(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 2)
As President Obama has affirmed, “The United States stands with those who advocate for free religious expression and works to protect the rights of all people to follow their conscience, free from persecution and discrimination. We bear witness to those who are persecuted or attacked because of their faith.” Like other fundamental rights, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief belongs to people by virtue of their humanity, and this right is inalienable. This right also includes the right not to believe.
Moreover, this right is inherently connected with other human rights, such as the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. Accordingly, violations of this right should give rise to concern. Participating States are obligated to respect it, and to ensure the conditions for its free expression. Such protections will benefit the people of every nation, and will make the countries where these rights are guaranteed more, not less, secure.
Opportunities for interaction among people of diverse religions or beliefs have reached unprecedented levels, and are contributing to an increasing awareness and mutual understanding.
This helps all of us better protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief. States that create an inclusive environment for people with different views will be able to harness the talents and resources of all their citizens to help meet compelling challenges within communities, at the national level, and within the world community.
Today, we see the various means by which States curtail the free exercise of this right despite the considerable body of related OSCE commitments. As a result, the space for religious observance and expression in many OSCE countries is shrinking.
Onerous registration requirements often lie at the core of restrictive laws on religion, and we encourage the governments of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to repeal or amend these laws.
We are also troubled by a trend toward new restrictive laws on religion in a number of countries. In Azerbaijan, unregistered religious worship remains illegal. Many groups have been denied registration or are still pending registration for more than 18 months after the deadline for applying for registration. Hungary’s new religion law, adopted on July 12 after a midnight debate, will de-register more than 300 previously registered faiths when it goes into effect next January; new requests for registration are subject to a two-thirds vote of the parliament. We urge that Hungary’s framework for religious freedom be brought into conformity with OSCE commitments.
Kazakhstan’s government is considering a similar law that would make all religious organizations re-register, impose compulsory censorship, and require government approval to open a new place of worship. We encourage Kazakhstan to reject or modify the proposed legislation, and to amend its religion law to remove existing penalties for engaging in peaceful, non-violent but unregistered religious activity.
Individuals in Uzbekistan engaged in religious activities outside of those approved by the authorities are subject to harassment, raids, fines and confiscation of religious materials—as well as imprisonment. Missionary activity is illegal. The law criminalizes unregistered religious activity and bans the production and distribution of unofficial religious publications. Minors are restricted from participating in religious organizations. In addition, criminal charges of belonging to specific banned religious groups considered “extremist” may be brought even when such groups have not engaged in violence. As a result, the U.S. government has again designated Uzbekistan a “country of particular concern.”
In Azerbaijan, there are burdensome registration requirements for religious groups; we urge the government to reform its registration system for religious groups to ensure that the system is fair, transparent, and timely. In addition, those who engage in innocuous religious activity without the permission of the government may be subjected to massive fines. Authorities reportedly monitored and raided some religious services, confiscated religious materials, and harassed and detained members of Muslim and Christian groups. The government has also banned the wearing of the hijab in schools and universities. We also encourage Azerbaijan to allow mosques to be finished or re-opened.
In Russia, use of extremism laws against non-violent religious minorities remains an ongoing concern. Russian prosecutors have filed numerous cases under Russia’s Law on Counteracting Extremism, which has resulted in the banning of religious literature produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and followers of Said Nursi and Falun Gong. Even when these groups have court decisions in their favor, authorities are slow to act. The failure of Moscow authorities to allow the reopening of a Jehovah’s Witnesses branch is just one such example. We encourage Russia to avoid applying anti-extremism laws to nonviolent minority religious groups.
In like manner, vague anti-terrorism and extremism laws in a number of countries like Russia and Uzbekistan are being used as a means to frustrate, if not eliminate, the religious activities of certain groups by mislabeling them as “dangerous sectarian,” “extremist,” or “terrorist” organizations.
Tajikistan has passed legislation over the past couple of years strictly controlling religious practice in the country. Prayer is allowed only in designated places, and women are not allowed to pray in a mosque. Most recently, Tajikistan has imposed restrictions on religious activity by young people. In particular, the Parental Responsibility Law, which prohibits minors from participating in the activities of religious associations, is fundamentally incompatible with OSCE commitments, as are restrictions on the importation and distribution of religious publications.
The United States is alarmed at the increase of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the OSCE region and elsewhere, and we urge OSCE participating States to speak out and address it.
We must learn the lessons of the past to prevent the growth of hatred and discrimination. We commend Lithuania for its Holocaust education program, and urge other countries to reinvigorate such efforts. The increase in anti-Semitic acts in the OSCE region such as defacing property and desecrating cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti, along with Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification is most disturbing.
Even among countries who generally respect religious freedom, and with whom we rarely have disagreements in this area, we occasionally identify issues worthy of note. The banning of head and face coverings in countries such as Belgium and France, and other participating States that may be moving to ban religious attire, such as Italy, violates the right of individuals to determine the practice of their faith. As President Obama has stated, “it is important for … countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit—for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.”
Ethnic and religious groups working together is the best way to move a culture from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding; from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity; from hate to tolerance. We must not only confront intolerance, we must actively promote tolerance.
Finally, the efforts to ban ritual slaughter of animals in line with Kosher and Halal guidelines have the effect, intended or unintended, of curbing Jewish and Muslim religious practices and therefore infringe on religious freedom. We encourage all countries which may be contemplating such a ban to reconsider and to recognize that it is a barrier to religious expression and practice.
Conscientious objectors in several participating States have languished in prison for years as the price for following the dictates of their consciences. I would note the ruling of the the European Court of Human Rights, in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia. The right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service flows directly from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, and we hope Armenia will amend its 2009 law to address the concerns that have been raised. We urge Armenia to release the 68 conscientious objectors currently in prison and to amend its laws in line with its OSCE commitments to prevent further imprisonment of conscientious objectors. We also urge Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan to bring their laws and policies into conformity with OSCE standards.
We are heartened by the Turkish government’s decree of August 27 to return or compensate for properties confiscated from religious communities over the last 75 years. We also commend the Turkish government for returning the Buyukada Orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate earlier this year. I would note that at the Belgrade meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in July, the issue of the Halki seminary was raised. The United States reiterates its call for the Government of Turkey to allow the reopening of the Theological School at Halki four decades after its forced closure by the authorities. We also urge Turkey to amend the 1982 military-drafted constitution to provide full legal status and rights for Turkey’s religious minorities.
As Secretary Clinton said earlier this month as she released the International Religious Freedom Report, “When governments respect religious freedom, when they work with civil society to promote mutual respect, or when they prosecute acts of violence against members of religious minorities, they can help turn down the temperature. They can foster a public aversion to hateful speech without compromising the right to free expression. And in doing so, they create a climate of tolerance that helps make a country more stable, more secure, and more prosperous.”
We call on all members of the OSCE to uphold their international commitments to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, remains essential to the security of the OSCE region and the world community. Let us all take greater steps to protect this right—a right at the core of human dignity.
Remarks delivered under Item 4: Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Report on Belarus
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States thanks High Commissioner Pillay for her oral report on the grave human rights situation in Belarus. We are deeply disappointed the Government of Belarus has failed to take steps to meet its human rights obligations since the Council’s last session. The government continues to routinely suppress freedoms of expression and of assembly and association. It has ignored the resolution this Council adopted in June, just as it has ignored similar resolutions by other international bodies including the Council of Europe.
The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated sharply since the December 2010 elections, which failed to meet international standards. The government initiated a wide-ranging crackdown against the political opposition, civil society activists, independent unions and media during the post-election period. Security forces detained hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. Authorities harassed and raided the offices of dozens of nongovernmental groups, seizing documents and equipment. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, politically motivated trials, and long prison sentences for many of the country’s most prominent opposition figures and civil society leaders became the norm. These abuses have continued unabated ever since.
To protest this turn of events, some Belarusian citizens decided to stand silently – to say nothing publicly; others decided to stand in parks and clap their hands. These citizens have also been arrested. In Belarus, citizens are arrested and deprived of their liberty for standing silently or clapping their hands.
The United States considers those arrested on politically motivated charges during and after the December 2010 crackdown to be political prisoners; we call for their immediate and unconditional release. We further call upon the Belarusian government to stop harassing civil society, independent media and the political opposition, and to open space for the free expression of political views, the development of a civil society, and greater media freedom.
The United States is firmly committed to supporting the democratic aspirations and universal human rights of the Belarusian people. We urge the Government of Belarus to end its self-imposed isolation and to respect, protect, and uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on this important subject, Madame President.
Remarks delivered under Item 3, General Debate
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States is glad to have to the opportunity to affirm our unwavering commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
People around the world continue to demonstrate their desire for democratic government. We are inspired by the strength, courage, and innovation shown by peaceful demonstrators across the Middle East, and we support transitions to genuine democracies that reflect the aspirations of people across the region.
Against the backdrop of dramatic developments from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus, we would like to emphasize in particular the essential role that civil society plays in the protection and promotion of human rights, and in the transition to genuine, vibrant democracies.
Civil society provides a critical foundation for holding governments accountable, ensuring good governance, and promoting all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Citizens, activists, organizations, congregations, writers, journalists and reporters each play a vital role in encouraging governments to respect human rights. The mandate of this Council acknowledges the importance of these groups in creating and maintaining a healthy, vibrant society. Our commitment to civil society is renewed every time NGOs and national human rights institutions are given a voice in this chamber.
We call upon emerging democracies to recognize and publicly defend the vital role civil society plays in the transition to healthy and vibrant democracies. New governments must recognize this important role through their laws and their actions. To allow civil society to develop and flourish, governments must respect the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In this light, we especially appreciated the timely and informative panel on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests earlier this week.
Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated the importance of peaceful assembly, the time-honored right to come together in public to demonstrate demands, as a vital tool for civil society. This Council has acknowledged its importance in the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Peaceful Assembly and Freedom of Association.
Likewise, civil society members must be able to express themselves in person, in the media, and over the internet. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our bedrock document, showed great wisdom when they emphasized that freedom of expression applies equally “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
States using the excuses of security, order, or stability as a justification to unduly restrict these rights do so at their peril. The permissible scope of restrictions under international human rights law is very narrow and should only be used when absolutely necessary. The former governments of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt used these arguments to justify restricting basic rights and freedoms. But they had to answer to their people in the end. In Syria, we are again seeing what happens when a government tries to silence its people for too long.
