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Internet Freedom and Responsibility

Thank you very much for inviting me. I’d like to thank Access for organizing this conference and especially Brett Solomon, who has worked so hard to make it a hub for thoughtful exchange and discussion.

And I’d like to thank the many other friends here today who have helped map out how socially responsible companies can respect people’s fundamental freedoms online.

Today we face a series of challenges at the intersection of human rights, connective technologies, business and government. It’s a busy intersection and a lot of people want to put up traffic lights. In the next few minutes I want to help frame the challenges we face, and offer practical suggestions on the role of companies and how we can best work together to preserve Internet freedom.

First, a word about the challenges.

Almost every day, we see new examples of the power of connection technologies – the transformative power, and the disruptive power. Entire industries have been upended, starting with Old Media. In a single decade, new technologies have decimated traditional newsrooms and killed their business model, but given rise to literally millions of citizen bloggers and citizen filmmakers and a new global journalism outlet called You Tube. All in one decade.

Today we have tens of thousands of people armed with cell-phone cameras and video, documenting what is happening on the streets of the Middle East. Some can upload it within minutes. Others have to smuggle it out in places like Syria. But the truth is getting out.

And yet, these amazing technologies haven’t made it any safer to do reporting in these hard places – or for human rights activists to talk to one another.

The Arab spring brought home the power of the Internet to governments far beyond the Middle East, and the result has been more censorship, more surveillance and more restrictions.

Repressive governments used to set up firewalls at Internet Exchange Points to block external content they disliked. Now they’re using bots to delete posts and block emails in something approaching real time. They’re using surreptitious deep-packet inspection and sophisticated key-logger software to track what their citizens do online. They are exerting overbroad state control over content, over users, and over companies. And they’re trying to change national and international legal standards to legitimize it all.

Let me give you one example. Last month in New York the governments of China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan came to the UN to suggest the need for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security.” This would shift cyberspace away from being a multi-stakeholder, people-driven model – to a system dominated by centralized government control. Not a good idea.

An online world where more and more countries begin policing content for ideological correctness – whether they call it a Halal Internet or a hate-free Internet – would extinguish the promise of technology to drive global understanding and the free exchange of information, ideas, and innovation.

So my first message to you is that the Internet space – which has seemed so open and free – could become less so. We are up against an ever more sophisticated range of technical, legal, and political challenges to freedom in cyberspace. Secretary Clinton has called the Internet the town square of the 21st Century. The Obama administration has staked out a principled stand on Internet freedom, arguing that the fundamental freedoms apply online just as they do offline. That includes the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

I also want to say a word about the protection of intellectual property, which is sometimes seen as in conflict with Internet freedom. Even though it may be more difficult to enforce these rights in the Digital Age, as authors, artists and inventors are discovering, they are protected by international law. You don’t have the right to break into a movie theater and steal the film reels and you don’t have the right to steal movies online, either.

Before I joined the Obama administration, I spent most of my career in the NGO world, where for years I argued – you might say self-servingly – that progress on human rights is rarely generated by governments alone. Now from my perch inside government, it is even clearer to me that government can’t do it alone – and shouldn’t.

To advance these fundamental freedoms, we need the help of citizens, corporations and global civil society for what is likely to be a long, tough struggle with regimes that do not share our values or our views on the merits of openness. And I particularly want to call attention to the role of companies, because today corporations have more global influence than ever.

If Wal-Mart were a country, its annual revenues would rank it as the 23rd largest economy in the world — ahead of Norway and Venezuela. That’s comparing annual revenues vs. GDP. Hewlett-Packard is only 11th on the Fortune 500, but its 2010 revenues would rank it ahead of Vietnam and Morocco.

So the private sector is more powerful than ever. But it’s also less private than ever. Today, we’re all living in a fishbowl. Any one of us may face public scrutiny for any decision we make. And now it’s instant scrutiny in real time. Most of us are still learning the new rules for life on webcam.

It used to be that companies only faced this kind of scrutiny in a crisis—when the Labor Department exposed sweatshops or when violence erupted along a pipeline. The strategy was crisis-mitigation and damage control, without a lot of attention to the underlying issues. Today, more and more companies realize they can’t wait for the crisis to consider human rights. If you’re living in a fishbowl, on webcam, you have to do the right thing 24/7. And companies find it is often more effective to work together—even with their toughest competitors—as well as with governments like ours, and with NGOs. Through these cooperative efforts, they are addressing the underlying issues before they find themselves in the crosshairs of controversy.

Let me give you a few examples.

In the extractive industries, Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and 15 other major oil and mining giants, who do business in some of the toughest places on earth, met in Ottawa last month. They joined seven governments and 10 NGOs in a collaborative effort that aims to minimize the risk of human rights abuses by security forces in conflict areas, which is where the natural resources often are.

In the private security industry, Xe Services LLC, formerly Blackwater, and 200 other private security companies have signed on to a new international code of conduct. The code addresses their use of force, and it bans torture, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and forced labor. The companies are now working with governments and NGOs to build a system to verify that everyone who signs up lives up to their pledge.

In the apparel industry, a number of large global companies have opened up factories in their global supply chains to scrutiny by independent auditors and posted reports about their labor practices online. For more than a decade, leading companies including Nike, adidas, Liz Claiborne and H&M have worked hard to improve working conditions in their supply chains, and they have found willing partners from NGOs and universities through an organization called the Fair Labor Association.

These companies are making money in hard places. Each has realized that one of the costs of doing business in those places is to assess the risks and to invest in developing principles, people and processes to address the human rights challenges they confront.

Your problems are not so different from those oil companies with wells in the Niger Delta, security contractors operating in Iraq or apparel companies sourcing in China or Bangladesh. Your challenges are unique, but the process of addressing those challenges is no different.

Over the coming decades, the growth markets for ICT companies will be disproportionally found in less developed countries. That’s where your next three billion customers live. And these are the places where repressive regimes are getting hold of the latest, greatest Western technologies and using them use them to spy on their own citizens for purposes of silencing dissent. Journalists, bloggers and activists are of course the primary targets.

