(Remarks as prepared)
Thank you for that warm introduction, and thank you, Reverend Ogle and Bishop Christopher, for inviting me to speak today and for putting me in such good company on such an important set of topics. Bishop Christopher, the assembled crowd here today, and the people you’ve met with all across the United States, clearly recognize the importance of your work at home in Uganda. So thanks especially to you.
I want to begin today by sharing a bit about how I see protecting the human rights of LGBT people as fitting into a broader foreign policy context, and telling you a bit about what we’ve been working on at the State Department, and where we’re headed. And then I want to take a little time to zero in on some of the key challenges and opportunities that lie at the intersection of promoting human rights for LGBT people and engaging with religious leaders and communities of faith.
The Obama administration has forged a strong record of vocal and active support for the human rights of LGBT people as part of our overall foreign policy approach of principled engagement. In this and other areas we start from a commitment to universal standards that apply to everyone, including ourselves, and we are motivated by the belief that, as President Obama put it in his Nobel lecture, the only lasting peace will be one founded on respect for the inherent dignity of each person.
About 80 countries still criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Hate crimes against LGBT people continue to plague many more countries than that, including our own. Hatred of, discrimination against and marginalization of LGBT people hampers economic development, public health, and social cohesion wherever it occurs. And, like all forms of intolerance, the desire to stamp out or subjugate or ostracize certain individuals because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love stands as an obstacle for all members of society. Intolerance prevents the achievement of a rights respecting society that preserves the dignity of each person—and it is that sort of society in which both reason and morality dictate that we ought to want to live. The burden of intolerance is surely borne most severely by the victims, but like all forms of hatred, the active perpetrators and passive bystanders—who are by no means moral bystanders—also pay a price.
Intolerance is a moral, a political, and a social ill. But it is also a solvable one. It is not an immutable phenomenon. Unlike the aspects of identity for which people are hated, hatred itself can be left behind. And for that reason, the scourge of intolerance demands not only our analysis and attention, it demands our action. It’s not easy work, but it is urgent work.
Looking back over American history, the story of our nation’s progress toward a “more perfect union” is at its most inspiring when it is told through the series of chapters in which we have confronted intolerance and hate, both domestically and in our engagement with the world. At the same time, the most regretful chapters are those when we have failed to act. And as we look to the future, we know that the story is not over, the work continues. Our future progress will continue to be defined in part by our success at continuing to address false assertions of inequality and remove their manifestations in our laws and practice. And our progress in building the kind of peaceful, stable, and prosperous world in which we want to live will depend on our encouraging and promoting those around the world who are simultaneously working to make their own societies more inclusive and rights-respecting.
It is against this backdrop that this administration sees the work to protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It is part of a broader effort, and it follows from our commitment to universal standards and our interest in being a positive force behind the efforts of many around the world to, as Secretary Clinton has put it, “make human rights a human reality.”
At the State Department we’re working hard every day to put that principled policy commitment into action, and we’re making real progress because we have strong support from the White House and steadfast leadership from the Secretary of State. The problems facing LGBT people are not new, but never before in American foreign policy have the human rights of LGBT people been an open, unambiguous, and clear policy priority. From her first days in office, and building on a lifetime of advocacy on behalf of those who have been left out or pushed aside, Secretary Clinton has made clear that, as she said in June 2010, echoing her famous words in Beijing fifteen years earlier, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
And Secretary Clinton’s leadership is changing the way that our diplomats and development professionals do business around the world. The Secretary has sent instructions to every single ambassador directing them to engage in support of the human rights of LGBT people with foreign governments and civil society actors as part of our comprehensive human rights policy. And in foreign ministries around the world, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with partners to collaborate on enhancing rights protections for all people, including LGBT people.
Here in New York and also at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the United States has been leading within the UN system to make clear that human rights apply to everyone, without exception. About this time last year, a semi-annual resolution on extra-judicial killings at the UN General Assembly came up and an amendment was offered and passed that removed sexual orientation from the list of examples of reasons why people ought not be killed. Working with our partners, and by reaching out in capitals around the world, we built a coalition to reverse that amendment and successfully reinstated the deleted language. A few words in a resolution can seem like a small matter, especially to those who don’t follow the nitty gritty of the UN system, but reinstating that language sent a clear message that no, the international community would not countenance a spiteful step backward in the fight against violations of human rights. Earlier this year in Geneva, we were part of a cross regional group of countries that gathered 85 country signatories to a joint statement rejecting violence against LGBT people and criminalization of LGBT status or behavior.
And then—in a step that even the most hopeful among us thought unlikely even months earlier, on June 17 history was made when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing support for equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I was on the floor of the Council that day, and there was an electrifying buzz in the room as the winning vote tally came in. It was a close vote—23 to 19—but everyone in the room recognized that it was a watershed moment.
We’re not just working with governments. Because we know that sustainable change is most likely to come from within societies, we’re redoubling our efforts to engage with local civil society groups who are working to defend LGBT people from human rights abuses, and who advocate for legal protections and accountability for abuses. As you might expect, these groups are often themselves marginalized and left out, even by other human rights NGOs, so our engagement can be a lifeline of moral support. We’re also working to help them build their own capacity and skills, and to connect them to each other so that they can become more effective advocates. And because we know that like all human rights defenders, those who call out wrongs and push for change often find themselves targets for intimidation or worse, we have created a special fund that can offer emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people so that when there’s no one else to turn to, we can help them stay safe and continue their work.
We have human rights officers in every embassy around the world, and while the United States has a long history of advocating for human rights abroad, we recognize that ramping up engagement on the human rights of LGBT people entails making contact with new actors and organizations at our posts. It entails knowing how to broach what is often a “sensitive” topic and being able to prioritize among a menu of options for action in a way that enhances the chances of our making a difference on the ground. For these reasons, in the coming months, we’ll be road-testing and rolling out a toolkit that can be used by our embassies to help guide their work.
And because effective advocacy depends on facts that make the case for change, we’ve beefed up our reporting in the human rights reports that my bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor publishes every year. We’re also supporting local civil society groups in this fact-finding and reporting effort, providing state-of-the art software and training that will help them document incidents in their communities, so that they can direct their own efforts and focus the attention of others on the realities that people are confronting day-by-day.
For my own part, I feel immensely grateful and fortunate to be a part of a team of professionals at the State Department and at posts around the world that has taken Secretary Clinton’s encouragement and leadership and translated it into action, and that is working every day to make a difference. Having a President and Secretary who are committed to defending the human rights of all people has put American leadership and hard work on the side of vulnerable people around the world.
My portfolio includes Africa and Asia, and as I travel the world, one of the sets of questions that I hear most often revolves around the role of the religious community in securing human rights for all people, how the religious community can help, and how it can, whether intentionally or not, undermine efforts to build a more humane and rights respecting world that includes protections for the rights that each person deserves by virtue of her or his humanity.
I am sure you can guess the kinds of questions I hear: “Aren’t we exporting hate?” people ask about the alleged role of American religious leaders in encouraging the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda, for example. “What are you doing to stop missionaries from pushing for criminalization?” Or “isn’t it true that the Islamic world will never accept the human rights of gay people?”
Conversations about the human rights of LGBT people are still difficult and awkward in many contexts—the legacy of stigma still burdens even well-intentioned actors. And throw religion into the mix and the conversations certainly don’t get any easier. But these conversations—conversations like the ones that this conference is fostering and making space for—are important. Misunderstandings and differences of opinion or belief don’t solve or resolve themselves. We’re talking about the intersection of some of the most important, and therefore justifiably sensitive, aspects of individual fulfillment and meaning in life. And when the subject matter is deep, skating on the surface doesn’t suffice—the only way to make progress is to wade right in. So I want to try to do that in the time that remains for me today. I guess I should stop here and say “pray for me.”
I won’t pretend I have answers, but I want to say three things about my own approach, and about why I don’t just see the effort to find common ground as imperative, but am also optimistic about the possibility of doing so.
The first point is that there are as many religious actors as there are religious people. Religious people are not a monolithic group, and there is diversity in views within religious communities as well as across them. So while, yes, there are examples of religious leaders preaching intolerance, not just of gays but of people of other religious groups or nationalities or of women, there are of course also numerous examples of those for whom religious values are the foundation for a commitment to compassion, tolerance, and human dignity. We should not forget the role of religious people and religious leaders in our own national struggles for social justice—many abolitionists understood their cause as God’s work, a number of northern Jews went south to participate in the Civil Rights Movement, and Reverend King was a man of cloth as well as of change. Last year, I spoke at an event in Geneva where Desmond Tutu delivered a message of tolerance. It’s worth pausing to quote his message briefly. “Sexual orientation, like skin color,” he said, “is a feature of our diversity. How sad it is that when God’s children are facing such massive problems – poverty, disease, corruption, conflict—we are so often obsessed with human sexuality. Is there not already too much hate in this world, without seeking to persecute those who love?”
Religious leaders have a positive role to play in fostering tolerance and respect for the dignity of all. If we start by assuming that there are only challenges, we lose perspective at the outset, and we aren’t poised to seize opportunities.
The second point has three layers—bear with me—philosophical, moral, and practical. So we’re going to have 2A, 2B, and 2C. (I know, that’s cheating.) But the overall point 2 is simple: that we can and should seek to engage those whose religious beliefs and teachings seem to be at odds with advancing human rights for all people. We can have the conversation, we should have the conversation, and we must have the conversation if we’re to make progress at all.
The philosophical part of this point—2A— is essentially to reject the contention put forward by some that religious thought and human rights doctrine are divided by an impenetrable epistemological barrier. The argument here is something along the lines that those who are concerned with understanding and obeying God’s law are necessarily operating, essentially, in a different conceptual universe from “secular” human rights standards. In other words, we can’t talk to each other because we’re using a different language. But such arguments are as thin philosophically as they are easy to disprove empirically. For in fact we can talk to each other, and we can use the ideas of religious thought to make sense of the moral demands of human rights, and vice versa. As I have already noted, in many cases religious and human rights leaders aren’t from separate epistemic communities at all; in fact some people are both religious leaders and human rights leaders, and they use the lexicon of each sphere of thought without any apparent philosophical dissonance. Religious people played a part in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And our country’s own Declaration of Independence—in which the constituent concepts of human rights are salient—also grounds these rights in the idea that we are each endowed with them by our Creator. There is no legitimate philosophical excuse for not engaging.
The moral part of the point—2B— is that engaging those with whom we disagree in dialogue and debate, holding them responsible—in the literal sense of answering for their claims—is part of treating them with respect. The act of engaging and holding responsible is properly respectful, it indicates a preliminary assumption that that person is worthy of taking seriously; and similarly dismissing out of hand and refusing to engage someone who disagrees demonstrates a lack of respect. Engaging is the right thing, the respectful thing to do.
And the practical part of this point—2C—is that neither ignoring nor suppressing ideas has ever solved the problem of resolving apparent gaps or disagreements on how to build good lives or good societies. There are many who believe that we should limit speech that is offensive or hateful. But our position has been to avoid censorship, which is almost never perfectly executed, and which is in a sense, denying the problem instead of dealing with it. When people say hateful things we shouldn’t hide the hate, we should confront it, reject the premises on which it is founded, and attempt to refute it through force of argument. If we’re to make progress at identifying a common ground and forging a way forward, we have to engage. We don’t make progress by attempting to shut down or do battle, we make progress when both sides come together—shall we say “in good faith?”—and attempt to identify and correct misunderstandings and make the case.
So we need to take the tough conversations on. Obviously there are some people on both sides who aren’t prepared to come to the table—I know that—but there are plenty of others who are. And we need to make arguments that are aimed at finding common ground and forging a way forward. It may be that I will never find agreement with those who make religiously based moral arguments that homosexuality is wrong—though I certainly don’t start from the premise that that is impossible. But, even if we ultimately disagree about what constitutes a life well lived in the fullest sense, we might nevertheless agree that we ought to be unambiguously committed to defending the potential that is bound up with each human life. We might agree that in order to get to the conversation about what a good life looks like, one must start with protecting that life. And further that concern for life might lead us to be particularly careful to avoid unintended consequences of things we say or write into law.
