Since the start of the Arab Spring, the United States has spoken out for a set of core principles that have guided our response to events, including opposition to the use of violence and repression, defense of universal rights including the freedom of peaceful assembly, and support for political and economic reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.
In Egypt over the past several days, we have seen protesters demand the realization of these principles. We have condemned the excessive use of force against them and called for restraint on all sides. We deeply regret the loss of life, and urge the Egyptian authorities to implement an independent investigation into the circumstances of those deaths. But the situation Egypt faces requires a more fundamental solution, devised by Egyptians, which is consistent with universal principles.
The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.
Egypt has overcome challenges before and will do so again. The United States will continue to stand with the Egyptian people as they build a democracy worthy of Egypt’s great history.
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I applaud the people of Nigeria for their enthusiastic and orderly participation in the April 16th presidential election. This historic event marks a dramatic shift from decades of failed elections and a substantial improvement over the 2007 presidential election.
While this election was a success for the people of Nigeria, it was far from perfect. We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission to transparently review and take appropriate and transparent action on all allegations of “under-age” voters, violence and intimidation, ballot stuffing, and inordinately high turnout in some areas of the country. The United States condemns the acts of violence related to elections and we call upon all candidates, political parties, and supporters to respect the results of the election and channel any grievances or challenges peacefully through established, administrative and legal redress. The international community will closely watch the upcoming gubernatorial elections and we call on all Nigerian stakeholders to support a credible and peaceful electoral process.
We commend the Independent National Electoral Commission and Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega along with many others across government and civil society for their strong collaboration and dedication to democracy. They provided a real opportunity for the Nigerian people to select their most senior leaders and will position Nigeria to build its democracy through strong governance, transparent institutions, and economic development. The United States congratulates President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on his election and wishes him well in meeting the many challenges facing Nigeria and in providing the good governance Nigerians deserve. This election represents a positive new beginning for Nigeria.
“The eyes of the world are on Cote d’Ivoire. Last year’s election was free and fair and President Alassane Ouattara is the democratically elected leader of the nation.”
President Obama’s Message to the People of Cote d’Ivoire
The eyes of the world are on Cote d’Ivoire. Last year’s election was free and fair and President Alassane Ouattara is the democractically elected leader of the nation. And I commend President Ouattara for offering a peaceful future for all Ivorians–an inclusive government, reunification and reconciliation.
Now Cote d’Ivoire is at a crossroad and two paths lay ahead. One path is where Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters cling to power, which will only lead to more violence, more innocent civilians being wounded and killed and more diplomatic and economic isolation. Or Cote d’Ivoire can take another path.
Where Gbagbo follows the example of leaders who reject violence and abide by the will of the people. Where Ivorians reclaim your country and rebuild a vibrant economy that was once the admiration of Africa. And where Cote d’Ivoire is welcomed back into the community of nations.
This is the choice that must be made. And it’s a choice for all Ivorians.
I want to close by speaking directly to the people of Cote d’Ivoire. You have a proud past, from gaining your independence to overcoming civil war. Now you have the opportunity to realize your future. You deserve a future of hope, not fear. You deserve leaders like President Ouattara, who can restore your country’s rightful place in the world. You deserve the chance to determine your own destiny.
It’s time for democracy in Cote d’Ivoire.
And those who choose that path will have a friend and partner in the United States of America.
The completion of a peaceful, orderly Southern Sudan referendum marks a significant achievement for the Sudanese people and a historic step toward full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The United States commends the millions of Southern Sudanese people who participated in this historic process, and applauds both northern and southern leaders for creating conditions that allowed voters to cast their ballots freely and without fear, intimidation, or coercion. The successful vote was also a credit to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, and more than 40 countries and international organizations. We welcome the positive statements issued in recent days by international observer missions from the African Union, Arab League, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, European Union, and the Carter Center.