So these are the places where companies will face the greatest scrutiny and real challenges. We’ve all seen the news about demands to turn over user information or questions about what has been sold to repressive regimes by Western companies. Three years ago, the headlines were about companies in China. Last month, rebels found Colonel Qaddafi’s Internet surveillance boiler room in Tripoli as reported in the Wall Street Journal. This week, it’s information technology in Syria.

Of course we have some sanctions in place, and we enforce them. But whether or not there are formal legal sanctions, companies should be thinking about how to do the right thing.

My point is that scrutiny—from the public, the media and Congress—is unlikely to diminish even if the Arab Awakening fades from the headlines, because other governments in some very important emerging markets appear fiercely determined to control what people do online. And just as the extractive industries, private security contractors and apparel companies have found a way forward under scrutiny; your industry must now do the same.

I’m not the right person to assess your business models, your technical capacities, or your dealings with individual governments. Each of you will take your own path. But after almost twenty years of working with companies on tough human rights issues, I can tell you what the smart companies are doing. In general, their response has five elements:

First, they have developed broad principles to guide their actions. In this field, these probably include principles on free expression and privacy and perhaps also criteria on when to avoid working with governments who use technology to become more efficient at committing gross human rights violations.

Second, smart companies are developing internal systems to ensure that these principles are applied in practice. This is not a public relations exercise. It requires senior level buy-in by company leaders, hiring people whose job it is to make sure it happens, and the same focus that executives apply to any other high priority for their business.

Third, leading companies devise internal benchmarks of progress. These benchmarks help assess risks and respond to problems, and they allow companies to evaluate whether they are solving the problems the principles seek to address.

Fourth, they are banding together to develop industry best practices and plans for collective action. In fiercely competitive industries, no company acting alone has the power to solve human rights problems. Working together, in concert with civil society organizations and willing governments like our own, you will have more clout. In my observation, in the area of human rights this often is an essential ingredient of success.

Finally, collective corporate action is bolstered by systematic engagement with stakeholders – with NGOs, universities, think tanks, experts and social investors. They have information, expertise and early warning of problems. Activists, journalists and bloggers are the canaries in your coal mine; if you listen, they can help you anticipate trouble and take steps to address problems before a crisis erupts. And for the record, I offer that same advice to the very governments who often shoot the instant messenger by going out and jailing bloggers instead of listening to the valuable information they convey. Whether you view your stakeholders as dissidents or advisors, they will shape the public debate on your issues. They can make you more credible and validate your efforts.

These elements aren’t a prescription or a quick fix. But they do offer a constructive approach that has worked for other companies. And I would be remiss if I did not call out the efforts of three particular companies, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, for their leadership and all of the NGOs, academics, social investors and other stakeholders with whom they are working through the Global Network Initiative. For the past five years this group has wrestled collectively with the thorniest issues of the day. These are the kind of efforts that help us find ways forward together.

Cyberspace belongs to all of us now. It’s where we live. It’s where you earn your living. And just as no business wants to open its doors in a high-crime neighborhood, no business wants to be located on the street where police are beating up democracy protestors. And we all share an interest in an open Internet that supports a culture of entrepreneurship in which people around the world can thrive. It’s not just the technologies born here in Silicon Valley that are revolutionizing the world and creating huge demand for your products. It’s also the culture, the ethos of innovation, the dedication to freedom, fun and profit that are finding resonance around the world.

The Internet on which the future depends can’t be maintained as an open and global network if we don’t work together to figure out how to push back against those who care more about political domination than empowering innovation. My problem is your problem. It’s all of our problem.

Silicon Valley has already given birth to game-changing technologies and a profoundly new approach to philanthropy. Many people here have made it their life’s work not only to develop transformative technologies but also to put them in the hands of people in places where digital empowerment is leaps ahead of political or financial or educational empowerment. Never have great ideas gone from dream to global distribution so quickly.

But with great code comes great responsibility. It isn’t enough simply to develop a revolutionary product and leave it to others to figure out what happens next. You, the people in this room, are the brain trust for the coming generation – for the next five billion users who will be coming online. So I challenge each of you to work with us to help figure out what can happen next, what must happen next, to preserve the Internet as we know it. Or the autocrats will figure it out for us.

And I challenge each of you to innovate again. Not just in your products, but in the way you will serve your customers. People with real needs, and rights, and aspirations for a better life. Innovate for profit, but also for the people in the hard places. We will be your partner. Thank you.

 


Remarks at the USAID Panel on Business and Human Rights at the National Press Club

Melike Yetken Speaks about Business and Human Rights at a USAID sponsored event at the National Press Club

Melike Yetken Speaks about Business and Human Rights at a USAID sponsored event at the National Press Club. Photo credit: Patricia Adams/USAID.

I want to thank USAID for sponsoring today’s conversation on Business and Human Rights which I believe to be a critical human rights issue in this day and age. I am honored to be on such an esteemed panel and am very pleased to see many familiar and new faces here today. All of you have helped shape this conversation and many have helped governments, including the U.S. government, come to grips with the challenges and opportunities in this field. Business and human rights is especially important in today’s world where non-governmental actors – whether companies, NGOs or armed extremist groups — have increasing power to do good or ill. And often they are operating outside of government control or even influence.

Traditionally, human rights law has focused on governments – the duty of governments to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens. But this is no longer enough. The global business community has grown in power and influence, and so must its responsibility for protecting human rights.

Today, half of the world’s 100 largest economies are private companies. The other half are the economies of nations. What this means is that when we measure corporate annual revenues and compare them to the gross domestic product of countries, half of the corporations are as large as nations. If Wal-Mart were a nation, its annual revenues this year would rank it roughly 30th in the world – ahead of Malaysia, Belgium, Nigeria and Sweden. And this isn’t a fluke, it’s a pattern. The Fortune 500 companies have continued to grow despite the global recession.

In this emerging global economy many of the rules of the road have yet to be written. This is a moment in time when smart, thoughtful and creative action by governments, NGOs, and companies is urgently needed.

In terms of human rights, there are four broad areas that deserve greater attention:

• First, manufacturing supply chains and their labor practices;

• Second, security and human rights in zones of armed conflict, especially with respect to the extractive industries;

• Third, labor and other human rights issues in the agricultural sector; and

• Fourth, the role of the private sector with respect to free expression on the Internet.