Civil society must be able to make its voice heard in government and have a meaningful role in the conduct of public affairs. In many parts of the world we have seen civil society work effectively to demand transparency, protect the environment, battle corruption, promote charity and relief work, and defend the rights of the poor and disenfranchised elements of societies. We strongly support these efforts. As Secretary Clinton recently stated, “We have to protect civil society…They are the ones going to prison, they are the ones being beaten up, they are the ones on the front lines of democracy.”
We call upon this Council to continue its work with vigor and purpose, paying special attention to the important role that civil society plays in political transition. We have been heartened to see how this Council has responded to repression and widespread human rights violations in the Middle East. We urge the Council to continue to address human rights violations as they occur in other parts of the world. We look forward to working collaboratively to achieve these goals.
Thank you, Madame President.
I want to thank USAID for sponsoring today’s conversation on Business and Human Rights which I believe to be a critical human rights issue in this day and age. I am honored to be on such an esteemed panel and am very pleased to see many familiar and new faces here today. All of you have helped shape this conversation and many have helped governments, including the U.S. government, come to grips with the challenges and opportunities in this field. Business and human rights is especially important in today’s world where non-governmental actors – whether companies, NGOs or armed extremist groups — have increasing power to do good or ill. And often they are operating outside of government control or even influence.
Traditionally, human rights law has focused on governments – the duty of governments to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens. But this is no longer enough. The global business community has grown in power and influence, and so must its responsibility for protecting human rights.
Today, half of the world’s 100 largest economies are private companies. The other half are the economies of nations. What this means is that when we measure corporate annual revenues and compare them to the gross domestic product of countries, half of the corporations are as large as nations. If Wal-Mart were a nation, its annual revenues this year would rank it roughly 30th in the world – ahead of Malaysia, Belgium, Nigeria and Sweden. And this isn’t a fluke, it’s a pattern. The Fortune 500 companies have continued to grow despite the global recession.
In this emerging global economy many of the rules of the road have yet to be written. This is a moment in time when smart, thoughtful and creative action by governments, NGOs, and companies is urgently needed.
In terms of human rights, there are four broad areas that deserve greater attention:
• First, manufacturing supply chains and their labor practices;
• Second, security and human rights in zones of armed conflict, especially with respect to the extractive industries;
• Third, labor and other human rights issues in the agricultural sector; and
• Fourth, the role of the private sector with respect to free expression on the Internet.
In each of these areas there is an important role for governments to play, often in close collaboration with companies themselves, but also civil society organizations. Now, governments alone cannot answer all of these challenges or regulate in all of these areas. But we also cannot assume that companies, acting alone, will always do the right thing.
The U. S. government is committed to working with the private sector, civil society, and governments as allies and partners to make human rights a reality, especially in those places where governments struggle to impose rule of law and companies face the difficult task of taking principled actions. So we all must be looking for alternative ways to build new global rules of the road.
As we all know, many corporations operate in some of the toughest territories in the world, in places where the discovery of natural wealth can fuel bitter conflict.
It is not easy for a company to take on responsibility for respecting human rights. But especially in places where governments may be too weak or unwilling to enforce the rule of law and protect individuals’ rights, companies often find themselves acting as the first line in promoting best practices for human rights. It is the job of governments to support companies in making the right choices. One way to do this is by facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues to identify and address problems inherent in a particular sector or region.
The international community has developed many mechanisms to address business and human rights.
I’d like to recognize the longtime contributions of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights, Transnational Corporations, and Other Business Enterprises, John Ruggie, who has been a conceptual leader on these issues. At the Human Rights Council session that ended in June, Professor Ruggie presented his final report as Special Representative: The Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework organized around three foundational principles:
• First, the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business;
• Second, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and
• Third, the need for victims to have access to remedies.
The Guiding Principles were developed and were embraced by all groups following extensive consultation with government, corporate actors, and a wide range of civil society actors. As a result, they offer a common platform and plan of action for the global community in advancing human rights where they intersect with business.
But, translating his vision into action requires a commitment from companies, governments and civil society to cooperate on the hard issues.
As a government, we now must pursue the crucial next phase- implementation – with diligence, creativity and resources to ensure that we reach our ultimate goal: Improving the lives of people around the world. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State is currently exploring how we can support targeted high impact projects to advance John’s work.
We also believe in the potential of multi-stakeholder initiatives as a mechanism to address these tough issues.
It is my experience that companies are much better positioned to address human rights concerns when they work in a multi-stakeholder environment that includes not only other companies, but also civil society, academics, investors, and sometimes governments. This approach is critical because it creates a forum for invested actors to confront evolving human rights challenges, and because it provides a way to demonstrate the value of these processes through an accountability mechanism. Like the Ruggie Framework, these multi-stakeholder initiatives can also fill the void where governments can’t or won’t live up to their duty to protect their citizens.
But for multi-stakeholder initiatives to work, the standards they set must be clear, specific, and backed by a credible monitoring mechanism. The initiatives themselves need sound rules of the road, in the form of a comprehensive governance structure. And they need to be implemented, monitored, verified, and evaluated in a way that is transparent and encourages compliance.
So let me walk you through a few examples of multi-stakeholder initiatives.
The Fair Labor Association is a good example of what can be done. It’s a collaboration between companies, colleges and universities, and civil society organizations, that has been improving working conditions in factories around the world since 1999. The FLA has developed a Workplace Code of Conduct, and created a practical process for monitoring, remediation, and verification and a third-party complaint mechanism. As a result of all of these steps, the FLA has succeeded in strengthening worker protections at hundreds of factories, from Bangladesh to Mexico.
For the past 10 years, the United States and many people in this room have been working together on another initiative, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. As you may know, the VPs provides guidance to extractive companies on maintaining the safety and security of their operations in a manner that respects human rights. The VPs are the only human rights guidelines designed specifically for the oil, gas, and mining industries. Because these industries frequently work in areas where central governments are weak and human rights are all too often trampled, this administration is committed to strengthening the VPs to maximize its impact in these tough environments. We are working to create a sound governance structure as well as an external monitoring mechanism, so that it can meet these very real challenges.
And, of course, we continue to work on the urgent crisis over conflict minerals in the Great Lakes region of Africa. As you know, the U.S. Congress has recently passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,
which aims to break the links between the illicit trade in natural resources in the Great Lakes region and the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. President Obama signed it into law last year. The law requires companies that use tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold in their products to publicly disclose whether any of those minerals originated in the DRC or an adjoining country. If so, the company must provide a report of the measures taken to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of the minerals, including an independent audit to verify conditions of work in the supply chain. While the law is requires companies to report publicly on their procedures, we hope it will eventually lead to a conflict-free supply chain of minerals from the region.
Another area where we are working is in developing a new International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. 125 members of industry have all signed on to this Code of Conduct which requires them to respect human rights regarding, among other things, the use of force, detention, torture, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, forced labor and discrimination. We fully support this nascent organization, which is doing its due diligence to set up a strong architecture of accountability and transparency by establishing a robust certification procedure and a credible grievance mechanism.
Finally, I want to talk about an issue that is fundamentally important to the intersection of business and human rights: Internet Freedom.
We urge all companies, U.S. and international, to consider the human rights implications of their actions, and the Internet is of course a critical area of concern these days. Secretary Clinton has put Internet freedom on the map as a key diplomatic priority. At its core Internet freedom concerns a set of human rights — the right of freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of association. We must consider how these rights apply to new technologies and the steps that governments and business need to take to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
By now, every government understands the power of ordinary citizens to harness the Internet and social media to organize and express themselves.
Some have embraced these new technologies as a way to connect with and serve their citizens. Others are redoubling their attempts to control them.
We are witnessing the rise of cyber attacks on the computers of independent media, Distributed Denial of Service attacks on the sites of watchdog groups, and other attempts to thwart the work of civil society.
We are seeing the development of more sophisticated tools for cyber-repression, including filtering, surveillance, anti-circumvention, and network-disabling technologies by government security forces in closed societies.
This is one of those hard problems I spoke of earlier. I don’t have all the answers, and neither does the U.S. government. But I do believe that the multi-stakeholder approach is the right way to discuss and address these emerging challenges.
Thank you very much.
The United States strongly condemns the use of force by Malawian authorities on July 20 to prevent peaceful demonstrations, as well as the ban imposed on all private radio stations reporting on the demonstrations. We also are disturbed by reports of violence targeting individuals based on their political or social affiliations. The government’s attempt to prohibit its citizens from marching, and the Communications Regulatory Authority’s ban on independent media coverage undermine democracy and the rule of law that Malawians cherish.
We recall President Mutharika’s remarks at the April 7 Millennium Challenge Corporation signing ceremony in Lilongwe that he will continue to adhere to and uphold democracy and good governance, freedom of expression, freedom of association. In light of continued rioting and rumors of retaliation, we urge restraint from both sides. We call on the people and the Government of Malawi to remain committed to the principles of democracy and to express disagreements through peaceful means.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Request for Proposals: Justice and Dignity Initiative
PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly urges applicants to access immediately www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. It may take up to a week to register with www.grants.gov. Please see the section titled “DEADLINE AND SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS” below for specific instructions.
Background and Introduction:
As Secretary Clinton said at the Forum for the Future in Doha in January 2011, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. They are demanding reform to make their governments more effective, more responsive, and more open.” Yet despite demands from their people, many governments around the world are unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve – changes that include the establishment of transparent, accountable institutions; a commitment to and implementation of basic human rights protections; the ability for citizens to freely choose their government and then hold government officials accountable; and an open space in which media and civil society organizations can operate without fear of harassment, physical threat or harm, detention, or imprisonment.
To address this growing trend, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Proposals (RFP) for organizations interested in implementing large, country-specific projects—in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region only—that will address new challenges as they unfold on the ground in countries that routinely and systematically infringe on the fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, expression, and religion, or that will leverage new opportunities as they arise.
Activities of the Justice and Dignity Initiative:
The activities to be administered under the Justice and Dignity Initiative must promote the fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, expression, and religion in countries that routinely and systematically infringe on those freedoms. The grantee will be expected to efficiently and effectively implement, at times within a matter of weeks, a wide range of program activities, including, but not limited to, providing technical assistance to and building the capacity of civil society activists/organizations, media actors, and new and opposition political parties; developing public advocacy and civic education campaigns; documenting human rights abuses; and improving access to justice and legal aid. More specifically, these activities could include, but are not limited to, training and mentoring local and citizen journalists; increasing public awareness and understanding of religious freedom and tolerance; engaging women in political party activities; building coalitions among youth groups; bolstering the capacity of independent worker organizations; or expanding access for at-risk populations, including women and disabled and indigenous people, to justice or civic participation.
The scope of activities that are eligible to be undertaken in this cooperative agreement is broad and meant to cover the complete spectrum of assistance activities that will promote fundamental freedoms. The individual programs of the initiative will be larger in scope and can be administered over multiple years.