And this leads me to my third point, which is that as difficult as the intersection of faith and sexuality is, I am hopeful and optimistic about the road ahead. This is partly because I don’t think we really have a choice: No serious person can think plausible a world without human spirituality or a world without human sexuality. Finding a way to transcend intolerance is not just what a commitment to human dignity dictates, it’s what any appreciation for the realities of human experience suggests as the only real lasting option for building a peaceful future together.
But I’m also hopeful because I think there is common ground to be found and that concepts that are familiar in nearly every religious tradition and in secular moral thought can help us get there—a sincere embrace of dignity, of generosity, of compassion, of patience can help us to uncover and appreciate what we have in common.
For many many people, religious belief and practice is a source of meaning, fundamental to their own flourishing and to making sense of the world around them and their relationships with others. Universal standards of human rights protect the freedom of each person to choose and practice her or his religion, and those protections create a space in which individuals around the world seek and find fulfillment.
Similarly, for most people, the bonds we share and the commitments we make to others, and particularly to those whom we consider family, are both crucial to our own identities and understanding of our place in the world as well as expressions of a uniquely human capacity. To deprive someone of a loving relationship entered freely is to deprive him or her of a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human, and to cut off a source of meaning and fulfillment.
The use of religion to advocate for limitations on the lives, rights, and freedoms of others, whether those of other faiths, as it often is, or those whose lives reflect other aspects of human diversity, is a manipulation of faith that tragically disregards the same goodness that religion itself can bring to human existence. There is no true love of God that can justify hatred of man.
I am optimistic because I believe that even if it is not apparent at the outset, a common purpose will reveal itself. And I am confident that a commitment to the universal human rights of all people, grounded in a respect for human dignity and made real through equal and real protections for all, will underpin the world in which each person can flourish.
I want to close with a final thought and personal reflection.
One of the virtues that is central to many religious traditions and to the aspirations of many religious people is that of forgiveness. And that virtue, in particular, is I think important for all participants in difficult discussions to keep in mind. 9 years ago I was visiting my father in the hospital as he was dying, and a young man, a nurse’s aide, was working around his hospital bed, checking the machines and such. He had gotten to know my dad during his long hospital visit, and my dad, enjoying the visit with one of his own sons, asked the guy about his father. The young man said that his dad had left his mom and siblings when he was young, and had offered neither financial nor emotional support throughout his growing up. “I used to really hate the guy,” he said “but in the last few years, he reached out, he’s made an effort, and we’ve actually become really close.” My father—who was a deeply religious man—immediately remarked “how kind of you to be able to forgive him, to give him permission to change.”
It’s a lesson that still rings true to me years later, and something I had never thought of before that moment, the empowering effect of forgiveness. As we engage in tough conversations about right and wrong, about the societies we want to make, and the beliefs we hold most dear, it’s something that I keep close at hand. We’re in this together, and we need to be prepared to forgive each other, we need to be prepared to give each other permission to change, in order to build together a stronger, more humane and holy world.
Thank you very much again for having me.
Thank you very much for that introduction. I am thrilled to be here today and to get the chance to talk with and meet so many of you.
My mom grew up here in Philadelphia so I have always felt a sense of connection to this city. And of course as a human rights guy, I feel lucky to get to give a talk here. Philly has what you might call a strong brand; it’s a city of principles—of liberty and of brotherly (and sisterly) love—core principles that reflect some of our most sacred moral intuitions; principles that undergird a commitment to democracy and human rights.
I want to start today by bringing you greetings from Secretary Clinton—I know that you invited her—a world superstar; historic figure; longtime champion of the human rights of LGBT people. And you got me. What can I say–these things happen. Let’s make the most of it.
More seriously, I know that Secretary Clinton would have liked to have been here today because she is deeply committed to breaking new ground in the quest for LGBT equality in her current job, and I know that she sees, as I do, the role that you play as journalists as critically important to that effort. But one of the nice things about her not being here is that it gives me a chance to brag on my boss a bit.
I was sworn in November of 2009, and from the moment I started my job, Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, and the team they lead at the State Department have been 110% behind a major push to integrate the human rights of LGBT people into American foreign policy. For Secretary Clinton, this is in part the continuation of a trajectory that included her being the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade in 1999, her work on behalf of LGBT citizens of New York as Senator, her honest and open discussions on the campaign trail in 2008, and now her role as America’s chief diplomat. It is also a continuation of a lifelong commitment to advance a more inclusive idea of who counts—from her early work as an activist for marginalized children, to that truly epic moment when she rejected enduring efforts to put women’s rights to the side, saying plainly “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”
For a casual listener, that line can sound like just a little bit of wordplay. But it’s not. It’s a crucial philosophical assertion. To say that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights is to put forth two important truths. First, that women’s rights aren’t special, or optional, or separate. They’re human rights that attach to women because women are people. And second, is the fact that women count, that when we talk about human rights, every woman is part of that universe of humanity to which human rights apply. Human rights belong to women, too.
So it wasn’t just an opportune echo, it was a significant advance, when last year—remarking that she didn’t understand why it wasn’t self-evident, but that if it needed to be said, she’d surely put it just as plainly as she had in Beijing—she said “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
The human rights of LGBT people aren’t special or separate or optional—they follow from and are part of universal commitments. And LGBT people count as people. LGBT status is irrelevant to one’s claim to human dignity. It is irrelevant one’s deserving respect.
Secretary Clinton’s leadership has been crystal clear. And in the first two and a half years of the Obama administration, senior officials from the State Department have engaged diplomatically with heads of state and cabinet ministers from dozens of countries around the world on behalf of the human rights of LGBT people. We have reached out to encourage protection of those under threat and investigation of hate crimes; we have won support for endorsements of the human rights of LGBT people in international fora, including, two months ago, the first ever UN resolution supporting these rights at the Human Rights Council in Geneva—I was on the Council floor that day and it was an incredibly dramatic moment. There was no doubt that those on both sides of the resolution understood that a tide was changing, unstoppably. We have matched our diplomacy with ramped up efforts to support those advocates and activists on the ground, often in the most difficult places, to organize and advocate for LGBT equality in their communities. Our ambassadors have publicly supported and participated in Pride celebrations. We’ve stood up a new fund that gets emergency assistance to those who are targeted for their advocacy, and we are developing programs that will help network LGBT groups on the ground and build their capacity for advocacy, strategic litigation, and organization building. Our embassies around the world are re-invigorating their efforts to reach out to local actors; we’re developing a toolkit to help Embassy staff maximize the effectiveness of their engagement; and we’re continuing to beef up our reporting in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that my bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor publishes each year.
I am a lucky guy. A generation ago, I couldn’t have been an openly gay man in my job. Today, not only do I get to serve in a State Department that is transformed, I get to serve under a Secretary and a President who are committed to progressive change, to amplifying the move toward equality here at home and around the world, and to insisting that LGBT people count.
Before I came into government, I was a professor. By training I’m a philosopher and political theorist. So I have to be mindful of tendencies to stray into the abstract and theoretical. Most of us grew up in history classes that—falsely, I think—taught us that the engine of modern history has been a series of contests between abstractions—contests of religion, contests between capitalism and communism, contests between colonialism and self-determination, and so on. Surely these contests are not meaningless fabrications—they are lenses that help us understand and make sense of collections of events. But the engine of history isn’t ideas; it’s people. And in my work as a diplomat, as I travel the world and meet with foreign leaders, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, and others wherever I go, I see that without a doubt, progress—by which I mean real change on the ground for real people—depends not on the beauty or elegance of your ideas; progress depends on the stories you tell about people, about their real lives, their joys, their pains, the injustices they suffer. The way that we come to know that dignity is something supremely valuable is that we come to know stories of people who have had theirs violently and vulgarly denied and trampled and we know stories of those who have courageously, against all odds, stood up to defend themselves or the dignity of others. The stories make ideas real. The narrative precedes the analytic.
I am the first to defend and be enthralled by the elegant aesthetic of the concept of rights that attach to each of us equally in virtue of our shared humanity. However, human rights don’t start with an abstraction, no matter how elegant. Human rights start with the stories we tell.
I want to say a bit more about the role of journalists in this respect. And about the intersection between journalism and free media and human rights. Most often in conversations about human rights, we talk about journalists as rights-holders—as persons entitled to freedom of expression and freedom from retribution—and often we talk about the ways in which journalists, in many, many countries around the world, continue to be abused, harassed and even killed for doing their jobs. And of course it is in this light that one of the indicators we use to tell whether a society respects human rights, including freedom of expression, is that it has a free press, and that journalists can practice their craft.
Our commitment to freedom of expression is grounded in the fact that it is a fundamental freedom, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is part of that fundamentally human basket of entitlements: the rights that make a life recognizably, distinctively, human. In that sense, we believe in it not because it is productive or instrumentally good, but because it is simply what human dignity demands. Free expression is a right independent of whatever other benefits we see free expression producing.
Nonetheless, if asked, most of us could readily suggest ways that societies that protect freedom of expression benefit from doing so. Some might say that such societies are less likely to have problems with public corruption or exploitation by the most powerful. Others might point out that a free press is critical to the political competition that produces democracy’s dividends. Anyone who has lived in a censored press environment would be able to tell you that a free press is undoubtedly more interesting. Editors of today’s tabloids could probably forgive Pravda for being untrue—it was the fact that it was dull that would have been the real deficiency.
But one of the benefits that is less likely to be mentioned is the fact that in societies in which the stories of individual people are freely shared in the public sphere, there is a perennially refreshed set of reference points for understanding and knowing the human experience. Those stories, in highlighting the joys and pains, particularly of so-called ordinary people, remind us of their humanity, and remind us that human lives are really quite extra-ordinary. They remind us that underneath our shared experience resides a common humanity—the common humanity that grounds a shared set of individual rights and common duties to one another.
Conversely, in societies where the freedom of expression and a free press are curtailed, the stories of people are suppressed—and much more often than not, it’s not just the freedom of expression that is curtailed. Governments that fail to respect the freedom of expression fail to respect the rights of citizens more generally. In order to hold authorities accountable for protecting and respecting rights, we need to know more than that the laws of the land include human rights and that leaders pay lip-service to these commitments in the rhetoric of political speeches. We need to know the stories of real people, and whether they conform to the states’ commitments and obligations.
This is why the stories that you tell as journalists are so important. The stories you tell give a human face to the wrongs perpetrated by governments against the vulnerable. They expose failures to protect. They make plain for readers, listeners, and viewers the costs of the failure to respect human rights. The stories you tell embarrass leaders, outrage citizens, and make undeniable the gaps between rhetoric and reality.
But equally importantly, and often simultaneously in the very same story, by providing an account of particular episodes in particular lives, you paradoxically remind your audience of the universality of the human experience. When we are moved to tears by the story of a mother in Somalia watching her fourth child die of starvation, it is not because she is different, it is because she is the same. And that sameness is fundamental to both the philosophical truth underlying human rights, and to motivating human beings to do more to protect and defend human rights in the here and now.
The stories you tell highlight wrongs and their costs. They also highlight the humanity of specific people, and in so doing, give us cause to believe in the humanity, and human rights, of all people.
In the context of the human rights of LGBT people, I think it’s particularly important that we not lose sight of the role that journalists play in affirming the common humanity of all people, not by making political arguments for equality, but by telling stories about individual lives that provide the evidence for that claim.
Let me give a familiar example—a few years back, when the New York Times announced that it would start carrying wedding announcements for gay couples, a lot of people saw that as important for the political statement it made. The New York Times was endorsing a notion—an abstract one—that gay partnerships were substantively similar to straight ones.
