly kind introduction, but even more I want to thank you for your long career fighting the good fight, and for your dedicated leadership of Human Rights First. For more than three decades, this group has been a clarion voice in defense of human dignity and the rights and freedom of people everywhere. And it really is my deep honor to be with you today.
Sixty-five years ago this month, representatives to the United Nations General Assembly came together to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsa worldwide recognition that all members of our human family are born possessing certain equal and inalienable rights. These same rights are reflected in the founding documents of the United States, and we cherish them as part of our national character. But, as President Obama has said, just because some truths are self-evident doesn't mean they are self-executing. We have to work relentlessly to make them real. We must constantly question and challenge ourselves to be on the right side of historyto do our part so that more and more of our fellow human beings can enjoy the rights and freedoms, which are the birthright of all mankind.
Our history is filled with champions who have fought to bring us closer to our idealsfrom Dr. King and the thousands who marched on Washington 50 years ago to "Battling" Bella Abzug, from Cesar Chavez to Harvey Milk and countless others. I know everyone in this room believes, as I do, that continuing their work at home and expanding it around the globe is our great commission as the inheritors of their legacy.
For me, the struggle for equal human rights is deeply personal. It's essential to who I am as an American. I can never forget that I am the daughter of proud citizens who suffered the indignities of Jim Crow. Nor can I forget that, in 1964, the year of my birth, in many parts of this great country, people who looked like me could not vote or marry someone who looks like my husband. The unfinished battle for equality and human dignity is not only what drives me as a public servant, it is my central duty as the mother of my two children to make sure they never encounter any limitations on their dreams because of who they are or what they look like.
No one understands this profound responsibility more keenly than President Obama. From his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to his remarks at the United Nations in September, he has been clear about the principles that guide us and to which we hold ourselves accountable, even as we navigate an increasingly complex world of competing and overlapping challenges.
Make no mistake: advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy. It's what our history and our values demand, but it's also profoundly in our interests. That is why the United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere. We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and minorities. We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press.
We support these rights and freedoms with a wide range of tools, because history shows that nations that respect the rights of all their citizens are more just, more prosperous and more secure. And while it's neither effective nor desirable to advance human rights through the barrel of a gun, we have made clear that, in the face of imminent mass atrocities, there may be times when it is appropriate to use force to protect the innocent from the very worst crimes. But, we cannot and we should not bear that burden alone.
Yet, obviously, advancing human rights is not and has never been our only interest. Every U.S. president has a sworn duty to protect the lives and the fortunes of the American people against immediate threats. That is President Obama's first responsibility, and mine. We must defend the United States, our citizens and our allies with every tool at our disposal, including, when necessary, with military force. We must do all we can to counter weapons of mass destruction, aggression, terrorism, and catastrophic threats to the global economy, upon which our way of life depends. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty.
As we seek to secure these core interests, we sometimes face painful dilemmas when the immediate need to defend our national security clashes with our fundamental commitment to democracy and human rights. Let's be honest: at times, as a result, we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear. We make tough choices. When rights are violated, we continue to advocate for their protection. But we cannot, and I will not pretend that some short-term tradeoffs do not exist.
Still, over time, we know that our core interests are inseparable from our core values, that our commitment to democracy and human rights roundly reinforces our national security. The greatest threats to our security often emerge from countries with the worst human rights records. Witness Iran and North Korea, which have stoked tensions with the world, in part to prolong their repressive rule at home. By contrast, when we are able to strengthen societies through our support for democracy and human rights, we plow the ground for greater cooperation among responsible nations on issues of mutual concern. So, the fact is: American foreign policy must sometimes strike a difficult balance not between our values and our interests, because these almost invariably converge with time, but more often between our short and long-term imperatives.
During the past five years, we've employed a variety of means to spur governments to respect the universal rights of their peopleand to hold them accountable when they do not.
Wherever President Obama goes, he speaks both publicly and privately to highlight human rights abuses and to help nations see that protecting the rights of their people is ultimately in their self-interest. We use the unmatched strength of our economy to apply financial pressure, including sanctions, on those that violate human rights. We leverage our military aid and other forms of bilateral support to encourage countries to live up to their international commitments. We allocate significant resources to assistance programs that foster human rights, the rule of law and good governance. Our senior leaders engage directly with civil society, both to show our support and to hear what is really happening on the ground. And, we work closely with multilateral institutions to marshal a coordinated international response to human rights violations.
