Spokesperson Nuland Offers Condolences on the Killing of Syrian Human Rights Activist Ghiyath Mattar
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of Syrian human rights activist Ghiyath Mattar while in the custody of Syrian Security Forces. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends as they mourn their loss. Ghiyath, along with leading activist Yahya Sharbaji and a number of other human rights activists committed to non-violent resistance, was detained on September 6. Ghiyath Mattar’s courage in the face of the Asad regime’s brutal repression is well known in his home of Daraya and across Syria. His brave commitment to confronting the regime’s despicable violence with peaceful protest serves as an example for the Syrian people and for all those who suffer under the yoke of oppression.
We stand with the Syrian people in their resistance to tyranny. We call on the Asad regime to immediately cease all violence against the Syrian people and release all political prisoners. We again call on Asad to step aside and allow the Syrian people to embark upon the democratic transformation they demand.
The Syrian government’s targeted, brutal attack on Ali Farzat, the most popular political cartoonist in the country and a long-time human rights advocate, is deplorable. The regime’s thugs focused their attention on Ferzat’s hands, beating them furiously and breaking one of them – a clear message that he should stop drawing. He was then reportedly dumped on the side of a road in Damascus, where passers-by stopped and took him to a Damascus hospital.
Many other moderate activists who oppose violence have been jailed for speaking out against the regime, including Walid al-Buni, Nawaf Basheer, Georges Sabra, Mohammed Ghaliyoun, and Abdullah al-Khalil. Some have been held for months incommunicado.
While making empty promises about dialogue with the Syrian people, the Assad regime continues to carry out brutal attacks against peaceful Syrians trying to exercise their universal right to free expression. We demand that the Assad regime immediately stop its campaign of terror through torture, illegal imprisonment, and murder.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Distinguished Members of the Commission, I appreciate the Commission’s affording me the opportunity to address an issue with profound implications for the exercise of human rights in the OSCE region and across the globe: ensuring a free and open Internet. Your focus on this critical subject is emblematic of the Commission’s strong defense and dedicated promotion of human rights principles enshrined at the core of the Helsinki Final Act and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. States have an enduring responsibility to respect these principles and their responsibility extends into the Digital Age. In the 21st Century, men and women everywhere are increasingly turning to the Internet and other connection technologies to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
I have valued the opportunity to work with Members of this Commission and your superb staff. The Commission’s efforts greatly strengthen my hand and that of Assistant Secretary Michael Posner and our colleagues in the State Department as we work with other governments, civil society advocates and the private sector to defend and advance human rights and democratic government. The defense of Internet Freedom is integral to our efforts.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, first I will describe the Obama Administration’s global policy of support for Internet Freedom. Then, as you have requested, I will highlight key trends and concerns regarding a number of countries in the OSCE region. Finally, I will describe what we are doing institutionally within the OSCE to ensure Internet Freedom.
The U.S. Champions a Rights-Based Approach to Global Internet Freedom
The United States champions Internet freedom because it derives from universal and cherished rights—the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. An open Internet gives people a neutral platform from which to express their legitimate aspirations and shape their own destiny. We believe that people in every country deserve to be able to take part in building a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society. In the 21st century, technology is a powerful tool with which to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms. In turn, ensuring Internet freedom helps create the space for people to use technology to “know and act upon” their rights.
As Secretary Clinton has emphasized: “The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs – these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.”
As we all know, the Internet and other new technologies are having a profound effect on the ability to organize citizen movements around the world. And because repressive regimes understand the power of this technology, they are redoubling their attempts to control it. It is no coincidence that authorities who try to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms by their people, impede the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, control the press and obstruct the flow of information, tend to be the same authorities who try to restrict, impede, control and obstruct their citizens’ peaceful use of these new connective technologies.
Governments that respect their citizens have no reason to fear when citizens exercise their rights. And governments that respect the rights of their citizens have no reason to fear a free Internet. As President Obama has said: “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.”
Recently, in Vilnius, on the margins of the Community of Democracies ministerial meeting, Secretary Clinton and I met with activists—including several from the OSCE region — who spoke of the surveillance, hacking, and harassment they face every day.
Mr. Chairman, we are not cyber-utopians who believe that the Internet is the magic answer to the world’s human rights problems. Technology does not change the world; people must. Some governments are using advanced technologies to chill free expression, to stifle dissent, to identify and arrest dissidents. Through our diplomacy and through direct support for embattled activists worldwide, we are helping people stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the brutes who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online.
At the same time, we will continue to speak out about the regimes that resort to such behavior. And we will continue to point out that cracking down on the Internet only undermines the legitimacy of a government in the eyes of its own people – particulary young people. Those who have grown up in the Internet age understand how critical it is that all people everywhere can join in the global discussion and debate. These young “digital natives” understand intiuitively the dangers of an online world where citizens in one country receive only censored information and so form a stilted view of the world. And they understand intuitively the need to protect the promise and the potential of a truly free and global Internet.