But I would argue that the more powerful effect, particularly in changing the minds of those who didn’t already buy the abstract argument, was in the stories that followed on the pages. Both because the stories about gay couples—meeting, falling in love, taking a break, sorting through a misunderstanding or a logistical challenge, and ending up together—were pretty much the same as the familiar stories of straight couples and the evolution of their relationships, and more simply, because the protagonists in those stories were gay people who were just, well, people, plain and simple.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and I’m probably going to be the first student of human rights or public official to link the wedding section to human rights, but the simple truth is: In whatever part of journalism you find yourself—from TV news to local radio to photo spreads to the wedding section—the stories you tell are part of the foundation for human rights, because they are the most prevalent and popular public account of what it is to be human. Human rights start with the stories we tell about what it is to be human.
Before concluding I want to say a quick word about not the stories you tell, but rather about the stories you bring to your craft. After all the organization under whose auspices we meet today is as much about shared identity as it is about shared endeavor. And there are a lot of folks who might be understandably skeptical of that. “I’ve never joined,” a friend in D.C. who works for a major newspaper told me, “I’m not a gay journalist, I’m a journalist.” Most of us have had similar thoughts—I have whenever I have participated in LGBT groups organized around my profession. Given that in so many cases, the goal is to get others to not pay attention to something that should be irrelevant to rights or job advancement or acceptance, it can seem odd or even counterproductive to call attention to the supposedly irrelevant. But of course, on the other hand, my friend is wrong—he is a gay journalist. And like any journalist, where he’s come from, including not only being LGBT but having been raised on a farm, having gone to a particular college, having grown up reading certain books, the places he’s traveled to, etc, all shape the way he tells the stories he tells because they shape how he sees the world.
For my own part, I hope that having spent an adolescence often characterized by feeling different and fearing exclusion has enhanced my compassion and empathy for others in my role as a teacher, manager, and diplomat. And in your work, of course, the lives you’ve led inevitably are the prism through which the lives you examine and write about are refracted. The stories you bring are part of the foundation you work from in the stories you tell.
Thank you for inviting me here today. Thank you for the work you do to capture the human story through an ongoing and ever-expanding collection of accounts of individual lives, their joys and their sorrows, their failures and their triumphs. It’s through the stories of others that we come to see their humanity, that we arrive at our intuitive understanding of what human dignity is, why it applies to each of us, and what it demands of each of us. Thank you for the stories you tell.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Distinguished Members of the Commission, I appreciate the Commission’s affording me the opportunity to address an issue with profound implications for the exercise of human rights in the OSCE region and across the globe: ensuring a free and open Internet. Your focus on this critical subject is emblematic of the Commission’s strong defense and dedicated promotion of human rights principles enshrined at the core of the Helsinki Final Act and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. States have an enduring responsibility to respect these principles and their responsibility extends into the Digital Age. In the 21st Century, men and women everywhere are increasingly turning to the Internet and other connection technologies to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
I have valued the opportunity to work with Members of this Commission and your superb staff. The Commission’s efforts greatly strengthen my hand and that of Assistant Secretary Michael Posner and our colleagues in the State Department as we work with other governments, civil society advocates and the private sector to defend and advance human rights and democratic government. The defense of Internet Freedom is integral to our efforts.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, first I will describe the Obama Administration’s global policy of support for Internet Freedom. Then, as you have requested, I will highlight key trends and concerns regarding a number of countries in the OSCE region. Finally, I will describe what we are doing institutionally within the OSCE to ensure Internet Freedom.
The U.S. Champions a Rights-Based Approach to Global Internet Freedom
The United States champions Internet freedom because it derives from universal and cherished rights—the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. An open Internet gives people a neutral platform from which to express their legitimate aspirations and shape their own destiny. We believe that people in every country deserve to be able to take part in building a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society. In the 21st century, technology is a powerful tool with which to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms. In turn, ensuring Internet freedom helps create the space for people to use technology to “know and act upon” their rights.
As Secretary Clinton has emphasized: “The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs – these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.”
As we all know, the Internet and other new technologies are having a profound effect on the ability to organize citizen movements around the world. And because repressive regimes understand the power of this technology, they are redoubling their attempts to control it. It is no coincidence that authorities who try to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms by their people, impede the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, control the press and obstruct the flow of information, tend to be the same authorities who try to restrict, impede, control and obstruct their citizens’ peaceful use of these new connective technologies.
Governments that respect their citizens have no reason to fear when citizens exercise their rights. And governments that respect the rights of their citizens have no reason to fear a free Internet. As President Obama has said: “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.”
Recently, in Vilnius, on the margins of the Community of Democracies ministerial meeting, Secretary Clinton and I met with activists—including several from the OSCE region — who spoke of the surveillance, hacking, and harassment they face every day.
Mr. Chairman, we are not cyber-utopians who believe that the Internet is the magic answer to the world’s human rights problems. Technology does not change the world; people must. Some governments are using advanced technologies to chill free expression, to stifle dissent, to identify and arrest dissidents. Through our diplomacy and through direct support for embattled activists worldwide, we are helping people stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the brutes who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online.
At the same time, we will continue to speak out about the regimes that resort to such behavior. And we will continue to point out that cracking down on the Internet only undermines the legitimacy of a government in the eyes of its own people – particulary young people. Those who have grown up in the Internet age understand how critical it is that all people everywhere can join in the global discussion and debate. These young “digital natives” understand intiuitively the dangers of an online world where citizens in one country receive only censored information and so form a stilted view of the world. And they understand intuitively the need to protect the promise and the potential of a truly free and global Internet.
Around the world, our embassies and missions are working to advance internet freedom on the ground. We are building relationships with “netizens” and advocating on behalf of imprisoned and arrested online activists. Internet freedom is now a core part of many of our bilateral human rights and economic discussions with a broad range of countries. Fostering free expression and innovation is a core element of the President’s International Strategy for Cyberspace, released in May of this year. As Secretary Clinton said in the rollout of the strategy, cyber issues are a new foreign policy imperative. Accordingly, we are integrating Internet freedom into our engagements on the broader range of cyber issues.
Since 2008, the State Department and USAID have committed $50 million in direct support for activists on the front lines of the struggle against Internet repression. By the end of 2011, we will have allocated $70 million toward these efforts. Our programming responds to the most urgent priorities we hear from activists on the ground – including embattled democracy and human rights activists from OSCE countries. A critical part of our efforts is support for circumvention technology, to enable users to get around firewalls erected by repressive regimes. But circumvention alone is not enough. Users do not just need access to blocked content; they also need to be able to communicate safely with each other, to organize, to get their own messages out. For this reason, we are funding the development of better communication technologies, including secure tools for mobile phones, to empower activists to safely organize themselves and publish their own material. We are funding trainings on cyber self-defense, to train activists in person about the risks they face and how to protect themselves online. And we are committing funding to research and development, so that we stay ahead of the curve in understanding evolving threats to Internet freedom.
We also are working with the private sector, to define the steps that governments and businesses need to take to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms at a time when the technology and its implications are changing constantly.
And, through our multilateral diplomacy, we are playing a leading role in building a global coalition of governments committed to advancing Internet freedom. To that end, we are working at the UN Human Rights Council, in UNESCO, in the OECD, and, of course, within the OSCE.
OSCE as a Pioneering Regional Platform for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age
Mr. Chairman, as you know, OSCE was the first regional organization to recognize that respect for human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites for a lasting order of security and prosperity. And OSCE was the first regional organization to acknowledge the vital importance of civil society. The Helsinki process must continue to be a pioneer for human dignity, civil society and democratic government in the Digital Age.
Challenges to Internet freedom in the OSCE region are illustrative of the issues we are addressing across the globe in our efforts to support an open Internet. Let me now address trends and concerns related to Internet Freedom in a number of OSCE participating States:
In mid-2010, Belarusian authorities announced a new legal regime designed to restrict freedom of speech on the Internet, and to harass and intimidate individuals and organizations to deter them from expressing their views through Internet postings, email and websites. The law requires all website owners to register with the authorities, and further requires them to maintain their sites on the government-controlled .by domain. Citizens seeking to use the Internet at public locations including Internet cafes must present their identity documents, and Internet cafes are responsible for maintaining lists of users and the websites they visit. Authorities routinely monitor emails and Internet traffic, and at times block access to websites linked to opposition political parties and independent media groups. On December 19, 2010, the day of the presidential election, authorities also blocked access to popular global sites, including Twitter and Facebook. The same day, denial of service attacks led to the disabling of over a dozen popular Belarusian independent media websites.
In recent days, Belarusian citizens have mobilized via the Internet to organize a series of “silent” protests designed to highlight the government’s continuing repression, the lack of freedom of speech, and the country’s deteriorating economic situation. Since June 8, such protests –in which participants gather silently and clap their hands – have taken place in at least 43 cities and towns across the country. Authorities have responded by dispersing gatherings via heavy-handed tactics and by detaining hundreds of people. Police have ordered the closure of at least seven websites, and reports of denial of service attacks and spear-phishing attacks have also increased. Finding themselves unable to completely suppress free expression via the Internet, Belarusian authorities have created their own Twitter accounts to threaten protest participants, and have flooded the most popular Belarus-focused news feeds with misinformation designed to disrupt plans for further protests.
Yet the protests continue and demonstrators continue to express themselves online. Over 216,000 people joined a group on Vkontakte (the Russian-language equivalent of Facebook), calling for “Revolution via the social networks” in Belarus. The page was shut down on July 3, but a replacement page gained 20,000 members in two days. Bloggers and Internet journalists have continued to post videos of police beatings and harassment of peaceful demonstrators on YouTube. During a recent public protest on July 3, police reportedly arrested nearly 200 people; at least 15 journalists were also detained. During protests on July 13, authorities blocked access to Vkontakte for several hours, but hundreds of demonstrators still turned out to silently protest in locations around Minsk. As Secretary Clinton has made clear, we will continue to press for the human rights and democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. And we will continue our staunch support for those struggling to make their voices heard both online and in the streets.
The Participating States of Central Asia
In the Central Asian region, we continue to be concerned by governments’ efforts to block websites, particularly when information or opinions are expressed via the Internet that are critical of government officials or policies. Media laws and registration requirements are also used to target independent activists and dissidents, which does not accord with the commitments that OSCE participating States have made to ensure freedom of expression. Internet censorship further aggravates the constraints on freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms that impede progress and development in the Central Asian states. In order for the Central Asia region to prosper, 21st century new media technologies must be harnessed to facilitate citizens’ vibrant ideas and contributions, not governments’ repression.
In Kazakhstan, we have long expressed our concern that the Respublika news portal remains inaccessible to users of Kaztelecom, the government-owned Internet service provider, along with dozens of other independent sites that are intermittently blocked. In Tajikistan too, we have seen the blockage of websites disseminating independent or critical views. And in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, heavy monitoring of Internet content and registration requirements continue to impede free expression. In Kyrgyzstan, despite an end to official restrictions on, or monitoring of, the Internet after the April 2010 change in government, we were concerned by the Parliament’s recent resolution calling for the Fergana.ru site to be banned on grounds that it is inciting ethnic hatred. We believe that full respect for freedom of expression, including via the Internet, can undergird efforts at reconciliation and accountability in Kyrgyzstan.