In each of these areas there is an important role for governments to play, often in close collaboration with companies themselves, but also civil society organizations. Now, governments alone cannot answer all of these challenges or regulate in all of these areas. But we also cannot assume that companies, acting alone, will always do the right thing.

The U. S. government is committed to working with the private sector, civil society, and governments as allies and partners to make human rights a reality, especially in those places where governments struggle to impose rule of law and companies face the difficult task of taking principled actions. So we all must be looking for alternative ways to build new global rules of the road.

As we all know, many corporations operate in some of the toughest territories in the world, in places where the discovery of natural wealth can fuel bitter conflict.

It is not easy for a company to take on responsibility for respecting human rights. But especially in places where governments may be too weak or unwilling to enforce the rule of law and protect individuals’ rights, companies often find themselves acting as the first line in promoting best practices for human rights. It is the job of governments to support companies in making the right choices. One way to do this is by facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues to identify and address problems inherent in a particular sector or region.

The international community has developed many mechanisms to address business and human rights.

I’d like to recognize the longtime contributions of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights, Transnational Corporations, and Other Business Enterprises, John Ruggie, who has been a conceptual leader on these issues. At the Human Rights Council session that ended in June, Professor Ruggie presented his final report as Special Representative: The Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework organized around three foundational principles:

• First, the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business;

• Second, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and

• Third, the need for victims to have access to remedies.

The Guiding Principles were developed and were embraced by all groups following extensive consultation with government, corporate actors, and a wide range of civil society actors. As a result, they offer a common platform and plan of action for the global community in advancing human rights where they intersect with business.

But, translating his vision into action requires a commitment from companies, governments and civil society to cooperate on the hard issues.

As a government, we now must pursue the crucial next phase- implementation – with diligence, creativity and resources to ensure that we reach our ultimate goal: Improving the lives of people around the world. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State is currently exploring how we can support targeted high impact projects to advance John’s work.

We also believe in the potential of multi-stakeholder initiatives as a mechanism to address these tough issues.

It is my experience that companies are much better positioned to address human rights concerns when they work in a multi-stakeholder environment that includes not only other companies, but also civil society, academics, investors, and sometimes governments. This approach is critical because it creates a forum for invested actors to confront evolving human rights challenges, and because it provides a way to demonstrate the value of these processes through an accountability mechanism. Like the Ruggie Framework, these multi-stakeholder initiatives can also fill the void where governments can’t or won’t live up to their duty to protect their citizens.

But for multi-stakeholder initiatives to work, the standards they set must be clear, specific, and backed by a credible monitoring mechanism. The initiatives themselves need sound rules of the road, in the form of a comprehensive governance structure. And they need to be implemented, monitored, verified, and evaluated in a way that is transparent and encourages compliance.

So let me walk you through a few examples of multi-stakeholder initiatives.

The Fair Labor Association is a good example of what can be done. It’s a collaboration between companies, colleges and universities, and civil society organizations, that has been improving working conditions in factories around the world since 1999. The FLA has developed a Workplace Code of Conduct, and created a practical process for monitoring, remediation, and verification and a third-party complaint mechanism. As a result of all of these steps, the FLA has succeeded in strengthening worker protections at hundreds of factories, from Bangladesh to Mexico.

For the past 10 years, the United States and many people in this room have been working together on another initiative, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. As you may know, the VPs provides guidance to extractive companies on maintaining the safety and security of their operations in a manner that respects human rights. The VPs are the only human rights guidelines designed specifically for the oil, gas, and mining industries. Because these industries frequently work in areas where central governments are weak and human rights are all too often trampled, this administration is committed to strengthening the VPs to maximize its impact in these tough environments. We are working to create a sound governance structure as well as an external monitoring mechanism, so that it can meet these very real challenges.

And, of course, we continue to work on the urgent crisis over conflict minerals in the Great Lakes region of Africa. As you know, the U.S. Congress has recently passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,

which aims to break the links between the illicit trade in natural resources in the Great Lakes region and the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. President Obama signed it into law last year. The law requires companies that use tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold in their products to publicly disclose whether any of those minerals originated in the DRC or an adjoining country. If so, the company must provide a report of the measures taken to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of the minerals, including an independent audit to verify conditions of work in the supply chain. While the law is requires companies to report publicly on their procedures, we hope it will eventually lead to a conflict-free supply chain of minerals from the region.

Another area where we are working is in developing a new International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. 125 members of industry have all signed on to this Code of Conduct which requires them to respect human rights regarding, among other things, the use of force, detention, torture, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, forced labor and discrimination. We fully support this nascent organization, which is doing its due diligence to set up a strong architecture of accountability and transparency by establishing a robust certification procedure and a credible grievance mechanism.

Finally, I want to talk about an issue that is fundamentally important to the intersection of business and human rights: Internet Freedom.

We urge all companies, U.S. and international, to consider the human rights implications of their actions, and the Internet is of course a critical area of concern these days. Secretary Clinton has put Internet freedom on the map as a key diplomatic priority. At its core Internet freedom concerns a set of human rights — the right of freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of association. We must consider how these rights apply to new technologies and the steps that governments and business need to take to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

By now, every government understands the power of ordinary citizens to harness the Internet and social media to organize and express themselves.

Some have embraced these new technologies as a way to connect with and serve their citizens. Others are redoubling their attempts to control them.

We are witnessing the rise of cyber attacks on the computers of independent media, Distributed Denial of Service attacks on the sites of watchdog groups, and other attempts to thwart the work of civil society.

We are seeing the development of more sophisticated tools for cyber-repression, including filtering, surveillance, anti-circumvention, and network-disabling technologies by government security forces in closed societies.

This is one of those hard problems I spoke of earlier. I don’t have all the answers, and neither does the U.S. government. But I do believe that the multi-stakeholder approach is the right way to discuss and address these emerging challenges.

Thank you very much.