Cooperative Agreement for NGO Consortium:
DRL will award a cooperative agreement to a consortium of at least four NGOs with global reach (“Consortium”), with one lead organization serving as the primary recipient/applicant (“Primary Applicant” or “Lead Organization”). One member of the Consortium may implement one program, two or more may work on similar activities separately, or two or more may work jointly. DRL employs this cooperative agreement mechanism in order to provide the Consortium with a pre-approved grant vehicle that allows for rapid response/disbursement of resources when the situation on the ground requires it.
The Consortium will work closely with DRL to design in a timely fashion targeted programs that address a myriad of issues in various ways. DRL may approach the Consortium with an idea for a program or the Consortium may propose a program idea to DRL, but the two will work together to design the program that one or more members of the Consortium will implement. Regardless of which party proposes the idea, the Consortium will prepare proposals for each program idea pursuant to the guidelines outlined in the “Technical Requirements for Proposals for Activities Administered under the Justice and Dignity Initiative” section below, which DRL will review.
The Primary Applicant need not be based in the U.S. but must be a non-profit organization registered in the U.S., meet the provisions described in Internal Revenue Code section 26 USC 501(c)(3), and have demonstrated experience administering successful projects in various countries. (See “Primary Applicant/Organization Criteria” section below for more information.)
Consortium members must demonstrate a region-wide reach, the capacity to implement in a time-sensitive manner large program activities that could be multi-year in nature, and the technical expertise for the broad scope of activities to be undertaken in this cooperative agreement.
The Primary Applicant will be required to develop a detailed program plan outlining the role and responsibilities of the other NGO partners in the Consortium and how the Consortium will work and consult with DRL. The Primary Applicant should submit a letter of commitment from each NGO partner in the Consortium.
Proposals should allocate requested funding to provide as much direct assistance to the program’s activities as possible and keep overhead costs to a minimum. The Lead Organization shall obtain receipts and/or reimbursement documentation for all expenditures over $10,000 and for those under $10,000 to the extent possible.
The Consortium should ensure that it has a solid reach across the MENA region, and can maintain, through a demonstrated track record, strong relationships with experienced, reliable, local partner NGOs across the region. Strategies to develop stronger contacts to improve the administration of the program can be included, but associated costs must be reasonable and kept to a minimum.
Vetting will be required in accordance with the Department’s standard vetting procedures.
TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR PROPOSALS FOR THE JUSTICE AND DIGNITY INITIATIVE
Proposals should conform to DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI), available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/p/c12302.htm. (For this solicitation, applicants must use the Revised PSI dated October 2010.)
Proposals that do not meet the requirements of the announcement and PSI may not be considered. Proposals that request less than the award floor or more than the award ceiling will be deemed technically ineligible.
For all application documents, please ensure that:
1) All pages are numbered, including budgets and attachments;
2) All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper; and
3) All Microsoft Word documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with a minimum of 1-inch margins.
Complete applications should include the following for proposal submission:
1) Completed and signed SF-424, SF-424a (Budget Summary) and SF424b (Assurances), most recent A-133 Audit, and Certifications Regarding Lobbying forms as directed on www.grants.gov. Please refer to the PSI for directions on how to complete the forms.
2) Table of Contents (not to exceed one  page in Microsoft Word) that includes a page-numbered contents page, including any attachments.
3) Executive Summary (not to exceed one  page in Microsoft Word) that includes:
a) Name and contact information for the project’s main point of contact and
b) A brief statement on the unique capacity of the Primary Applicant and the members of the proposed Consortium to implement quickly programs that address a broad range of human rights, democracy, and rule of law issues.
4) Proposal Narrative (not to exceed twenty-five  pages in Microsoft Word). Please note the 25-page limit does not include the Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Attachments, Detailed Budget, Budget Narrative, or NICRA. Applicants may submit multiple documents in one Microsoft Word file, i.e., Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Proposal Narrative, and Budget Narrative in one file or as separate, individually submitted files. Submissions should address three specific criteria (Institution’s Record and Capacity, Technical Understanding, and Past Performance). With regard to the “Past Performance” criteria, the Lead Organization and each member of the Consortium are required to submit one-paragraph summaries of three (3) past or current programs, which should include the start and end dates of the program, goals, objectives, activities, and outcomes/outputs of the program, as well as the projected budget and the actual final budget, if the grant has been completed, which should be submitted as attachments (see below under 7) Attachments). Further details about these criteria are described in the Review Process section below.
5) Budget Narrative (preferably in Microsoft Word) that includes an explanation/justification for each line item in the detailed budget spreadsheet, as well as the source and description of all cost-share offered. For ease of review, it is recommended that applicants order the budget narrative as presented in the detailed budget. Primarily Headquarters- and Field-based personnel costs should include a clarification on the roles and responsibilities of key staff and percentage of time devoted to the project. In addition, cost-effectiveness is one of the key criteria for rating the competitiveness of a program proposal. Applicants that include cost share in their budget should note that cost share is considered a commitment and that the grantee will be held responsible for meeting the amount of cost share included. It is recommended that budget narratives address the overall cost-effectiveness of the proposal, including any cost share offered (see the PSI for more information on cost-sharing and cost-effectiveness).
6) Detailed Line-Item Budget (in Microsoft Excel or similar spreadsheet format) that breaks down the administrative costs of overseeing the Justice and Dignity Fund and overseeing program activities. The budget should contain three  columns including DRL request, any cost-sharing contribution, and total budget. A summary budget should also be included using the OMB-approved budget categories (see SF-424 as a sample). See the PSI for more information on budget format. Costs must be in U.S. Dollars. Please note that a budget outlining the costs for administering and overseeing the fund should be submitted. DRL does not expect budgets for individual projects that will be administered under the Fund as budgets for these individual projects will be negotiated when the need for those projects arise.
7) Attachments (Attachments A through C not to exceed six  pages total, preferably in Microsoft Word) that include the following in order:
a) Pages 1-2: Administration and Oversight Plan. Please explain how the Primary Organization will administer the Fund and oversee the NGO Consortium.
b) Page 3: Roles and responsibilities of key program personnel with short bios that highlight relevant professional experience. CVs are not recommended for submission.
c) Pages 4-6: Additional optional attachments. Attachments may include letters of support, Memoranda of Understanding/agreements, etc. For applicants with a large number of letters/MOUs, it may be useful to provide a list of the organizations/government agencies that support the program rather than the actual documentation.
d) Pages 7-XYZ: Budgets. Submit the projected budget and the actual final budget, if the grant has been completed, of the three (3) past or current programs being used as examples under the “Past Performance” criterion. The projected budget and actual final budget should be no longer than 2 pages each per program example.
8 ) If your organization has a negotiated indirect cost rate agreement (NICRA) and includes NICRA charges in the budget, your latest approved/valid NICRA agreement should be sent as a .pdf file. This document will not be reviewed by the panelists, but rather used by program and grant staff if the submission is recommended for funding. Hence, this document does not count against the submission page limitations. If your organization does not have a NICRA agreement with a cognizant agency, the proposal budget should not have a line item for indirect cost charges. Rather, any costs that may be considered as indirect costs should be itemized and included in specific budget line items as Other Direct Costs. Furthermore, if your proposal involves sub-grants to organizations charging indirect costs, and those organizations also have a NICRA, please submit the applicable NICRA as a .pdf file (see the PSI for more information on indirect cost rate).
Note: To ensure all applications receive a balanced evaluation, the DRL Review Committee will review the requested section only up to the page limit and no further. DRL encourages organizations to use the given space effectively.
Before applying, all applicants are encouraged to call DRL.
The Bureau anticipates awarding a cooperative agreement in the third quarter of 2011. The bulk of funding activities should take place during a three-year time frame. Projects that leverage resources from funds internal to the organization or other sources, such as public-private partnerships, will be highly considered. Projects that have a strong academic or research focus will not be highly considered. Cost sharing is strongly encouraged, and cost-sharing contributions should be outlined in the proposal, budget, and budget narrative.
Pending availability of funds, this cooperative agreement will have an authorized funding level of approximately USD $2,075,000 total to address the parameters above over a three-year timeframe. DRL anticipates granting one award totaling approximately USD $2,075,000 in FY2011 to support the program and administrative costs required to implement this initiative. DRL envisions that between six to 12 programs will be implemented, each in the $250,000 to $500,000 range. Additional future funding may be possible, pending the availability of resources.
DRL will not consider proposals that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not they are elected members of government.
PRIMARY APPLICANT/ORGANIZATION CRITERIA Lead Organizations submitting proposals must meet the following criteria:
Be a U.S. non-profit organization meeting the provisions described in Internal Revenue Code section 26 USC 501(c) (3) or a comparable organization headquartered internationally.
Have demonstrated experience administering successful and preferably similar projects. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal grant awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis.
Be a registered user of www.grants.gov.
Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with in-country entities and relevant stakeholders including industry and non-government organizations.
Organizations must form a Consortium and submit a joint proposal. However, one organization must be designated as the Primary Applicant/Lead Organization.
An OMB policy directive published in the Federal Register on Friday, June 27, 2003, requires that all organizations applying for Federal grants or cooperative agreements must provide a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number when applying for all Federal grants or cooperative agreements on or after October 1, 2003. Please reference http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/062703_grant_identifier.pdf for the complete OMB policy directive.
REVIEW PROCESS FOR SELECTING LEAD ORGANIZATION AND NGO CONSORTIUM OF JUSTICE AND DIGNITY INITIATIVE
The Bureau will review all proposals for eligibility. Eligible proposals will be subject to compliance of Federal and Bureau regulations and guidelines and may also be reviewed by the Office of the Legal Adviser or by other Department elements. Final signatory authority for assistance awards resides with the Department’s Grants Officer. DRL and the Grants Office reserve the right to request any additional programmatic and/or financial information regarding the proposal.
Proposals will be funded based on an evaluation of how the proposal meets the solicitation review criteria, U.S. foreign policy objectives, and the priority needs of DRL. A Department of State Review Committee will evaluate proposals submitted under this request. Each proposal will be rated along three criteria. Review criteria will include:
1) Institution’s Record and Capacity (40%)
The Lead Organization and each member of the Consortium must demonstrate that they have the institutional capability to carry out the work described in the section “Activities of the Fundamental Freedoms Fund.” More specifically and in order of importance, the Lead Organization and Consortium members must demonstrate the ability to a) evaluate country conditions and draw on theory, experience, and lessons learned to design innovative, effective, and workable programs within their respective areas of expertise as new opportunities and challenges unfold on the ground; b) effectively and efficiently manage programs, including the capability to place them in the field quickly with all necessary support and to start program activities rapidly; c) build and maintain relationships with other organizations, including at the local levels, and key stakeholders; and d) monitor and evaluate program implementation, results, and impact, solve problems, and make course corrections when necessary.