We welcome the Russian President Medvedev’s statement at the World Economic Forum in January that: “Any attempts to limit the Internet or stifle innovation will lead the world to stagnation. Russia will not support initiatives that put Internet freedom in question.” The spread of the Internet undoubtedly has had a positive effect on Russian civil society, providing new opportunities for grassroots organizations to connect with citizens and new platforms to voice alternative viewpoints and hold government accountable. However, problems associated with press freedom for print media have begun to migrate to online media as well. Russia is one of the countries “under surveillance” in the 2010 Enemies of the Internet report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Even when technical blocks or filtering are not deployed systematically, if people are punished physically or through legal action for peacefully expressing themselves online, Internet freedom is constrained. The threats to Internet freedom in Russia range from attacks on bloggers to criminal prosecutions of bloggers for ‘extremism’, to the blocking of specific sites by local service providers, denial of service (DDOS) attacks on sites site of opposition groups or independent media, and attempts by security services and some regional authorities to regulate Internet content. For example:
In November 2010, journalist and blogger Oleg Kashin was brutally beaten outside his home in Moscow. Leading human rights organizations in Russia connect the attack with material he had published on his blog.
The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta came under a DDOS attack in April, while a wide-scale March DDOS attack on LiveJournal, a blog hosting site, began by targeting the blog of prominent anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny has also been targeted for prosecution for criminal charges alleging that he had facilitated a 2009 bad investment for a regional government in his capacity as a legal advisor. Rights groups in Russia believe that the charges are politically motivated.
Regional authorities have acted to block sites or prosecute those who produce content that they deem politically undesirable. Bloggers in Oryol, Marii El, Syktykvar, and other areas of Russia have have faced prosecution for posting insults to Prime Minister Putin or other official persons in online forums. Local authorities have acted in multiple cases to compel local service providers to block certain sites that contain materials listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials—a problematic and expanding list of over 700 publications. Regional providers have also temporarily blocked sites of the political opposition, such as the site of the Solidarity Movement and Kasparov.ru, and independent publications like the New Times.
Whistleblowers also face legal retaliation. For instance, Yuri Yegorov, a blogger from Tatarstan and a former employee of the regional government, received a 6-month suspended sentence in May for libel after he alleged corruption and embezzlement on the part of Tatarstan human rights ombudsman Rashit Vagizov. His reports of corruption were later supported by other witnesses’ testimonies, which were ignored by the court.
We are increasingly concerned by the restrictions that the Government of Turkey places on Internet freedom. Turkish authorities have blocked over 5,000 websites, many with content on sensitive social and political issues. Much of this blocking is done in accordance with Turkey’s 2007 Internet law, which allows the government to prohibit a Web site if there is suspicion that the site is committing any of eight crimes. These restrictions have been criticized by prominent officials within the Turkish government itself, including President Abdullah Gul.
This year has brought two new proposed restrictions on Internet freedom. Turkish authorities announced a new ban on Internet domain names that contain 138 words deemed offensive based on vague criteria. In addition, the government announced that it planned to introduce a nationwide filtering system to be implemented by Internet Service Providers. The proposal was met with widespread criticism, from the international community and from within Turkish civil society. Although some Turkish Internet associations indicate this decision may be postponed, yet the regulations are still scheduled to take effect August 22. While we understand these restrictions are allegedly designed to protect children from harmful content on the Internet, banning words in an attempt to eliminate undesirable content from the Internet cannot succeed. . Major international Internet companies have voiced concerns over operating in Turkey under such regulations. If Turkey is to ensure a modern, prosperous, and peaceful society, it cannot continue to constrain the potential of the Internet for the exercise of human rights.
In Azerbaijan, Internet access is not restricted. For example, the government does not restrict web sites such as You Tube or Facebook, both of which are very popular. The government’s release of young blogger-activists Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli last fall and newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev this spring were positive developments.
We are concerned, however, that government officials appear to have monitored certain types of online activity, including postings on social media sites, in order to restrict freedom of assembly, specifically the activities of youth and opposition organizers who used these sites to organize anti-government demonstrations in March and April. Several of these activists – presumably identified from internet postings as organizers – were detained or imprisoned following these events. For example, youth activists Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Jabbar Savalanli were arrested earlier this year after using the Internet for pro-democracy activism. Hajiyev, a candidate in last November’s parliamentary elections, was detained on draft evasion charges pending since 2010 after he was associated with Internet postings related to March 2011 protests. International and domestic observers have alleged that the authorities prosecute draft evasion selectively, and have singled out Hajiyev because of his political activities. He was convicted on May 18 of draft evasion and sentenced to two years imprisonment. This is not the first time Hajiyev has encountered problems with the government after utilizing the Internet for social activism; in 2007 the authorities arrested him after he established a web site to protest price increases. Savalanli, a young opposition Popular Front Party activist, was convicted on May 4 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on drug charges considered to be spurious by human rights groups.
Enduring Freedoms, New Apps
Mr. Chairman, as you know, in the past, the Helsinki process was a major international platform for defending citizens expressing dissenting views via samizdat and for protesting the jamming of radio broadcasts. Two decades ago, in response to efforts by the Ceausescu regime to restrict citizens’ access to Xerox machines, an explicit commitment was included in the OSCE’s Copenhagen document pledging that “no limitation will be imposed on access to, and use of, means of reproducing documents of any kind.” Today, email, social networking and text messaging are new forms of samizdat as well as indispensible tools of commerce, education, and global communications.
As the United States has done since the inception of the Helsinki Process, so, too, in this new century, we stand with those in the OSCE region who seek to peacefully exercise their fundamental freedoms and promote and protect human rights, including via new technologies.
I commend Lithuania, which has made key themes of its Chairmanship media freedom via old and new technologies and the safety of journalists. We are particularly grateful for the tireless efforts of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ms. Dunja Mijatovic and her dedicated staff to ensure that fundamental freedoms can be exercised via digital media, and I am delighted that she is here with us today. Last week, she co-organized with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Promotion of Pluralism in New Media. Her office is working on a matrix representing Internet laws and policies in the OSCE region to identify and encourage best practices and adherence to OSCE commitments on freedom of expression. Additionally, her office provides critical training to journalists in Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as legal reviews of OSCE participating States’ legislation, to advance broader respect for freedom of expression norms. Perhaps most critically, Ms. Mijatovic has been a voice for bloggers, journalists and other activists who are harassed or imprisoned for their work to disseminate independent information that is essential for democratic development.
Mr. Chairman, the Commission has long supported the vital role that non-governmental organizations play in the OSCE process. I am pleased to say that we are exploring creative ways that we can help connect human rights and democracy activists across the OSCE region through new technologies in order to enhance their ability to network with one another and leverage the contribution of their ideas and insights to the work of the OSCE. On her trip to Vilnius last week, Secretary Clinton spoke at a “tech camp” we organized to help civil society groups from the OSCE region and beyond use these new technologies most effectively.
I want also to emphasize, Mr. Chairman, that cyber issues are relevant to all three dimensions of the OSCE. As we partner with other governments, civil society and the business sector on ways we can safeguard against very real cyber security threats, we do so ever mindful that the measures we take must be consistent with our human dimension commitments to respect the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Mr. Chairman, last year, in the run-up to the OSCE Summit in Astana, the U.S. advanced language for inclusion in the Summit Action Plan stating that the participating States, in fulfillment of their longstanding OSCE commitments, will permit their people to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association through Digital Age technologies. The language did not aim to create new commitments; rather it was designed to reinforce the message that existing commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms apply in the Digital Age. The language represents a conceptual breakthrough in that it recognizes that individuals and members of civil society organizations utilize digital technologies not only to exercise freedom of expression, but also to connect, network, form organizations, and gather in both virtual and real space. The language also highlights a key human dimension priority: defending and supporting the vital role of civil society in human rights protection and democratic development.
In Astana, our negotiators worked to advance our Digital Age language along with highly compatible language from the European Union related to freedom of expression.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Astana Summit did not adopt an Action Plan. We intend, however, to renew our efforts to advance our language on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age with a view to its adoption at the OSCE Ministerial in Vilnius this December. OSCE’s adoption of the Digital Age language would, I believe, mark the first time that any regional organization formally recognizes that respect for the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms must extend to the use of new technologies.
The United States will take every opportunity to work with the Lithuanian Chair, the EU, other participating States and civil society to ensure that the OSCE sends a clear message from Vilnius on Internet Freedom. If I were to distill that message into a tweet to the world, it would be: “Enduring Freedoms, New Apps.”
Mr. Chairman, when he signed the Helsinki Final Act 35 years ago, President Ford famously said that: “History will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow — not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” He was right then, and his statement is even more true today. In this Digital Age, keeping our promises greatly depends on ensuring that the Internet is open and free.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Now I would be happy to answer your questions.
Jon Tollefson, President of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies: Good morning.
Good morning and welcome to the Dean Acheson Auditorium here at the U.S. Department of State and welcome to one of GLIFAA’s annual pride month celebrations.
We’re very excited that you could all be here to celebrate with us and to join in this discussion on the human rights of L.G.B.T. people abroad.
We have with us to start today a very exciting panel and then the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will join us in a little while, in about 45 minutes time.
And so we’re going to have a discussion to begin this event on the status of L.G.B.T. people worldwide and we have with us some of our foremost experts on human rights in the Obama Administration and we’re very excited to here them speak about L.G.B.T. issues.
GLIFAA is the L.G.B.T. organization of the U.S. foreign affairs agencies and that includes the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps and other foreign offices of U.S. agencies, many of which now serve abroad.
So we’re quite a wide organization and we represent the L.G.B.T. interests and family member issues at all of our agencies and so we’re very excited to be getting more into the policy realm as we expand our activities within the building and abroad.
GLIFAA members both here in Washington and throughout the world play a role in supporting LGBT advocates and advancing L.G.B.T. equality.
Just yesterday at embassy Islamabad in Pakistan, charge d’affaires ambassador Richard Hoagland held the first embassy pride event there and many embassies are doing that around the world.
In Chennai India the GLIFAA group marched behind the GLIFAA banner the local pride parade and these are examples that the whole world is seeing now and we’re asking all GLIFAA members, no matter where you are, to start engaging, if you haven’t already, with L.G.B.T. activists and sporting the embassy in their agency as well.
So let’s get started with the panel.
[TRUNCATED: INTRODUCTION OF MODERATOR MARIA OTERO, UNDER SECRETARY FOR DEMOCRACY AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS AND PANELISTS MIKE POSNER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR; DON STEINBERG, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR OF USAID; DAN BAER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHS AND LABOR.]
Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs: Thank you, thank you so much.
This is really a wonderful way to begin the week and an actually wonderful way to really bring to closure the L.G.B.T. Pride Month that we have been celebrating.
As I sit here and listen to Jon talk about the efforts that we’ve been putting forward, it’s actually really hard to believe that it’s been a year since Secretary Clinton said gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.
And in fact we really have made quite a lot of advancements in this past year and I would start by commending GLIFAA for the leadership that they have given, because they’ve really looked not only of policy issues but also with personnel issues and they’ve had a very important impact in, for example, including gender identity in the State Department’s EEO policy.
And being able to also address not only make June pride month very successful but also make this an annual event.
And they also were very important in putting… helping put together the video that the Secretary did called “It Gets Better.”
So I do want to commend you for all the leadership you’re giving in this area and certainly for this work.
One of the things that was mentioned as we were introduced was the degree of interest around the world that is arising on this issue.
I was just in Norway a couple of weeks ago — and this is a really good example of how we are looking to elevate and advance gay rights as part of our overall human rights priorities.
In Norway, I led with the US-Norwegian global issues dialogue.
And under the human rights agenda– because it’s basically a dialogue that covers a variety of different issues– but under human rights it was very important that we really focused on two issues, one was gender-based violence as a very important issue and L.G.B.T. issues were the primary issues we focused on.
The thing that was very interesting about that is that we also learned that Norway is working very closely with Brazil on this issue and we are working very closely with Brazil on this issue so we began to see countries coming together in looking at ways in which they can all work together.
So I’m really very pleased that we have this opportunity to discuss the progress that we’re making around the world to ensuring that human rights are universal.
I think we have moved past the argument of whether L.G.B.T. people are entitled to human rights.
That is not an argument any longer – is an accepted truth.
But what we need to turn our discussion to now is how we can best protect those rights and work internationally in order to make that happen.
