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Statement by the White House Press Secretary on Bahrain

We welcome today’s report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which provides a thorough and independent assessment of events in Bahrain since protests first erupted in February. King Hamad’s decision to establish the Commission was a courageous one, and we commend him for it. We commend the chairman of the Commission, Cherif Bassiouni and the other commissioners for their thorough and painstaking efforts over nearly 5 months. The report identifies a number of disturbing human rights abuses that took place during this period, and it is now incumbent upon the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and put in place institutional changes to ensure that such abuses do not happen again.

We welcome King Hamad’s commitment to carry out the report’s recommendations and will closely follow the implementation process. More broadly, we believe the Commission’s report and subsequent steps taken to implement its recommendations can serve as a foundation for advancing reconciliation and reform. Bahrain is a long-standing partner of the United States, and we urge the government and all parties to take steps that lead to respect for universal human rights and to meaningful reforms that meet the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.

 
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President Obama on the GCC-brokered Agreement in Yemen

I welcome today’s action by the Yemeni government and the opposition to sign a political agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council to form a government of national unity within 14 days and hold early presidential elections within 90 days. In particular, the United States welcomes President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s decision to transfer executive powers immediately to the Vice President in accordance with the agreement. This represents an important step forward for the Yemeni people, who deserve the opportunity to determine their own future.

For ten months, the Yemeni people have courageously and steadfastly voiced their demands for change in cities across Yemen in the face of violence and extreme hardship. Today’s agreement brings them a significant step closer to realizing their aspirations for a new beginning in Yemen. The United States urges all parties to move immediately to implement the terms of the agreement, which will allow Yemen to begin addressing an array of formidable challenges and chart a more secure and prosperous path for the future. The United States will continue to stand by the Yemeni people as they embark on this historic transition. We also acknowledge the important work done by our GCC partners in supporting this step forward.

 
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President Obama on the Death of Muammar Qaddafi

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Today, the government of Libya announced the death of Muammar Qaddafi. This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.

For four decades, the Qaddafi regime ruled the Libyan people with an iron fist. Basic human rights were denied. Innocent civilians were detained, beaten and killed. And Libya’s wealth was squandered. The enormous potential of the Libyan people was held back, and terror was used as a political weapon.

Today, we can definitively say that the Qaddafi regime has come to an end. The last major regime strongholds have fallen. The new government is consolidating the control over the country. And one of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more.

One year ago, the notion of a free Libya seemed impossible. But then the Libyan people rose up and demanded their rights. And when Qaddafi and his forces started going city to city, town by town, to brutalize men, women and children, the world refused to stand idly by.

Faced with the potential of mass atrocities — and a call for help from the Libyan people — the United States and our friends and allies stopped Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks. A coalition that included the United States, NATO and Arab nations persevered through the summer to protect Libyan civilians. And meanwhile, the courageous Libyan people fought for their own future and broke the back of the regime.

So this is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted. And with this enormous promise, the Libyan people now have a great responsibility — to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship. We look forward to the announcement of the country’s liberation, the quick formation of an interim government, and a stable transition to Libya’s first free and fair elections. And we call on our Libyan friends to continue to work with the international community to secure dangerous materials, and to respect the human rights of all Libyans –- including those who have been detained.

We’re under no illusions — Libya will travel a long and winding road to full democracy. There will be difficult days ahead. But the United States, together with the international community, is committed to the Libyan people. You have won your revolution. And now, we will be a partner as you forge a future that provides dignity, freedom and opportunity.

For the region, today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end. Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights. Youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship. And those leaders who try to deny their human dignity will not succeed.

For us here in the United States, we are reminded today of all those Americans that we lost at the hands of Qaddafi’s terror. Their families and friends are in our thoughts and in our prayers. We recall their bright smiles, their extraordinary lives, and their tragic deaths. We know that nothing can close the wound of their loss, but we stand together as one nation by their side.

For nearly eight months, many Americans have provided extraordinary service in support of our efforts to protect the Libyan people, and to provide them with a chance to determine their own destiny. Our skilled diplomats have helped to lead an unprecedented global response. Our brave pilots have flown in Libya’s skies, our sailors have provided support off Libya’s shores, and our leadership at NATO has helped guide our coalition. Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end.

This comes at a time when we see the strength of American leadership across the world. We’ve taken out al Qaeda leaders, and we’ve put them on the path to defeat. We’re winding down the war in Iraq and have begun a transition in Afghanistan. And now, working in Libya with friends and allies, we’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century.