Around the world, our embassies and missions are working to advance internet freedom on the ground. We are building relationships with “netizens” and advocating on behalf of imprisoned and arrested online activists. Internet freedom is now a core part of many of our bilateral human rights and economic discussions with a broad range of countries. Fostering free expression and innovation is a core element of the President’s International Strategy for Cyberspace, released in May of this year. As Secretary Clinton said in the rollout of the strategy, cyber issues are a new foreign policy imperative. Accordingly, we are integrating Internet freedom into our engagements on the broader range of cyber issues.
Since 2008, the State Department and USAID have committed $50 million in direct support for activists on the front lines of the struggle against Internet repression. By the end of 2011, we will have allocated $70 million toward these efforts. Our programming responds to the most urgent priorities we hear from activists on the ground – including embattled democracy and human rights activists from OSCE countries. A critical part of our efforts is support for circumvention technology, to enable users to get around firewalls erected by repressive regimes. But circumvention alone is not enough. Users do not just need access to blocked content; they also need to be able to communicate safely with each other, to organize, to get their own messages out. For this reason, we are funding the development of better communication technologies, including secure tools for mobile phones, to empower activists to safely organize themselves and publish their own material. We are funding trainings on cyber self-defense, to train activists in person about the risks they face and how to protect themselves online. And we are committing funding to research and development, so that we stay ahead of the curve in understanding evolving threats to Internet freedom.
We also are working with the private sector, to define the steps that governments and businesses need to take to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms at a time when the technology and its implications are changing constantly.
And, through our multilateral diplomacy, we are playing a leading role in building a global coalition of governments committed to advancing Internet freedom. To that end, we are working at the UN Human Rights Council, in UNESCO, in the OECD, and, of course, within the OSCE.
OSCE as a Pioneering Regional Platform for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age
Mr. Chairman, as you know, OSCE was the first regional organization to recognize that respect for human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites for a lasting order of security and prosperity. And OSCE was the first regional organization to acknowledge the vital importance of civil society. The Helsinki process must continue to be a pioneer for human dignity, civil society and democratic government in the Digital Age.
Challenges to Internet freedom in the OSCE region are illustrative of the issues we are addressing across the globe in our efforts to support an open Internet. Let me now address trends and concerns related to Internet Freedom in a number of OSCE participating States:
In mid-2010, Belarusian authorities announced a new legal regime designed to restrict freedom of speech on the Internet, and to harass and intimidate individuals and organizations to deter them from expressing their views through Internet postings, email and websites. The law requires all website owners to register with the authorities, and further requires them to maintain their sites on the government-controlled .by domain. Citizens seeking to use the Internet at public locations including Internet cafes must present their identity documents, and Internet cafes are responsible for maintaining lists of users and the websites they visit. Authorities routinely monitor emails and Internet traffic, and at times block access to websites linked to opposition political parties and independent media groups. On December 19, 2010, the day of the presidential election, authorities also blocked access to popular global sites, including Twitter and Facebook. The same day, denial of service attacks led to the disabling of over a dozen popular Belarusian independent media websites.
In recent days, Belarusian citizens have mobilized via the Internet to organize a series of “silent” protests designed to highlight the government’s continuing repression, the lack of freedom of speech, and the country’s deteriorating economic situation. Since June 8, such protests –in which participants gather silently and clap their hands – have taken place in at least 43 cities and towns across the country. Authorities have responded by dispersing gatherings via heavy-handed tactics and by detaining hundreds of people. Police have ordered the closure of at least seven websites, and reports of denial of service attacks and spear-phishing attacks have also increased. Finding themselves unable to completely suppress free expression via the Internet, Belarusian authorities have created their own Twitter accounts to threaten protest participants, and have flooded the most popular Belarus-focused news feeds with misinformation designed to disrupt plans for further protests.
Yet the protests continue and demonstrators continue to express themselves online. Over 216,000 people joined a group on Vkontakte (the Russian-language equivalent of Facebook), calling for “Revolution via the social networks” in Belarus. The page was shut down on July 3, but a replacement page gained 20,000 members in two days. Bloggers and Internet journalists have continued to post videos of police beatings and harassment of peaceful demonstrators on YouTube. During a recent public protest on July 3, police reportedly arrested nearly 200 people; at least 15 journalists were also detained. During protests on July 13, authorities blocked access to Vkontakte for several hours, but hundreds of demonstrators still turned out to silently protest in locations around Minsk. As Secretary Clinton has made clear, we will continue to press for the human rights and democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. And we will continue our staunch support for those struggling to make their voices heard both online and in the streets.
The Participating States of Central Asia
In the Central Asian region, we continue to be concerned by governments’ efforts to block websites, particularly when information or opinions are expressed via the Internet that are critical of government officials or policies. Media laws and registration requirements are also used to target independent activists and dissidents, which does not accord with the commitments that OSCE participating States have made to ensure freedom of expression. Internet censorship further aggravates the constraints on freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms that impede progress and development in the Central Asian states. In order for the Central Asia region to prosper, 21st century new media technologies must be harnessed to facilitate citizens’ vibrant ideas and contributions, not governments’ repression.