 


FACT SHEET:U.S. Accomplishments at the UN Human Rights Council’s 17th Session

The seventeenth session of the Human Rights Council came to an end in Geneva today.  This is the sixth regular session that the United States has participated in since joining the Council in September 2009.  U.S. engagement has reshaped the Council’s agenda, leading to a number of new tools to address urgent human rights situations and focus international attention on some of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers.  Key accomplishments at this session include:

LGBT RESOLUTION

The Council took bold, assertive action to highlight violence and human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons around the world.  This is the first UN resolution solely focused on LGBT persons.  The United States co-sponsored and lobbied heavily to support this initiative by South Africa, which was joined by countries from every UN geographic region.  The resolution will commission the first UN report on the challenges faced by LGBT people around the world and will pave the way for sustained Council attention to LGBT issues in sessions to come. 

Click here for Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe’s statement and the UNHRC resolution.

DEEPENING ENGAGEMENT IN COUNTRY SITUATIONS AND ADDRESSING URGENT HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS

Syria:  The United States joined Canada and over fifty UN members to deliver a forceful joint statement addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria, calling for an end to the on-going human rights violations committed by the Syrian authorities, and urging the Government of Syria to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office access to Syria to conduct their fact-finding mission. This statement further demonstrates the international community’s resolve to highlight the ongoing campaign of violence by the Syrian government.

Click here for Spokesperson Nuland’s statement on the joint statement on Syria.

Yemen:  The United States joined the Netherlands and 73 other countries in delivering a statement on the ongoing violence and human rights abuses in Yemen.  The Council made a decision to hold an interactive dialogue on Yemen at its next session. The statement and decision mark the first HRC action on Yemen. We applaud the government of Yemen for supporting both the statement and the decision and inviting OHCHR to visit the country to aid in its reporting.

Click here for the joint statement on Yemen.

Libya:  After considering the report from the UN Commission of Inquiry detailing allegations of human rights violations in Libya, alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Qadhafi regime, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission will continue to provide important, credible, and independent information on the human rights violations and crimes committed by the Libyan authorities. 

Click here for the U.S. statement on the UN Commission of Inquiry.

Cote d’Ivoire:  The Council debated a mandated report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Cote d’Ivoire, established in an emergency Council session in December.  The Council authorized continued monitoring and reporting as well as technical assistance.  It agreed to name an Independent Expert to follow up on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and assist the government of Cote d’Ivoire to combat impunity.  Acceptance of this sustained oversight is a strong indication of the Ivoirian Government’s commitment to respect human rights and take steps toward reconciliation.

Iran: on June 17, the Human Right’s Council appointed Ahmed Shaheed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.   The Special Rapporteur will serve as a voice for the millions of Iranians who have suffered egregious human rights violations and are not heard by their own government.  

Other Country Specific Resolutions: 

Belarus:  The Council adopted an EU-led resolution on the human rights situation in Belarus, highlighting the abuses committed since the December 2010 Presidential election in Belarus, and ongoing crackdowns against civil society and the democratic opposition in the country.  This renewed UN scrutiny of human rights in Belarus for the first time since an earlier Commission on Human Rights mandate on Belarus was abolished in 2006.

Click here for the UNHRC resolution on the human rights situation in Belarus.

Somalia:  The Council adopted a resolution acknowledging the constructive engagement of the Transitional Federal Government in the Universal Periodic Review process earlier this year. The resolution encouraged technical assistance from the international community for Somalia and renewed the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia for one year. 

Kyrgyzstan:  The United States and Kyrgyzstan worked together on a new Council resolution to support the government of Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to address and reform current law enforcement practices and ensure fairness, security and due process in the judicial proceedings arising out of last year’s violence.  The resolution encourages further efforts to promote national reconciliation and invites states to continue to provide technical assistance. 

BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

The United States worked with the Government of Norway to pass a resolution that welcomes the groundbreaking work of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Professor John Ruggie of Harvard University.  Professor Ruggie has developed a set of far-reaching Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and built support for them among governments, corporations and civil society stakeholders worldwide.  The resolution creates a working group of five independent experts and establishes a forum on business and human rights to discuss trends and challenges in implementing the Guiding Principles.  The forum will maintain the multi-stakeholder approach that was a critical component of Dr. Ruggie’s work. 

Click here for the statement by Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer and the UNHRC resolution.

INTERNET FREEDOM 

The United States worked with Sweden to develop a joint statement, supported by a cross-regional coalition of 40 countries, affirming Internet freedom.  We appreciate the timely focus of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression on access to electronic communications and freedom of expression online.  The dramatic events unfolding in North Africa, the Middle East and beyond highlight the importance of new communications tools for political expression and the realization of democratic aspirations.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

The United States continues to join UN members to call attention to violence against women and girls around the world and improve international efforts to eliminate and prevent that violence. The United States strongly supported a Canadian led resolution addressing Violence Against Women, took part in annual day discussion on addressing sexual violence against women in conflict, and responded to the report of Violence Against Women Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo on the United States.

Click here for the U.S. statement on Internet Access and Violence Against Women.

Click here for the U.S. response to Special Rapporteur Manjoo.

 


Businesses and Transnational Corporations Have a Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

The Human Rights Council adopted by consensus June 16, 2011 a ground-breaking resolution on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.  Expressing U.S. government support for the resolution, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Baer said it is “it is important for States to govern justly and effectively, such that individuals are protected not only from misconduct by the State but also from non-State actors, including business enterprises.”  In a statement to the Council, Baer thanked John Ruggie, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, for his work on developing the “Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights” and spearheading the Human Rights Council initiative.*

The following is the text of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Baer’s statement at the council:

General Statement by Daniel Baer
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
June 16, 2011

The United States is pleased to cosponsor this resolution.  The United States would like to thank and congratulate the Special Representative for the important progress he has made on this challenging issue, and express our support and commitment to working to make the vision of the Guiding Principles a reality where it matters most – on the ground for people and businesses.  As the culmination of several years of work, the Guiding Principles provide a focal point for corporations, States, civil society and other actors as they work to strengthen their respective approaches to the issue of business and human rights.

In highlighting the importance of the Guiding Principles, we also want to take this opportunity to emphasize the essential foundation of the human rights system that remains an important backdrop for the Special Representative’s work, namely, State obligations under human rights law with respect to their own conduct.  In States that violate human rights, it will be more difficult for businesses to respect those rights – because domestic law may require actions inconsistent with internationally recognized human rights, because State practices encourage businesses to take actions that undermine the enjoyment of human rights, or because States involve businesses in their own human rights violations.  In contrast, States that respect human rights pursuant to their international legal obligations are more likely to create environments in which businesses are less likely to take actions that might undermine the enjoyment of human rights.