Of course, above all, today belongs to the people of Libya. This is a moment for them to remember all those who suffered and were lost under Qaddafi, and look forward to the promise of a new day. And I know the American people wish the people of Libya the very best in what will be a challenging but hopeful days, weeks, months and years ahead.

 
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Statement by President Obama Congratulating Nobel Peace Prize Winners

On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen. Today’s award honors three extraordinary individuals, and sends a powerful message that the struggle for universal rights and human dignity can only be fulfilled with the full participation of women around the globe.

President Sirleaf has inspired the world through her journey from a prisoner to the first female President of her country. She has helped Liberia emerge from years of civil war and make great strides toward reconstruction and a democracy that values the contributions of all Liberians, including its women. As a warrior for peace, Leymah Gbowee led her fellow Liberian women as they bravely stood their ground against a brutal dictator in a non-violent struggle to bring peace to their country and realize a full voice for Liberian women. In Yemen, Tawakkul Karman and her fellow women activists were among the first to take to the streets this year to demand their universal rights, and despite the threats and violence waged against peaceful protestors, she has remained a powerful voice for non-violence in a country where guns outnumber people.

Each of this year’s Nobel recipients have their own story, but their lives reveal a fundamental truth. Nations are ultimately more successful when all of their citizens can reach their full potential, including women. When women and girls have access to proper health care, families are healthier and communities are less subject to the ravages of disease and hunger. When women and girls have the opportunity to pursue their education and careers of their own choosing, economies are more likely to prosper. And when women assume their rightful place as equals– in the halls of government, at the negotiating table and across civil society– governments are more effective, peaceful resolution of disputes are more lasting, and societies are more likely to meet the aspirations of all their citizens.

I commend President Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman for showing the world that the rights and voices of half of humanity cannot and will not be denied. And I reaffirm the commitment of the United States to advance the rights and role of women everywhere, in our own country and around the world.

 


Presidential Memorandum — Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

SUBJECT: Certification and Determination with Respect to the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008

Pursuant to section 404 of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA) (title IV, Public Law 110-457), I hereby: certify that the Government of Chad has implemented measures that include an action plan and actual steps to come into compliance with the standards outlined in the CSPA, and has implemented policies and mechanisms to prohibit and prevent future government or government-supported use of child soldiers and to ensure that no children are recruited, conscripted,or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers.

I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Yemen; and further determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to allow for continued provision of International Military Education and Training and non-lethal Excess Defense Articles, and issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of military equipment; and I hereby waive such provisions accordingly.

You are authorized and directed to submit this determination to the Congress, along with the accompanying Memorandum of Justification, and to publish the determination in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

 
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Statement by President Obama on Zambia’s Elections

On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Zambia on the historic September 20 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, and I commend you for building on your commitment to multiparty democracy. Zambia’s Electoral Commission, political leaders, civil society, and above all its citizens all contributed to this important accomplishment. The United States looks forward to working with President Michael Sata, members of parliament, and representatives of all of Zambia’s political parties to build on the long-standing partnership between our two nations. I also acknowledge former President Rupiah Banda’s contributions to Zambia’s democratic development, including his three years of distinguished leadership and his admirable acceptance of the will of the Zambian people. The hard work of a living democracy does not end when the votes are tallied and the winners announced; instead it offers the chance to reconcile and to advance greater security and prosperity for its people. Today is a day for Zambia to celebrate their democratic achievement. I hope that all Zambians will find common ground as you address the challenges and seize the opportunities facing your country and our world.

 
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The U.S. Commitment to Breaking down Barriers to Women’s Economic and Political Participation

“This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.”

–President Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 21, 2011

Overview
President Obama has made empowering the world’s women and girls a guiding principle of his Administration.  At home and abroad, the President understands that the world can no longer afford to do without the full contributions of half of its population:   women and girls.   When social order breaks down, when natural and man-made disasters hit, when the world’s economy slows, it is women and girls who suffer most.  At the same time, evidence shows that women’s empowerment is necessary to maintain international peace and security, to build stable, democratic societies, to grow vibrant market economies, and to address pressing health and education challenges. 

That’s why the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps at home to empower women and girls to realize their full potential, and steps abroad to put women front and center in our diplomatic and development assistance initiatives.  