As we await the official results of the referendum, we reaffirm our commitment to remain a steadfast partner to both parties as they continue to work toward full implementation of the CPA and to develop their post-CPA relationship. The parties have an opportunity to forge a durable peace between the North and the South, and to build positive relationships with the international community. We hope they will seize this moment, and the United States supports their efforts to ensure a peaceful, more prosperous future for all Sudanese.
We commend the Honduran people for peacefully exercising their democratic right to select their leaders in an electoral process that began over a year ago, well before the June 28 coup d’etat. Turnout appears to have exceeded that of the last presidential election. This shows that given the opportunity to express themselves, the Honduran people have viewed the election as an important part of the solution to the political crisis in their country.
We look forward to continuing to work with all Hondurans and encourage others in the Americas to follow the lead of the Honduran people in helping advance national reconciliation and the implementation of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Significant work remains to be done to restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, but today the Honduran people took a necessary and important step forward.
Today Secretary Clinton met with Belarusian and Belarusian-American human rights activists including “We Remember” President Irina Krasovskaya and Belarus Free Theater co-founder Natalya Kolyada to discuss recent events in Belarus. The Secretary condemned the conduct of Belarus’s presidential election and crackdown on political leaders and activists, civil society representatives and journalists. She stressed her concern for detainees and for their family members, noting the U.S. Embassy in Minsk’s efforts to remain in close contact with them.
The United States and the European Union have issued two joint statements condemning the violence and calling for the immediate release of all who are detained. The Secretary repeated this appeal and also urged an end to repressive acts against the opposition, the media and civil society. The Secretary told the activists that we are watching the government’s actions closely and considering our response to those actions. The United States will continue its support for and engagement with the people of Belarus.
As the President made clear in his speech to the General Assembly today, the promotion of human rights and democracy is central to his vision of the world we are trying to build. Freedom, justice, and peace in the world must begin with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of individual human beings.
Over the past year, the Administration has helped to advance this vision in the following ways:
Engaging Multilaterally to Advance Universal Values
Taking advantage of our membership, we have used the U.N. Human Rights Council to:
- Extend international mandates to monitor and address human rights situations in several countries, including Burma, Burundi, North Korea, and Cambodia.
- Lead an effort with 55 other countries to criticize the human rights situation in Iran and express solidarity with victims and human rights defenders on the first anniversary of the contested election.
- Champion new resolutions on Guinea and Kyrgyzstan calling for accountability and heightened commitment to human rights protection and promotion in the wake of human rights crises in both countries.
- Press for stronger engagement by the Council and other U.N. human rights mechanisms in Haiti, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and partnered with Afghanistan to build international support for a resolution on preventing attacks on Afghan school children, especially girls.
- Speak out on serious human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.
- Protest politicized efforts of some members to target Israel while ignoring problems in their own countries.
Committing Significant Assistance in Support of Democracy and Human Rights
With our substantial commitments of foreign assistance, we have:
- Invested more than $2 billion in 2009 alone to strengthen democratic institutions, civil society, the rule of law, and free and independent media, including more than $263 million in support of democratic institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our investments in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow to over $310 million in 2010.
- Provided targeted legal and relocation assistance to 170 human rights defenders around the world, through the Human Rights Defenders Fund, providing a lifeline of protection for raising sensitive issues and voicing dissent. Our efforts help to amplify the voices of activists and advocates working on human rights issues by shining a spotlight on their progress.
- Invested in the capacity of local organizations to promote participatory, pluralistic, and prosperous societies in the Middle East and North Africa through the Middle East Partnership Initiative.
Taking Concerted Action in Key Areas
Exercising global leadership, the United States has:
- Created unprecedented transparency in the extractive industries by passing a new law that requires all oil, gas, and mining companies that raise capital in the United States to publish information about the payments they make to governments.
- Urged the G-20 to make corruption a core part of its agenda going forward, with a focus on critical areas including foreign bribery, transparency in the global financial system, visa denial, asset recovery, whistleblower protection, and public-private cooperation.
- Embraced a commitment to Internet Freedom and launched a State Department task force to develop concerted strategies for advancing it in particular countries.