In Kazakhstan, we have long expressed our concern that the Respublika news portal remains inaccessible to users of Kaztelecom, the government-owned Internet service provider, along with dozens of other independent sites that are intermittently blocked. In Tajikistan too, we have seen the blockage of websites disseminating independent or critical views. And in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, heavy monitoring of Internet content and registration requirements continue to impede free expression. In Kyrgyzstan, despite an end to official restrictions on, or monitoring of, the Internet after the April 2010 change in government, we were concerned by the Parliament’s recent resolution calling for the Fergana.ru site to be banned on grounds that it is inciting ethnic hatred. We believe that full respect for freedom of expression, including via the Internet, can undergird efforts at reconciliation and accountability in Kyrgyzstan.
We welcome the Russian President Medvedev’s statement at the World Economic Forum in January that: “Any attempts to limit the Internet or stifle innovation will lead the world to stagnation. Russia will not support initiatives that put Internet freedom in question.” The spread of the Internet undoubtedly has had a positive effect on Russian civil society, providing new opportunities for grassroots organizations to connect with citizens and new platforms to voice alternative viewpoints and hold government accountable. However, problems associated with press freedom for print media have begun to migrate to online media as well. Russia is one of the countries “under surveillance” in the 2010 Enemies of the Internet report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Even when technical blocks or filtering are not deployed systematically, if people are punished physically or through legal action for peacefully expressing themselves online, Internet freedom is constrained. The threats to Internet freedom in Russia range from attacks on bloggers to criminal prosecutions of bloggers for ‘extremism’, to the blocking of specific sites by local service providers, denial of service (DDOS) attacks on sites site of opposition groups or independent media, and attempts by security services and some regional authorities to regulate Internet content. For example:
In November 2010, journalist and blogger Oleg Kashin was brutally beaten outside his home in Moscow. Leading human rights organizations in Russia connect the attack with material he had published on his blog.
The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta came under a DDOS attack in April, while a wide-scale March DDOS attack on LiveJournal, a blog hosting site, began by targeting the blog of prominent anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny has also been targeted for prosecution for criminal charges alleging that he had facilitated a 2009 bad investment for a regional government in his capacity as a legal advisor. Rights groups in Russia believe that the charges are politically motivated.
Regional authorities have acted to block sites or prosecute those who produce content that they deem politically undesirable. Bloggers in Oryol, Marii El, Syktykvar, and other areas of Russia have have faced prosecution for posting insults to Prime Minister Putin or other official persons in online forums. Local authorities have acted in multiple cases to compel local service providers to block certain sites that contain materials listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials—a problematic and expanding list of over 700 publications. Regional providers have also temporarily blocked sites of the political opposition, such as the site of the Solidarity Movement and Kasparov.ru, and independent publications like the New Times.
Whistleblowers also face legal retaliation. For instance, Yuri Yegorov, a blogger from Tatarstan and a former employee of the regional government, received a 6-month suspended sentence in May for libel after he alleged corruption and embezzlement on the part of Tatarstan human rights ombudsman Rashit Vagizov. His reports of corruption were later supported by other witnesses’ testimonies, which were ignored by the court.
We are increasingly concerned by the restrictions that the Government of Turkey places on Internet freedom. Turkish authorities have blocked over 5,000 websites, many with content on sensitive social and political issues. Much of this blocking is done in accordance with Turkey’s 2007 Internet law, which allows the government to prohibit a Web site if there is suspicion that the site is committing any of eight crimes. These restrictions have been criticized by prominent officials within the Turkish government itself, including President Abdullah Gul.
This year has brought two new proposed restrictions on Internet freedom. Turkish authorities announced a new ban on Internet domain names that contain 138 words deemed offensive based on vague criteria. In addition, the government announced that it planned to introduce a nationwide filtering system to be implemented by Internet Service Providers. The proposal was met with widespread criticism, from the international community and from within Turkish civil society. Although some Turkish Internet associations indicate this decision may be postponed, yet the regulations are still scheduled to take effect August 22. While we understand these restrictions are allegedly designed to protect children from harmful content on the Internet, banning words in an attempt to eliminate undesirable content from the Internet cannot succeed. . Major international Internet companies have voiced concerns over operating in Turkey under such regulations. If Turkey is to ensure a modern, prosperous, and peaceful society, it cannot continue to constrain the potential of the Internet for the exercise of human rights.
In Azerbaijan, Internet access is not restricted. For example, the government does not restrict web sites such as You Tube or Facebook, both of which are very popular. The government’s release of young blogger-activists Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli last fall and newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev this spring were positive developments.