As the Guiding Principles remind us, it is important for States to govern justly and effectively, such that individuals are protected not only from misconduct by the State but also from non-State actors, including business enterprises.  Our conviction regarding the State “duty to protect” is grounded in States’ moral and political imperative to engage in good governance, including by addressing properly acts of abuse by private actors.  International human rights law tells us that, in certain circumstances, a State’s obligations can be implicated by private conduct,  but we also have a solemn imperative as governments to provide for and improve the well-being of our populations, even where our obligations under international law do not require it.

While recognizing that the Guiding Principles themselves touch on certain unsettled issues that arise in a broader context, the United States believes that the Guiding Principles provide a valuable, important and complete framework for working through a wide range of challenges.  We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders on their implementation with an eye to our ultimate goal: Improving the lives of people around the world.

Finally, as we seek to implement the Guiding Principles, we want to stress the importance we attach to  the multi-stakeholder process in general, and specific processes dealing with business and human rights.  We believe that cooperation and coordination with other international bodies and the dialogue with relevant actors will continue to be a key part of the success of the mandate and should include the OECD with respect to the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

*Summary provided by U.S. Mission Geneva. Visit them here.

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FOR REFERENCE: Below please find the text of the resolution adopted by consensus of the Human Rights Council on June 16, 2011.

Argentina, Austria*, Canada*, Denmark*, Guatemala, India*, Nigeria, Norway, Peru*, Russian Federation, Sweden*, Turkey*: revised draft resolution

Text of Resolution

17/…    Human rights and transnational corporations and other
business enterprises

The Human Rights Council,

Recalling Human Rights Council resolution 8/7 of 18 June 2008 and Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/69 of 20 April 2005 on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises,

Recalling also Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 of 18 June 2007, and stressing that the mandate holder shall discharge his/her duties in accordance with those resolutions and the annexes thereto,

Stressing that the obligation and the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms lie with the State,

Emphasizing that transnational corporations and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights,

Recognizing that proper regulation, including through national legislation, of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and their responsible operation can contribute to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of and respect for human rights and assist in channelling the benefits of business towards contributing to the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Concerned that weak national legislation and implementation cannot effectively mitigate the negative impact of globalization on vulnerable economies, fully realize the benefits of globalization or derive maximally the benefits of activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises and that further efforts to bridge governance gaps at the national, regional and international levels are necessary,

Recognizing the importance of building the capacity of all actors to better manage challenges in the area of business and human rights,

1.             Welcomes the work and contributions of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and endorses the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, as annexed to the report of the Special Representative;

2.             Also welcomes the broad range of activities undertaken by the Special Representative in the fulfilment of his mandate, including in particular the comprehensive, transparent and inclusive consultations conducted with relevant and interested actors in all regions and the catalytic role he has played in generating greater shared understanding of business and human rights challenges among all stakeholders;

3.             Commends the Special Representative for developing and raising awareness about the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework based on three overarching principles of the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by, or involving, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the corporate responsibility to respect all human rights, and the need for access to effective remedies, including through appropriate judicial or non-judicial mechanisms;

4.             Recognizes the role of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in providing comprehensive recommendations for the implementation of the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework, on which further progress can be built, as well as guidance that will contribute to enhancing standards and practices with regard to business and human rights, and thereby contribute to a socially sustainable globalization, without foreclosing any other long-term development, including further enhancement of standards;

5.             Emphasizes the importance of multi-stakeholder dialogue and analysis to maintain and build on the results achieved to date and to inform further deliberations of the Human Rights Council on business and human rights;

6.             Decides to  establish a working group  on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, consisting of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation, for a period of three years, to be appointed by the Human Rights Council at its eighteenth session, and requests the Working Group:

(a)           To promote the effective and comprehensive dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework;

(b)           To identify, exchange and promote good practices and lessons learned on the implementation of the Guiding Principles and to assess and make recommendations thereon and, in that context, to seek and receive information from all relevant sources, including Governments, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, national human rights institutions, civil society and rights-holders;

(c)           To provide support for efforts to promote capacity-building and the use of the Guiding Principles, as well as, upon request, to provide advice and recommendations regarding the development of domestic legislation and policies relating to business and human rights;

(d)           To conduct country visits and to respond promptly to invitations from States;

(e)           To continue to explore options and make recommendations at the national, regional and international levels for enhancing access to effective remedies available to those whose human rights are affected by corporate activities, including those in conflict areas;

(f)            To integrate a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate and to give special attention to persons living in vulnerable situations, in particular children;

(g)           To work in close cooperation and coordination with other relevant special procedures of the Human Rights Council, relevant United Nations and other international bodies, the treaty bodies and regional human rights organizations;

(h)           To develop a regular dialogue and discuss possible areas of cooperation with Governments and all relevant actors, including relevant United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, funds and programmes, in particular the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Global Compact, the International Labour Organization, the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Organization for Migration, as well as transnational corporations and other business enterprises, national human rights institutions, representatives of indigenous peoples, civil society organizations and other regional and subregional international organizations;

(i)            To guide the work of the Forum on Business and Human Rights;

(j)            To report annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly;

7.             Encourages all Governments, relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, treaty bodies, civil society actors, including non-governmental organizations, as well as the private sector to cooperate fully with the Working Group in the fulfilment of its mandate by, inter alia, responding favourably to visit requests by the Working Group;

8.             Invites international and regional organizations to seek the views of the Working Group when formulating or developing relevant policies and instruments;

9.             Requests the Secretary-General and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide all the necessary assistance to the Working Group for the effective fulfilment of its mandate;

10.          Also welcomes the important role of national human rights institutions established in accordance with the Paris Principles in relation to business and human rights, and encourages national human rights institutions to further develop their capacity to fulfil that role effectively, including with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner and in addressing all relevant actors;

11.          Requests the Secretary-General to prepare a report on how the United Nations system as a whole, including programmes and funds and specialized agencies, can contribute to the advancement of the business and human rights agenda and the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles, addressing in particular how capacity-building of all relevant actors to this end can best be addressed within the United Nations system, to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-first session;