Since the day he took office, President Obama has fought for American women and girls, achieving historic victories that give them the support they need to succeed, while ending the discrimination that holds them back.  President Obama understands that supporting women translates into stronger families and a stronger economy.  From creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, to appointing a strong team of women leaders to his Cabinet and White House staff, to nominating two women to the Supreme Court, the Obama Administration has ushered in a new era of gender equality.  And in March of 2011, the Council on Women and Girls published “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” the first comprehensive Federal report on the status of American women in almost 50 years. Over the past two and a half years, additional examples of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments in support of women and girls have included:

-Ensuring Equal Pay for America’s Women:  The first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,  which restored basic protections against pay discrimination, including giving women who have been discriminated against in their salaries  their day in court to make it right. And President Obama has convened an Equal Pay Task Force to ensure that existing equal pay laws are fully enforced. The President also continues to advocate for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that gives women the tools they need to fight pay discrimination.

-Securing Affordable and Accessible Health Care for America’s Women: For the first time, the Institute of Medicine has set forth guidelines for women’s preventive health care, and, as part of the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must cover these services, including: mammograms, STD/HIV testing and counseling, domestic violence counseling, contraception, gestational diabetes, with no deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance.  Additionally, starting in 2014 all health plans will be required to cover the cost of a pregnancy, and it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition.

-Creating Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women: President Obama has taken a number of vital steps to ensure that women in America have true economic security. Just most recently he sent the American Jobs Act to Congress – a bill that would save 280,000 teacher jobs, modernize 35,000 public schools, extend unemployment insurance for more than 2.6 million women, support 900,000 women who own small businesses by cutting their payroll taxes in half, give companies incentives to hire the long-term unemployed including 2.8 million women, and create new job-training opportunities for women who want to break into traditionally male-dominated fields like construction.

-Preventing Violence Against Women: In July 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, bringing new tools and resources to tribal communities to address the high rates of violence committed against Native American women.  In April 2011, Vice President Biden announced historic new guidelines for schools and universities about their responsibilities under federal civil rights law to respond to and prevent sexual assault.

-Integrating Women into U.S. Foreign Policy:  The State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review prioritized the empowerment of women as a key element of U.S. foreign policy, and its implementation will institutionalize the integration of U.S. support to women across the Department and USAID.

-Promoting Women as Central to U.S. Development Efforts:  Through the creation of a new Agency-wide policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment, USAID is ensuring better development results through enhanced attention to gender globally; and through the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, State, USAID, MCC and the Peace Corps are investing in women, families, communities, and nations.  

-Advancing Women’s Economic Participation:  As evidenced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s September 2011 Women and the Economy Summit, the first-ever high-level ministerial on women and the economy held in the United States and Chaired by Secretary of State Clinton, the United States is building consensus among regional partners to maximize women’s contributions towards economic growth. 

-Advancing Efforts on Women’s Political Participation:  From the Declaration on Women’s Political Participation signed by Secretary Clinton and other women leaders at the UN this week, to its actions in support of women as critical actors in conflict prevention and peacemaking, the United States continues to support efforts to elevate women’s leadership, to build the capacity of women legislators, to expand access to technology and the technology industry, and to increase the role of women in peace processes and democratic transitions.

Building on this knowledge and these efforts, in his Address today, the President challenged the assembled heads of state to announce, with him and in a year’s time, new steps that their governments will take to break down barriers and ensure women participate fully and equally in their countries’ economic and political spheres.   Over the coming year, the Obama Administration stands ready to work with its partners in the international community, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with the UN and other international organizations, to broaden and deepen efforts to increase equal economic and political opportunity for women around the world.  The President expects that this effort will take different forms in different countries, but may include commitments aimed at: 

-Investing in women’s and girls’ health and education;

-Eliminating barriers that hinder women’s access to property, inheritance, capital and markets, while supporting women farmers, business owners and entrepreneurs;

-Implementing policies to ensure women are paid equal wages for equal work;

-Working to ensure that both men and women can contribute fully in the workplace while attending to family needs;

-Examining and amending discriminatory laws and practices;

-Reflecting on and revisiting attitudinal biases;

-Taking steps to increase women’s participation in elections and governance bodies;

-Enhancing the international community’s ability to respond effectively to the needs of women and girls in disaster and conflict-affected countries;

-Implementing steps to increase women’s participation in decision-making affecting peace and international security;

-Preventing sexual and gender-based violence; and

-Supporting UN Women and other national and international actors focused on women’s rights, protection, and empowerment.