We are concerned, however, that government officials appear to have monitored certain types of online activity, including postings on social media sites, in order to restrict freedom of assembly, specifically the activities of youth and opposition organizers who used these sites to organize anti-government demonstrations in March and April. Several of these activists – presumably identified from internet postings as organizers – were detained or imprisoned following these events. For example, youth activists Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Jabbar Savalanli were arrested earlier this year after using the Internet for pro-democracy activism. Hajiyev, a candidate in last November’s parliamentary elections, was detained on draft evasion charges pending since 2010 after he was associated with Internet postings related to March 2011 protests. International and domestic observers have alleged that the authorities prosecute draft evasion selectively, and have singled out Hajiyev because of his political activities. He was convicted on May 18 of draft evasion and sentenced to two years imprisonment. This is not the first time Hajiyev has encountered problems with the government after utilizing the Internet for social activism; in 2007 the authorities arrested him after he established a web site to protest price increases. Savalanli, a young opposition Popular Front Party activist, was convicted on May 4 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on drug charges considered to be spurious by human rights groups.
Enduring Freedoms, New Apps
Mr. Chairman, as you know, in the past, the Helsinki process was a major international platform for defending citizens expressing dissenting views via samizdat and for protesting the jamming of radio broadcasts. Two decades ago, in response to efforts by the Ceausescu regime to restrict citizens’ access to Xerox machines, an explicit commitment was included in the OSCE’s Copenhagen document pledging that “no limitation will be imposed on access to, and use of, means of reproducing documents of any kind.” Today, email, social networking and text messaging are new forms of samizdat as well as indispensible tools of commerce, education, and global communications.
As the United States has done since the inception of the Helsinki Process, so, too, in this new century, we stand with those in the OSCE region who seek to peacefully exercise their fundamental freedoms and promote and protect human rights, including via new technologies.
I commend Lithuania, which has made key themes of its Chairmanship media freedom via old and new technologies and the safety of journalists. We are particularly grateful for the tireless efforts of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ms. Dunja Mijatovic and her dedicated staff to ensure that fundamental freedoms can be exercised via digital media, and I am delighted that she is here with us today. Last week, she co-organized with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Promotion of Pluralism in New Media. Her office is working on a matrix representing Internet laws and policies in the OSCE region to identify and encourage best practices and adherence to OSCE commitments on freedom of expression. Additionally, her office provides critical training to journalists in Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as legal reviews of OSCE participating States’ legislation, to advance broader respect for freedom of expression norms. Perhaps most critically, Ms. Mijatovic has been a voice for bloggers, journalists and other activists who are harassed or imprisoned for their work to disseminate independent information that is essential for democratic development.
Mr. Chairman, the Commission has long supported the vital role that non-governmental organizations play in the OSCE process. I am pleased to say that we are exploring creative ways that we can help connect human rights and democracy activists across the OSCE region through new technologies in order to enhance their ability to network with one another and leverage the contribution of their ideas and insights to the work of the OSCE. On her trip to Vilnius last week, Secretary Clinton spoke at a “tech camp” we organized to help civil society groups from the OSCE region and beyond use these new technologies most effectively.
I want also to emphasize, Mr. Chairman, that cyber issues are relevant to all three dimensions of the OSCE. As we partner with other governments, civil society and the business sector on ways we can safeguard against very real cyber security threats, we do so ever mindful that the measures we take must be consistent with our human dimension commitments to respect the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Mr. Chairman, last year, in the run-up to the OSCE Summit in Astana, the U.S. advanced language for inclusion in the Summit Action Plan stating that the participating States, in fulfillment of their longstanding OSCE commitments, will permit their people to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association through Digital Age technologies. The language did not aim to create new commitments; rather it was designed to reinforce the message that existing commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms apply in the Digital Age. The language represents a conceptual breakthrough in that it recognizes that individuals and members of civil society organizations utilize digital technologies not only to exercise freedom of expression, but also to connect, network, form organizations, and gather in both virtual and real space. The language also highlights a key human dimension priority: defending and supporting the vital role of civil society in human rights protection and democratic development.
In Astana, our negotiators worked to advance our Digital Age language along with highly compatible language from the European Union related to freedom of expression.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Astana Summit did not adopt an Action Plan. We intend, however, to renew our efforts to advance our language on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age with a view to its adoption at the OSCE Ministerial in Vilnius this December. OSCE’s adoption of the Digital Age language would, I believe, mark the first time that any regional organization formally recognizes that respect for the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms must extend to the use of new technologies.
The United States will take every opportunity to work with the Lithuanian Chair, the EU, other participating States and civil society to ensure that the OSCE sends a clear message from Vilnius on Internet Freedom. If I were to distill that message into a tweet to the world, it would be: “Enduring Freedoms, New Apps.”
Mr. Chairman, when he signed the Helsinki Final Act 35 years ago, President Ford famously said that: “History will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow — not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” He was right then, and his statement is even more true today. In this Digital Age, keeping our promises greatly depends on ensuring that the Internet is open and free.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Now I would be happy to answer your questions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, everyone, and it’s a particular pleasure for me to welcome the foreign minister back to Washington. I’ve had the opportunity of working with Minister Schwarzenberg in the beginning of my term as Secretary of State and now have that pleasure once again. And the close partnership between our countries dates back to the beginnings of the Czech Republic, and we are very proud of the long ties of kinship and friendship, of the shared values and mutual respect, and our joint pursuit of individual freedoms, democracy, economic opportunity, and human rights. And the minister is well known as a champion of those values.