2) Technical Understanding (40%)
The Lead Organization and each member of the Consortium must demonstrate their understanding of the activities of the Fundamental Freedoms Fund by describing the technical approaches they each have used or may use when establishing programs within their respective areas of expertise and which, in some cases, are specifically outlined in this RFP. The Lead Organization and Consortium members must a) demonstrate technical soundness of analysis and proposed programmatic strategies, based on knowledge and understanding of their specific area of expertise and lessons learned; b) include innovative approaches and strategies that are responsive to complex political environments and challenges such as working with limited resources; and c) demonstrate understanding of different strategic approaches and programming priorities as determined by varying country contexts.
3) Past Performance (20%)
The past performance of the Lead Organization and each member of the Consortium will be evaluated, as required by section 4 “Proposal Narrative”under “Technical Requirements for Proposals for the Fundamental Freedoms Fund.”This part of the evaluation will focus on a) the quality of programs, including consistency in meeting goals and targets, achievement of clearly defined outputs and outcomes within the projected timeframe of the program, and effectiveness in addressing and learning from problems; b) cost controls, including forecasting costs and accuracy in financial reporting; and c) effectiveness of key personnel.
DEADLINE AND SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS
Applicants must submit proposals using www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on July 14, 2011. Please note that over the next several months www.grants.gov will experience higher than normal application volume due to Recovery Act-related opportunities. DRL will still require applications to be submitted via www.grants.gov but will work with applicants who have trouble in the actual submission process.
Several of the steps in the www.grants.gov registration process can take several weeks. Therefore, applicants should check with appropriate staff within their organizations immediately after reviewing this solicitation to confirm or determine their registration status with www.grants.gov.
Please note: In order to safeguard the security of applicants’ electronic information, www.grants.gov utilizes a credential provider to confirm, with certainty, the applicant organization’s credentials. The credential provider for www.grants.gov is Operational Research Consultants (ORC). Applicants MUST register with ORC to receive a username and password which you will need to register with www.grants.gov as an authorized organization representative (AOR). Once your organization’s E-Business point of contact has assigned these rights, you will be authorized to submit grant applications through www.grants.gov on behalf of your organization.
Each organization will need to be registered with the Central Contractor Registry (CCR), and you will need to have your organization’s DUNS number available to complete this process. For more information regarding the DUNS number, please visit www.dnb.com or call 1-866-705-5711. After your organization registers with the CCR, you must wait approximately three to five business days before you can obtain a username and password. This may delay your ability to post your proposal. Therefore, DRL strongly urges applicants to begin this process on www.grants.gov well in advance of the submission deadline.
No exceptions will be made for organizations that have not completed the necessary steps to post applications on www.grants.gov.
Once registered, the amount of time it can take to upload an application will vary depending on a variety of factors including the size of the application and the speed of your Internet connection. In addition, validation of an electronic submission via www.grants.gov can take up to two business days. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you not wait until the application deadline to begin the submission process through www.grants.gov.
The www.grants.gov website includes extensive information on all phases/aspects of the www.grants.gov process, including an extensive section on frequently asked questions, located under the “For Applicants” section of the website. DRL strongly recommends that all potential applicants review thoroughly www.grants.gov, well in advance of submitting a proposal through the www.grants.gov system.
Direct all questions regarding www.grants.gov registration and submission to:
Contact Center Phone: 800-518-4726
Business Hours: Monday – Friday, 7AM – 9PM Eastern Standard Time
Applicants have until 11:59 p.m. EST of the closing date to ensure that their entire application has been uploaded to www.grants.gov. There are no exceptions to the above deadline. Applications uploaded to the site after midnight of the application deadline date will be automatically rejected by the www.grants.gov system and will be technically ineligible.
Please refer to www.grants.gov for definitions of various “application statuses”and the difference between a submission receipt and a submission validation. Applicants will receive a validation e-mail from www.grants.gov upon the successful submission of an application. Again, validation of an electronic submission via www.grants.gov can take up to two business days. DRL will not notify you upon receipt of electronic applications.
Faxed, couriered, or emailed documents will not be accepted at any time. Applicants must follow all formatting instructions in this document and the PSI.
It is the responsibility of all applicants to ensure that proposals have been received by www.grants.gov in their entirety. DRL bears no responsibility for data errors resulting from transmission or conversion processes.
The information contained in this solicitation is binding and may not be modified by any Bureau representative. Explanatory information provided by the Bureau that contradicts this language will not be binding. Issuance of the solicitation does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the Government. The Bureau reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION For questions related to proposal submissions, please contact Benton Wisehart at (202) 632-2064 or via email WisehartBP@state.gov.
Once the RFP deadline has passed, U.S. Government officials—including those in the Bureau, the Department, and at embassies/missions overseas—must not discuss this competition with applicants until the entire proposal review process is completed.
We are deeply concerned by reports that Internet service has been shut down across much of Syria, as have some mobile communication networks. We condemn any effort to suppress the Syrian people’s exercise of their rights to free expression, assembly, and association.
Two weeks ago, the White House released the International Strategy for Cyberspace, which noted that “States should not arbitrarily deprive or disrupt individuals’ access to the Internet or other networked technologies.” We condemn such shutdowns in the strongest terms.
The Syrian government has a history of restricting the Internet in an attempt to prevent the Syrian people from accessing and sharing information. The Syrian government must understand that attempting to silence its population cannot prevent the transition currently taking place. We believe that even in the face of significant obstacles, the Syrian people will — and should — find a way to make their voices heard.
The United States stands for universal human rights, including freedom of expression, and we call on all governments to respect them.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Ackerman, distinguished Members of the Committee:
Thank you for inviting us to testify before this committee on the subject of political transitions in the Middle East. You rightly recognize that this is a pivotal moment in the Middle East and North Africa. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon said recently that the Arab Spring is an event comparable to the fall of the Ottoman Empire or the decolonization of the Middle East following the Second World War. And historians will long be debating these momentous developments. President Obama has often said that the future of the Middle East will be written by its own people, not by any foreign power. This administration stands with those in the region who call for peaceful, democratic transitions, for tolerance and pluralism. Our policy approach is both pragmatic and in keeping with American principles, values and interests.
We view this as a moment of great challenge and great opportunity – and the two are inexorably linked. Last month, Secretary Clinton noted that uprisings across the region have exposed a number of myths: The “myth that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights; the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence and conflict; and, most pernicious of all, the myth that Arabs do not share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity, and opportunity.”
The protests and upheaval we have witnessed in so many countries has the potential to bring about a region that is more democratic, more economically dynamic, and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of its citizens. As Secretary Clinton has said, the status quo in the Middle East is unsustainable, and genuine democratic changes in that region will make countries both more stable and, in the long run, likely to be more in sync with the interests of the United States and our closest allies. But she also has warned of the danger that democratic transitions can be hijacked by undemocratic forces, giving rise to new autocracies. We need to shape our policies in the region to encourage peaceful democratic transitions and to help prevent the rise of such new autocracies.
The Obama administration believes that democratic transitions must be home grown. The challenge falls to the people and the leaders of the region to achieve the brighter future they desire – a future in which governments respond to the aspirations of their people and view it as their duty to protect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the dignity that all people desire and deserve. But the United States has a keen interest in their success, and we can play a key supporting role. We have done and will do this by acknowledging, supporting and empowering the democratic and reformist voices from the region. And we will continue to do this by speaking honestly about the need to respect human rights and shun violence. We continue to tell all governments, friendly or not, that the use of violence to suppress peaceful expression is wrong and destabilizing, both to the governments that resort to violence and to the region as a whole.
Much has been said about the alleged conflict between our democratic values and our desire for stability in the Middle East. This is a false dichotomy. The United States has a profound interest in regional stability, and we believe that respect for universal human rights and the principle that governments are accountable to their people are in fact key components of long-term stability.
As popular movements for political change take on the immense challenges facing their respective countries, political outcomes will have a significant impact on stability in the region. If the region’s movements for greater democracy, opportunity, dignity, and accountability fail to produce successful transitions to more inclusive and transparent democratic systems, the Middle East will be unable to overcome its mounting economic and social challenges. These challenges are well established, from stagnant economies saddled by corruption, inequality, and unemployment, to resource depletion, to the marginalization of women and minorities, and they add up to an unsustainable status quo.
The United States remains steadfast in our commitment to advancing our core interests in the region and defending the security of our allies. And we are explicit about our interests: We seek a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors. We seek to combat terrorism and the dark ideologies of extremist groups. We seek to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear activity and curb its destabilizing influence in the region. We seek to cement a long-term partnership with an Iraq that is peaceful, sovereign, self-reliant, and reintegrated into the Arab world. We seek to maintain the continued flow of critical energy resources to the global economy. And we seek broad-based prosperity. Regional stability has always been a key factor in our ability to channel energies and marshal coordination in service of all these goals.
In light of the role of stability in promoting U.S. interests, we have an enormous stake in the outcome of the Arab Spring. Going forward, the regional stability we seek to advance our interests can only be sustained if the processes of democratic reform advance. As Secretary Clinton noted, when there is a gap between the government and the needs and ambitions of the people, states grow more brittle and less stable. In the long run, governments that are responsive to their people are the best guarantors of stability, and the best partners for the United States.
Furthermore, the peaceful, homegrown, non-ideological movements that have put Egypt and Tunisia on the path of democratic transition offer a powerful repudiation of the false narrative espoused by al-Qaeda and other extremist elements that violence is the only way to effect change. Thus, events in the region today present an opportunity not only for the advancement of universal values and human rights but also a strategic opportunity for the United States and our allies.
Our response to the upheaval in the Middle East has been rooted in a consistent set of principles: We have opposed the use of violence against peaceful protesters and supported the universal rights of free expression, assembly, and association and the right to participate in the affairs of the state. We have strongly condemned, including in multilateral fora, the killing, torture, and abuse of peaceful protestors. We have made clear our view that people’s legitimate demands and aspirations must be met by positive engagement from governments, in the form of meaningful political and economic reforms.
Our policy responses also take into account the interrelationship between political and economic change, because we know that people have not put themselves in harm’s way so that they could vote in one single election; rather, they seek to transform the relationship between themselves and their government – they seek a system of democratic governance that delivers results for them and their families. As we offer support and encouragement to governments and people pursuing political change, we are also looking to bolster the economic progress that can help make that change sustainable over time. And we have mobilized the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to provide up to $2 billion in financial support for private-sector investments in the Middle East and North Africa.