In keeping with the President’s challenge, over the coming year, the White House Council on Women and Girls and National Security Staff will coordinate the Federal Government’s ongoing efforts to support women’s political and economic empowerment at home and with partners abroad.  President Obama looks forward to joining his fellow heads of state in jointly announcing progress made on these worthy efforts in the year to come.

 


Opening Remarks by President Obama on the Open Government Partnership

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to this inaugural event of a partnership that’s already transforming how governments serve their citizens in the 21st century.

One year ago, at the U.N. General Assembly, I stated a simple truth — that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and in open governments. And I challenged our countries to come back this year with specific commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energize civic engagement, and to leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries.

Today, we’re joined by nations and organizations from around the world that are answering this challenge. In this Open Government Partnership, I’m pleased to be joined by leaders from the seven other founding nations of this initiative. I especially want to commend my friend, President Rousseff of Brazil, for her leadership in open government and for joining the United States as the first co-chairs of this effort.

We’re joined by nearly 40 other nations who’ve also embraced this challenge, with the goal of joining this partnership next year. And we’re joined by civil society organizations from around the world — groups that not only help hold governments accountable, but who partnered with us and who offer new ideas and help us to make better decisions. Put simply, our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government. So I welcome our civil society representatives — not as spectators, but as equal partners in this initiative.

This, I believe, is how progress will be achieved in the 21st century — meeting global challenges through global cooperation, across all levels of society. And this is exactly the kind of partnership that we need now, as emerging democracies from Latin America to Africa to Asia are all showing how innovations in open government can help make countries more prosperous and more just; as new generations across the Middle East and North Africa assert the old truth that government exists for the benefit of their people; and as young people everywhere, from teeming cities to remote villages, are logging on, and texting, and tweeting and demanding government that is just as fast, just as smart, just as accountable.

This is the moment that we must meet. These are the expectations that we must fulfill. And now we see governments around the world meeting this challenge, including many represented here today. Countries from Mexico to Turkey to Liberia have passed laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information. From Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, civil society groups are giving citizens new tools to report corruption. From Tanzania to Indonesia — and as I saw firsthand during my visit to India — rural villages are organizing and making their voices heard, and getting the public services that they need. Governments from Brazil to South Africa are putting more information online, helping people hold public officials accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars.

Here in the United States, we’ve worked to make government more open and responsive than ever before. We’ve been promoting greater disclosure of government information, empowering citizens with new ways to participate in their democracy. We are releasing more data in usable forms on health and safety and the environment, because information is power, and helping people make informed decisions and entrepreneurs turn data into new products, they create new jobs. We’re also soliciting the best ideas from our people in how to make government work better. And around the world, we’re standing up for freedom to access information, including a free and open Internet.

Today, the eight founding nations of our partnership are going even further — agreeing to an Open Government Declaration rooted in several core principles. We pledge to be more transparent at every level — because more information on government activity should be open, timely, and freely available to the people. We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making — because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity — because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology — because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal.

Next, to put these principles into practice, every country that seeks to join this partnership will work with civil society groups to develop an action plan of specific commitments. Today, the United States is releasing our plan, which we are posting on the White House website and at OpenGovPartnership.org.

Among our commitments, we’re launching a new online tool — called “We the People” — to allow Americans to directly petition the White House, and we’ll share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same. We’ve develop new tools — called “smart disclosures” — so that the data we make public can help people make health care choices, help small businesses innovate, and help scientists achieve new breakthroughs.

We’ll work to reform and expand protections for whistleblowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse. And we’re continuing our leadership of the global effort against corruption, by building on legislation that now requires oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose the payments that foreign governments demand of them.

Today, I can announce that the United States will join the global initiative in which these industries, governments and civil society, all work together for greater transparency so that taxpayers receive every dollar they’re due from the extraction of natural resources.

So these are just some of the steps that we’re taking. And today is just the beginning of a partnership that will only grow — as Secretary Clinton leads our effort on behalf of the United States, as these nearly 40 nations develop their own commitments, as we share and learn from each other and build the next generation of tools to empower our citizens and serve them better.

So that’s the purpose of open government. And I believe that’s the essence of democracy. That’s the commitment to which we’re committing ourselves here today. And I thank all of you for joining us as we meet this challenge together.

I want to thank you very much for your participation. And with that, I would like to turn over the chair to my co-chair, President Rousseff.

 


Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: It is a great honor for me to be here today. I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations — the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.