We had a broad-ranging discussion. I expressed the gratitude of the United States to the Czech people for their ongoing contributions to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and our sympathy for the loss of a Czech soldier just a few days ago. By leading the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar Province, Czech troops are providing invaluable support for the Afghan people as they rebuild their country and take responsibility for their own security. And we greatly appreciate the Czech Republic’s decision to increase its troop contributions this year. We are going to be working closely together as we begin a transition to Afghan-led security.
We also discussed our joint efforts to promote democracy and human rights around the world. After the crackdown on democracy activists and opposition leaders in Belarus last December, the Czech Republic led 14 countries, including the United States, in working with the OSCE to conduct a fact-finding mission. That report was issued earlier this week and it marks an important step forward in our efforts to stand up for democracy in Eastern Europe and beyond. And we look forward, Minister, to working together in many different venues to promote democratic transitions and institution building.
Finally, the minister and I exchanged ideas for continuing to strengthen our economic and security relationships. We have a strong foundation on which to build. Over the past year, we have launched an Economic and Commercial Dialogue, signed a Joint Declaration on Civil Nuclear Cooperation, and began technical research and development discussions with the Department of Energy. We have an opportunity to expand our commercial relationship through ventures such as the Temelin Nuclear Power Station. It’s a project that could create thousands of high-paying jobs in both countries over the next several years while improving both Czech and European energy security. And the minister and I agreed today that our countries would begin talks in September on a new, enhanced bilateral investment treaty. We know it’s been a long-time goal that has not yet been realized, but the minister and I are determined that we’re going to bring it to completion.
And I am grateful for the many ways that we cooperate, and I thank the minister again for his lifetime of service and express our great appreciation for your being here today.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHWARZENBERG: Thank you so much. I mean, you (inaudible) everything we have talked about. I think it was a profound and very good conversation, discussion about (inaudible). And as Secretary Clinton said, we have in many, many aspects of international projects the same view. And of course, it’s a difference of a world power and a small country like the Czech Republic; nevertheless, the aspect we can cooperate very usefully, we’re doing it and we intend to do it even more in the future, not only Afghanistan, there are other areas in the world we are discussing greater involvement of the United States in projects of the eastern (inaudible) of project of the (inaudible) and so on and so on. And we are discussing (inaudible) scientific and commercial cooperation. I do think our alliance is in a good way into the future.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Minister.
MR. TONER: The first question this morning goes to Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Google is reporting about Chinese hacking into the email accounts of U.S. officials. Have you talked to the Chinese about this? Do you have any evidence that sensitive information was compromised, and what are you doing to mitigate any damages?
And on Syria, a Human Rights Watch report on Syria concluded the regime’s abuses against its people and mass killing constitute crimes against humanity. You’ve been saying you hope the regime will end the brutality, but today a Washington Post editorial says that anyone that reads this report could not say this with such a straight face.
Secretary Clinton, is President Asad beyond redemption? I mean, is there any way he can turn this around now and – or is he along the lines of President Mubarak, President Muammar Qadhafi, and President Saleh that it’s time for him to go now? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, first with respect to the recent announcement by Google, we are obviously very concerned about Google’s announcement regarding a campaign that the company believes originated in China to collect the passwords of Google email account holders. Google informed the State Department of this situation yesterday in advance of its public announcement. These allegations are very serious. We take them seriously, we’re looking into them, and because this will be an ongoing investigation, I would refer you to first Google for any details that they are able to share at this time and to the FBI, which will be conducting the investigation.
One of the reasons why we’ve created the first-ever cyber security coordinator position in the State Department, filled by Chris Painter, a very experienced official in this area who was one of the leaders in helping to draft our governmental framework for cyber policy, is because we know this is going to be a continuing problem. And therefore we want to be as prepared as possible to deal with these matters when they do come to our attention.
With respect to Syria, I certainly am well aware of the human rights report. I think that the report puts into one place much of what we know has been going on. As I have said, the tragedy of the young boy, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, symbolizes for many people around the world the total collapse of any effort by the Asad government to work with their own people. And I think – President Obama said it very clearly: If he cannot end the violence against his own people, take meaningful steps to start a process of reform, then he needs to get out of the way. And every day that he stays in office and the violence continues, he’s basically making that choice by default. He’s not called for an end to the violence against his own people, he’s not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts, and the United States has taken a number of steps to try to put pressure on President Asad’s regime.
When we find ourselves in these situations, we have to do a very clear-eyed, calculated assessment of what influence we have and who are our partners in trying to bring about that influence. Although there are general trends in the Middle East and North Africa, each country is a specific case unto itself. And with respect to Syria, as you know, we have signed executive orders, the President has signed executive orders imposing sanctions, we have called out the human rights violations, we have sanctioned even Iranian groups that we think are playing a role in the repression occurring, we’ve closely coordinated with our allies in the European Union, they’ve enhanced their sanctions on Syria, we’ve called for a special session at the Human Rights Council, and, as you know, the European members of the Security Council are circulating a resolution there.
