In her keynote remarks at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in early November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paused to reflect on the last 12 months: “What a year 2011 has been for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa.”
For people in that region and around the world, this past year brought exceptional progress and challenges. Some dictators fell, while others tyrants teetered, and in Syria, yet another clung to power by inflicting terrible suffering on his own people. Demands for free and fair elections and for governance that can provide both human rights and fundamental economic needs spread from country to country and across the globe. TIME Magazine named “The Protester” as its Person of the Year. Whenever I traveled — from Sudan to Russia to Burma to Bahrain — I met with people who simply wanted to exercise their right to free expression, to have a say in how they would be governed, to practice their religion without fear, and to earn a decent wage.
For these reasons, last year was quite extraordinary for the men and women here at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). They each worked in close partnership with offices and embassies throughout the State Department on these issues, three of which I’d like to highlight here:
Middle East transitions: We worked in close coordination with State Department colleagues on the many challenges and opportunities that have arisen this year. In her NDI speech, Secretary Clinton addressed American commitments to promote reform and support transitions in the Middle East and North Africa. In May, I testified on Capitol Hill about the state of these political transitions. In July, I did the same regarding human rights abuses in Syria; and, more recently, in December, I briefed key lawmakers on my trip to Bahrain and the government’s response to the landmark Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report.
Internet Freedom: Protecting the rights of individuals to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion on and offline is a signature issue for Secretary Clinton, our bureau and the Department as a whole. Last year, Secretary Clinton delivered two major policy addresses on the topic — most recently at the Freedom Online Conference in the Netherlands, which launched a coalition of 15 countries committed to joint action in support of a free and open Internet. I also had the privilege of talking about Internet freedom at the New America Foundation “Future Tense” Conference and at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference, where I emphasized the challenges and responsibilities the private sector has in this space. Since 2008, we have committed $70 million in programming to this cause. You can learn more about our continued efforts here.
LGBT: Integrating the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people into American foreign policy has been a core priority for this Administration. In early December, Secretary Clinton delivered a historic speech in Geneva entitled “Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights,” in which she addressed “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time” and pledged to continue combating efforts to criminalize homosexuality. This speech followed on the heels of a June UN Human Rights Council session which passed the first-ever UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT people. Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan Baer later outlined the underlying American values and foreign policy rationales for the promotion of LGBT rights in this op-ed. A fact sheet about the Department and my bureau’s collective work can be read here.
The year 2012 marks the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. As we embark on this new year, we rededicate ourselves to the American values and universal principles that guide our bureau, this government and this country. I look forward to working with you in 2012.
Cross-posted from DipNote.