Under President Obama, we joined the United Nations Human Rights Council in the face of domestic opposition. And, for all its continuing flaws, we've succeeded in making it a more effective institution that has shed light on abuses in Qadhafi's Libya, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Iran. And I want to salute my friend and colleague Eileen Donahoe who is a good reason and a major reason for that success in Geneva. Thank you so much Eileen. We've worked cooperatively with the International Criminal Court to foster accountability for the worst crimes. Together with our international partners, we helped to midwife the peaceful emergence of an independent South Sudan. In Cote D'Ivoire, we worked through the United Nations to arrest spiraling violence and enable the duly-elected leader of Cote d'Ivoire to take office after a despot stubbornly refused to cede power. Just recently, we backed regional diplomacy and a robust UN force to help usher the M23 militia off the battlefield in eastern Congo, yielding the promise of progress for the first time in many years.
In Burma, after long and effective pressure, including tough sanctions and persistent calls to end Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest and release political prisoners, we are now working to help Burma take steps towards inclusive democracy and national reconciliation. In the Western Hemisphere, we joined in beating back efforts to limit the autonomy of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression. And, backed by a UN Security Council mandate, we led, with our partners in NATO and the Arab League, an unprecedented international intervention to prevent mass atrocities in Libya.
Around the world, we call to account the world's worst abusers, from Iran to Syria, from Eritrea to Zimbabwe, from North Korea to Sudan. These governments crush the rights of their people and use the tyrant's toolkit of repression to retain power. Some have systematically slaughtered their own citizens, as in the genocide in Darfur.
In Syria, even as we provide humanitarian assistance and make rapid progress toward eliminating the threat of chemical weapons, our work continues to end the violence that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and to see the perpetrators of atrocities held accountable. In Iran, as we test the potential for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue, we are mindful that another key test is whether we begin to see progress on human rights. We call on the government to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran to visit the country. Our sanctions on Iran's human rights abusers will continue and so will our support for the fundamental rights of all Iranians. The Iranian people deserve the same right to express themselves online and through social media as their leaders enjoy.
Closer to home, we note modest steps toward economic reform in Cuba, but we condemn continued arrests of human rights activists and other government critics. As we mark the fourth year of his imprisonment, we call on the Cuban government to release our innocent, jailed compatriot, Alan Gross. Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. And that's why President Obama has increased the flow of resources and information to ordinary citizens. The Cuban people deserve the full support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter American Democratic Charter.
These extreme examples are in many ways the most clear-cut. They are egregious cases, where the weight of our concern and the tenor of our relationship make it easier to chart a clear policy course. In other countries, it is more difficult to disentangle our competing interests and to give full primacy to our values. So, let me talk a bit more about these tougher cases.
In this new century, there are few relationships more complex or important than the one between the United States and China. Building a constructive relationship with China is crucial to the future security and prosperity of the world as a whole. We value China's cooperation on certain pressing security challenges, from North Korea to Iran. Our trade relationship, one of the largest in the world, supports countless American jobs. And that's precisely why we have a stake in what kind of power China will become, and that is why human rights are integral to our engagement with China.
So the United States speaks clearly and consistently about our human rights concerns with the Chinese government at every level, including at this year's summit between President Obama and President Xi at Sunnylands. U.S. officials engage their Chinese counterparts directly on specific cases of concernlike that of Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyongas well as about broader patterns of restrictive behavior. And we voice our condemnation publicly when violations occur.
The Chinese people are facing increasing restrictions on their freedoms of expression, assembly and association. This is short-sighted. When people in China cannot hold public officials to account for corruption, environmental abuses, worker and consumer safety, or public health crises, problems that affect China as well as the world go unaddressed. When courts imprison political dissidents who merely urge respect for China's own laws, no one in China, including Americans doing business there, can feel secure. When ethnic and religious minoritiessuch as Tibetans and Uighursare denied their fundamental freedoms, the trust that holds diverse societies together is undermined. Such abuses diminish China's potential from the inside.
The same is true of Russia. We often can cooperate with Russia on nonproliferation, arms control, counterterrorism and other vital interests. But, as we meet these mutual challenges, we don't remain silent about the Russian government's systematic efforts to curtail the actions of Russian civil society, to stigmatize the LGBT community, to coerce neighbors like Ukraine who seek closer integration with Europe, or to stifle human rights in the North Caucasus. We deplore selective justice and the prosecution of those who protest the corruption and cronyism that is sapping Russia's economic future and limiting its potential to play its full role on the world stage.