Right now, the attitude of the international community is not as united as we are seeking to make it. We do not yet have the agreement by some of the other members of the Security Council. We certainly have nothing resembling the kind of strong action the Arab League took with respect to Libya. So every day that goes by, not only do we see the outside pressure growing in a public effort to try to end the violence and bring this terrible chapter to an end, but privately we continue to do everything we can with like-minded countries. And I think that the legitimacy that is necessary for anyone to expect change to occur under this current government is, if not gone, nearly run out. The international community has to continue to make its strongest possible case and call for specific actions, like, not just an announcement of an amnesty but a release of political prisoners, the end to unjust detentions, allow human rights monitors into the country.
So I think we’re doing everything we can, and those who we’re seeking to bring to our view of the situation, I think, will have to make their own judgment, but we think they will be better off on the right side of history.
QUESTION: You’re saying that it’s time for him to go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that we – as President Obama said, if he’s not going to lead the reform, he needs to get out of the way. And where he goes, that’s up to him.
MR. TONER: The next question is Zdenek Fucik of Czech News Agency.
QUESTION: Good morning. As for the bilateral investment treaty, could you give us some timeframe when you expect these negotiations to be closed? And also, do you think you will be able to pass this enhanced agreement through Congress?
And also another pressing topic: It seems that the early warning system center, which would be in Prague as part of the new missile defense system project, has stalled a bit in the last year. What is the reason for this? Are there any problems on the Czech sides or – I don’t know, are there any new options in the Strategic Dialogue? This is to both of you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great. You want to start, Karel?
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHWARZENBERG: (Inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: First with respect to the bilateral investment treaty, it is the intention of Minister Schwarzenberg and myself that negotiations begin in September and move as quickly as possible. I regret that we’ve not been able to reach an agreement for 10 years with one of our closest friends, partners, and allies. But we are going to drive this process forward, and I’m putting everybody on notice, both in the State Department and in the rest of the United States Government, this is a very high priority. And I believe that if we can finalize negotiations, we will be able to get a favorable response in both of our – his – your parliament and our Congress.
With respect to the shared early warning system, we greatly appreciated the Czech Republic’s strong support of a European missile defense and NATO missile defense system. We are proceeding on that. We have discussed in detail at the highest levels of our defense cooperation what role the Czech Republic might play if it so chooses. But that is something that we are in constant consultations about, and we will continue to work toward a mutually satisfactory outcome.
QUESTION: Is there something concrete on the table right now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ll let the minister respond.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHWARZENBERG: For the moment, we don’t have any concrete (inaudible). We had to expect, of course, to (inaudible) the talks between the United States and Russia and about the missile defense, and (inaudible) its consequence of the missile defense resolution we had in Lisbon in the NATO. We can now get concrete (inaudible) and we are in discussion in Brussels with (inaudible), we are in discussion with the United States. But I can’t tell you for the moment what the concrete result will be.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.
We reject the Syrian government’s justification of its tactics as necessary to maintain “stability.” The Asad regime remains the source of instability as it foments violence by meeting peaceful protests with deadly force and mass arrests. Despite the Syrian government’s violent repression and blatant disregard for the human rights of its citizens, the Syrian people continue to call for their legitimate demands to be met. The Syrian people have made clear that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Syrian government must meet their legitimate aspirations and end the killing, torture, and arbitrary detentions of protestors and activists.
Executive Orders and Sanctions
Syria has been designated a State Sponsor of Terror since December 1979. An additional layer of sanctions were added in December of 2003 with the passage of the Syria Accountability Act, implemented by Executive Order 13338 on May 11, 2004. Additional sanctions have recently been added to target the human rights abuses being committed by the Syrian Government against peaceful demonstrators and their own citizens.
President Obama signed a new Executive Order targeting the Syrian government’s continuing escalation of violence against the people of Syria on May 18. President Asad was designated pursuant to this authority, among other Syrian regime officials.
President Obama also signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on individuals and entities committing human rights violations in Syria on April 29, including President Asad’s brother and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).
We have closely coordinated with our allies in the European Union, who imposed an arms embargo and their own targeted sanctions on May 9.
We are actively considering a range of additional bilateral options for increasing pressure on the Syrian regime as the situation may require.
The United States will use the Executive Order to designate additional senior regime officials for targeted sanctions and will be imposing travel bans on all those who commit or contribute to human rights violations. We will hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses; no one is immune.
Actions at the United Nations
The United States led the call for a Special Session on Syria at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on April 29, which passed a strong resolution condemning the Syrian government and calling for an investigation by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As of May 18, Syria has not allowed access to the High Commissioner’s investigative team.
We actively lobbied at the United Nations to prevent Syria from being elected to the UN Human Rights Council later this month. Our lobbying efforts against the wholly inappropriate Syrian candidacy successfully resulted in Syria withdrawing its candidacy on May 11. Kuwait will stand for the seat instead.