We are keeping a close eye on religious minorities, who are often even more vulnerable to violence and abuse during such tumultuous times, and who rightly view religious freedom as part and parcel of the universal rights democracy promises. We are also concerned with ensuring that democratic change, where it comes, is inclusive – that means that women have an equal voice at the bargaining table and minorities are fairly represented.
Iran provides a powerful cautionary tale for the transitions underway. Iranians’ democratic aspirations in 1979 and 2009 were subverted by a brutal dictatorship. Throughout Iran, security forces have beaten, detained, and in several recent cases killed peaceful protesters, even as Iran’s president has made a show of denouncing the violence against civilians in Libya and other places. But we are holding Iranians who are responsible for human rights abuses to account. The United States and the European Union have sanctioned serious human rights abusers and joined a broad coalition of nations at the UN Human Rights Council to create a Special Rapporteur position for human rights in Iran. We will not remain silent as the Iranian government seeks to squelch the voices of its own people.
The path ahead will look different in each country of the region, and so too will our support for each unique process. But the trends that produced this dramatic moment in the Middle East have been building for many years, and they are not likely to fade soon. No part of the region has been untouched, and already we can say that the Middle East will never be the same again.
Tunisia and Egypt have begun the process of democratic transition and, if successful, are poised to offer a promising example to their neighbors for the power of peaceful movements to bring about meaningful change. Other states, including Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, have taken some initial positive steps toward political and economic reform, but all have more to do. In others, including Yemen and Bahrain, for example, much more work remains to reverse disturbing trends, hold security forces accountable for abuses, and initiate democratic reforms that improve equality and participation.
In Egypt, the military council deserves credit for responding to the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy and taking steps to meet many of their immediate demands. They have supervised a process for initial constitutional amendments, which were overwhelmingly passed in a referendum last month and which set the stage for democratic elections and the end of the emergency law. They issued a vastly improved political parties law; have taken early steps toward reorganizing the state security apparatus; publicly committed to lifting the emergency law before holding free, fair, and transparent democratic elections; recognized independent unions; and oversaw the successful constitutional referendum. The Egyptian Armed Forces also rebuilt a church in the village of Sol, which had been destroyed by mob violence on March 4.
We will be closely tracking the military’s implementation of all of its commitments, especially the lifting of the emergency law before elections take place. Moreover, we remain concerned about continued detentions by the military and quick trials of civilian protestors in military courts in a process that does not provide essential procedural safeguards.
We have received reports that dozens of people are in prison after being arrested at or near the site of peaceful protests. Military courts have tried protestors in proceedings that have sometimes taken less than an hour, with limited or no access to counsel. For example, on February 28, Amr al-Beheiry was sentenced to five years in prison after a one-day military trial following his participation in a peaceful protest on February 26. He was not allowed legal representation.
On April 14, the Supreme Military Council committed to “review the detentions of all the youth…tried in the recent period.” We are continuing to engage with the Supreme Military Council to encourage them to fulfill this commitment.
On a broader scale we also are concerned about sectarian violence and legal discrimination of religious minorities, and the limited participation by women in all aspects of the transitional process.
Egypt’s long-standing economic troubles contributed to the revolution, and the recent upheaval has made the country’s economic distress acute. The state of the economy, including unemployment rates, will of course affect the prospects for successful transition to democracy. We are consulting with our international partners and international financial institutions on ways to help. We have made available $165 million in bilateral funds toward meeting immediate needs for economic recovery and democracy and governance programming, and we are looking at avenues to potentially increase these commitments. We are working closely with Congress to increase access to capital available to the private sector, particularly for small and medium enterprises, taking the lessons learned from Eastern Europe to structure a successful Enterprise Fund for Egypt. We are exploring possible expansion of the Qualifying Industrial Zone program, which stimulates growth and deepens the U.S.-Egyptian partnership, as well as evaluating several other options for broader economic support to be responsive and demonstrate clear support of Egypt and its people.
The U.S. Government’s support for democracy and good governance in Egypt is a coordinated effort involving offices at the State Department and USAID. The State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights, Labor and Democracy (DRL) is focusing on political party development, with an emphasis on women, and on technical assistance for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential election, including training poll-watchers and helping nascent parties develop, maintain and represent their constituents. DRL is also working to strengthen independent labor unions because they are key actors in the larger political dialogue. It also supports programs to bolster independent media, including the training of bloggers, women and youth in multimedia journalism, and teaching the nuts and bolts of election coverage. And it helps train civil society groups that will be critical to building the institutions of sustainable democracy and monitoring and protecting human rights. DRL will use a portion of the reprogrammed and repositioned $165 million in Economic Support Funds for Egypt for these activities, and will collaborate with USAID and other relevant offices at State to ensure complementary roles.
In Tunisia, preparations are underway for the election this summer of a constituent assembly that will rewrite the constitution and chart the next steps in the country’s democratic transition. We applaud a number of steps already taken, including the interim Government of Tunisia’s efforts to improve human rights protections and its endorsement of the country’s personal status code protecting the rights of women. Tunisia has prepared a new elections law, and dozens of new political parties are organizing to compete. The United States is committed to helping secure a democratic transition that delivers results and sustainable economic development for all the people of Tunisia. Thus far, the Administration has identified nearly $30 million to help Tunisians build the capacity of civil society, political parties and media, to conduct free and fair elections, to promote transparency and accountability, to support youth employability, and to advance private sector development.
Of the nearly $30 million in assistance targeted to Tunisia, the Department of State’s Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is providing $20 million to support Tunisian efforts during their democratic transition. These funds are being channeled through Tunisian and international NGOs to shape an independent, professional, and pluralistic media sector; build a vibrant civil society; strengthen democratic political parties; develop a sound framework for free elections; enact economic reforms and expand entrepreneurship. MEPI has already awarded initial grants to both Tunisian and international NGOs and continues to seek innovative proposals through a year-long open competition. USAID is providing approximately $10 million in support for the political process. As with Egypt, relevant offices, including in the bureaus of Near East Affairs and Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and USAID are working closely together.
Finally, because trade will be critical to building a more robust Tunisian economy, we are encouraging legal and economic reforms that would facilitate more open trade and private sector investment,
In Yemen, the United States supports a peaceful and orderly transfer of power in accordance with the Yemeni people’s demand for better governance that is more responsive to their needs and aspirations. A solution to Yemen’s problems will not be found through security measures, but through political dialogue, free elections, and more transparent and accountable governance. We urge the participation of all sides, including youth, in a dialogue to reach a solution that will be supported by the Yemeni people. Yemeni citizens, like people everywhere, have the right to demonstrate peacefully, to assemble, and to express themselves without fear of violence, arrest or death. We strongly urge all sides to refrain from violence.
The United States has welcomed the Gulf Coordination Council’s (GCC) initiative for supporting political transition in Yemen. As the situation unfolds, it will be critical to maintain active U.S. support on security, governance, and development to help the government of Yemen to preserve rule of law, maintain and improve service delivery, prepare for presidential elections, and draft a new constitution.
U.S. assistance policy on Yemen is two-pronged: we provide security and counterterrorism support to combat the immediate threat of terrorism, while delivering economic and technical support directly to local communities to help counter long-term drivers of instability, such as unemployment, poverty, and ineffective governance. The current political crisis in Yemen has rendered this work more difficult in the short-term, but has reaffirmed and emphasized its importance over the long-term.
We will continue to closely coordinate our assistance efforts with those of other donor countries. Through the Friends of Yemen process, for example, the United States harmonizes political and economic assistance efforts with partners including the IMF and the UN.
We are deeply concerned by what we are seeing in Bahrain. The operation to clear the streets of protests in March may at this point have restored superficial law-and-order, but now has given way to a campaign of retribution against elements of the political opposition, civil society, professional groups including medical practitioners, and Shi’a community leaders. Close to 600 people have been detained since March 17, including journalists, bloggers, teachers, human rights activists, medical staff, and political activists.
We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Government of Bahrain, and made clear that security operations will not resolve the challenges Bahrain faces. Only a credible, peaceful, productive political process that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Bahraini people will resolve the crisis. Targeting opposition figures for arrest, including political moderates, undermines any attempt by the Government of Bahrain to engage in a national dialogue. We have also expressed our concerns to the other Gulf Cooperation Council members and remain actively engaged with Bahrain and its neighbors, as well as with civil society and political societies inside Bahrain, in efforts to help rebuild trust and to create a climate where a productive political dialogue is possible.
The Administration has consistently spoken out against the Syrian government’s killing, torture, detention, and abuse of peaceful protestors, with President Obama condemning these actions “in the strongest possible terms.” He continued, “This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now…We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups.”
As the Syrian government’s abuses of human rights escalated, the Administration responded by leading the international community in calling a special session at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that produced a strong resolution unequivocally condemning the Syrian government’s use of lethal violence against its citizens. The UN resolution also created an independent UN investigation into the recent violence, and called on the Syrian authorities to release prisoners of conscience and those arbitrarily detained, including lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists, and to lift restrictions on internet access, telecommunication, and international journalists. We have also taken additional, unilateral steps. President Obama issued a new Executive Order specifically targeting individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Syria with financial sanctions, as we recently did in the case of Iran. We coordinated this action with the European Union, and we expect the EU’s imposition of targeted sanctions will greatly amplify the impact of our efforts. We are closely monitoring the status of religious minorities in Syria who are increasingly worried for their safety as the situation destabilizes the country.
Since the protests in Syria began, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has conveyed our grave concerns directly to the Syrian government at the highest levels, and has played a vital role behind the scenes in obtaining the release of American citizens who were arrested by the Syrian security services. Ambassador Ford has also provided invaluable insights for our policy decisions, giving us a window into the thinking of senior regime figures, human rights and democracy activists, and other non-governmental contacts. His ongoing work is particularly important because the Syrian government has banned international media from reporting inside Syria, creating a dearth of credible information about events on the ground.
In Libya, the United States continues to play a critical role in the international coalition seeking to protect Libyan civilians and enforce UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Secretary Clinton and Undersecretary Burns have joined foreign officials in an international contact group on Libya. The united voice of the international community has made clear that there must be a transition in Libya that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Qadhafi from power.