War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilizations. But in the first part of the 20th century, the advance of modern weaponry led to death on a staggering scale. It was this killing that compelled the founders of this body to build an institution that was focused not just on ending one war, but on averting others; a union of sovereign states that would seek to prevent conflict, while also addressing its causes.

No American did more to pursue this objective than President Franklin Roosevelt. He knew that a victory in war was not enough. As he said at one of the very first meetings on the founding of the United Nations, “We have got to make, not merely peace, but a peace that will last.”

The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than just the absence of war. A lasting peace — for nations and for individuals — depends on a sense of justice and opportunity, of dignity and freedom. It depends on struggle and sacrifice, on compromise, and on a sense of common humanity.

One delegate to the San Francisco Conference that led to the creation of the United Nations put it well: “Many people,” she said, “have talked as if all that has to be done to get peace was to say loudly and frequently that we loved peace and we hated war. Now we have learned that no matter how much we love peace and hate war, we cannot avoid having war brought upon us if there are convulsions in other parts of the world.”

The fact is peace is hard. But our people demand it. Over nearly seven decades, even as the United Nations helped avert a third world war, we still live in a world scarred by conflict and plagued by poverty. Even as we proclaim our love for peace and our hatred of war, there are still convulsions in our world that endanger us all.

I took office at a time of two wars for the United States. Moreover, the violent extremists who drew us into war in the first place — Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda organization — remained at large. Today, we’ve set a new direction.

At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over. We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq — for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.

As we end the war in Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have begun a transition in Afghanistan. Between now and 2014, an increasingly capable Afghan government and security forces will step forward to take responsibility for the future of their country. As they do, we are drawing down our own forces, while building an enduring partnership with the Afghan people.

So let there be no doubt: The tide of war is receding. When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline. This is critical for the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also critical to the strength of the United States as we build our nation at home.

Moreover, we are poised to end these wars from a position of strength. Ten years ago, there was an open wound and twisted steel, a broken heart in the center of this city. Today, as a new tower is rising at Ground Zero, it symbolizes New York’s renewal, even as al Qaeda is under more pressure than ever before. Its leadership has been degraded. And Osama bin Laden, a man who murdered thousands of people from dozens of countries, will never endanger the peace of the world again.

So, yes, this has been a difficult decade. But today, we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace. To do so, we must return to the wisdom of those who created this institution. The United Nations’ Founding Charter calls upon us, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” And Article 1 of this General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.” Those bedrock beliefs — in the responsibility of states, and the rights of men and women — must be our guide.

And in that effort, we have reason to hope. This year has been a time of extraordinary transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity.

Think about it: One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt. But the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination. And last summer, as a new flag went up in Juba, former soldiers laid down their arms, men and women wept with joy, and children finally knew the promise of looking to a future that they will shape.

One year ago, the people of Côte D’Ivoire approached a landmark election. And when the incumbent lost, and refused to respect the results, the world refused to look the other way. U.N. peacekeepers were harassed, but they did not leave their posts. The Security Council, led by the United States and Nigeria and France, came together to support the will of the people. And Côte D’Ivoire is now governed by the man who was elected to lead.

One year ago, the hopes of the people of Tunisia were suppressed. But they chose the dignity of peaceful protest over the rule of an iron fist. A vendor lit a spark that took his own life, but he ignited a movement. In a face of a crackdown, students spelled out the word, “freedom.” The balance of fear shifted from the ruler to those that he ruled. And now the people of Tunisia are preparing for elections that will move them one step closer to the democracy that they deserve.

One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.

One year ago, the people of Libya were ruled by the world’s longest-serving dictator. But faced with bullets and bombs and a dictator who threatened to hunt them down like rats, they showed relentless bravery. We will never forget the words of the Libyan who stood up in those early days of the revolution and said, “Our words are free now.” It’s a feeling you can’t explain. Day after day, in the face of bullets and bombs, the Libyan people refused to give back that freedom. And when they were threatened by the kind of mass atrocity that often went unchallenged in the last century, the United Nations lived up to its charter. The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre. The Arab League called for this effort; Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.

In the months that followed, the will of the coalition proved unbreakable, and the will of the Libyan people could not be denied. Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free. Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli.

This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights. Now, all of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.

So this has been a remarkable year. The Qaddafi regime is over. Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power. Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him. Something is happening in our world. The way things have been is not the way that they will be. The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open. Dictators are on notice. Technology is putting power into the hands of the people. The youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and rejecting the lie that some races, some peoples, some religions, some ethnicities do not desire democracy. The promise written down on paper — “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” — is closer at hand.