In the Middle East and North Africa, we are navigating the security challenges of the Arab Spring and helping partners lay the foundations for a future rooted in greater peace, opportunity, democracy and respect for human rights. In Egypt, we said we could not conduct business as usual with the interim government after it used large-scale violence against civilians and detained opposition leaders earlier this year. So, we withheld the delivery of some major weapons systems pending progress towards democratic reforms and inclusive governance. We have a stake in promoting inclusive politics in Egypt to avoid driving government opponents into the arms of extremist groups and condemning the country to further instability. We have spoken out about the deleterious impact the new demonstrations law and its heavy-handed enforcement is having on freedom of assembly in Egypt, and we will continue to urge non-violence and progress on Egypt's roadmap towards an inclusive and stable democracy.
Bahrain is a long standing partner in the region. As home to our Fifth Fleet, a stable Bahrain is of great strategic importance to the United States. So we serve both our principles and our security by pressing for national reconciliation between the government and the opposition. We are discouraging actions on both sides that sharpen religious divisions or escalate violence. And, through concrete actions, including withholding portions of our military assistance, we are urging the government to lift restrictions on civil society, to treat members of the opposition in accordance with the rule of law, and to engage in a deliberate reform process.
Our commitment to Israel's security is unprecedented and enduring. Thus, in the West Bank, we condemn incitement and violence against Israelis. At the same time, we reject settler violence against Palestinians. The daily humiliations of administrative detentions, land confiscations, and home demolitions must end for a culture of peace to take root.
Even as we address such pressing national challenges, the United States continues to lead in promoting a global human rights agenda for the 21st century. This starts with our intensive efforts to protect and empower women and girls. No society can reach its full potential when half its people are held back. That's why, through the Equal Futures Partnership, we're working with countries around the world to fulfill specific commitments that elevate the status of women, such as developing constitutional protections for gender equality or extending benefits for women-owned businesses.
A full third of womenone in threeexperience either sexual or physical violence in their lifetimes. Gender-based violence is an affront to human dignity, but it also threatens public health, economic stability, and the security of nations. So, as part of our commitment to end this scourge, we're helping equip first responders to protect women and girls from rape as soon as conflicts or disasters occur, and we're launching a cabinet-level task force to raise awareness and coordinate our efforts to combat violence against women and girls.
No oneno oneshould face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love. So, we are working to lead internationally, as we have domestically, on LGBT issues. This summer, President Obama championed equal treatment for LGBT persons while standing next to the President of Senegal, a country that is making progress on democratic reforms, but like too many nations, still places criminal restrictions on homosexuality. President Obama met with LGBT and other civil society activists in St. Petersburg, Russia to discuss the restrictions they face in Russia. At the UN Human Rights Council and in regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the Pan American Health Organization, the United States has fought for and won support for resolutions that recognize the rights and protect the safety and dignity of LGBT persons. We created the Global Equality Fund to protect LGBT rights and those who defend them.
To support embattled civil society, which is the engine that drives greater transparency and accountability everywhere, including here in the United States we founded and are working through the Open Government Partnership to develop and share best practices. We're coordinating with the Community of Democracies to pressure repressive regimes. The State Department led the creation of the Lifeline partnership, which provides emergency assistance to civil society organizations. We are reaching out directly to all of you in the NGO community to learn about how we can best support and train your sister organizations around the world. And, our support for young leaders across Africa focuses, in part, on empowering those who are committed to working for an Africa that is buttressed, as President Obama said, by "strong institutions" rather than by "strongmen."
This isn't an exhaustive summary of our efforts. From Rakhine State in Burma to Jonglei State in South Sudan, we are working to protect vulnerable civilians, especially minorities, to heal rifts in communities, and to press for accountability so that the worst forms of violence do not go unpunished. The modern-day slavery of human trafficking remains a stain on our collective conscience, and President Obama has redoubled our efforts to end human trafficking in all its forms.
We are promoting internet freedom while still guarding against threats from those who would use the connective power of new technologies to harm us. And, as part of our comprehensive strategy to help prevent genocide and mass atrocities, we're developing the tools and partnerships that can warn us before violence ignites and strengthen our capacity to respond. For example, to take on the deteriorating situation and increasing violence in the Central African Republic, we're working this week at the UN to support African Union forces protecting civilians, to provide humanitarian assistance, and to investigate human rights abuses so the perpetrators can be held accountable.
Finally, our commitment to human rights means we must live our values at home. And, here too, our work is not nearly complete. If we are not walking the talk, we undermine the United States' ability to lead internationally. President Obama has an extremely strong record of promoting human rights domestically from the first bill he signed into law as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to his support for voter protection, and his commitment to full equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This Administration is deeply committed to ensuring that all men and women are treated equally.
In 2009, as UN Ambassador, I was proud to sign, on behalf of the United States, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But, almost five years later, as you know, we are still urging the Senate to approve this convention. I am very glad you'll be hearing tomorrow from the great former Senator Bob Dole, who has been a relentless advocate for this cause. We need Congress to join with us to show that America doesn't just press other nations to abide by international treaties and norms while we stand on the sidelines. Rather we must lead by example.