I think most of you know that a little bit over a week ago the U.N. human rights council passed the first historic resolution on human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
This was a historic moment and it highlights, really, the progress that we made.
I’m sure we will hear a great deal more about it during the panel discussion and I hope that we do.
And what the resolution does is really affirm that human rights are universal and no one can be excluded from freedom, from dignity, from opportunity just simply because of their sexual orientation or the gender identity.
So I welcome our panelists and really turn it over to them so that they can in brief words, you know, maybe keep it under ten minutes, speak a little bit to some of the things that they want to highlight.
Let me start with Mike Posner, the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: I’m going to stand.
Well, thank you, Maria.
It’s really a pleasure, an honor to be here.
I want to, just if I can, make three points and the first is to elaborate on something that Secretary Clinton said a year ago I think at this event which is that for this Administration and this government, for our country, gay rights are human rights and we view these discussions very much in the context of our commitment to promote a universal standard of rights.
Those that come out of the Universal Declaration of human rights, which was adopted in 1948, very much a product of U.S. leadership. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Human Rights Commission in the 1940s which led to the creation, the drafting and then adoption of the Universal Declaration.
And the Universal Declaration is an important document because it was the first time that the world coming out of the Holocaust and World War II said that individuals have rights not because of where they live or where they’re citizens or what their governments say but by virtue of their humanity.
It’s an inclusive document.
It says that by virtue of being a human being you’re entitled not to be discriminated against and it doesn’t delineate categories but clearly in the context in which we’re here today, the L.G.B.T. community is entitled to the protections of the Universal Declaration to live their lives freely and without discrimination.
Secretary Clinton has said again that we are going to uphold these universal standards, one set of standards for the entire world, and we’re going to lead by example.
And that’s very much what we’re trying to do with respect to advancing the L.G.B.T. set of initiatives.
The second point is that President Obama has talked about principled engagement in the world.
What it means is that in every country where we do business, where we have diplomatic relations and every country in the world, we are both looking at and promoting various economic, political, strategic interests, but human rights, including the rights of L.G.B.T. people, are part of that discussion.
It’s simply now what we do.
And we do it on several levels.
We do reporting.
We do an annual report on human rights, which covers 194 countries in the world.
The focus increasingly is on… we are increasingly attentive to, and embassies are paying attention to, discrimination, violence, et cetera, directed at the L.G.B.T. community in those countries.
Secondly is our bilateral diplomacy.
We will talk, I’m sure, in the coming minutes about some of the particular places, but one we’ve had a range of challenges throughout the African continent and Uganda in some ways has been a flash point where proposed legislation would have not only criminalized gay sex but also made it a capital offense in some cases.
We push very hard across the board, Dan Baer visited Uganda, as did Maria, and we’ve been thus far successful in stemming the tide of that legislative effort.
There are many, many other examples, specific examples of countries.
This is part of our civil society initiative.
Secretary Clinton last July in Krakow as part of the community of democracies gave a landmark speech, really talking about restrictions on the ability of civil society, N.G.O. activists, to organize, to operate freely.
And these… these rights, again, apply very much to the community, the L.G.B.T. community and countries who are often denied the ability to speak out, to assemble, to associate, to advocate, on behalf of their community.
And finally, we are involved in a multilateral set of activities.
Maria mentioned the U.N. human rights council resolution, actually a South African initiative that was adopted just several weeks ago.
We’ve come a huge way in the last four or five years since I think the French first proposed or began initiating some discussion of these issues, even in the last year there’s been a dramatic step forward and I’m really proud to say that we in this Administration have taken a lead in, again, trying to get a global consensus or a global initiative, particularly here addressing violent activity directed against the L.G.B.T. community.
To say the least, we’ve made progress, but there’s a long way to go.
So for me in the broader context of a human rights policy of the United States, these are cutting-edge issues in the 21st century, human rights issues.
They’re issues in which I’m proud to be associated with an administration that unambiguously is saying this is part of what we do in promoting human rights around the world.
Maria Otero: Thank you, Mike.
Let’s proceed, then, and have Don Steinberg, the deputy administrator for U.S.A.I.D. proceed to the podium.
Ambassador Donald Steinberg: Thank you, Maria.
It really is a great pleasure to be here today.
This is, indeed, an exciting moment for those of us who are committed to these issues.
I don’t think we can overstate the impact of the U.N.’s resolution last week from the human rights commission, which has the acronym H.R.C. and for the first time I’m realizing that is “Hillary Rodham Clinton” and it is fully reflective of her views.
This was a very exciting moment.
Our administrator, Rod Shaw, was so excited that he tweeted 100,000 people to endorse what had been done.
Pointing out that the rights of the L.G.B.T. community are rights that we all support, we all defend, and we all highlight.
For me, however, at U.S.A.I.D., this isn’t just a question of fairness or equity or even human rights.
It is a question of how we do our development policy.
Effectiveness and efficiency.
We recognize at U.S.A.I.D. that our development efforts won’t be successful unless they’re inclusive and are drawing on the full contributions of the entire community that we’re dealing with, including the L.G.B.T. community.
So we have four pillars that we’re focused on at U.S.A.I.D. in this regard first we’re ensuring that in our specific projects we engage in efforts to enhance the political, economic, and social development of the L.G.B.T. community.
Including through our direct programming and through our partnership arrangements.
In terms of our partnerships, we’re developing templates that incorporate bans on bias that comes against sexual and gender identity for our agency but also for our development partners.
We are ensuring that we’re involving the L.G.B.T. community as planners, as implementers, and as beneficiaries of our programs based on the principle “nothing about them without them.”
We’re trying to build viable civil society institutions capable of defending the rights and promoting the interests of these individuals and this community.
Most importantly, our mission must be to promote social and legal equality for the L.G.B.T. community through our conversations, our advocacy and our programs.
A couple of examples are our work with professional associations here in the United States to encourage them create equitable, professional and expert service deliveries to L.G.B.T. communities in developing in transitional countries as well as funding of U.S.A.I.D. sensitivity training to create a welcoming and comfortable environment for L.G.B.T. clients for our activities.
Secondly, we need to recognize that the protection and participation of L.G.B.T. community is essential during times of conflict or emergencies.
It’s during these periods that marginalized communities are most vulnerable.
We often say let’s just get the job done, let’s get food, let’s get water, let’s get health services, we’ll worry about these issues later.
But, indeed, that misses the point.
We have been involved personally in my case with efforts to expand the protection of rights and the security of the L.G.B.T. populations in the context of population displacement, especially refugee camps and I.D.P. camps.
Indeed, we must go beyond the concept of viewing this community as victims and see them for what they are: Vital contributors to a holistic strategy.
Third, we need to ensuring the issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity are fully mainstreamed and integrated into our broader programming as a cross cutting theme.
We need to recognize that the success of our efforts to ensuring food security or democracy and good governance, economic growth and perhaps most significantly global health rests in large part on our capacity to harness and to create space for all countries to draw on the talents and the contributions of this community.
I’m just returning this week from discussions in Istanbul and Paris to set an agenda for developing countries for the conference on aid effectiveness toward the end of this year.
And I’m pleased that the United States was able to promote concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity to be addressed in the basic documents that we will be adopting at this that point.
Finally but certainly not least we must ensuring that we’re walking the walk in house.
We need to ensure that our own practices, attitudes, and actions related to sexual orientation and gender identity reflect the values of democracy, human dignity, diversity, and inclusion.
This means carefully looking at our recruitment, our promotion, and our evaluation policies and practices to ensuring that they’re both free of discrimination and dedicated to the career advancement of all of our staff both in Washington and abroad.
We are conducting trainings for every incoming official in our development leadership initiative on the issues of L.G.B.T. rights and practices and we’re conducting listening sessions where administrator Shaw and myself hear the concerns directly from individuals who are either working on these issues or have personal interest in them.
In order to highlight these concerns, I’m pleased to announce that U.S.A.I.D. will shortly name a senior coordinator for sexual orientation and gender identity who will be responsible for advising the U.S.A.I.D. Administrator on this agenda.
And further, we’re establishing an agency policy coordinating committee to perform such functions as information and knowledge exchange, consensus building, sharing and documenting of best practices and advising on policy and strategy gaps.
This committee will begin with the so-called landscape analysis to assess where we are right now on the four pillars I’ve described before, including our U.S.A.I.D. foreign development assistance strategy.
In order to complete all of this work, we NEED to draw on you, both members of GLIFAA as well as individuals who care about these issues as well as individuals who work on these issues.
We are open to your comments, we are open to your criticisms and we look forward to working with you on this vital agenda.
Maria Otero: Thank you.
Thank you, Don.
Let’s proceed, then, with Dan Baer who is the deputy assistant administrator for the bureau of democracy, human rights, and labor.
And Dan, if you would proceed.
Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: I feel like a trend has been started and so I have to continue it.
I would be happy to sit down but I’ll be brief since I’m a pinch hitter here and pinch hitters should be brief.
But I just want to say thanks again to John and GLIFAA for organizing this event.
I think it’s really… this is a landmark event as well and it’s really a testament to your leadership and everybody in GLIFAA who has contributed to this so thank you very much.
The leadership of the people within our diplomatic corps, within our development professionals community is really important to our making progress as a whole on these issues and it’s really been outstanding over the last year and a half and obviously the support from the top is great but it’s also a bunch of people working everyday to move these issues forward that makes a difference.
So thank you very much.
I just want to say a few quick things.
One, the resolution that everybody has talked about already.
It really was… I was on the floor in the human rights council when it passed, it really was a momentous occasion.
The vote was 23-19.
And, of course, one wants these things to be consensus and they will be consensus someday because even if it was 23-19, everybody on both sides of that vote knew that it was a watershed moment.
And it was really, really impressive to hear the South African ambassador stand up and give a rousing address about the importance of L.G.B.T. human rights within the context of the human rights struggle of his own country was a truly inspiring and, frankly, a moment that even six months ago I would have bet a lot of money against.
So it was a really special time.
When I talk about what kind of comes next in terms of making progress on L.G.B.T. human rights around the world I often talk about busting three myths.
Three myths that you encounter on a regular basis as you work on these issues around the world and the first myth is that L.G.B.T. issues are a western thing and that problems that L.G.B.T. people face are a non-western thing.
And the fact is that that’s not true on either count.
L.G.B.T. issues are not a western thing.
L.G.B.T. people are not a western phenomenon.
And the problems that L.G.B.T. people face they face everywhere, including in the west.
And so rejecting the idea that this is somehow a particular phenomenon that applies to one part of the world or one culture is the first myth.
The second is rejecting the idea that L.G.B.T. rights are special rights.
You know, as secretary Clinton’s words made clear with regard to women, this was also a… something that was asserted with regard to women’s rights and the power of the statement that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights was to say these aren’t special, these are part and parcel of the universal standards that Mike talked about.
And so we need to reject the idea that they’re special rights, as Secretary Clinton did last year.
And the third is that… the idea that advancing human rights for L.G.B.T. people is the job of L.G.B.T. people only.
The fact is that if these are universal rights, they are the universal job of all of us, of all of us who are committed to human rights.
And so these are… just as women’s rights aren’t women’s work, L.G.B.T. rights aren’t the work of the L.G.B.T. community, they are the work of all of us and all of us should be committed to doing that.
As we go forward, you know, as… as Mike and Don Steinberg have alluded to, there are ways in which our government is already engaging on this and I want to just say a couple things.
First, we have to do more than lip service.
Events like today are great, they get us inspired, they get us on the same page, they tell us about the job ahead, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on that’s day-to-day work that really does make the progress.
There’s engagement both with government leaders that our diplomats around the world are engaging in at the direction of the secretary.
I myself have been in meetings where we’ve raised L.G.B.T. human rights concerns with the foreign minister, justice minister, or Prime Minister of over half dozen African countries and that kind of work is going on around the world and it’s really important.