We are assessing options for the types of assistance we could provide to the Libyan people, and are consulting directly with the Libyan opposition and our international partners about these matters, including delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. The United States alone is providing $53.5 million to meet humanitarian needs within Libya and to evacuate and assist those fleeing the violence in Libya. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to the region March 1, initially based in Tunisia and Egypt. Humanitarian assistance experts reached Benghazi, Libya, in early April to determine relief needs, advise and shape the U.S. response, and work with other donors and non-governmental organizations in getting assistance to people in need. Furthermore, the President has agreed to send up to $25 million in non-lethal assistance to the Transitional National Council (TNC) for use by their security forces. The items we are providing will include medical supplies, boots, tents, rations, and personal protective gear. We are continuing to work with the TNC to determine whether there is other assistance we can provide.
Even in Libya, where Colonel Qadhafi responded to his people’s protests with extreme violence and threats of worse, we can see reasons for optimism. Not only in the international community’s success in preventing the imminent slaughter of tens of thousands in the city of Benghazi and mounting international pressure on Qadhafi to end his brutal attacks, but also in the swift and unified international action that enabled this response. As Secretary Clinton noted in her address to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum last month:
In the past, when confronted with such a crisis, all too often the leaders of North Africa and the Middle East averted their eyes or closed ranks. But not this time. Not in this new era. The OIC, the GCC issued strong statements. The Arab League convened in Cairo, in the midst of all of the commotion of Egypt’s democratic transition, to condemn the violence and suspend Libya from the organization, even though Colonel Qadhafi held the League’s rotating presidency. The Arab League went on to call for a no-fly zone… But that’s not all. The Arab League affirmed – and again I quote – “the right of the Libyan people to fulfill their demands and build their own future and institutions in a democratic framework.” That is a remarkable statement. And that is a reason to hope.
The peoples of the Middle East and North Africa have never been immune to the universal yearnings of human beings for freedom, dignity, and opportunity. But now, for the first time, citizens across the region are raising their voices to demand democratic change, and governments are beginning to respond. But all the signs of progress in recent months, and all the potential we see today for a more democratic, stable, and prosperous region will only be realized if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace their citizens’ aspirations for freedom, dignity and opportunity. If leaders engage positively with their people to answer the region’s most pressing challenges – to open their political systems, curb corruption, and respect the rights of all of their citizens – then this inspiring moment will truly be a turning point for the Middle East.
Fundamentally, this moment of profound transformation was generated by the peoples of the Middle East, and they are the ones who will shape their future. But the United States has a stake in their success, and we stand with those across the region who are working for peaceful democratic change. We are committed to the future of this region where we have so many key interests, and we believe in the potential of its people. As citizens and leaders in the Middle East and North Africa move down the path of democratic change, we will support their efforts. And we look forward to the day when all the citizens of the region, men and women of all faiths, are able to have their voices heard, their rights respected, and their aspirations met. We look forward to continuing to work with this Committee and the Congress to help make that future a reality.
MR. CROWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Department of State in Washington, DC. I’m P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. And thank you for joining us for another version of Conversations With America, where we talk about some of the most significant diplomatic and development and international issues of the day.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an important speech on internet freedom. And here to join us today we have Mike Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Welcome.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Pleasure to be here.
MR. CROWLEY: And we have Leslie Harris, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Welcome.
MS. HARRIS: That’s right. Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: So, I should start off by just saying what do we mean by internet freedom, and why is it important in light of recent events, particularly in Egypt?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, the subject of internet freedom for us is about an open media, open internet. We put ourselves on the side of free speech, free expression, free assembly, free association. And in today’s world, the new means of electronic communications give people a greater ability to talk among themselves within a country and to speak to the world. So we’re putting our money behind, and our diplomatic power behind, the notion that a free, open, neutral internet across borders in the world’s interest.
MR. CROWLEY: Unless they – obviously, what we see with what happened in Egypt is both the opportunity that technology represents but also the danger in terms of how that technology can be employed by states as well as individuals.
MS. HARRIS: So, certainly, there’s that danger from states. But on balance, if we’re able to build out a model of the internet that supports openness, that supports innovation, that supports freedom, we’re building the underpinnings of not just democracy but economic growth and personal empowerment around the world. So I don’t think that countries ought to be afraid of the internet, or individuals afraid of the internet, because either – of its potential to be a double-edged sword or the fact that, once you open up a medium, there’s good things that happen and bad things. And we’ve got to move forward on this. I think the United States , Western Europe, countries who have adopted an internet that is basically open for innovation and for business have been transformed and done well. The challenge now is that we have counter-models open for the economic growth and not open for political discussion, personal empowerment, and democracy-building. I think the role for the United States and, frankly, the role for other democracies who have embraced the internet is to make sure that, as the next three billion people come online, that at the end of the day it’s our vision of the internet that we prevails.
MR. CROWLEY: Michael, probably the – picking up on what has happened here with a transformation in Tunisia, in Egypt, how do you interpret the role that the internet or social media have played in the events that we’ve seen over the past few weeks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: A couple of things. One is, in a place like Egypt or Tunisia, the governments had lessened the space for people to organize, to operate, to communicate, to form organizations and have public meetings. So the internet became the town square, the place that they could – people could actually work with one another, communicate, and begin to build a social movement. What we saw in both places is that people – young people, in particular – view the communications via the internet, by mobile phones, as a way to basically organize and form an alternative set of power.
MR. CROWLEY: And we’ve seen that governments have recognized the potential and the power that these tools represent. Now they – in the case of Egypt, they actually literally were able to shut down the entire internet, but it didn’t stop the protests.
ASSISTANT SECRETRY POSNER: Yeah, because this is ultimately about people; it’s not just about technology. People in these societies were – have been and are frustrated by years of not being – having democratic societies, having the ability to participate in their countries’ political life. So they were determined to change. The technology gave them tools to make that process happen faster. And it’s interesting; when the Government of Egypt said we’re going to shut down the internet, they only could do it for a few days because the internet is now an essential tool of commerce, of – it’s essential for every aspect of a modern society. You can’t live without it. And so they essentially had, at some point, to say we’ve got to put it up and running or our whole country’s going to fall apart.
MS. HARRIS: I think that’s really right. There’s this concern about shutting down the internet. And what happened in Egypt was absolutely unprecedented, and I’m not sure that people understand that. There’s enormous blocking of content going on in non-democratic countries. We’ve had sort of sporadic blocking of Facebook or Twitter in – during the Green Revolution in Iran. We’ve had some activities in – I continue to call it Burma – but we have –
ASSISTNANT SECRETARY POSNER: Me too. (Laughter.)
MS. HARRIS: But we have not had this sort of disappearing of the Egyptian country code off of what’s essentially a highly interconnected system. At the end of the day, it was extraordinarily self-defeating, because it just added more flames to the fire of what was going on in terms of the democracy groups, and it was too late. It was really fascinating, because – the Assistant Secretary is correct – it is about people, and the people had already gotten themselves organized.
But it also just destroyed the economy for three days, and I think there’s a lot of lessons that need to be looked at coming out of that Egyptian experience, and I think one question is whether or not the non-free countries will look at that as a solution or they will be more reluctant. And I don’t know the answer to that.
MR. CROWLEY: What was the situation in Egypt prior to January 25? How much penetration had social media and the internet occurred in Egypt?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, we – I was there, actually, a couple of times in 2010 early in the year in January and then in October. And there – we saw throughout the year a growing number of bloggers who were out there raising a range of concerns about torture, about a lot of subjects that had been taboo. The government was cracking down on some of them. I met one guy who had been arrested several times precisely because he was a blogger and people were paying attention. So you could see that the energy was growing around the use of these new technologies to get information out, and the government didn’t quite know how to respond other than to crack down on individuals.
But at a certain point, they lost control of that and many more people started to blog, and these organizations like the April 6 movement began to use the internet as a tool to communicate not only with a small group, but with an increasingly broad group of Egyptian society.
MS. HARRIS: Yes, it’s a fascinating example, because Egypt had not really moved to a highly censored, controlled internet like some countries. They controlled what was happening by prosecutions at the top level, going after bloggers. But people were very discouraged. One of my colleagues was there a couple of weeks before doing some training on internet policy, because ultimately, as these countries change – and I hope we get some opportunity as – with the new Egypt – you have to put the policies in place that support freedom. And they were very dispirited and did not believe that they really had that much power, not withstanding that they all had access to the internet. So to see that transformation happen in a matter of weeks, I think, was extraordinary.
MR. CROWLEY: Now, what should some of those policies be?
MS. HARRIS: Well, policy on the internet starts at a layer that most of us don’t understand and don’t care to. It starts at a standards level, it goes to what rules do we impose on internet service providers, are we going to make them liable for the content that comes over their networks? We don’t do that in the United States. We have a lot of voluntary compliance, voluntary good acting. The same at the applications level; we have strong protections for intermediaries.
We – in this country, we don’t license at the various levels. Other countries do, but you have licensing schemes that turn the entities into basically arms of the government – big, big problem with how Egypt is set up and how those companies had to respond given how they are licensed in that country.
So all the way up to the questions of basic free speech, criminal libel, how much free speech you have – you have to look at these policies, you have to look at the surveillance policies, the surveillance technology mandates. We’re struggling with a lot of the same questions here, and we’ve had hearings in the United States’ Congress this week on some of the same questions.
We have to be very careful, because as Secretary Clinton said in her speech, we do have these big questions – security, freedom, copyright ownership, free flow of information, confidentiality. But now that the United States is out there as much as it is on internet freedom, we have an additional obligation when we’re adopting our own policies that may work here, because we are in a rule-of-law country, to understand what the broader implications could be. And as a country like Egypt, I hope starts afresh, we need to be constantly the role model for struggling with these difficult concerns and coming down, as the Secretary said, on the side of openness.
MR. CROWLEY: Now, there are tensions here. Just as ordinary people use social media to communicate, so do bad actors, terrorists, and so forth. How do we try to balance off the openness, the – having the internet as a true public square, and yet provide sufficient oversight so the government can understand what is being done and try to perhaps stop the internet from being used as a destructive force, even as you encourage it to be used as an empowering force?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think we have to go back to our first principles. We believe in free speech, but we have limits on speech. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. We have concerns about speech that immediately incites violence. So we are – we have rules about pornography and keeping pornography out of the public domain for children, for example. We have to be very mindful that this is – we’ve sort of amplified some of those discussions because of the power of this medium.
But it’s the same discussion. We need to be aware of the challenges, and that – one of the things, I think, Secretary Clinton did this week was to say we stand on the side of openness, but we’re doing this with our eyes open, and we are, in fact, going to be responsible in the way we deal with national security issues, with law enforcement. We’re not going to pretend those things don’t exist, but we’re going to always lean on the side of as much openness as possible and trying to have a neutral venue, a forum, a platform where people can communicate openly. For political purposes, for innovation, for education, for trade, we’re going to try to keep the platform open and neutral.