That is why too President Obama remains deeply determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. We have new envoys at the Departments of State and Defense dedicated to this cause. In August, we completed the first successful detainee transfers under the onerous restrictions that Congress enacted in 2011, and we expect to announce more transfers in the near future. We continue to urge Congress to remove these restrictions, which have severely hampered our efforts to close the Guantanamo detention facility. And I want to thank Human Rights First and your coalition for your energetic support for closing Guantanamo.
More broadly, after over a decade of war, we continue to transition from a perpetual war footing while robustly protecting America's interests and security around the world. Earlier this year, President Obama announced new guidelines governing the use of lethal force in our counterterrorism operations outside areas of active hostilities, including the use of drones. Congress is briefed on every strike taken, and we are committed to sharing as much information as possible with the American people about our efforts. Over time, continued progress against al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups should reduce the need for such actions.
More recently, President Obama directed a review of our signals intelligence collection. Intelligence saves livesAmerican lives and those of our allies and partners. We are committed to continuing to collect such information to meet our critical security needs. At the same time, we recognize that, in many countries, surveillance is an instrument of repression, which is why we must use the unprecedented power that technology affords us responsibly, while respecting the values of privacy, government transparency, and accountability that all people share.
In closing, I want to stress that our nation, and we in the Obama Administration, benefit enormously from groups like Human Rights First. Your analyses, your perspectives and, yes, your criticismshelp shape and improve our decision making. It may be decades before we see how all the challenges and choices of today play out. But, the promise we make to you is this: The United States will keep working every day to uphold the rights and freedoms that belong to all the people of this earth.
Over the last 20 years, I've seen up close the evil that humans can perpetrate against one anotherfrom churchyards in Rwanda to dirt camps in Darfur, from war-torn Sarajevo to burned-out death traps in Tripoli. More recently, I chaired meetings in the Situation Room after the Assad regime unleashed the world's largest chemical weapons attack in 25 years. I've seen the worst of man's inhumanity. But I also know the bewildering resilience of the human spirit. In so many unlikely places, I've seen the hope that pushes its way to the surface, unbidden, in the most dire circumstances.
I often think of the little boy, just 3 or 4 years old, whom I met in 1994 while visiting an IDP camp in war-torn rural Angola. I didn't get his name. He was just one in a group of curious kids who came out to greet our delegation. He had short legs, a distended belly, and only a torn, dirty t-shirt to cover his little body. Looking around at his hellish surroundings was enough to sap the hope out of the most optimistic person. But that little boy defied logic. He just glowed with a smile so innocent and infectious I will carry it to my grave. As I moved toward him, drawn almost involuntarily, I suddenly realized I had nothing of worth to offer him, except perhaps the well-worn baseball hat on my head. When I took it off and set it on his unsuspecting head, he just beamed, radiating nothing but joy. The poet Emily Dickinson tells us that, "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul." So, for me, hope will always be that young boy's smile.
Everything I've seen and done in my career since then has only left me more convinced of the common yearnings that stir in all of us. I have no idea what happened to that little boy in Cuito, Angola, but there are millions more just like him all over the Eartheach deserving of the same rights, the same security, and the same hope that our own children enjoy. Their future is bound up with our own. It is for their sake, and ours, that we stand fast for human rights. For their sake, and ours, we hold resolutely to our founding principles in this complicated and often dangerous world. And, it is for the sake of our common humanity and our shared future, that, even if imperfectly, we keep striving each day to build a world that is more just, more equal, more safe, and more free.
Thank you all very much.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2013
FACT SHEET: Obama Administration Leadership on International Human Rights
"People everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people and not the other way around. The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose."
President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012
"Advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy. It is what our history and our values demand, but it's also profoundly in our interests. That is why the United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere. We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities. We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press.
We support these rights and freedoms with a wide range of tools, because history shows that nations that respect the rights of all their citizens are more just, more prosperous and more secure."
Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013
On December 4, 2013, Ambassador Susan E. Rice delivered an address outlining the Obama Administration's global leadership on human rights. This fact sheet provides further detail on a number of the Administration's key human rights initiatives highlighted in her remarks.
Advancing LGBT Rights at Home and Abroad
- Domestically Advancing LGBT Equality: In his first term, President Obama and his Administration took significant steps toward equality for the LGBT community. The President signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the legislation to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that included important new protections for the LGBT community. The Obama Administration also issued important guidance to ensure visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones at hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments, implemented the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in federally funded housing programs. Finally, the President also ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and has directed his Department of Justice to work with other departments and agencies to ensure the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor is swiftly implemented, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations.