Pursuing Democracy and Human Rights in Our Bilateral Engagement
- China. In May 2010, the Obama administration held its first bilateral human rights dialogue with China. During the two-day meeting, the U.S. exchanged views with Chinese officials on key issues of concern and laid the groundwork for regular experts’ dialogues on legal, labor, and religious freedom issues.
- Colombia. In September 2010, President Obama and incoming Colombian President Santos announced the “U.S.-Colombia High Level Partnership Dialogue,” which includes a robust agenda on human rights.
- Egypt. The Administration criticized the government’s extension of the emergency law in May. Nevertheless, as promised, the government’s narrower application of that law resulted in the release of thousands of individuals detained under that law, including many political activists and journalists.
- Guinea. Working alongside key stakeholders in Guinea as well as international partners, the United States supported Guinea’s first ever successful democratic elections, which will soon culminate in a second round that will transition the country from military to civilian rule.
- Honduras. We assisted the Honduran people and the Organization of American States (OAS) to negotiate a Honduran solution to the restoration of democratic and constitutional order following the June 2009 coup, and have since supported President Lobo in the prevention, response and investigation of politically motivated violence against journalists and other citizens active in civil society.
- Haiti. We have supported efforts by the Government of Haiti and the UN Mission to Haiti to establish security systems in the camps of displaced persons to defeat violent crime, exploitation and trafficking of orphans/children, and prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based crimes. We are currently assisting the Government of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Commission, the OAS and CARICOM to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections in the wake of the devastating January 12 earthquake, with the goal of ensuring a government with a legitimate mandate to govern and reconstruct.
- Iran. The Administration has spoken out on numerous occasions against human rights abuses in Iran, and successfully undertaken actions in the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly to formally condemn the regime’s actions on human rights. The Administration also played a seminal role in forcing Iran to withdraw its candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
- Iraq. The U.S. played a key role in support of Iraq’s successful national parliamentary election held on March 7, 2010. International and independent Iraqi observers expressed confidence in the integrity of the election. The U.S. continues to provide the majority of support to address the needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, and resettled over 17,000 Iraqis to the United States refugees this past year.
- Kenya. Working alongside the international community, the United States supported Kenya’s recovery from the devastating post-2007 election crisis. Through robust high-level engagement, including by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Clinton, and programming focused on conflict mitigation and capacity-building for democratic institutions and civil society, the United States has stood by the people of Kenya as they move to implement the ambitious reform agenda brokered by Kofi Annan in the wake of the violence, culminating in a peaceful and credible August referendum in which Kenyans adopted a new constitution, the centerpiece of the agenda.
- Kosovo. We supported the holding of successful municipal elections in November 2009, marking a significant milestone for Kosovo in building a multi-ethnic, democratic society. The elections enjoyed increased voter participation by all ethnic groups and international observers generally praised the organization and conduct of the election.
- Kyrgyzstan. The United States responded immediately to the appeal of President Otunbayeva for assistance in the aftermath of the April 7 uprising, re-targeting a significant portion of our existing $53 million in assistance to address new priorities, and provided an additional $58 million in assistance following the violence in June. The U.S. has also worked closely with the international community to support efforts to restore stability, and establish inter-ethnic harmony, democracy, the rule of law, economic security and prosperity.
- Russia. President Obama and Secretary Clinton participated in parallel, peer-to-peer civil society summits that were held during the period of our government summits in July 2009, and June 2010. The President and high-level Administration officials also gave interviews to independent Russian media, met with Russia’s political opposition and civil society organizers, and have promoted the rule-of-law and freedom of speech, press, and assembly as essential elements of Russia’s economic modernization.
- Somalia. Following an extensive policy review, the Obama Administration reoriented U.S. policy on Somalia, which resulted in the provision of capacity-building support and democracy and governance training to Somalia’s Somaliland government in advance of its June elections. Hundreds of thousands of Somalilanders turned out to vote in their fourth election, which international observers deemed free and fair.