12.          Decides to establish a forum on business and human rights under the guidance of the Working Group to discuss trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles and promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights, including challenges faced in particular sectors, operational environments or in relation to specific rights or groups, as well as identifying good practices;

13.          Also decides that the Forum shall be open to the participation of States, United Nations mechanisms, bodies and specialized agencies, funds and programmes, intergovernmental organizations, regional organizations and mechanisms in the field of human rights, national human rights institutions and other relevant bodies, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, business associations, labour unions, academics and experts in the field of business and human rights, representatives of indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council; the Forum shall also be open to other non-governmental organizations whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including affected individuals and groups, based on arrangements including Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996, and practices observed by the Commission on Human Rights, through an open and transparent accreditation procedure in accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Council;

14.          Further decides that the Forum shall meet annually for two working days;

15.          Requests the President of the Human Rights Council to appoint for each session, on the basis of regional rotation, and in consultation with regional groups, a chairperson of the Forum, nominated by members and observers of the Council; the chairperson serving in his/her personal capacity shall be responsible for the preparation of a summary of the discussion of the Forum, to be made available to the Working Group and all other participants of the Forum;

16.          Invites the Working Group to include in its report reflections on the proceedings of the Forum and recommendations for future thematic subjects for consideration by the Human Rights Council;

17.          Requests the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner to provide all the necessary support to facilitate, in a transparent manner, the convening of the Forum and the participation of relevant stakeholders from all regions in its meetings, giving particular attention to ensuring participation of affected individuals and communities;

18.          Decides to continue consideration of this question in conformity with the annual programme of work of the Human Rights Council.

 


Companies Reducing Energy-Related Business with Iran

The U.S. Government engages foreign companies and governments, to explain our policy objectives regarding Iran and the relationship between those objectives and our laws – including the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA). We urge companies to act in accordance with our objectives and our laws, explain the potential consequences of our sanctions, and urge a halt to business with Iran’s energy sector. Our pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations is most effective when pressure is applied multilaterally.

Since the passage of the new sanctions legislation on July 1, 2010, the State Department has sanctioned nine companies for doing business with Iran’s energy sector. The State Department has also used CISADA authorities to persuade five major multinational oil firms to withdraw all significant activity in Iran, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. Dozens of companies have ended business with Iran. Major insurers, including Lloyd’s of London, have stopped covering shipments of refined petroleum to Iran. Iran has lost millions in potential revenue by converting petrochemical plants to produce gasoline to make up for the dramatic shortfall in gasoline imports. The State Department has also convinced the jet fuel suppliers in 17 cities in Europe to which Iran Air flies to stop providing fuel.

Refined Petroleum

The Turkish refiner Tupras cancelled contracts to supply gasoline to Iran.

French oil group Total, Royal Dutch Shell, Kuwait’s Independent Petroleum Group, India’s Reliance and Malaysia’s Petronas, have all stopped sales of refined product in 2010.

Swiss energy traders Vitol, Glencore, and Trafigura all publicly committed in March 2010 not to supply refined petroleum products to Iran.

The Russian oil firm Lukoil announced that it had ceased gasoline sales to Iran. After press reports to the contrary, Lukoil re-confirmed this commitment in an open letter to Congress and in a public statement in 2010.

BP, Shell, Q8, Total, and OMV have all stopped supplying jet fuel to Iran Air.

Germany’s ThyssenKrupp said recently it would go above and beyond sanctions requirements and freeze all new business with Iran.

Upstream Projects

Shell, Total, ENI, Statoil and INPEX have all ended or are in the process of terminating their activities in Iran. All five companies have committed not to engage in any new activities there.

In addition to Shell, Repsol has abandoned negotiations over development of phases 13 and 14 of the South Pars gas field. They have committed to us not to engage in any further discussions with Iran.

BP announced in mid-November 2010 that it will stop production at its North Sea Rhum gas field, which it co-owns with the Iranian Oil Co., to ensure compliance with the European Union sanctions against Iran.

South Korea’s GS Engineering & Construction announced on July 1 that it had cancelled a $1.2 billion gas processing project in Iran.

A planned Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will not be used to transport gas from Iran to Europe, the partners announced on Sept. 15.

The German firm Linde, which had been the only supplier of gas liquefaction technology to Iran, has stopped all business with the country. Iran has announced it will not go forward with any new LNG projects.

India’s largest private refiner, Reliance Industries, told Reuters on April 1 that it would not import crude oil from Iran in the 2010 fiscal year.

Shipping

Lloyds of London announced on July 9 it would not insure or reinsure petroleum shipments going into Iran.

Key shipping associations have created clauses in contracts that enable ship owners to refuse to deliver refined petroleum cargoes to Iran.

Hong Kong shipping company NYK Line Ltd., announced that it had decided to withdraw from trade with Iran.

Equipment and other

Local trade and international press reported Sept. 14 that South Korea’s Kia Motors had stopped exporting cars, assembly kits, and spare parts to Iran as of August in anticipation of South Korean sanctions restricting trade with Iran.

The luxury carmaker Daimler announced in April it would sell its 30 percent stake in an Iranian engine maker and freeze the planned export to Iran of cars and trucks. Toyota has also stopped shipping cars to Iran.

Caterpillar prohibited its non-U.S. subsidiaries from accepting orders that would be sent to Iran.

The Swiss firm ABB Ltd.; the Italian defense, aerospace, energy and transportation conglomerate Finmeccanica; Ingersoll-Rand Plc, which makes air compressors and cooling systems; and the German engineering conglomerate Siemens have all withdrawn from doing business with Iran.

The chemical manufacturer Huntsman Corp. announced its indirect foreign subsidiaries would stop selling products to third parties in Iran.

For more information, go to http://www.state.gov/iransanctions/index.htm.

 


Ambassador Margaret Scobey’s Roundtable with Senior Egyptian Editors Upon her Return from a Reverse Trade Mission to the U.S.

Ambassador Scobey: Thank you all for coming. Really, I haven’t had a chance to sit down with the press in a few weeks. And I thought I would use as an excuse the fact that I just made a trip to the United States on behalf of Egypt and America, and I wanted to tell you a little bit about that trip, but really, I’m happy to talk about anything or to answer any question you have about anything on your mind.

