The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
December 4, 2013
“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 here.
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 here.
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 here.
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 here.
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.
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 here.
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 lives—American 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 here.
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 here.
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.
- Cross posted from whitehouse.gov