But let us remember: Peace is hard. Peace is hard. Progress can be reversed. Prosperity comes slowly. Societies can split apart. The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security. And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations. And we have more work to do.

In Iran, we’ve seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people. As we meet here today, men and women and children are being tortured, detained and murdered by the Syrian regime. Thousands have been killed, many during the holy time of Ramadan. Thousands more have poured across Syria’s borders. The Syrian people have shown dignity and courage in their pursuit of justice — protesting peacefully, standing silently in the streets, dying for the same values that this institution is supposed to stand for. And the question for us is clear: Will we stand with the Syrian people, or with their oppressors?

Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders. We supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people. And many of our allies have joined in this effort. But for the sake of Syria — and the peace and security of the world — we must speak with one voice. There’s no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.

Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change. In Yemen, men, women and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.

In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that, but more is required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart. It will be hard, but it is possible.

We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly. Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair. That is what our people deserve. Those are the elements of peace that can last.

Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity. We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press. We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country. And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad. And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.

Now, I know, particularly this week, that for many in this hall, there’s one issue that stands as a test for these principles and a test for American foreign policy, and that is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year. That basis is clear. It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.

Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied. That’s the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences. That’s the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state. And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.

We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.

But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.

Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.

The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

That is the truth — each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging. That’s what we should be promoting.

This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity. And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.

Now, even as we confront these challenges of conflict and revolution, we must also recognize — we must also remind ourselves — that peace is not just the absence of war. True peace depends on creating the opportunity that makes life worth living. And to do that, we must confront the common enemies of humanity: nuclear weapons and poverty, ignorance and disease. These forces corrode the possibility of lasting peace and together we’re called upon to confront them.

To lift the specter of mass destruction, we must come together to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Over the last two years, we’ve begun to walk down that path. Since our Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, nearly 50 nations have taken steps to secure nuclear materials from terrorists and smugglers. Next March, a summit in Seoul will advance our efforts to lock down all of them. The New START Treaty between the United States and Russia will cut our deployed arsenals to the lowest level in half a century, and our nations are pursuing talks on how to achieve even deeper reductions. America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons and the production of fissile material needed to make them.

And so we have begun to move in the right direction. And the United States is committed to meeting our obligations. But even as we meet our obligations, we’ve strengthened the treaties and institutions that help stop the spread of these weapons. And to do so, we must continue to hold accountable those nations that flout them.

The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful. It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the South. There’s a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation. That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.

To bring prosperity to our people, we must promote the growth that creates opportunity. In this effort, let us not forget that we’ve made enormous progress over the last several decades. Closed societies gave way to open markets. Innovation and entrepreneurship has transformed the way we live and the things that we do. Emerging economies from Asia to the Americas have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty. It’s an extraordinary achievement. And yet, three years ago, we were confronted with the worst financial crisis in eight decades. And that crisis proved a fact that has become clearer with each passing year — our fates are interconnected. In a global economy, nations will rise, or fall, together.

And today, we confront the challenges that have followed on the heels of that crisis. Around the world recovery is still fragile. Markets remain volatile. Too many people are out of work. Too many others are struggling just to get by. We acted together to avert a depression in 2009. We must take urgent and coordinated action once more. Here in the United States, I’ve announced a plan to put Americans back to work and jumpstart our economy, at the same time as I’m committed to substantially reducing our deficits over time.

We stand with our European allies as they reshape their institutions and address their own fiscal challenges. For other countries, leaders face a different challenge as they shift their economy towards more self-reliance, boosting domestic demand while slowing inflation. So we will work with emerging economies that have rebounded strongly, so that rising standards of living create new markets that promote global growth. That’s what our commitment to prosperity demands.

To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right. The United States has made it a focus of our engagement abroad to help people to feed themselves. And today, as drought and conflict have brought famine to the Horn of Africa, our conscience calls on us to act. Together, we must continue to provide assistance, and support organizations that can reach those in need. And together, we must insist on unrestricted humanitarian access so that we can save the lives of thousands of men and women and children. Our common humanity is at stake. Let us show that the life of a child in Somalia is as precious as any other. That is what our commitment to our fellow human beings demand.

To stop disease that spreads across borders, we must strengthen our system of public health. We will continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We will focus on the health of mothers and of children. And we must come together to prevent, and detect, and fight every kind of biological danger — whether it’s a pandemic like H1N1, or a terrorist threat, or a treatable disease.