This was a trip organized primarily by an organization called the Business Council of International Understanding, working with the Department of State. They organized a group of nine American ambassadors from the Middle East, and the goal was in support of president Obama’s National Export initiative. Just as Egypt and the Egyptian President has announced the need to increase exports from Egypt, President Obama has also identified increasing US exports as an important goal for his administration. So, I traveled with a group of US ambassadors. There were two groups: in my group there was me and our ambassadors from Kuwait, from Qatar, from Oman, and from Tunisia. We visited New York, Milwaukee, Chicago and Houston. We were talking about opportunities to do business in Egypt.

They were each talking about their countries, but my goal was to encourage American businesspeople to think about exporting to Egypt, to think about looking at Egypt as a place to do business. I was able to describe to them the efforts Egypt has made over the last several years to increase the ease of doing business for foreign companies and foreign investment in Egypt, their efforts to cut red tape, and to make it easier to import to Egypt, and as well the various sectors of the Egyptian economy that the government has identified for future public-private partnership investment, such as transportation, communications, health, and a variety of other areas.

I also explained that the United States government itself has a capacity to help encourage exports from United States to Egypt, and frankly, to other countries as well, through government programs such as the Trade and Development Agency, which is part of the Department of Commerce, as well as the Overseas Private Investment Bank, and the Export/Import Bank that will sometimes help finance exports to other countries. I frankly found a lot of interest in Egypt from American companies. I think they recognize that Egypt’s growing economy is attractive to them. They understand that Egypt is a very large market. You are a country of 80 plus million people and growing, and you have a good position geographically, not only for your marketing here, but your neighboring countries. And they understand that you are a very diversified economy, you don’t rely on only oil and gas, but you have an oil and gas sector, an agricultural sector, and industrial sector, services sector. This represents an interesting set of opportunities for foreign exporters and investors.

And, as some Egyptians have said “Welcome; this is a good idea–but of course Egypt is interested not only in exports to Egypt, but also in investment in Egypt.” What I can point out is that when American companies have been successful exporting to Egypt, and get to know the market here, it sometimes leads to investment, because they say: “well, why should we transport this stuff all the way from the United States to Egypt if we can make it here and maybe reach a larger market?” You see a number of American companies that have done that, so exports in some cases is a first step to something else. but In any case, there is a healthy trade balance. We are also going to be doing more.

This was a very short account of my trip. It’s part of a broader effort to expand commercial activities with the government of Egypt in trade activities. Coincidentally. next month there is going to be a trip from our friends of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. They are going to the United States as well, in November. And then in March of next year, Ms. Keshishian at the Department of Commerce will be bringing a large trade mission both to Morocco and to Egypt, of businesses that want to come here. In addition, throughout the year, you bring smaller groups of Egyptian business people to various sector exhibits and demonstration or trade shows in the Unites States.

We do see the commercial trade relationship between the United States and Egypt as a very important part of our relationship; we have high level discussions between our trade representative and Minister Rashid from time to time. And it is our desire to minimize the differences between us in our two trading regimes and to increase mutual trade between us. As I said, we got a lot of interest in Egypt in the audiences that we met with. I don’t have any deals to report, but we have some follow up work to do. I’m hopeful that perhaps a few new companies that had not thought about exploring the Egyptian market will do so, and that we can increase this trade relationship person by person.

So that is in a very small nutshell my visit to the United States. The other big issues while I was there was just listening about our own elections and following the debates there on a lot of things, which is exciting and it’s always fun as an American to be at home at election time.

I’m happy to answer your questions on any other issues that you may have.

Q: I know that there is always a quota of export from each country to the States, a quota for export…

Ambassador Scobey: That is not true, there used to be a quota, but that was on textiles and that was a global quota, but that’s gone now. It’s expired. Our market, the Unites States has proposed the benefits of free trade, of keeping our markets open to each other and allowing countries that have certain capacities and certain talents to be able to go with that and others to pursue other things, but let it be a truly level playing field. Most of our efforts in the World Trade Organization have all been designed to keep the playing field as level as possible, although there are challenges many countries have.

Q: Inaudible

Ambassador Scobey: The question was, “which fields are the Americans interested in?” This is quite anecdotal, because it’s based simply on the people I talked to, not a scientific survey, because I think you could find a number of American exporters interested in just about anything. Relatively few American companies export because our domestic market has been so big that many companies have been very successful only limiting themselves to our own market. We are a big market, but we know, and our President knows, and I think our country knows, the value of foreign trade and how it strengthens us in our economy.

For example, a company was saying to me: “We think this would be a great product for Egypt.” It was a technique and a system related to agricultural productivity, and it was a very controlled way to grow seeds, not food, but the seeds, so you can make your own food. They have developed this process where you can rapidly produce a potato seed. They said Egypt now imports all its potato seeds from, I think, Europe, and here is a system that would allow Egypt to make its own seed. It was a system that would do it under a controlled environment. If it would take six weeks to plant a potato to create a seed naturally, this is a system that allows you, because of the light and the way they feed it, to do it maybe six times as fast, so you could produce more. I thought, “Egypt cares about food security, very much. Egypt cares about expanding its agricultural base– here is a way to replace an import with a nationally produced thing!” So, we are going to follow up on it and make sure that they meet up with potential Egyptian partners who might buy it. It sounded like a good thing to me.

One of the companies wanted to sell a new technology for cleaning water, and I didn’t understand this at all, but we are going to follow up on it, because you don’t have to build a whole water treatment plant, but it was a biological way to clean water for community usage. Another one was a company that has created a system for creating large concrete building panels, structurally strong building panels. They are exporting the machinery so that you can make these. It was interesting.

These are relatively small and medium sized US companies that don’t now export around the world, but we also went to talk to big companies. We spent a day at Boeing, and of course Boeing has a long term relationship with Egypt Air, as does Airbus, and they are very interested of course in the Egyptian market. I got to welcome earlier this year the first 777 Boeing aircraft to the Egypt Air fleet.