- International Initiatives to Advance LGBT Rights and Nondiscrimination: In December 2011, President Obama signed the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, requiring that federal agencies work together to meet common goals in support of the human rights of LGBT persons globally. Consistent with these goals, the United States assists activists and individuals under threat around the world through public statements, quiet diplomatic engagement, and targeted programs. Through the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership, the United States works with government and private sector partners to support programs that combat discriminatory legislation; protect human rights defenders; train LGBT leaders on how to participate more effectively in democratic processes; and increase civil society capacity to document human rights violations. Additional programs and research focus on protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
- Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad: Working with our embassies overseas and civil society on the ground, the United States has developed strategies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct in countries around the world.
- Engaging International Organizations in the Fight against LGBT Discrimination: The United States works with our partners to defend the human rights of LGBT persons through the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and in other multilateral fora. In addition to supporting resolutions specific to LGBT issues, such as cosponsoring the historic June 2011 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons, the United States works to ensure that LGBT persons are included in broader human rights resolutions and statements.
- Promoting Action and Coordination: The United States will host in 2014 a global gathering of donors and activists to pursue ways we can work together to strengthen protections for LGBT persons around the world, including by ensuring assistance in this area is strategic and coordinated with our like-minded partners.
More detailed information on U.S. leadership to advance equality for LGBT people abroad is available at the link www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/fact_sheet_-_administration_efforts_to_prevent_mass_atrocities5.pdf .
Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls at Home and Abroad
- Promoting Women's Rights at Home: Within months of taking office, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls with the explicit mandate to ensure that every agency, department, and office in the federal government takes into account the unique needs and experiences of women and girls. The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to promote equality; enhance women's economic security; and ensure that women have the opportunities they deserve at every stage of their lives. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women get the pay they have earned. In addition, the Affordable Care Act includes more preventive services and additional protections for women. The Department of Defense announced plans to remove gender-based barriers to combat service and fully integrate women into all occupational specialties. From signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act which provides better tools to law enforcement to reduce domestic and sexual violence and broadens protections to even more groups of women to extending overtime and minimum-wage protections to homecare workers (90 percent of whom are women), President Obama and his Administration are making deep and lasting investments in America's future by protecting the human rights of women and girls, and helping them reach their full potential.
- Advancing Women's Political and Economic Empowerment: The Equal Futures Partnership is an innovative U.S.-led multilateral initiative designed to encourage member countries to empower women economically and politically. Equal Futures partner countries commit to taking actions including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to ensure women fully participate in public life at the local, regional, and national levels, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth. The partnership complements U.S. government signature programs in these areas, including efforts to strengthen women's entrepreneurship through the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy initiative, and the Women's Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative.
- Empowering Women as Equal Partners in Preventing Conflict and Building Peace: President Obama issued an Executive Order directing the development of the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was released in December 2011 and focused on strengthening women's voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity. The U.S. government is taking concrete steps to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate efforts to advance women's participation in peace negotiations, peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and decision-making institutions; protect women from gender-based violence; and ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and insecurity.
- Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence: The United States released the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, and President Obama signed an accompanying Executive Order directing all relevant agencies to increase coordination on gender-based violence globally; enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention and response efforts; and enhance or expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence. Over the next year, the United States, joined by partners, will lead the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, with the goal of improving the capacity of the humanitarian assistance system to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters and to ensure such efforts are routinely prioritized as a life-saving intervention along with other vital humanitarian assistance.
More detailed information on U.S. efforts to promote gender equality is available at the link: www.humanrights.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Fact-Sheet-Labor-Policy.pdf .
Supporting and Defending Civil Society
- Stand with Civil Society Agenda: In late September, President Obama initiated an intensive, multilateral effort to support and defend civil society from increasing restrictions and enable civil society organizations (CSOs) to contribute to the economic, social, and political development of their countries. Working through existing institutions and initiatives including the United Nations, the Open Government Partnership, the Community of Democracies, and Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development, the United States will collaborate with other governments, civil society, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and multilateral organizations to: (1) promote laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinate multilateral, diplomatic pressure to roll back restrictions being imposed on civil society; and (3) identify new and innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to civil society.
- Real Help in Real Time for Threatened CSOs: The United States is partnering with 18 other governments and foundations through the Lifeline: Embattled CSOs Assistance Fund to offer emergency financial assistance when civic groups are threatened. Since its founding in 2011, Lifeline has assisted 255 civil society organizations in 69 countries to increase their safety.
- Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders: In 2013 alone, the United States invested $500 million to strengthen the work of CSOs across development sectors, with a particular focus on developing the next generation of civil society leaders. Through the President's Young African Leaders Initiative and recently-launched Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, the United States is enhancing the capacity, leadership skills, and connections between young leaders committed to building strong democratic institutions and working with government to address common challenges.
More detailed information on U.S. support for civil society is available at the link www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/09/23/fact-sheet-us-support-civil-society ..
Open Government Partnership
The United States is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global effort to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, harness new technologies, and transform the way governments serve and engage with their citizens. In just over 24 months, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has grown from eight to over 60 countries, which have embraced the key principles of open government promoting transparency, fighting corruption, and energizing civic engagement through new technologies and approaches to strengthen the democratic foundations of our own countries. The United States has worked both domestically and internationally to ensure global support for Open Government principles. We have made important progress to improve the ability of citizens to obtain access to government records, released government data that fuels entrepreneurship and innovation, and increased government spending transparency.
More detailed information on U.S. efforts in OGP is available www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/10/31/fact-sheet-marking-progress-second-anniversary-open-government-partnersh .
With over 120 million in Internet freedom grants since 2008, the United States has made Internet freedom a central program and foreign policy priority. Programs focus on supporting the development of technology tools to assist activists in highly repressive environments; advocacy programs; training and rapid response to keep activists from harm or advocate for them if in danger; and applied research to help develop strategic responses to Internet repression. The United States helped to organize the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-regional group of 21 governments that collaborate on Internet freedom. The U.S. and the Freedom Online Coalition worked to pass, by unanimous consensus, a landmark 2012 resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. The United States has also continued to support a free and open Internet and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, where all interested parties industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments participate on an equal footing.
More detailed information on U.S. initiatives to preserve the open Internet is available at the link www.state.gov/e/eb/cip/netfreedom/index.htm .
Combating Human Trafficking
Following President Obama's call to action at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012, and continuing with the first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking in April 2013, a report and recommendations to the President by his Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and a further set of commitments announced this past September, the Administration has been working across the Federal government and with partners in Congress, local, state, and foreign governments and civil society to deliver on an ambitious agenda to combat modern-day slavery, which afflicts far too many communities, both here at home and around the globe.
- Improving Victim Services and Building Effective Law Enforcement: Identifying and serving victims and ensuring effective law enforcement are core elements of our efforts to promote successful anti-trafficking strategies, both at home and abroad. To better coordinate and strengthen services for victims of human trafficking in the United States, the Administration is developing the first-ever comprehensive federal strategic action plan, which details a series of coordinated actions to strengthen the reach and effectiveness of services provided to victims of human trafficking. In addition to numerous law enforcement initiatives at federal, state, and local levels, federal agencies have also recently launched a pilot project with ten embassies around the world to increase the flow of actionable trafficking-related law enforcement information from host countries to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States, which will be used to identify victims and human traffickers both in the United States and around the globe.
- Shining a Light on Government Responses to Trafficking Around the World: The State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) each year sheds light on the global dimensions of the human trafficking problem, including child soldiering, sex trafficking, and forced labor, and on the anti-trafficking efforts of over 180 governments, including the United States. The honest assessments provided in the TIP Report have proven to be one of our strongest tools to encourage foreign governments to take responsibility for the trafficking occurring within and across their borders and to help target our anti-trafficking foreign assistance. In addition to the information highlighted in the TIP Report, we also engage bilaterally at the highest levels of government on this issue, make targeted use of sanctions, and support foreign governments and stakeholders on a broad array of anti-trafficking initiatives.
- Strengthening Protections in Federal Contracting: In September 2012, President Obama signed Executive Order 13627 to strengthen our country's existing zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking in government contracting, outlining prohibitions on trafficking-related activities that will apply to federal contractors and subcontractors, and providing federal agencies with additional tools to foster compliance. This past September, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council issued a proposed rule to implement this Executive Order and the Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013. The Department of Defense has also published a proposed regulatory supplement with additional steps that the Department will take to further prevent trafficking in its own supply chain.
- Leveraging Technology: The Administration has been working with partners in civil society and the private sector to find new ways to harness the power of technology to more effectively combat human trafficking. As one of many such examples, after being brought together by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, leading technology companies have partnered with advocates and survivors to develop new online applications to reach trafficking victims online and on their phones and link them with services in their community. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center which, since its launch, has received nearly 90,000 calls and identified close to 12,000 victims is now operating on a new mobile texting platform to more effectively connect with under-reached victim populations.