1. Do you agree with the opinion expressed by many Russian and European politicians that the United States is primarily responsible for the economic difficulties that their countries are now living through?
No. We all are experiencing a severe economic crisis that is affecting the lives of many people in countries around the world. This crisis resulted from a culture of irresponsibility regarding financial matters that took hold over a number of years in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. I am proud of our efforts to lead by reforming our regulatory and supervisory systems and promoting an era of responsibility, so that the U.S. and global economies will be stable and growth will be sustained. We of course have an obvious interest in developing policies that stimulate economic growth in the United States, but we also believe that economic growth in our country also will nurture economic growth around the world, including in Russia.
In the 21st century, we all -Americans, Russians, and everyone else – have an interest in fostering world economic growth that benefits us all. We need to spend less time thinking about who is to blame and more time working together to do what needs to be done to get all of our economies moving in the right direction.
2. Do you agree that lies and greed – - lies about the state of markets and greed of their participants — are the main reasons for the current economic crisis?
As I said to Congress in February, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.
In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
3. Many experts believe that the 21st Century Financial Regulatory Reform you proposed may become the most significant innovation in the U.S. financial system since the era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. What do you consider to be the most important element of this reform? Are we at the doorstep of new transparency of business and finances?
Our regulatory and supervisory reform plans, announced a few weeks ago, are sweeping and important. The plans include three important components. First, we’re proposing a set of reforms to require regulators to look not only at the safety and soundness of individual institutions, but also — for the first time — at the stability of the financial system as a whole. Second, we’re proposing a new and powerful agency charged with just one job: looking out for ordinary consumers. Third, we’re proposing a series of changes designed to promote free and fair markets by closing gaps and overlaps in our regulatory system — including gaps that exist not just within but between nations. We are called upon to put in place those reforms that allow our best qualities to flourish — while keeping those worst traits in check. We’re called upon to recognize that the free market is the most powerful generative force for our prosperity — but it is not a free license to ignore the consequences of our actions.
4. On November 18, 2005 Senators Obama, Biden and McCain together with other Senators adopted Resolution 232 on the trial, sentence and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and Platon Lebedev. The Resolution said that “in investigations that present a threat to authorities, Russian courts become instruments of the Kremlin, and cannot be responsible or independent.” Have you been following the new trial of Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev?
I do not know the intimate details of these new proceedings, though my advisors most certainly do. However, without knowing the details, it does seem odd to me that these new charges, which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges, should be surfacing now, years after these two individuals have been in prison and as they become eligible for parole. Nonetheless, I think it is improper for outsiders to interfere in the legal processes of Russia. Instead, I would just affirm my support for President Medvedev’s courageous initiative to strengthen the rule of law in Russia, which of course includes making sure that all those accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial and that the courts are not used for political purposes.
5. “Restarting” the relationship implies cooperating with Russia in those areas where it is possible. Does this mean weaker attention to Russia’s observation of civil rights and liberties, and to persecution against and murders of journalists? Specifically, to [the need to] apprehend and punish those who ordered and committed the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya?
Of course not. I seek to reset relations with Russia because I believe that Americans and Russians have many common interests, interests that our governments recently have not pursued as actively as we could have. For instance, I believe that Americans and Russians both would benefit from fewer nuclear weapons in the world, greater control over nuclear materials around the world, a defeat of extremist elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, an Iran that produces nuclear energy but not nuclear weapons, and a North Korea that refrains from launching missiles and exploding nuclear weapons and instead returns to the negotiating table. I also believe that Americans and Russians have a common interest in the development of rule of rule, the strengthening of democracy, and the protection of human rights. As I said in my inaugural address: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” I then emphasized in my Cairo speech that “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.” These are ideas embraced by your president and your people. I agree with President Medvedev when he said that “Freedom is better than the absence of freedom.” So, I see no reason why we cannot aspire together to strengthen democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as part of our “reset.”
