As we start the New Year, I want to reflect on four events that took place in the last few months of 2012 that illustrate how the Obama Administration’s human rights policies are achieving concrete results.
• In November, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma. This visit was the culmination of 18 months of active diplomatic efforts between the United States and Burma focused significantly on political and economic reform and the protection of human rights. During the President’s visit, the Burmese government announced a series of important human rights commitments, including access for the International Committee of the Red Cross to prisons and conflict areas, the opening of a permanent office by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the release of additional political prisoners, and the establishment of an ongoing review process for prisoner cases. The visit followed the first ever human rights dialogue between our two countries. The dialogue gave us an opportunity to discuss political reforms, rule of law, challenges relating to ongoing conflicts in ethnic states, political prisoners, and laid the groundwork for future progress. The administration’s efforts in Burma reflect our commitment to principled engagement where human rights concerns are firmly integrated into U.S. policy-making.
• Secretary Clinton commemorated Human Rights Day in Dublin, underscoring that not only are universal values “vital to who we are and what we hope to see our world become,” but that “human rights are at the center of some of the most significant challenges to global security and stability and therefore to our national interests.” She also emphasized that “human rights cannot be disconnected from other priorities. They are inextricably linked with all of the goals we strive for in our countries and around the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not just a catalog of rights and government obligations. It is a time-tested blueprint for successful societies.” The Secretary’s speech underscored the challenges we face, the commitment we place on advancing human rights principles, and the centrality of these issues to America’s strength and influence in the world.
• Perhaps our greatest and most challenging work over the last year has involved countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The transitions that began in the Arab Spring of early 2011 are now entering their third year. In 2012, we saw the inevitable challenges of turning democratic aspirations into reality. From Syria to Egypt, from Tunisia to Libya, from Bahrain to Jordan, meaningful, durable reform will depend on the building of sustainable democracy and respect for human rights. As Deputy Secretary Burns remarked last month, the United States believes “that supporting democratic transitions and political reform is not simply a matter of idealism, it is a strategic necessity.”
• Finally, I want to mention Secretary Clinton’s visit to Northern Ireland in December, where she reflected on the lasting peace born from the tireless efforts of advocates and leaders. She stressed — in terms that apply to the Middle East and others areas in transition — that durable peace rests not only on resolving political conflicts, but on reaching “the hard-to-reach communities — like the young man…whose father couldn’t find work and who sees his own chances for a job good slipping away” or the young woman “who’s had to give up the idea of going to university.” Including people who risk being economically, politically, or socially marginalized is critical to building lasting peace and security.
As we begin 2013, we will build on these themes and continue to advance universal principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law as essential components of U.S. foreign policy around the globe.
Cross posted from DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State