Strengthening Multilateral Human Rights Mechanisms
- Leading at the UN Human Rights Council: Since joining the UN Human Rights Council in 2009 and following our re-election in 2012, U.S. leadership has helped muster international action to address human rights violations worldwide and make the HRC more credible and effective. The United States supported the establishment of international commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and help lay the groundwork for accountability, including in Syria, North Korea, and Qadhafi's Libya. We led the creation of a UN special rapporteur on Iran to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation. U.S. co-sponsorship helped adopt the first-ever resolution in the UN system on the human rights of LGBT persons. We built a global coalition to advance freedom of assembly and association worldwide, including by facilitating the establishment of the first-ever Special Rapporteur for these issues and by underscoring the important role civil society plays in promoting and protecting human rights. And we worked across historical divides to win adoption of a landmark resolution calling on all states to take positive measures to combat intolerance, violence, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, while protecting the freedom of expression.
More detailed information on U.S. accomplishments in the UN Human Rights Council is available at the link www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/11/200447.htm .
National Security and Human Rights
- Closing Guantanamo: President Obama remains determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and erase this blemish on our international credibility. At the President's direction, the Departments of State and Defense have brought on new envoys dedicated to this cause, and in August we completed the first successful detainee transfers that were certified under the restrictions that Congress began enacting in 2011. We are committed to transferring as many detainees as possible under these restrictive provisions, consistent with our security and humane treatment standards, and we expect to be able to announce other transfers in the near future. We have also begun the periodic review process to carefully evaluate whether the continued detention of certain detainees remains necessary. As we continue to press to responsibly reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and ultimately close the facility, we have urged to remove the unnecessary, onerous restrictions that have hampered our efforts to do so.
- Standards for Taking Lethal Action: Earlier this year, during his comprehensive address at the National Defense University, President Obama announced that he had approved written policy standards and procedures that formalize and strengthen the Administration's rigorous process for reviewing and approving operations to capture or employ lethal force against terrorist targets outside the United States and outside areas of active hostilities. In that speech the President explained that, beyond the Afghan war theater, the United States only takes strikes against terrorists who pose a "continuing and imminent threat" to the American people, where capture is not feasible, and where there is near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured the highest standard we can set. Congress is briefed on every strike taken as part of these operations, and we are committed to sharing as much information about these activities as possible with the American people and the international community, consistent with our national security needs. Over time, continued progress against al Qa'ida and associated terrorist groups should reduce the need for such actions.
- Intelligence Gathering: In August, President Obama directed a review of the scope of our surveillance capabilities. Intelligence saves livesAmerican lives and those of our partners and allies. While we are committed to continuing to collect such information to meet our critical security needs, we remain mindful of the unprecedented power that technology affords us, and give full consideration to the values of privacy, government transparency, and accountability that we strongly support.
Preventing Mass Atrocities
President Obama announced in 2012 a comprehensive Administration strategy to prevent atrocities, underscoring that "preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America." The U.S. government is working to implement that strategy and investing in prevention efforts within the U.S. government and around the world. As part of this strategy, President Obama established an Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and prioritize atrocity prevention efforts within the U.S. government. Through the Board, U.S. departments and agencies are identifying and helping address atrocity threats and developing new policies and tools to enhance the capacity of the United States to effectively prevent and respond to atrocities.
- Improving our own capacities: Agencies are using early warning tools to ensure timely attention to potential drivers of atrocity risk and share our analysis with other governments; assisting U.S. embassies by providing surges of skills and expertise to help assess and respond to atrocity threats; and developing and implementing new training for personnel serving in countries at high risk.
- Multilateral institutions and peacekeeping capabilities: The U.S. government is working closely with other governments to help build the capacity of the United Nations and other institutions to better protect civilians, mediate conflicts, and take other effective preventive measures.
- Supporting country-specific prevention efforts: The U.S. government is undertaking and supporting preventive measures in countries around the world, including supporting the training and deployment of African Union peacekeepers to the Central African Republic; supporting efforts to prevent violence and protect vulnerable communities in Burma; supporting projects that lay the foundation for accountability for atrocities in Syria; and continuing to advise and assist regional partners as part of a comprehensive effort to mitigate and end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the Lord's Resistance Army.
More detailed information on U.S. atrocity prevention efforts is available at the link www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/fact_sheet_-_administration_efforts_to_prevent_mass_atrocities5.pdf .