This week, America signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to affirm our commitment to meet this challenge. And today, I urge all nations to join us in meeting the HWO’s [sic] goal of making sure all nations have core capacities to address public health emergencies in place by 2012. That is what our commitment to the health of our people demands.

To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands. We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made. Together, we must work to transform the energy that powers our economies, and support others as they move down that path. That is what our commitment to the next generation demands.

And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer. Together, we must harness the power of open societies and open economies. That’s why we’ve partnered with countries from across the globe to launch a new partnership on open government that helps ensure accountability and helps to empower citizens. No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.

And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. This is what our commitment to human progress demands.

I know there’s no straight line to that progress, no single path to success. We come from different cultures, and carry with us different histories. But let us never forget that even as we gather here as heads of different governments, we represent citizens who share the same basic aspirations — to live with dignity and freedom; to get an education and pursue opportunity; to love our families, and love and worship our God; to live in the kind of peace that makes life worth living.

It is the nature of our imperfect world that we are forced to learn these lessons over and over again. Conflict and repression will endure so long as some people refuse to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Yet that is precisely why we have built institutions like this — to bind our fates together, to help us recognize ourselves in each other — because those who came before us believed that peace is preferable to war, and freedom is preferable to suppression, and prosperity is preferable to poverty. That’s the message that comes not from capitals, but from citizens, from our people.

And when the cornerstone of this very building was put in place, President Truman came here to New York and said, “The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations.” The moral nature of man’s aspirations. As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that’s a lesson that we must never forget.

Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

 


Remarks by President Obama at High-Level Meeting on Libya

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning. Mr. Secretary General, on behalf of us all, thank you for convening this meeting to address a task that must be the work of all of us — supporting the people of Libya as they build a future that is free and democratic and prosperous. And I want to thank President Jalil for his remarks and for all that he and Prime Minister Jibril have done to help Libya reach this moment.

To all the heads of state, to all the countries represented here who have done so much over the past several months to ensure this day could come, I want to say thank you, as well.

Today, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation. After four decades of darkness, they can walk the streets, free from a tyrant. They are making their voices heard — in new newspapers, and on radio and television, in public squares and on personal blogs. They’re launching political parties and civil groups to shape their own destiny and secure their universal rights. And here at the United Nations, the new flag of a free Libya now flies among the community of nations.

Make no mistake — credit for the liberation of Libya belongs to the people of Libya. It was Libyan men and women — and children — who took to the streets in peaceful protest, who faced down the tanks and endured the snipers’ bullets. It was Libyan fighters, often outgunned and outnumbered, who fought pitched battles, town-by-town, block-by-block. It was Libyan activists — in the underground, in chat rooms, in mosques — who kept a revolution alive, even after some of the world had given up hope.

It was Libyan women and girls who hung flags and smuggled weapons to the front. It was Libyans from countries around the world, including my own, who rushed home to help, even though they, too, risked brutality and death. It was Libyan blood that was spilled and Libya’s sons and daughters who gave their lives. And on that August day — after all that sacrifice, after 42 long years — it was Libyans who pushed their dictator from power.

At the same time, Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one. I said at the beginning of this process, we cannot and should not intervene every time there is an injustice in the world. Yet it’s also true that there are times where the world could have and should have summoned the will to prevent the killing of innocents on a horrific scale. And we are forever haunted by the atrocities that we did not prevent, and the lives that we did not save. But this time was different. This time, we, through the United Nations, found the courage and the collective will to act.

When the old regime unleashed a campaign of terror, threatening to roll back the democratic tide sweeping the region, we acted as united nations, and we acted swiftly — broadening sanctions, imposing an arms embargo. The United States led the effort to pass a historic resolution at the Security Council authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people. And when the civilians of Benghazi were threatened with a massacre, we exercised that authority. Our international coalition stopped the regime in its tracks, and saved countless lives, and gave the Libyan people the time and the space to prevail.

Important, too, is how this effort succeeded — thanks to the leadership and contributions of many countries. The United States was proud to play a decisive role, especially in the early days, and then in a supporting capacity. But let’s remember that it was the Arab League that appealed for action. It was the world’s most effective alliance, NATO, that’s led a military coalition of nearly 20 nations. It’s our European allies — especially the United Kingdom and France and Denmark and Norway — that conducted the vast majority of air strikes protecting rebels on the ground. It was Arab states who joined the coalition, as equal partners. And it’s been the United Nations and neighboring countries — including Tunisia and Egypt — that have cared for the Libyans in the urgent humanitarian effort that continues today.