It’s work that probably wasn’t happening not so long ago.
And it’s an important way that we’re engaging.
We’re also engaging with civil society and with activists and we’re engaging in a way that is more than just the first order engagement of reaching out to L.G.B.T. groups but really recognizing as deputy administrator Steinberg talked about the kind of second-order issues are involved in this problem.
So, you know, in many cases sex workers and L.G.B.T. issues, the marginalization of L.G.B.T. people leads many of them to find themselves in the position of being sex workers and you can’t actually make progress if you’re not willing to engage.
I had lunch in Turkey about six months ago with a trans sex worker who is an activist there and as I sat there, her and her knee high black vinyl boots and fish net stockings and a tube top and me in my U.S. State Department diplomatic attire, I thought you know this weren’t normal a while back and I’m not sure… I may be the first person to have lunch with a transvestite sex worker for a legitimate business purpose.
And so we’re engaging not only on the first order issues but on the second order issues.
And lastly, one of the things we’re trying to do as Deputy Administrator Steinberg mentioned is we’re looking for the right ways to support people who are working on the ground to make progress around the world.
And one of the things DRL has done in the last 18 months is set up a fund that is basically an emergency support fund for those who get in trouble because of their advocacy on L.G.B.T. issues and over the last year we’ve helped dozens of people in a variety of countries when they’ve come under threat because of the work they’re doing.
So I’ll stop there and leave us some time for questions.
Thanks very much, again, to everybody for being here today.
Maria Otero: Thank you, Dan.
And you were pinch-hitting but I’d say he hit it out of the ballpark.
I think he did a pretty good job.
I think we’ve heard from different perspectives, just the ways in which we are addressing this issue and certainly as Dan mentioned, for those of us that worked on gender issues– and that goes back into the 1970s, when I was 12–
We… these were some of the same questions that came up and some of the factors that made it important for us to push forward.
And what we have heard from here is not only that we’re working at the diplomatic level and that we are engaging in our own diplomacy and our own reporting and our own work, but we are also training our own people in order to be able to do this and we are funding as we look at the many different ways to address it.
But just gathering from the different presentations where we’ve seen the recurrence of different words such as “inclusive,” “partnering.”
Words related to the kinds of very important issues or events such as the human rights council event that are marking the way we’re moving this forward.
One of the things that I wanted to ask particularly, Mike, is the degree to which as you’re looking at gay rights being human rights and you discussed universal declaration of human rights. It’s always wonderful to have Mike on a panel because he will always go back to the source of everything, which is terrific.
But can we frame this a little more in international human rights and think also of international human rights law as we see it more broadly speaking?
Mike Posner: Thanks, Maria.
Yeah, I think it is a logical evolution of all of the work that’s been done over the last 60 some years in fleshing out the standards articulated in the universal declaration and the two covenants, civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights.
And it is for me also taking a look at the various practical ways that the State Department, a.i.d., work on any number of issues, going from principle to practical applications.
So what I see happening– and it’s happening at a very quick pace– is that everywhere from the recruitment and training of new foreign service officers, civil servants, these issues are now part of the landscape and so it’s a sensitizing and educational process.
It’s the reporting of these acts of discrimination in the context of our annual human rights reporting.
Again, drawn from the covenants and the international standards, how are governments doing against an international frame?
It’s funding, what Don described so well– and Dan– the defenders fund that we have in DRL it’s diplomatic engagement as we do on a whale range of issues.
This is now part of the menu when Secretary Clinton or Dan or I are out in the world, these are the… part of the sets of issues that we discussed in the frame of international human rights standards.
And it’s public diplomacy.
What’s been so striking to me is how often Secretary Clinton has gone out of her way to raise these issues even when they’re not asked.
She’s making a point– and Cheryl Mills does this, too– of saying this is something that we’re going to be out front on so that the public knows this is not something that’s happening behind the scenes.
We are framing these publicly as human rights issues.
And finally it’s a whole of government approach.
It’s not enough just for DRL at State or AID to be doing it, it’s important that PRM is figuring out what are the particular vulnerabilities of L.G.B.T. refugees.
It’s important that we also go beyond state and look at what’s the rest of the government is doing and finally it’s important as we did with the universal periodic review last year that we lead by example.
This is not just about the rest of the world, it’s about those universal standards being applied in the United States as well and our really being a leader and saying these rights apply at home as well as abroad.
Mario Otero: Thinking about all those different ways in which we’re operating, what you bring to the center stage is the fact that we are now interacting with advocates with whom we really didn’t have a lot of interaction, as Dan said, before.
But many of these advocates are not operating in countries where they have this kind of coverage or this kind of support.
In fact, many of them they are on the ground and they’re in volatile sometimes very vulnerable situations.
So Dan, maybe we can talk a little bit about as you meet with these folks or as we interact with them, they themselves– we know, we’ve been in meetings like this– are… even when they come out really put themselves in considerable danger, especially in some countries that have enormous resistance to this issue.
How do we interact with them then?
How do we provide protection in what do we do in order to make sure that we’re not just exposing them in a way that we are not exposed because we’re protecting them.
Dan Baer: I think that a really important point to make.
It’s not just L.G.B.T. activists who we meet with who may be put at risk by their association with the U.S. government so we’re always trying to be careful, I’m sure, all of us on this panel are trying to be careful and one of the first principles is you don’t force people to meet with you.
You let them decide and you try to help them make sure that they are aware of the risks that they may be taking on by meeting with us.
And try to adapt the situation in a way that best protects them.
My own experience is that by and large the vast majority of people do feel that going to a U.S. embassy, especially those who are already beleaguered and out and advocating, et cetera, going to a U.S. embassy actually does help shine a spotlight on their work.
The moral authority of the United States government and of our embassies and missions around the world is powerful and most of them, I think, feel like it gives a bit of protection, a measure of protection, as well as being an opportunity for us to engage.
But I think one of the things that we can continue to do is not only meet with these people but also one of the things that I’ve been focusing on is, you know, when I travel I often meet with L.G.B.T. activists, I also usually meet with a range of human rights activists and one of the things I’ve been focusing on lately is really encouraging the kind of established leaders of established human rights organizations generally to do their part in terms of reaching out to L.G.B.T. groups.
And often it’s women’s groups who are most willing to do this or general human rights organizations, N.G.O.s, et cetera.
They need the support of their local civil society partners as well.
So one of the things that we can do is encourage that kind of support so that they’re less isolated, less standing out on their own, less vulnerable.
Maria Otero: Thank you.
Does anybody else want to add to that?
Don Steinberg: Just very briefly.
When I was American ambassador in Angola and someone would step forward on one of these issues, whether it was a question of gender, ethnicity, or L.G.B.T. issues, I would have our human rights official quietly call that person and say “do you want a meeting at the embassy with the ambassador?
Do you want the American flag wrapped around you?”
And frequently they would say yes.
Equally frequently they would say, “Are you kidding”?
That’s the last thing I want.
But, indeed, it is really up to them to make the decision as to whether a connection with the United States is going to be protection or a threat and I think we need to respect that.
Maria Otero: Thank you.
Mike Posner: Maria, if I can just add a word to follow up on something that Dan said.
Before coming into government I worked with an N.G.O. and we had a big campaign looking at discrimination and it was in the context of the O.S.C.E., the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
And I went to a meeting in Brussels where the discussion was about violence borne out of hate.
Hatred of vulnerable or marginalized populations.
And one of the things that was really striking to me, that was group there with the Roma community, that was group of Jewish activists concerned about anti-Semitism, a group of Muslims in Europe concerned about their situation, L.G.B.T. activists, African refugees.
Each one of the groups felt marginalized and isolated and they were all in effect fighting the same forces or many of the same forces.
And it was so difficult for them to think, oh, my God, we’re not alone, there’s actually others in the same boat if we can only get ourselves together.
So I think that’s one of the things… one of the challenges for us, frankly, is to try to create an organic whole recognizing that these vulnerable groups are often times weaker standing alone, stronger coming together and being part of a larger discussion that we all universal human rights.
Maria Otero: Good.
As you talk about particularly vulnerable groups, I’m reminded also that one set of vulnerable L.G.B.T. population are in the refugee community, those that are especially in situations of conflict, as was mentioned, and themselves become far more exposed when they’re either in a refugee situation or in an asylum-seeking situation.
And through our Population Refugee and Migration bureau I thought it would be good to mention since Assistant secretary Schwartz is not here, I think he would like us to be able to include in this discussion the work that we’re doing in order to address this issue among refugees.
We ourselves have developed a comprehensive strategy for how it is that we would work with refugees in this situation and we are also working with U.N.H.C.R., the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, so that they themselves provide training for their staff who are working refugee camps and who are developing ways in which they can make sure that this population is not discriminated against, is not persecuted but is actually protected effectively.
This is one of the areas that is important and interestingly our Department of Health and Human Services is developing the same thing for those refugees that are asylum seekers who are L.G.B.T. refugees.
Because they themselves also are entering a new community can suffer considerable discrimination.
So I think these are some of the ways in which we’re trying to address this.
And I’m sure AID is doing some of this as well.
And maybe if you… as you address this, it might be also interesting to hear a little bit more from you about the way in which you’re providing funding or how it is that you are really funding activities that are directly related to L.G.B.T.
Don Steinberg: I just wanted to pick up on your other point, though, because if it’s true for refugees it is true in spades for internally displaced people.
In 2005/2006 I was a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and spent the year going around the world living in I.D.P. (internally displaced persons) camps from Sri Lanka to Sudan and other places and you always found it was marginalized communities who had been marginalized during peacetime who were most vulnerable during that period as well.
And I believe that in general we have pretty good guidance from the interagency steering committee of the United Nations, that we’ve been participating in how to address both sexual violence and other issues of marginalization.
But this is the one issue where the guidance is faulty.
The L.G.B.T. parts of the I.A.S.C. guidance for U.N.H.C.R. is just not sufficient and we are committed to working with P.R.M. as well as ourselves to bring that guidance up to speed.
Maria, in terms of the funding side, the real question here for me is institutionalization of these efforts.
I mean, if we can not achieve results when we have Barack Obama as President and Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State yourself, Michael Posner in senior positions here, Rajiv Shaw and Barry Wells over at U.S.A.I.D., if we can’t achieve results during this period we’ll never be able to do it.
But the question is: Are we institutionalizing this?
Are we creating new points that any future administration will not be able to roll back?
And for me that means building institutions within developing countries in particular where much of the prejudice and discrimination occurs so that these institutions are stronger.
It means developing systems, codes of conduct.
We just adopted a code of conduct for trafficking in persons that provides tough new standards not only for U.S.A.I.D. but for U.S.A.I.D.’s development partners overseas.
We need to do the same in this area.
We need to build partnerships with the American community that cares about these issues and, frankly, has resources to devote to it.
So that long-term relationships are built.
It’s all about sustainability of these actions and about country ownership.
We need also to be looking at second order issues.
Are financial systems prejudiced against the L.G.B.T. communities such that they cannot get financing for entrepreneurships and other considerations.
And so in the whole range of food security, global health, climate change, democracy and governance, economic growth and other areas where we’ve prioritized, these issues have to be in our D.N.A.
Maria Otero: Thank you.
Anybody else want to address this mainstreaming challenge that exists?
Dan Baer: It’s related to that but also to where Mike left off in terms of our example in leading by example.
I thought it might be fun to share a couple vignettes of times where this that’s really been driven home in the last year.
One was I met with activists in St. Petersburg and for those of you who have been following the news over the weekend, St. Petersburg Pride parade was disturbed and people were arrested.
I met with folks last summer as they were starting to plan this and I met with this lesbian activist at my hotel, she came to my hotel and the first thing she did was pull out a button that she had been so excited to give me which was a “Harvey Milk for Supervisor button.”
And she talked about how watching that movie had inspired her to become an activist in her community.