MS. HARRIS: And we’re not there yet. We are a beacon and we’re not there yet. Obviously, the answer to some of these bad actor questions is we don’t disappear law enforcement out of the equation when we move to the internet.
But in the United States, we’re operating on laws about the government’s access to information online that never – that did not anticipate the environment we’re in now. So if you store something on your computer or in your desk, you have Fourth Amendment protections. For the most part, all that we’re storing online is subject to very low legal standards. So we need to take some actions here to raise the bar, even when we’re talking about these challenges, or we will find ourselves, not in a position to be able to go to the rest of the world and tell them that we have the answers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: One of the things, P.J., last year, Secretary gave a speech on the same subject at the Newseum about a year ago. And it was sort of a clarion call. It was saying this is a big subject, we’re going to be involved, we’re going to play a leadership role.
The speech this week was a more reflective speech saying, okay, we’ve got a year evaluation of this and we recognize that there are all these challenges, these contradictions, if you will. And we’re going to take those things seriously, but we’re going to redouble our efforts to be leaders on this notion of an open internet. So I think it’s an important speech both because it is such a clear call to leadership for us, but at the same time it’s a recognition of the challenges we face.
MR. CROWLEY: No, but is this a case – and how do you balance legitimate, sovereign interests a state might have versus coming up with a standard that is more global? Who will ultimately set the rules of the road?
MS. HARRIS: This is, I think, the biggest challenge for the internet going forward. For the first period of time, it was principally an American creation and it was easier to figure that out. We’re now in an environment, we’ve got – I don’t remember the figures exactly – 2 billion online and perhaps 3 billion to go, and therefore, the challenge is completely different. We operate in an environment where when you put data in the cloud, it could actually be in – anywhere in the world.
So our traditional questions of jurisdiction that the Assistant Secretary and I learned in law school a long time ago – (laughter) – absolutely don’t fit this environment. Questions of which government should have access to the information, which privacy law ought to apply, are enormous challenges. And we have to figure out some kind of global governance bodies that don’t force us into a race to the bottom. There are some calls around the world for governance bodies, like the UN, where we would be negotiating what works on the internet or what ought to work with countries who have very, very different values.
I’m hoping that in the first instance, that we can reach agreement with other democratic governments on what we believe the right policy principles are, so that we can start demonstrating the way that the Internet should be governed cross borders. But the questions of who should manage the internet in a global environment is the thorniest andthe biggest challenge. I know from my organization, we’ve spent 17 years on the 1 and 2.0 versions of this governance question, and now we have to confront this 3.0 question
MR. CROWLEY: I know we’ll come back to that issue as we take some questions from our viewers.
MS. HARRIS: Yes, sure.
MR. CROWLEY: But the Secretary in her speech did start and focus on Egypt, but she also mentioned a number of other countries where perhaps they haven’t hit the kill switch entirely, but they certainly, in the case of a China or a Vietnam or a Burma or others, are restricting access to the internet and access to information. What’s been our experience in those countries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, I think one experience is that we have to – there’s not a one size fits all response to this. Different countries do this in different ways. The Chinese, for example, employ a number of people monitoring what’s out there and taking it down. In the last few days, we’ve seen the word Egypt and the words Hillary Clinton have disappeared from the internet in Egypt – in China. And so that takes a lot of doing in a country with a billion, three hundred million people. I don’t think that’s sustainable.
But we have to be, I think, creative, innovative. We’ve got to use technology, and we’ve got to be responsive to people who are trying in each of these countries to figure out both have to navigate around the restrictions on content and at the same time protect their own personal privacy. What we’ve seen in a lot of countries is that countries – China, again, would be an example, there are many more – governments use technology, use the internet, to put out false information, to dissemble information and also to go after people by taking their own personal information and using it for their own security purposes.
MR. CROWLEY: Now, China reacted to the Secretary’s speech relatively negatively. By the same token, don’t they have a growing number of bloggers who are – and to what extent are they able to find a way to stay connected despite the government’s efforts?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: History is on our side here. This is – in the long term, we’re betting on openness, and we’re betting on a neutral platform where lots of stuff is out there. Some of it we’re going to like; some of it we’re not going to like. But we’re believing that more free speech, more association is in our national interest and the world’s national interest. The Chinese are betting that they can have an internet that deals with economy and things that they’re prepared to talk about, but they’re not going to have that more robust, open discussion. I think that they can’t sustain that.
MR. CROWLEY: Just by the nature of the name of your organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, can technology make societies more democratic in the long run?
MS. HARRIS: Well, I agree with the Secretary. People make countries more democratic in the long run. . Assuming more and people come online and participate, it is very, very difficult to control —- I agree with the assistant secretary. I’m betting on the side of the people, when we’re talking about – I think the numbers are staggering about how many blogs, micro blogs, et cetera exist, staggering numbers. There is no way that technology is going to defeat that over the long run.
The challenge for the United States and for free countries is that we have now these two models of the internet. We have the Chinese model that says we can have economic growth and prosperity because of this new technology and somehow put the political situation aside, and then we have our system. We ought to be using trade, diplomacy, aid all around the world, all the tools that are at our disposal, to make sure that it’s our vision and not the Chinese one that prevails.
MR. CROWLEY: And what do we do in terms of providing support to try to keep people – ensure they have access to the – to these technologies, and, if necessary, try to defeat some of the walls that other countries put up.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, Congress has generously appropriated funds. We’ve spent about $20 million to date. We have a $30 million appropriation. We’re now getting the money out. And what we’re looking at is really three things: trying to circumvent the controls that the Chinese and others put on content, and the second phase is to try to protect – use technology and smart thinking to protect users and protect their privacy and protect their ability to operate, and the third thing is to work with activists and do training and to work country by country, really figuring out what’s the people part of this, how do we figure out who are the prime users, how do we get the right kind of information into their hands, how do we work with them so that they’re effective in the use of this technology in close societies.
We’ve got a lot of places in the world where people simply don’t even know what technology is available to them, and they don’t know what the risks are. We have to be out there in a very thoughtful and smart way, trying to figure out how to help them.
MR. CROWLEY: And what’s the balance, say, a country in Africa, where if you can find a way to connect somebody with a cell phone, to the internet, access to information, that has – one set of circumstances. But then, of course, you have a country like Iran, where if you are seen as helping these groups, actually, in some cases, you can put them in greater danger. How do we achieve both of those objectives?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, it’s not just up to us to figure out how to connect the world. There is a, clearly, fast-moving technological revolution going on, both with the internet and with cell phones. A lot of countries that you mentioned, in Africa and elsewhere, people communicate by mobile phones. So the more that happens, it gives us more of a platform. We then have to figure out within the context of what we can do, how do we make sure that those platforms are safe, free, and effective.
MR. CROWLEY: And then from an NGO standpoint, obviously, government assistance can come with some strings sometimes.
MS. HARRIS: It’s why we haven’t applied* – (laughter) – because we do advocate and we do disagree with our own government. It does come with strings and I think the question – my own board had —we discussed it quite seriously – is independence, not being perceived as being part of the United States Government. From an NGO perspective, having this much money available for this work is an extraordinary thing. It’s a gift – happens to be gift we can’t take. But the NGOs overseas have to figure out for themselves the risk-benefit analysis associated with direct assistance or assistance through NGOs that might be direct recipients.
MR. CROWLEY: And to what extent – I mean, it may vary by country by country and region by region, where in some cases there can be market – generally market forces that will propel this forward and obviously then dealing with the autocratic countries that are actively trying to diminish or control access.
MS. HARRIS: So it is different in different countries. I believe in this technology. We’re the Center for Democracy and Technology, but our motto is innovation, freedom and openness. And so opening – the market forces and opening these societies to the technologies has to go hand-in-hand with the forces of training people how to use them, how to protect themselves. And from my perspective, making sure that people understand what I’m calling rule of law on the internet, which starts with traditional rule of law and then goes to these policy levels that start, as I said, way down in standards, bodies all the way up, layer by layer, to the ISPs, to the applications like Facebook, like Twitter, like Google, to the content providers who ride on top of them, to the individuals who ride on top of that.
Getting the policies right are complex, and it’s not the easiest part of – it’s much easier to sort of talk about circumvention technology, which I believe in strongly. But if what we’re going to do is build democratic internets country by country, we’ve got to start getting people in place who are advocates for all of these laws, policies, technological freedom. They all go hand in hand.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would say, P.J., one of the things that’s great about Leslie’s organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is that they do mix the policy and the technical. We’ve got a world of tech savvy people who kind of do their own thing, and then we’ve got policy people, and they don’t connect as much as they need to. We need advocacy-smart, policy-driven organizations that help push us and other governments to do the right thing.
MS. HARRIS: Well, thanks, Michael.
MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in our audience and some questions that have been submitted to us. I want to go back to this issue of regulation, and if there’s a need for some kind of regulation, who does that? Roger in Florida writes: I’ve read in some news articles that the United Nations wants to regulate or manage the internet. How is the U.S. Government addressing this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We have, I think, a range of anxieties about throwing this issue and many others into the United Nations. We believe in the United Nations; it has a lot of important roles to play. But we have great trepidation that if this became a UN-sponsored initiative, all of the most – all of the governments that have the greatest interest in regulating and controlling content and protecting against dissident speech in their own countries would be very loud voices. So I think we’re looking for alternatives that provide some form of governance but in a broader sense, without the race to the bottom.
MS. HARRIS: Yeah, my anxiety at least as high as the State Department’s on this front. (Laughter.) We’ve done some experiments. ICANN–is one of these experiments in governance essentially a multi-stakeholder body that is not controlled by any government, that run the names and numbering system, the domains. It’s been very, very messy. We’re not – nobody’s comfortable yet with that model. But when we look at the model of turning this over to the United Nations – and specifically here it would be the ITU – we can’t see a good result coming out of that.
And so I think we’re looking for an answer that doesn’t pick a winner. Even our standards bodies that I’ve been talking about were stood up privately by stakeholders; we’re going to have to do a mix of governance solutions public and private;encouraging countries to regulate where it’s appropriate for them to do so in ways that don’t interfere with the free flow of data. I mean, we’ve got countries that are tariffing bits in a way that is difficult just to get the data to flow.
And then we should stand up multi-stakeholder bodies around specific questions – I’m part of the Global Network Initiative, which is an entity for companies to come together with NGOs to talk about their social responsibility, I would like to grow that, like to see more companies participate. But conceptually, it is is not a really a good place for governments to try to get involved. Proposals to do so have not worked very well. And okay, let’s experiment with a , self-governing bodies, government regulation and multistakeholder initiatives, and try to get that mix right.