This is how the international community should work in the 21st century — more nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. In fact, this is the very purpose of this United Nations. So every nation represented here today can take pride in the innocent lives we saved and in helping Libyans reclaim their country. It was the right thing to do.

Now, even as we speak, remnants of the old regime continue to fight. Difficult days are still ahead. But one thing is clear — the future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. For just as it was Libyans who tore down the old order, it will be Libyans who build their new nation. And we’ve come here today to say to the people of Libya — just as the world stood by you in your struggle to be free, we will now stand with you in your struggle to realize the peace and prosperity that freedom can bring.

In this effort, you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America. Today, I can announce that our ambassador is on his way back to Tripoli. And this week, the American flag that was lowered before our embassy was attacked will be raised again, over a re-opened American embassy. We will work closely with the new U.N. Support Mission in Libya and with the nations here today to assist the Libyan people in the hard work ahead.

First, and most immediately: security. So long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue. And those still holding out must understand — the old regime is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new Libya. As this happens, the world must also support efforts to secure dangerous weapons — conventional and otherwise — and bring fighters under central, civilian control. For without security, democracy and trade and investment cannot flourish.

Second: the humanitarian effort. The Transitional National Council has been working quickly to restore water and electricity and food supplies to Tripoli. But for many Libyans, each day is still a struggle — to recover from their wounds, reunite with their families, and return to their homes. And even after the guns of war fall silent, the ravages of war will continue. So our efforts to assist its victims must continue. In this, the United States — the United Nations will play a key role. And along with our partners, the United States will do our part to help the hungry and the wounded.

Third: a democratic transition that is peaceful, inclusive and just. President Jalil has just reaffirmed the Transitional National Council’s commitment to these principles, and the United Nations will play a central role in coordinating international support for this effort. We all know what is needed — a transition that is timely, new laws and a constitution that uphold the rule of law, political parties and a strong civil society, and, for the first time in Libyan history, free and fair elections.

True democracy, however, must flow from its citizens. So as Libyans rightly seek justice for past crimes, let it be done in a spirit of reconciliation, and not reprisals and violence. As Libyans draw strength from their faith — a religion rooted in peace and tolerance — let there be a rejection of violent extremism, which offers nothing but death and destruction. As Libyans rebuild, let those efforts tap the experience of all those with the skills to contribute, including the many Africans in Libya. And as Libyans forge a society that is truly just, let it enshrine the rights and role of women at all levels of society. For we know that the nations that uphold the human rights of all people, especially their women, are ultimately more successful and more prosperous.

Which brings me to the final area where the world must stand with Libya, and that is restoring prosperity. For too long, Libya’s vast riches were stolen and squandered. Now that wealth must serve its rightful owners — the Libyan people. As sanctions are lifted, as the United States and the international community unfreeze more Libyan assets, and as the country’s oil production is restored, the Libyan people deserve a government that is transparent and accountable. And bound by the Libyan students and entrepreneurs who have forged friendships in the United States, we intend to build new partnerships to help unleash Libya’s extraordinary potential.

Now, none of this will be easy. After decades of iron rule by one man, it will take time to build the institutions needed for a democratic Libya. I’m sure there will be days of frustration; there will be days when progress is slow; there will be days when some begin to wish for the old order and its illusion of stability. And some in the world may ask, can Libya succeed? But if we have learned anything these many months, it is this: Don’t underestimate the aspirations and the will of the Libyan people.

So I want to conclude by speaking directly to the people of Libya. Your task may be new, the journey ahead may be fraught with difficulty, but everything you need to build your future already beats in the heart of your nation. It’s the same courage you summoned on that first February day; the same resilience that brought you back out the next day and the next, even as you lost family and friends; and the same unshakeable determination with which you liberated Benghazi, broke the siege of Misurata, and have fought through the coastal plain and the western mountains.

It’s the same unwavering conviction that said, there’s no turning back; our sons and daughters deserve to be free.

In the days after Tripoli fell, people rejoiced in the streets and pondered the role ahead, and one of those Libyans said, “We have this chance now to do something good for our country, a chance we have dreamed of for so long.” So, to the Libyan people, this is your chance. And today the world is saying, with one unmistakable voice, we will stand with you as you seize this moment of promise, as you reach for the freedom, the dignity, and the opportunity that you deserve.

So, congratulations. And thank you very much. (Applause.)

 
 

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