The U.S. will call for further action in the Human Rights Council condemning the on-going violence, torture and arrests of prisoners of conscience, calling for accountability and lifts of the restrictions on the press.
“Civil Society,” as we know it in many countries in the region, is almost non-existent in Syria. The Syrian government has traditionally viewed intellectuals, political activists, NGOs and civic groups with suspicion – and through arrests and other forms of intimidation has deterred much of Syrian society from participating in “Civil Society.” Those who have chosen to participate in defiance of the security services have often paid a terrible price.
We support the universal human rights of citizens across the region, and have noted quite regularly our concerns when governments, including the Syrian government, fail to respect those rights. We stand up for the work of human rights defenders in all countries around the world.
The President and the Secretary have both emphasized promoting partnerships with the Muslim World. Providing Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) support directly to the people of the Middle East and North Africa is one way the United States can help provide tools to citizens who aspire to deliver positive change in their countries.
Through MEPI, we support efforts to expand political participation, strengthen civil society and the rule of law, empower women and youth, create educational opportunities, and foster economic reform throughout the region.
At her first strategic dialogue with civil society, Secretary Clinton emphasized that “the United States supports democratic change,” and that change is more likely to be peaceful and permanent when it involves both the government and a broad cross-section of the population. Civil society holds governments accountable, keeps them honest, and helps them be more effective. But it plays an even more fundamental role than that as it helps to strengthen the basic bonds of trust that are essential to democracy.
We are concerned about demonstrations that have occurred over the past few weeks in Tunisia, which we understand to be the result of social and economic unrest. We encourage all parties to show restraint as citizens exercise their right of public assembly. We have also conveyed our views directly to the Tunisian government.
Furthermore, we are concerned about recent reports that Tunisian ISP providers, at the direction of the government, hacked into the accounts of Tunisian users of American companies including Facebook, and providers of email such as Yahoo and Google, and stealing passwords. This kind of interference threatens the ability of civil society to realize the benefits of new technologies. Cyber intrusions of all kinds, including reported attacks on government of Tunisia websites, disrupt the free flow of information and reduce overall confidence in the reliability and security of vital information networks. We urge all parties to respect the freedoms of expression and information that belong to everyone.
Today Secretary Clinton met with Belarusian and Belarusian-American human rights activists including “We Remember” President Irina Krasovskaya and Belarus Free Theater co-founder Natalya Kolyada to discuss recent events in Belarus. The Secretary condemned the conduct of Belarus’s presidential election and crackdown on political leaders and activists, civil society representatives and journalists. She stressed her concern for detainees and for their family members, noting the U.S. Embassy in Minsk’s efforts to remain in close contact with them.
The United States and the European Union have issued two joint statements condemning the violence and calling for the immediate release of all who are detained. The Secretary repeated this appeal and also urged an end to repressive acts against the opposition, the media and civil society. The Secretary told the activists that we are watching the government’s actions closely and considering our response to those actions. The United States will continue its support for and engagement with the people of Belarus.
The following is a joint statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton on the post-presidential elections situation in Belarus.
The United States and the European Union reiterate their call for the immediate release of the presidential candidates and the over 600 demonstrators who have been taken into custody in the wake of the presidential elections in Belarus. We strongly condemn all violence, especially the disproportionate use of force against presidential candidates, political activists, representatives of civil society and journalists. Taken together, the elections and their aftermath represent an unfortunate step backwards in the development of democratic governance and respect for human rights in Belarus. The people of Belarus deserve better.
The European Union and the United States recognize the serious problems with the electoral process and the vote count as reported by the OSCE election observation mission and urge the Government of Belarus to meet its commitments to the OSCE to substantially reform the electoral process. The Government of Belarus should take the steps necessary to create political space for political activists, civil society representatives, and independent journalists.
Respect for democracy and human rights remain central to improving Belarus’s relations with the United States and the European Union. Without substantial progress in these areas, relations will not improve. It is against this background that we will be assessing the Government of Belarus‘s actions to address the current situation and to take developments into account as we review our relations with Belarus. The European Union and the United States intend to continue their support for and engagement with the people of Belarus and civil society representatives.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to thank you and everyone who has really seen this vision and is working to realize it. I love the whiteboards on both ends with what looks to be a very comprehensive and complex agenda. And I am very pleased to be here to thank you and to celebrate the work that you and colleagues do every single day to create and sustain strong civil societies in Russia and the United States.
We also had a very important summit today between Presidents Medvedev and Obama. Mike McFaul from the National Security Council is here. And Mike, as you know, is a very longtime supporter of a vibrant civil society in Russia. And, as President Obama said when he met with many of you in Moscow last summer, we recognize the critical nature of civil society to a vibrant democracy, and we want to create those relationships between our two countries and between civil society in each country that can assist in answering questions and solving problems.