And that American story had inspired her… I mean, the ironies of my getting a button from a Russian activist about a San Franciscan who… but it was a… and she teared up as she gave it to me and told me the story.
It reminded me of the power of our example, the way that we institutionalize our commitments and how that has not only had an affect on how we do things but how others do.
And the other more recent story, Mike and I were in Beijing for the Annual China Human Rights Dialogue, the U.S. government’s annual human rights dialogue and I met with a group of L.G.B.T. activists there and they are planning a Pride celebration for later this summer.
It’s really impressive.
They have a great web site, actually.
And one of them told me that they are working on putting together… launching an “it gets better” campaign and that they had seen Secretary Clinton’s and President Obama’s videos and that that was part of their inspiration to try to do the same sort of viral video campaign within China.
And so the ways that we lead do replicate themselves in ways big and small and I think the power of our example is really important to remember.
I also– before giving up the mic– I want to say that I just want to recognize that the Undersecretary and Assistant Secretary have come in since we’ve started and both of them have been… we’ve talked about some of the successes that the Administration has had in this area and both of them have been on the front lines of that and have been crucial to it and I want to recognize them publicly for their work.
Maria Otero: Thank you.
I think we’re about closing up the panel, as we know we are all anticipating the arrival of the Secretary.
But, you know, one of the… I would just put this forth as one of the final questions for consideration.
As we talk about leading with example, we also know that in our own country there’s still a great deal of work to be done and that this effort has to be addressed.
And as we also work in other countries, we are confronted with the social, the cultural, the religious concerns that exist related to L.G.B.T. people.
That governments themselves and that civil society attempt to deal with and that private sector should also be addressing.
So I just wonder if we can just say a few words to close this discussion about how it is that as we look at this governments themselves, the way that we are putting this forth in the Obama Administration could themselves play a role, I think we’re beginning to see this effort take place.
I mentioned Brazil.
Brazil is a very good example of a country that’s not only leading by example but also leading in the region.
So if we could just address that a little bit in the way in which we are all surrounding our own work.
Whoever wants to address it, yes.
Mike Posner: Well, just a couple of things on that as you were speaking.
I was thinking about the role of the private sector and one of the things that’s really been quite striking is how much in the last ten or 15 years we’ve begun to think about the private sector, the corporate sector in particular, as another piece of the puzzle in terms of how we advance our rights agenda abroad.
In the labor area, for example, my bureau does democracy, human rights, and labor.
And one of the things we are now very actively looking at and working on is how to use the global manufacturing supply chains as a way to advance some of our notions about minimal labor rights standards.
Using the American and European companies as a wedge or as a piece of influence, a part of the influence.
So there are American labor practices, we applied them at home.
What does it mean for the American manufacturer when they go to China or India or Bangladesh to produce their products?
There is now a growing body of evidence or body of work that says their responsibilities follow their product line and their brand reputation depends on their having a global strategy for making sure that things produced under their banner are produced in accordance with some universal or international standards for labor rights.
I think the same strategy ought to be implemented here.
As American companies take on greater responsibility with respect to these rights and they operate abroad, we ought to be thinking of them as a natural partner to try to push this universal set of rights not just through the government, but through the private sector.
Maria Otero: Good.
Don Steinberg: If we here in the wrap-up stage, I just wanted to add one thing.
And that is we’re all talking as if we’ve got these answers here.
The truth is we have to have a lot of modesty here.
We don’t really know as well as we should what the issues at play are.
We haven’t even really done the environmental analysis, if I can say that, within U.S.A.I.D.
Right now Claire Lucas and Urvashi Vaid are involved in trying to do an analysis… a landscape analysis at U.S.A.I.D. to see exactly where the gaps are, where the opportunities are, where we’re doing well, but where the challenges are.
And, again, for that purpose we really need the community to help us.
And so this is both a reassertion of our modesty but also a request for your help in guiding us as we move ahead on this important agenda.
Maria Otero: Well, thank you very much.
I think we’ve had an opportunity to cover a great number of issues.
OPERATOR: Welcome, everyone, and thank you for standing by. At this time, I’d like to inform all participants that your lines are in a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session of today’s conference call. If you would like to ask questions, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. To withdraw your request, you may press *2. Today’s call is being recorded, and I will now turn it over to our first speaker, Mr. Mark Toner. Thank you. You may begin.
MR. TONER: Good morning, and thanks to everyone for joining us on such relatively short notice. As you know, this morning, at least our time, but earlier today, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first ever UN resolution on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. And here to talk to us today about this historic resolution, we have our Ambassador to the Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Suzanne Nossel, and our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Dan Baer.
Without further ado, I’ll hand it off to Ambassador Donahoe just to make some brief remarks, and I believe that Suzanne and Dan will also chime in before we take your questions. So over to you, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: Thank you very much. I just wanted to underscore how thrilled we are and the entire U.S. team at the Human Rights Council as well as the international community here that this historic resolution has passed the Human Rights Council. It is the first internationally recognized form of protection for lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people, and it is based on a very simple and elegant idea that all individuals deserve universal rights. And we spend all of our time at the Council protecting the universality of human rights, and this is the first time we’ve been able to explicitly extend that protection to LGBT people and with the support of the international community.
I just want to quickly mention two other aspects of this resolution. First of all, it includes an expression of grave concern about acts of violence and discrimination that are committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And from our vantage point, that was an essential element because there are horrific acts of violence and discrimination that are committed against LGBT people around the world in many places, and sexual orientation is even criminalized in many places. So the extent of support we got for expressing this idea that people deserve to be protected regardless of who they are and who they love and how they want to live their lives was really essential.
Second, the operational provision of the resolution instructs the high commissioner for human rights to document discriminatory laws and practices that take place around the world, and the acts of violence that have taken place against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And we’ve asked her to come back and report to the Council, and we hope this is just the beginning of a movement within the international community, within the UN, and at the Human Rights Council where we can work together to further promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people.
So I will leave it there and let Suzanne and Dan add their perspectives.
MS. NOSSEL: Thanks, Eileen. I’ll start, then I’ll kick it over to Dan. This is really a paradigmatic example of using the UN system to advance one of President Obama’s top policy priorities. We’ve been able to deliver on broad international support behind an agenda that we have set as a key goal for this Administration.
This resolution, I think, will be a lifeline to those struggling for their rights around the world who now know that they have the weight of the United Nations behind them, that they’re not alone, that they can turn to the international system for protection. When they’re abused, when they’re subject to violence, they can reach out and the Human Rights Council and the high commissioner for human rights are there to support them.
And it really – just a third point – it expands the frontier of human rights protection in a new direction, and it’s a direction that not all accept. And it was a hotly fought resolution; you could see that from the voted result. But I think getting a majority on – particularly on the South African-led resolution really is a crucial step that will be irreversible. Gay rights have taken their place under the global human rights agenda. Gay rights have arrived at the United Nations as of today.
Over to you, Dan.
MR. BAER: Sure. I think Ambassador Donahoe and Suzanne have covered it pretty well. I would just echo Suzanne that this is – places in the broader context of Administration policy. Both the President and Secretary Clinton have made LGBT human rights a priority. Secretary Clinton gave a speech last year in which she said gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights. She has sent out a cable to all ambassadors instructing them that LGBT human rights are part of our comprehensive human rights policy. And within the context of the UN system, there has been a series of events leading up to today’s resolution which was, as Suzanne indicated, led by South Africa, but Ambassador Donahoe’s team here put together a side event here last September on LGBT human rights and violence against LGBT people.
There was a statement – well, actually in New York in December. We led an effort to reinsert sexual orientation and gender identity into a resolution at the UN, where it had been removed, about extrajudicial killings. Then in March, there was this joint statement signed by 85 countries, which the U.S. team here did a great job of leading, and now today, the first ever resolution. And so I think this resolution comes at a time where the U.S. has ramped up our engagement on this issue across the board, and not only in the context of international organizations, but also at our embassies and posts around the world.
MR. TONER: Great. Thank you very much, Dan. We’re ready for questions now. Just a reminder of the ground rules, this is an on the record briefing. So with that, we’ll open it up to your questions.
Operator? Bridgette? Thanks.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Thanks. Once again, at this time if there are questions or comments, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. To withdraw your request, you may press *2. And once again, it is *1 on your touchtone phones if you have any questions or comments. And we’ll wait a moment to see if we have any responses.
All right. Our first response is from Jim Mannion of AFP. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes. I guess my question is: What are the practical implications of this resolution, particularly in countries where, as you all pointed out, that – where homosexuality is criminalized?
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: I’m going to start – I’m going to let Dan and Suzanne talk about in-country, but I want to make one preliminary comment about the practical impact in the Human Rights Council and in conversations in the international community, which is simply that it is now on the map as a legitimate topic for those concerned about human rights to be raising and reaffirming internationally. And we think this is a game changer in terms of changing the culture in the – at least at the Human Rights Council, on the topic of protections for LGBT people.
Prior to today, it was almost a taboo topic. It was so volatile, there was so much animosity around this topic, and frankly, we – very recently, we didn’t expect that we would be able to see this kind of a result. And yet because of some leadership from partners around the world and widespread support from Latin American countries in particular and European countries and then particularly the South Africans coming together and taking a risk, the conversation has been changed. And so on a – to your point about what’s the practical impact, I think this is a first step in changing the culture, at least the international and diplomatic culture, on this topic as something that is essential to our work. It’s part of our responsibilities.
And I’ll let Dan and Suzanne talk about the effects actually on the ground.
MS. NOSSEL: I mean, just a couple thoughts. One, you won’t see a sea change overnight. It’s not like that by passing this resolution, all of a sudden dramatically, all the repressive laws and practices around the world are going to change and be abolished. That won’t happen. But this does raise the political price of repression and discrimination and violence. It puts a spotlight under it. It sends a message that the international community rejects it, that governments that condone and pursue those policies are outliers, that they’re at odds with an international norm.
It also puts in place reporting so that activists and victims of abuses have a place to turn, they’re not alone, they can contact the High Commissioner and ensure that what they’re undergoing sees the light of day, that people know about it, that it’s – the behavior is called out. And I think, as Ambassador Donahoe said, it’s really a beginning. It’s a beginning of an international norm that will take hold gradually, and if you look at the human rights provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they didn’t all take hold overnight, but by putting them down definitively in an internationally-backed document, you set an irreversible process in motion.
QUESTION: If I could follow up: Is it binding in any way? Because I noticed that there were an awful lot of countries that voted against this.
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: Well, it’s not binding except to the extent it is the beginning of the establishment of a norm. And so what it does is, as I think Susanne said, it extends the existing principle of universality specifically to LGBT people. So it’s based on something that is widely accepted, it is the core premise of the human rights community and the human rights foundation within the UN, which is that universal – human rights are universal, they are – all individuals are endowed with fundamental human rights. We have now simply extended the concept of that universality to include LGBT people. And so it’s more that it is a reinforcement that this norm is, in fact, truly universal, and that in people’s consciousness and in government practice, it must be applied to LGBT people along with everyone else. And so in that sense, it’s – it has a lot of force because it affirms the extension of the existing, widely accepted universality to the group of people, LGBT people.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. TONER: Great. Next question.
OPERATOR: Next question is from Bill Varner, Bloomberg News. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I just want to be clear about one thing. The resolution, the text of which I have not seen, expresses grave concern but does not explicitly condemn. Is that correct?
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: Well, the way I would put it, it’s not that it doesn’t condemn. The operative paragraphs are action-oriented. So it is – what will happen because of this is that the high commissioner will go out and document discriminatory laws and practices and – that inspire violence or past acts of violence against LGBT people around the world, and then come back and report to us and begin the conversations in the council so that we can (inaudible) practices around the world. So that’s the operational aspect of it. And we have instituted a study to document these laws and practices that we want to change and begin the conversation here to encourage that.