I should also say that the purpose of my trip was to encourage American companies to export. The US does welcome exports from other countries. In addition to the QIZ regime that is available to some factory activities in Egypt, there is also the generalized system of preferences, which lowers US tariff rates on a wide variety of possible exports from Egypt to the Unites States. We found last year when our our Department of Commerce colleagues did workshops in Alexandria, Cairo, and in 10 Ramadan, that a lot of Egyptian exporters were not even aware of this preference, and that with just a little help, they could identify and not only save money, but they could make their products more competitive because they pay less tariff if they can document them in a certain way.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: This is an issue that gets asked very frequently, and I think the most definitive statement was provided several months ago, when our US Trade Representative, Ambassador Kirk was here for his meetings with Minister Rashid. He had to say that at this time the United States is not entering into negotiating any new Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Although President Obama recently, several months ago, expressed his intention to work with the US congress on the ratification of previously negotiated agreements, we have previously negotiated with Colombia, South Korea, and one other. He expressed an interest in trying to get those agreements ratified.

For us, an FTA is a treaty, and for us a treaty has to be approved by the Congress of the United States, by the Senate, and as I said, at this point we are not entering into any new negotiations. Politically I have to tell you, if you have been to the United States, these issues are not very popular right now, people are worried about our own employment problems, and jobs in particular, because rightly or wrongly, there is some concern that FTAs mean more jobs go outside the United States. It’s not true, we believe—I mean some jobs do go, but some new jobs come, so there is a strong case to be made for them.

I wanted to add, that even though we may not be pursuing an FTA, we do want to have a very open and serious discussion on trade issues. There are a number of things we can talk about. As I said, we are trying to improve the operations of the new QIZd that are in Menya and Beni ElSweif, so that they can be more effective. We also want to have working groups on ways to identify and reduce non-tariff obstacles in other ways. If we can finds things that are preventing our mutual exports to each other from getting in to each other’s markets, we want to identify and try to eliminate the obstacles. We also want to have a dialogue on Intellectual Property Rights. Egypt has made enormous progress in being able to enforce its respect for IPR, but there are still a few problem areas that we want to talk about.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: There are a number of them made. Egypt has made a lot of progress in protecting software, but there are still problems on text books. for example. Text books get pirated, where you have a text book maybe published in the United States and people will make Xerox copies of it and sell it or parts of it–(it’s a publication and it’s copied without permission). We have done workshops here, and I know that the Egyptian customs authority and others are trying to address the issue as well of fake products being imported into Egypt. These are trade mark—you can bring a piece of clothing that is marked with a high end brand’s label, but in fact, it’s not that brand. We have done workshops with the folks to help share with them the techniques for better being able to identify this stuff. A lot of the challenge here is the enforcement, and your enforcement is decentralized. Different ministries have different enforcement obligations. but don’t necessarily always have strong resources to enforce. It’s an issue that we know the government of Egypt takes seriously, but there are still some challenges for full enforcement.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: The Egyptian consumer is being fooled sometimes. I think as Egypt itself moves more into a knowledge-based economy where it’s your young engineers and software experts and designers and movie makers and writers, they will also be disadvantaged, unless there is a strong enforcement regime in place to protect their rights, not only in Egypt, but globally.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: I think as well of the fabulous movies and music the Egypt has produced. So what happened to their movies? They were just bought or taken away, and so all these wonderful actors and directors and actresses that contribute so much and they get very little if anything, because their rights weren’t protected, so Egypt has a huge interest in this area.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: Not in any great detail, but I can tell you from time to time in these large audiences, people follow the issues here, and they know Egypt is having an election, and so they wonder “what about the future of Egypt?” What can I tell them? I try to share with them the process, Egypt’s long history of stability, and the commitment of the government to assuring stability. Egypt is a big and important country, so people do ask questions. We talked a little bit about democracy and the challenges of political reform in Egypt.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: This was mostly focused on trade.

Q: How do they see our elections?

Ambassador Scobey: I think here I need to go into the US government’s point of view on this, and it’s shared by many in the United States. As I said, the US sees Egypt as a major leader, a major influence in this region, and certainly in the Arab speaking world, you have been a pioneer with social, political and economic reform. The United States strongly supports in Egypt and around the world, a universal standard of respect of human rights and (inaudible) democracy. In regards to Egyptian elections, certainly we have no preference as to the outcome; the only thing we have ever encouraged is the issue that the process be free and fair and transparent.

Yes– we have encouraged the consideration of international monitors because it has become very much a practice around the world, and we think it builds confidence in the process. It is something that countries should be increasingly proud of to have foreign visitors to their elections. In addition to that, Egyptians will decide this for themselves. There is equal importance of domestic monitors, of empowering Egyptian citizens themselves to have an opportunity to observe the electoral process. I know that candidates get to do that, but there are a number of civil society groups that also hope to train monitors and to put them out to build confidence in the process.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: Egypt is an important country. What happens here is important, not only to Egypt, although that’s the first and foremost, but the region.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: The United States is still deeply engaged in working with the parties– with the Israelis and the Palestinians– to get them back into direct negotiations. The US has long concluded that the solution here is a comprehensive peace for the region that includes two states. Israel needs security; Palestinians need a viable, independent state. The only way they get there is through direct negotiations. We are working with the parties to try to create the circumstances so that they can get back together and to do that.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: The US was disappointed with the renewal of settlement activity, and our position has not changed. We believe their continued settlement activities is not a legitimate process. We are working with both parties to recreate the circumstances where they can get together. We see no alternative to direct negotiations– it is the only way peace has been achieved in this region. Nobody can impose conditions on these two parties– they have to get there on their own– but support from their friends: the US, Egypt, Europe, and friends in the region, we think that support to get them back to direct negotiations is important.

Q: Arabic.

Ambassador Scobey: I think we all read about this in the newspapers and heard about it. It was clearly a very disturbing development. Our President took very quick actions to mobilize our entire interagency government process to secure our population from this threat, but it is a global challenge. We believe this originated from Al Qaida, the Arabian Peninsula, from Yemen. It’s still clear that there are elements wanting to cause great damage to innocent civilians, and it demonstrates once more how we work together in this region. Those who reject absolutely the use of terror and we will continue to work very hard with our friends from this region and elsewhere to address this threat, this challenge.

Thank you all very much.

 
 

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