Some quick examples that I just saw with the exhibits here this afternoon – we need creative, committed, courageous organizations like you and yours to find innovative solutions, to expose corruption, to give voice to the voiceless, to hold governments accountable to their citizens, to keep people informed and engaged on the issues that matter most to them.
As part of the Bilateral Presidential Commission that the two presidents established that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I are coordinating, we launched a Working Group on Civil Society. And I was privileged to meet with civil society leaders. I don’t know if anybody – was anybody here at the meeting that I had at Spaso House last – yeah, yeah, good – last October? And I was extraordinarily impressed and moved by the stories and the level of commitment and connection.
And we want to keep building on these relationships. We want to share best practices. We want to find new avenues for collaboration. We want to disseminate new technologies. We want to expand and strengthen your work. For example, following the U.S.-Russian Innovation Dialogue last February, Russian and American NGOs signed an MOU to promote the Text4Baby model, which uses mobile service technology to provide health information to pregnant women and new mothers. And I think we saw maybe a reference to that up on the board there.
And when I saw some of the creative ways that you can use a technology to educate people about elections, to fight child exploitation, to link groups together, to promote human rights, expand access to libraries and vital health services, I was very encouraged. Because we are going to continue to focus on this area and to empower people with the tools that they need to chart their own lives and to take stands wherever necessary.
We have a dedicated group inside the State Department focused on how to use technology in the 21st century. We call it 21st Century Statecraft. I saw Jared Cohen when I came in. I don’t know if Alec Ross is here or not. But who else is – anybody else here from your team, Jared? We have a great team of really dedicated young people – primarily young people – who care deeply about connecting people up. And I’m very proud of the work they’re doing. They have been everywhere from Mexico to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Syria to Russia, and every place in between. And we want to be a facilitator to help empower you in this area.
In one of my early discussions with Minister Lavrov, he said, well, you know, we don’t like it when you have so many NGOs coming to Russia. And I said, well, send Russian NGOs to the United States. (Laughter.) We’ll be happy to have them. And I really mean that. I think the more exchange and the more – (applause) – cross-fertilization the better.
I am one who believes that despite different historical experiences, different cultural backgrounds, there is so much that connects the United States and Russia. I think that President Medvedev saw that firsthand in Silicon Valley over the last 36 or so hours. And I think he understands the necessity of modernizing not just the Russian economy, but the Russian political system as well. And I was very excited to hear reports from Mike and others about how well-received the president was at Stanford and some of the other stops he made, and to meet with some of the many thousands of Russians who live in Silicon Valley. And I think it’s great that Russia is looking to try to create that kind of center for technology and growth right outside Moscow, and we want to help because we think that it’s in everyone’s interest do so.
But there is another element to our agenda. By shining a spotlight on the work of civil society groups like yours, we think we can help protect activists whose work can make them a target of abuse and violence. In particular, as I said last year, the United States remains deeply concerned about the safety of journalists and human rights activists in Russia. Among others, we remember the murdered American journalist Paul Klebnikov; the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention last year. We continue to urge that justice be delivered in these cases. We’re committed to working with you to find ways to reduce threats and protect the lives of activists.
So there’s a lot that we have done in this past year, and there’s more still to do in the so-called “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship. Our countries still have and will always have differences. There are not two countries that will agree on everything. There are not two people who will agree on everything. But we are speaking very openly, honestly and frankly about our areas of disagreement, and we’re looking to narrow those and then try to make progress across the board.
At a summit like the one just concluded between our presidents, it’s not only bringing presidents together. We think it is also symbolically bringing communities together. And that’s what you’re doing in real time here because you’re helping to intertwine Americans and Russians. Under this bilateral commission that we have set up, we’ve had more than a hundred meetings. There is a very long report that’s going up on State.gov of the report of the work of the bilateral commission. I invite all of you to look at it. We’ve really done some extraordinary things together, and there’s a lot more that lies ahead.
So I want to thank you. Thank you for your energy, your creativity, your passion, your commitment to building a better life for yourselves, your families, and for your fellow citizens. And I really urge you to continue to take on the issues that have such a big impact on people’s lives. And as you do that, we want you to know that you not only will have the support of the United States Government, but you’ll have the support of organizations like IREX. You’ll have the support of other NGOs, of academics, of the American private sector, but most significantly, the American people.
We will continue to seek ways to support and expand your work on behalf of the Russian people. And we are very excited and very hopeful about what we can do together. I think that the potential is just enormous, and we cannot grow weary making progress together. It sometimes seems for those of you who are on the front lines of any movement for change, that it is just excruciatingly slow and disappointing and frustrating. But if you look at the great sweep of history, the changes that have occurred – not just in Russia, but in the world, literally, in the last two, three decades – have been breathtaking.
So I see it from the position of how much has already happened, and then I think about how much energy we have behind what we need to be doing now and in the future. And I really hope that each and every one of you realizes that you’re performing a great service – an act of true patriotism on behalf of not only your country, but on behalf of a better life that will provide a stronger foundation for a positive, constructive relationship between the United States and Russia.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)