But the essence of the – so the spirit, the animating spirit of it, is, in effect, condemnation because of grave concern of – that acts of violence and discrimination are perpetrated against LGBT people. So it’s the same animating idea that that is wrong and that this resolution asserts that violence and discrimination against LGBT people is not acceptable for the international community.
QUESTION: Understood, but just so I’m clear, the only – the – sort of the biggest – the most explicit view of these acts is an expression of grave concern. That’s sort of the position about these acts?
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: Correct.
QUESTION: Not anything beyond that in terms of – okay, I just wanted to make sure I understood. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: Mm-hmm.
MR. TONER: Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Natasha Fozgovaya of Haaretz. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. I was just wondering to what extent the U.S. Administration can take credit for promoting these undeniably positive changes at the Human Rights Council?
MS. NOSSEL: Yeah, I think Dan said it well when he went through the steps that we’ve taken over time to put this issue on the agenda and work with others to build support, and particularly the role that we played in March in mobilizing 85 countries behind this far-reaching and much more sweeping statement on LGBT rights that you may want to take a look at to Bill’s question in terms of stronger language and condemnation; there was very broad support for that.
But it was very important that South Africa took the lead here. I mean, as many of you know, the – some of the practices about which we’re most concerned – violence, discriminatory laws, laws that can legitimize repression – are in place in Africa. And so for an African country to step forward and lead on this resolution was quite significant, and actually makes it, I think, in a sense, more of – an even stronger message of global unity around this.
MR. TONER: All right. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. I’m currently not showing any other questions, but as a reminder to all parties on the phone lines, if you have questions or comments, please press *1 on your touchtone phones at this time. Again, it is *1 on your touchtone phone if you have any questions or comments. And we’ll wait another moment here to see if you have any responses.
All right, we have a response from Richard Solash of Radio Free Europe. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, everyone. Thank you for doing this conference call. I just wanted to get a statement from one of you as to what the United States would say to countries like Russia, Pakistan, many African nations that opposed this. What is the U.S. statement for those countries on your – well, what is your position to their opposition?
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: I feel like we should let Dan do that. I want to say one line, is they’re behind the curve on this issue, but I’ll let Dan elaborate.
MR. BAER: I guess I think that one of the purposes of the Human Rights Council, obviously, is to foster an international conversation about human rights and to shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues, both in particular places and particular thematic issues around the world. And I agree with Eileen; I think that our message would be that universal human rights apply to everyone, and that the state – that today’s resolution is not meant as a shot in an argument; it’s meant as an affirmation of a universal principle that we consider to be there in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that the categories that are enumerated in the Universal Declaration were not intended to be comprehensive and that no distinction, such as the one covered in the resolution today, would be an excuse for anyone to deny any individual human rights.
And I think that over time, we have seen progressively that it has taken the international community time to recognize the fact that all individuals deserve human rights. For a long time, women were excluded, for a long time people of different races or religious or ethnic groups were excluded. And each time that we’ve – that the international community has expanded the circle of who counts as human, there have been people who have disagreed, and each time, as time has progressed, those disagreements have seemed less and less convincing. And so we would expect that over time, that will be the case with this as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: Can I just add one thought that occurred to me in terms of getting across a little bit about the dynamic at the council and the resistance to this idea? I think it’s often expressed as an effort of, let’s say, Western countries to impose their values on more traditional cultures or different cultures. And I think what we’re seeing is that that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on here. And our perspective is that these are core fundamental, traditional human rights. They are universal. They already exist. It’s not a matter of imposing these values on anyone. They exist and they – every individual embodies those rights. And this is simply reaffirming that regardless of one’s sexual orientation or identity, people all are endowed with these rights.
And I think that the conflicting narrative we have is between the idea that these are just core human rights for all individuals, that we are reasserting in a way that makes it obvious that they’re applicable to LGBT people versus this idea that I think is mistaken and will shown – be shown relatively soon to be an outdated idea that this is an imposition of Western values. I think that idea is losing steam, and I think more and more countries and people around the world are coming to see that these really are just basic universal human rights.
MR. TONER: All right. Thank you. We have time, I think, for just one more question.
OPERATOR: I have no further questions in the phone queue.
MR. TONER: Perfect. All right, then. Well, thanks so much for everybody joining us from the journalist side today as well as our interlocutors joining us both from Geneva and here in Washington. We appreciate the participation, and everyone have a great day. Thank you all.
OPERATOR: I thank you all for your participation. That concludes today’s conference. You may now disconnect. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thank you.
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.
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
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.
Hi, I’m Daniel Baer, a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor here at the State Department and on behalf of Secretary Clinton and my colleagues here in Washington and at embassies and consulates around the world, I’m delighted to be able to wish everyone a Happy Pride.
The first Pride celebration was held in New York over 40 years ago, and since then, in an ever-growing number of cities across the United States and around the world, Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender people and their friends, families, and allies have come together to celebrate dignity, community, and equality.
From Cape Town to Beijing, from Mexico City to Sydney, from Lima to Talinn, this year’s Pride celebrations reflect local cultures and a universal message—that all people are entitled to live with respect and dignity regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and regardless of where they live.
Discriminatory laws and practices on all continents continue to feed stigma and shame for LGBT people. Pride gatherings are an opportunity to reject that shame and the inequality that it suggests, and to assert in its place the legitimate entitlement of each person to enjoy universal human rights, and the equal place of each person in the human family.
As people come together in many places around the world, it’s important to remember the individuals who are blocked by law or fear from gathering where they live, and the people who have been imprisoned or even killed for who they are. They, too, deserve to be free from hate and shame; they, too, deserve to know that they are not alone. They remind us of the work left to be done.
I’m proud to work for a Secretary of State and a President who are committed to equality and dignity for everyone. Let’s all work together to make sure that the next year is one of continued progress toward making that principle a reality. Happy pride everyone.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for inviting me today. It’s my pleasure to be able to testify today on religious freedom, democracy and human rights as embodied in the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002. On behalf of Undersecretary of State Maria Otero, the Administration’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, I can tell you that the Department of State is aggressively implementing the provisions of the Act.
The Administration’s goals are twofold: to promote a substantive dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives, and to help sustain Tibet’s unique religious, linguistic, and cultural heritages. The Administration at all levels – from the President, Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary Otero, Assistant Secretaries Campbell and Posner, to myself – has urged the Chinese Government to engage in a dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama that will achieve results. We remind the Chinese government that the vast majority of Tibetans advocate non-violent solutions to Tibetan issues and genuine autonomy – not independence or sovereignty – in order to preserve Tibet’s unique culture, religion and its fragile environment. Regrettably, the Chinese government has not engaged in a substantive dialogue with the Tibetans since January 2010.
The U.S. government believes that the Dalai Lama can be a constructive partner for China as it deals with the challenge of overcoming continuing tensions in Tibetan areas. The Dalai Lama’s views are widely reflected within Tibetan society, and command the respect of the vast majority of Tibetans. His consistent advocacy of non-violence is an important factor in reaching an eventual lasting solution. China’s engagement with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to resolve problems facing Tibetans is in the interests of the Chinese government and the Tibetan people. We believe failure to address these problems could lead to greater tensions inside China and could be an impediment to China’s social and economic development.
Another critical avenue for implementing the Act is our support for non-governmental organizations that work in Tibet and assist Tibetan refugees in the region. Both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International
Development (AID) support cultural and linguistic preservation, sustainable development and environmental preservation in Tibet and Tibetan majority areas, as well as Tibetan refugee communities in other countries, through numerous programs. In addition, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration continues its long-standing support for Tibetan refugees through ongoing support to non-governmental organizations as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In fiscal year 2010, $3.5 million was provided to support reception services, education, healthcare, and water and sanitation for Tibetan refugees in South Asia, including new arrivals from China. Under Secretary Otero recently visited our programs in India and Nepal where we assist Tibetan refugees, and where we are actively seeking ways to strengthen Tibetan refugee settlements.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s India Mission expects to issue an award for a new $2 million, two-year program to support Tibetan settlements in India, Nepal, and Bhutan in July 2011. The new program will support the development of organic agriculture for selected Tibetan settlements in India, Nepal, and Bhutan; and build a workforce among Tibetan youth remaining in the settlements. USAID anticipates the program will result in increased economic opportunities which will encourage youth to remain in the settlements, strengthen community ties, and preserve cultural and linguistic traditions.
We are extremely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in China and in particular in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas. Recent regulations restricting Tibetan language education, strict controls over the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and the arrests of prominent non-political Tibetans reflect the difficult human rights situation there today.
Religious restrictions in Tibetan areas have dramatically worsened in recent years. Discriminatory religious policies exacerbated tensions between Han Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists and triggered the 2008 riots that claimed the lives of Han and Tibetan civilians and police officers. Chinese authorities control Tibet’s monasteries, including the number of monks and nuns and interfere in the process of recognizing reincarnate lamas. Monks and nuns are forced to attend regular political “patriotic education” sessions which sometimes include forced denunciations of the Dalai Lama. . Reports state that as many as 300 monks were forcibly removed from Kirti again in April of this year, and paramilitary forces still have the monastery on lockdown. To date, we have no further information about the welfare and whereabouts of those monks that were removed.
The effects of China’s Tibet policies are well-documented in the separate Tibet sections of the State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report and the 2010 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in China, released by Secretary Clinton on April 8. Our reports state clearly that the Chinese government represses freedom of speech, religion, association and movement within Tibet and routinely commits serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings and detentions, arbitrary arrests and torture. Our reports also reference the forcible return of three Tibetans to China from Nepal in June 2010, the first confirmed case of forcible return of Tibetans from Nepal since 2003.
The Administration’s engagement on human rights issues in Tibet is high-level and consistent. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have spoken on these points directly to Chinese officials many times, including to President Hu during his January 2011 visit to Washington. The President and Secretary Clinton met with the Dalai Lama in February 2010, and the Secretary raised Tibetan issues directly and at length during the 2010 and 2011 Strategic and Economic Dialogues with China. Undersecretary Otero has met with the Dalai Lama four times since October 2009, and with his special envoy, Lodi Gyari, nine times in the past twelve months. Other senior officials have engaged Mr. Gyari as well.
During the April 2011 Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing, Assistant Secretary Posner and I raised our concerns about China’s counterproductive policies in Tibetan areas of China, reiterated our call for a resumption of dialogue, and raised specific cases. We were joined in that effort by then-Ambassador Huntsman, who visited the Tibetan Autonomous Region in September 2010. The U.S. Mission in China has made visiting Tibetan areas and engaging on human rights and religious freedom in Tibetan areas a top priority. While in Beijing in April, we met with United Front Work Department, which handles Tibet policy for the Chinese Government, and pressed the Chinese to set a date with Lodi Gyari for the next round of talks. We also met with Minister Wang Zuo’an from the State Administration of Religious Affairs. Separately, we provided to Chinese authorities a comprehensive list of individuals from across China who have been arrested or are missing; that list included many Tibetans, including six cases that we specifically mentioned in our meetings.
Our goals – to promote a substantive dialogue between the Chinese Government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama, and to help sustain Tibet’s unique religious, linguistic and cultural heritages – are designed to further the intent of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 and create a more stable and more prosperous Tibet where Chinese authorities recognize and foster internationally recognized human rights. In furtherance of our goals, we have, since 2005, made the establishment of a consulate in Lhasa a priority. We continue to press the Chinese government to answer our request, while we reiterate our long-standing interest in regular and comprehensive access to Tibetan areas for international diplomats, journalists and non-governmental organizations. The State Department offers Tibetan language courses at our Foreign Service Institute and our staff at Consulate General Chengdu includes Tibetan speaking staff. In addition, we are working to translate our human rights and religious freedom reports into the Tibetan language. These measures reflect the Administration’s continuing commitment to fully and effectively implement the Act, so that Tibet’s unique culture and environment are preserved and allowed to prosper in the 21st century.