International Religious Freedom and Religious Leader Engagement
- Programmatic Responses: The Department of State manages approximately $10 million in foreign assistance programs to promote religious freedom, which includes current efforts to remove discriminatory and hateful material from Middle Eastern textbooks, promote greater awareness of intolerance and the plight of religious minorities globally, and hold discussions with the Pakistan government, civil society, and the religious community on issues such as curriculum reform in the public and madrassa education systems. The State Department also implements programs to support the Human Rights Council resolution on combatting discrimination and religious intolerance, while protecting the freedoms of religion and expression. The program assists governments in training local officials on cultural awareness regarding religious minorities and on enforcing non-discrimination laws. The training, shaped by the needs of the host country, includes topics such as legislative reform; best practice models; prosecuting violent crimes motivated by religious hatred; metrics; and discrimination in employment, housing and other areas.
- Case-specific Responses: U.S. officials press foreign governments at all levels to advance religious freedom, including through advocacy on specific cases, such as the case of Saeed Abedini - an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned in Iran - and Rimsha Masih - a Christian child accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.
- Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement: Given the critical role of religious actors in their communities, the United States has developed a strategy that encourages U.S. government officials to develop and deepen their relationships with religious leaders and faith communities as they carry out their foreign policy responsibilities. Specifically, the strategy seeks to advance the following objectives through more robust engagement with religious leaders and faith communities, as part of a broader effort to reach out to a diverse set of civil society actors: promote sustainable development and more effective humanitarian assistance; advance pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom; and prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict and contribute to local and regional stability and security.
More detailed information on U.S. policy and programs in support of international religious freedom is available at the link www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/05/209666.htm .
Promoting International Disability Rights
The Obama Administration is making international disability rights a key component of our international human rights policy, carrying forward our nation's legacy of leadership as a champion for dignity, access, opportunity, and inclusion for persons with disabilities.
- Institutionalizing our Support: The Obama Administration has created the new positions of Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the State Department and Coordinator for Disability and Inclusive Development at USAID. With the leadership of these senior officials, the United States can better ensure that foreign assistance and development programs incorporate persons with disabilities, that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international emergency situations, and that our public diplomacy addresses disability issues.
- Ratifying the Disabilities Treaty: In 2009, during his first year in office, President Obama directed his Administration to sign the Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty grounded in the same principles as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the center of gravity for efforts to expand disability rights globally. We are working to secure Senate advice and consent for ratification so that the United States can join the other 138 parties to the treaty. While our diplomats and development professionals are doing great work on disabilities issues, our status as a non-party to the Treaty means that we lose credibility and leverage in this area. By joining the Treaty, the United States will carry forward its legacy of global leadership on disability rights, enhance our ability to bring other countries up to our own high standards of access and inclusion, and help expand opportunities abroad for over 50 million Americans with disabilities including our 5.5 million disabled veterans. Our ratification will amplify and enhance the current work of the State Department and USAID by positioning the United States to be an effective champion for the kinds of systemic reforms needed to raise standards and improve the lives of persons with disabilities globally.
Business, Labor, and Human Rights
Because the activities of businesses have impacts on the lives of millions of people around the world, the U.S. government is working with U.S. companies to help them uphold high standards and ensure their activities respect the human rights of people in the communities where they do business.
- Supporting Business Activities: The United States encourages and supports the activities of business that help solve global challenges and improve the welfare of people for example, by hosting meetings and conference calls among U.S. companies, investors, and U.S. government experts to discuss how companies can effectively address labor and human rights challenges in particular countries.
- Partnering Together: We support initiatives that harness the comparative advantages of business and government by working together such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights initiative, in which the United States works with other governments, companies, and civil society organizations to promote the implementation of a set of principles that guide oil, gas, and mining companies in providing security for their operations in a manner that respects human rights.
- Promoting Respect for Human Rights: We promote the rule of law, respect for human rights, and a level playing field by encouraging responsible business behavior and inviting engagement by business in venues that advance best practices. For example, as part of the easing of sanctions on Burma last year, the Department of State established reporting requirements for newly authorized U.S. investment in Burma. This reporting process will encourage responsible investment and business operations, promote inclusive economic development, and contribute to the welfare of the Burmese people.
This United States is also a strong supporter of decent work and of internationally recognized workers' rights as a matter of both human rights and economic policy. We work through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, trade, investment and development policy, and through human rights and technical assistance programs to help ensure that working people everywhere enjoy fundamental labor rights, as defined by the 1998 International Labor Organization (ILO) declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and by U.S. law. In doing so, we work closely with our trading partners, the ILO, the private sector, and the global labor movement.
More information on our business and human rights agenda can be found at the link www.humanrights.gov/2013/05/01/u-s-government-approach-on-business-and-human-rights/ , and on our labor rights agenda at the link: www.humanrights.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Fact-Sheet-Labor-Policy.pdf .