6. Will you sign the new START treaty if Russia conditions its signing upon non-deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe?
In our meeting in London on April 1st, President Medvedev and I issued a joint statement on instructions for our negotiators for this new treaty. These instructions very explicitly did not mention missile defense as a topic of discussion for these negotiations.
At the same time, we understand Russian sensitivities to this issue and have sent several high-level delegations to Moscow over the last several weeks to engage in a serious dialogue about U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense.
My government is completing a comprehensive review of all of our missile defense programs, including those in Europe. Given the threats around the world, especially those growing from North Korea and Iran, our goal is to enhance missile defense for the United States and our allies in Europe and elsewhere. As I have said many times, such a system has to work, be cost effective, and must address the real threats to the United States and our allies, not imaginary ones. When discussing our plans for Europe, we first and foremost are seeking to build a missile defense system that protects the United States and Europe from an Iranian ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead. We are not building and will not build a system that is aimed to respond to an attack from Russia. Such thinking is simply a legacy of the Cold War.
We have not yet decided how we will configure missile defense in Europe. But my sincere hope is that Russia will be a partner in that project. If we combine our assets on missile defense, the United States, Russia, and our allies will be much safer than if we go it alone. I see a great potential here, and I hope to have a robust discussion with President Medvedev about these possibilities for cooperation on missile defense when I am in Moscow next week.
7. In the course of your presidential campaign, you competed with Hillary Clinton. Does this hinder your joint work now?
Absolutely not. This is the beauty of democracy. Secretary Clinton and I engaged in a hard-fought, very competitive race for the nomination of our party. By the way, without question, these primaries made me a better candidate for the general election against Senator John McCain. But in democracies, once the election is over, then all Americans who care about our country get back to work. It was because of how well I got to know Secretary Clinton during our campaign that I knew she would be such an excellent Secretary of State, and she has served our country with excellence.
Prior to the parliamentary elections in February 2008, The Asia Foundation worked with a network of local Pakistani civil society organizations (FAFEN) to implement an extensive civic education campaign for women, particularly in the remote areas of FATA and the North West Frontier Province. The Asia Foundation and FAFEN held more than 150 meetings with provincial and local representatives of the Election Commission to discuss policies that mitigate gender-based discrimination and harassment; met with 1,100 religious leaders via a series of dialogues to discuss alternative interpretations of Islamic law and develop the dialogues into a documentary style television program; and implemented a massive visual communication and outreach campaign on civil rights and voting procedures in local languages. The organizations distributed more than 500,000 materials, geared specifically towards women, prior to the election. From data collected through its extensive domestic monitoring program, The Asia Foundation and FAFEN conducted the first parallel vote tabulation exercise in the country and the largest in the world. Following the election, they compiled a comprehensive, first of its kind, report highlighting practices at women’s voting stations and presented policy recommendations for future elections.
Preliminary reports from election monitors suggest that Ukraine’s October 31 local elections did not meet standards for openness and fairness set by the presidential elections earlier this year. Domestic and international election observation efforts, most notably those led by the widely-respected domestic, non-partisan monitor OPORA, reported numerous procedural violations on election day. While election observers recognized improvements in the accuracy of voters lists since the presidential contest, they also noted shortcomings, such as insufficient training for electoral commission members, which contributed to the procedural violations and to organizational problems.
Ukraine’s local election law, passed in July, was cited as a source of problems on election day by election observers and international experts. Some difficulties precipitated by the new law, such as blocking the participation of new parties, were lessened or ended by the revisions ordered by President Yanukovych in September. However, other aspects of the law and of pre-election regulations and procedures challenged the placement of the names of some candidates on ballots, allowed for reported cases of improper use of administrative resources during the electoral campaign, established unbalanced electoral commission membership, and created complicated registration and voting procedures.
President Yanukovych has recognized the need to bring electoral legislation into line with international standards through a consultative process. The United States is prepared to assist Ukraine in support of electoral code reform.