MR. CROWLEY: But is there a role for the private sector here? I know the State Department, we’ve had some informal conversations bringing business leaders to a country like Syria and said, look, if you actually want to attract significant foreign investment, you want companies to come here and invest here, they’re going to have to have minimum standards to be able to operate. And obviously, one of those would be open connections to the internet because this is how we do business.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah, I would – we had last year a meeting of about 20 big American companies – Bob Hormats, our Under Secretary for Economic Affairs; Maria Otero, who is the global Under Secretary – and we talked to them about a kind of common platform for those companies to come together on issues of internet freedom and privacy. The Global Network Initiative right now has only three of those companies: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They’ve been leaders in this. There are a number of other companies that we all know and think of in this space that ought to be part of that initiative and ought to be part of an effort to really figure out the corporate – the private side of this. I think there is an important role for the private sector.
MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in another question. Maya (ph) W. in the U.S. writes: How can we ensure that the internet will not be shut down again? I was in Egypt during the revolution, and with no internet access, it made things pretty hard.
MS. HARRIS: I think probably Egypt will not shut down its internet again. And I think it’s going to be very, very important early on to get the lessons that came out of that, the lessons for the companies that participated, who had dozens if not hundreds of employees on the ground and understand the choices they made and why. We’re going to look at how the internet is architected. It was amazing in Egypt. There really was a central place you could go and pull a switch. Can’t happen in the United States. We have just too many points coming in and out.
But we have to reach some kind of global agreement about what you don’t do. There have been discussions in the United States about kill switches for the internet for cyber security, and I hope that Egypt is a sobering example in our own debates here. But to guarantee that an Internet shutdown doesn’t happen again is to get an agreement among countries that some actions are unacceptable, whether that’s through high-level norm setting, treaties, I don’t have the answer to that. But a lot more than human rights was damaged by the shutdown. And I think the Egyptians did not begin to understand that.
MR. CROWLEY: Mahmoud (ph) in Bahrain writes that Bahrain is gradually becoming a certified enemy of the internet with wide censorship described as – disguised as protecting citizens from the peril of pornography while the actual sites blocked are any opposition voice during the pro-democracy protests which are just going – still going on as we speak. Seven people have been killed by security forces. The internet has been throttled, making it almost unusable with several black spots, especially in demonstration locations.
How can – what kind of guidance do we give a government like Bahrain? Obviously, they’ve watched carefully to see what’s happened in Tunisia, what’s happening in Egypt, what’s happening in their neighborhood. How would we guide them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think the guidance has to be the same to everybody. We have to have a universal standard. And the standard is we favor an open internet, an open platform. There are a range of issues country-specific. As Secretary Clinton said yesterday about Bahrain, we’re urging the government to respond peacefully. We’ve very concerned about the violence. And we are dealing with those issues, again, involving protest, but with respect to the internet in Bahrain, in China, in Egypt, in the United States, we believe in an open internet, we believe in a neutral platform, and I think we have to – that has to be principle that guides everything we do.
MS. HARRIS: I agree completely, and I think Bahrain, which has got a more modern economy than many of the other countries in the Middle East, is doing itself economic damage as well as human rights damage. But they’re going to learn, as Egypt learned, that once people are organized, it’s about people. And the throttling of the internet now is too late. And they will learn that lesson, I hope, we just have to keep advocating for what we know is right, which is openness. And once you have openness, you have freedom and you have economic innovation.
MR. CROWLEY: Molly G. (ph) in Washington, D.C. writes: How is the United States Government advancing internet freedom in China? Can it be achieved worldwide?
Now, on China, obviously, you have one of the most economically dynamic countries in the world. And yet, obviously, one that does make certain words disappear when it chooses, including Tiananmen Square. There’s obviously tension there, and it goes back to what you were saying earlier about the different bets that we’re making. But how do we know that China is not right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We are doing – we have a relationship with China that includes a range of interests. We have strong economic interests, we have security interests, the human rights issue as well. I think the internet issues and the internet freedom issues transcend all of those interests. And we will continue to. We have – Ambassador Huntsman there has made this an issue that he has pushed out on. He’s met with bloggers. He’s used the internet himself to communicate internally within Chinese and Mandarin – fluent Mandarin speaker. I think our – we will continue to do whatever we can within the constraints of that society to push for more openness. There are a lot of very innovative Chinese activists – internet activists, bloggers – who are determined to get the word out. And they will do – they’re going to be creative, and we’re going to be enthusiastic about their creativity.
MR. CROWLEY: And is there a tipping point here where, as you bring more billions online, eventually, a government and its firewalls – the great firewall becomes overwhelmed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m not a technical expert, but it seems to me we’re getting to the level – there are so – the numbers are so great – 500, 600 million internet users, many more cell phones. There’s a point at which – even a very big economy like the Chinese willing to invest a lot of money in this – there’s a point where you just can’t sustain that – the kind of control that they’re looking for. And we can do things diplomatically. We raise these issues in our human rights dialogues and our strategic dialogues.
But I think we’re really looking at a Chinese population, particularly young people, who are using the internet all the time. They’re using it for entertainment, they’re using it for – to learn things about – for their schoolwork, they’re using it also because they want a broader sense both of what’s going on in the world, and they want to talk about political and social events in China. I think inescapably, that’s the direction it’s going to go.
MS. HARRIS: I think that’s right. The firewall blocks what comes into the country, and more and more people in the country using the Interenet will not affect whether they have a firewall against the data coming in. What will start to get overwhelmed is the internal dialogue that’s going on among the Chinese, the millions of blogs, and in some ways, that’s even more important The people who are blogging are , as Michael said, sophisticated. They’ve been using circumvention technology and understand where to go to find blocked sites that are mirrored elsewhere. And they’re going to lead that conversation. And in some ways, they’ve already tunneled through the rabbit hole and they’re not blocked in, and they’re speaking to everybody else. And ultimately, it’s people in China using technology that will lead to change. I think that the China model is not sustainable.
MR. POSNER: One of the things we saw that was very interesting when the Nobel Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, the democracy human rights activist last year, obviously the Chinese Government was not – wanted to block and control any discussion of that. Many, many Chinese bloggers made it their business to get that word out. It became sort of a cat-and-mouse game, but there clearly were many, many thousands of people who decided this is something that the Chinese people want to know about. And in fact, they do. There’s a great interest. How did the Nobel Prize committee decide that Liu Xiaobo is the guy who got the award? So there’s something going on within China that we really need to be watching again. It’s not – it’s for us to reinforce and support a genuine Chinese desire for openness and freedom.
And – I mean, we think about someone perhaps sitting at a computer, but with a cell phone, becomes one of the most powerful weapons there is in the world.
MS. HARRIS: Yes, although, we should not pretend that somehow having a cell phone makes you less detectable to the authorities. Phone technology, even beginning in our country, has always had greater surveillance capabilities, data collection capabilities. And some of the kinds of tools that we’ve developed for the internet have not necessarily yet migrated to the mobile environment
MR. CROWLEY: And back to Egypt. I mean, they also – as they shut down the internet, they also were making it more difficult for people to use cell phones.
MR. POSNER: Right. And one of the things, again, on the negative side, one of the things we worry about is not only is there surveillance – demonstrators picked up, they grabbed their cell phone and they get the list of contacts.
So one of the things we’re trying to do, and we’re working with some really innovative technology experts, is to try to figure out what are some of the safeguards and things that you can teach and get out there to make sure that people protect themselves in this wired world where people have lots of information that they’re carrying around with them.
MS. HARRIS: And this is where companies come in as well. Routinely companies hold onto the SMS text, not sure why since – very few people are selling texting by the number anymore. It’s very important for companies to be transparent when the government isn’t. So when people get cell phones, they really need to understand what the surveillance capabilities are, what the obligations are to turn over information. And so that’s part of corporate responsibility. Unfortunately, with cell phones, the same way that it’s hard to even get a privacy notice to somebody, it’s a harder place to get that transparency than on the web. But these are the things that companies have to think about when they’re going into these kinds of markets.
MR. CROWLEY: But a company that wants to go into a vast market like China, the temptation will be there to make compromises.
MS. HARRIS: Well, the temptation will be there, and in some cases the legal obligation. What we ask companies to do is to seriously assess the human rights risk before they go in to a country, to think about whether the products and services that they’re providing might need to be different, whether their data practices need to be different, whether their transparency need to be different, and whether their internal processes need to be different .When the government comes calling and you have a single employee – Chinese national in China, an Iranian – what’s the backup plan?
It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to come out right in every case. We can’t ask the companies to somehow fix what’s wrong with these countries. But we can ask them to make best efforts and for this to be something that’s integrated into the way they do business. That’s what GNI is. It’s not telling companies that they have to always defy the government, because there’s some situations where you can’t. And eventually, the Vodafone story will be told, and we’ll be able to assess what they did or didn’t do in Egypt. There is a lot of learning that comes from these experiences.
MR. CROWLEY: And that’s a case where a company was kind of forced to become –
MS. HARRIS: Absolutely.
MR. CROWLEY: — complicit in the sending of messages that actually contributed to some of the violence there.
MS. HARRIS: Right.
MR. POSNER: This is all part of – we live in – the world’s changing so fast, the technology’s a piece of it. The globalized economy’s a piece of it. And we have to find – we have to create rules of the road for this new – and part of its corporate, part of its government, part of its citizens. But it’s happening so quickly that I think we can’t assume that even the conversation we’re having today is going to be relevant two years from now or three years from now. We have to act – we have to act prudently and smart. That’s sort of what the Secretary was saying – let’s get out ahead of these issues, recognize the power and positive nature of these new technologies as a force for human rights and democracy and innovation, et cetera, commerce, but let’s also be smart about how we do it and try to figure out what those rules can be.
MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps a final question: What lessons do you draw so far from the incredible dynamic that’s happening in the Middle East today?
MR. POSNER: Well, this was a – again, my first lesson is there are a lot of people that have a lot of courage and they have a real desire for – to live in free and open societies, and that drives everything. And these new technologies provides some tools to them that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago and that’s hastening the process of change.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay*, what –
MS. HARRIS: So I agree absolutely. And the third point is that these new technologies are also giving them a glimpse of how other people live in a way that further fuels those desires for a freer life.
MR. CROWLEY: On that note, thank you very much for joining us for another session of Conversations with America. I’d like to thank Mike and Leslie for sharing their work and their knowledge with us, and thank you all for joining us.
MS. HARRIS: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: And we look forward to seeing you again for a future Conversation with America.