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Remarks at Townhall on Human Rights Day

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Thank you. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Department of State. My name is P.J. Crowley. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, or as Stephen Colbert described me last night, an unnamed government functionary. (Laughter.)

I have several purposes here. One is to welcome you all, which I’ve done. The other is to introduce my two very good friends and colleagues, Assistant Secretary Mike Posner, who has an even more challenging job than I do as the State Department spokesman and — as our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Harold Koh, our distinguished legal advisor and my lawyer. (Laughter.)

Now, Mike Posner has some experience with Stephen Colbert as well. He made an appearance earlier this year, did us all proud here at the State Department. But we were trying to prep him a little bit before getting started, and we said, “So, suppose Colbert asks you a question like what got you interested in human rights?” And Michael paused and said, “I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.” (Laughter.)

Now, Harold and I are both Red Sox fans. I’m not sure whether we have anybody here from New England and Red Sox Nation, but we’re doing okay. There have been a couple of key acquisitions here. So – but we can sympathize. I mean, everybody in the world is a Cubs fan, and we can sympathize with that.

But again, we welcome you here. And this is – we welcome you on a particular day, December 10th, which commemorates Human Rights Day and the UN adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But this is something that our diplomats do every single day. And I would pause here and say you don’t need to have a release of a treasure trove of secret documents to hopefully understand that this is the subject of conversations day in and day out by our diplomats all around the world as we – both as we both promote human rights and as we try to meet the challenge every single day of practicing what we preach.

We, the United States, do not by any stretch say – suggest that we are perfect. We are – we have challenging – challenges within our practice of human rights in this country. Now, has anybody here heard of something called the Universal Periodic Review? Anybody here from Arizona? Well, we did, through Michael and Harold and others we did present something called the Universal Periodic Review to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, which was our best assessment of the human rights challenge in this country.

Why did we do it, even though some conservatives in the country said, “Why are you doing this?” Well, again, our practice here at the State Department and within the U.S. Government is to lead by example. And we do recognize that even though we have shortcomings, by the same token, we do respect human rights in this country. In fact, we do see ourselves as a model for others to emulate, and in fact we recognize that many people look to us to lead the way in terms of the promotion and practice of human rights, promoting freedom of association, the freedom to participate in an open political process, the freedom of the press.

I deal with the press every day, and whether you like the press or not — many Americans respect the press but don’t necessarily like what they print. On some days I agree with them. But by the same token, our press are here every day. They challenge the government every day. They hold us to account, and by holding us to account they make us more effective. We do recognize that in other parts of the world journalists are intimidated, they are jailed, and in some cases, tragically, they are killed. So we have built institutions of civil society here in the United States over more than 240 years, and we do see ourselves as an indispensible country in promoting human rights around the world.

We don’t – and we hold ourselves up to that standard. We respect anyone who wants to point a finger at us, and there is this debate going on in the world today about this thing called WikiLeaks, and we welcome that debate. I think that is what distinguishes us from other countries, a country like China, for example, where it is trying to stifle debate, even on a day where we recognize Liu Xiaobo as the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And we respect and salute his courage in demonstrating for a different kind of political system in China.

But with that, we welcome you here. It’s an important subject. I’m going to introduce Mike Posner, who will say a few remarks, and then Harold Koh, and then we will start a question and answer period. I think the Secretary of State’s going to come down for a quick hello to you, and then we’ll continue the Q&A after the Secretary’s remarks. But with that, happy to introduce and bring to the podium Assistant Secretary Michael Posner. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you. Thanks so much, P.J. It’s, first of all, a great pleasure to have you here on Human Rights Day. And we view this, more than anything, as an opportunity to have an open discussion and hear your questions.

Just by way of introduction, to follow on what P.J. said, today we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, now 62 years old, which for the first time provided the world a universal set of standards that apply to everyone, regardless of their nationality, their race, their religion. Everybody, by virtue of their humanity, is entitled to core rights. That document, a single set of standards that we apply to everyone, including ourselves — and as P.J. said, and as Secretary Clinton has said, our aim is lead by example. That document very much the product of Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership in the UN Human Rights Commission, and 62 years later we are still trying to honor her legacy by continuing our engagement on human rights.

The President has talked about principled engagement. We’re engaged in the world on a range of issues, political, business issues, strategic, but human rights is at the center. In every place we operate, human rights issues are raised, and that’s my job, and it’s the job of many people in this Department and in this government. And then finally, we believe very strongly that things in the world change not because you force them outside but because within a society agents of changes — whether they’re women’s groups or the press or an independent judiciary — human rights groups have the ability to create a democratic environment where change is possible.

So the Secretary in Krakow, Poland in July gave a speech which we regard as a kind of watershed for this Administration and this government, where she focused on the role of the nongovernmental sector, civil society, in promoting human rights and spelled out some of the challenges that human rights and other activist groups face in their own societies. That commitment to civil society extends to you. Part of the reason for our having you here and having events like this throughout the year, is our belief that if we’re going to have a democratic country, a truly democratic country, we need to do what we can to engage our own people, our own country.

So we’re delighted you’re here. With those opening comments, Harold and I are really eager to hear your thoughts and questions, and the floor is open. Please.

MODERATOR: And if you would identify yourself that would be great.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Dr. Janet Paker (ph). I am here from Lawrence, Kansas. I’m the executive director of Medical Whistleblower in Lawrence, Kansas, and we did submit a report to the Universal Periodic Review. I wanted to ask you in regards to the Whistleblower Protection Act, currently now in legislative session with the Senate, already has passed the House, and is being debated, I think right now, on the floor of the Senate. It’s S-372.

We are, as a nation, required by the Declaration of – for Human Rights Defenders, the mandate for human rights defenders, to protect those who are obligated to report violations of human rights under treaties that we have signed and ratified, such as CAT, the Convention against Torture. And our federal whistleblowers, those in federal service, many of whom have classified clearances, some of whom are working in the federal prison system, some of whom are working in the BA (ph), some of whom are working in military positions, some who are working in the intelligence community, are especially concerned that they do not have adequate protections right now with the Merit Systems Protection Board and also protections under the Office of Inspector General. And I was wondering if you will be looking at that legislation to make sure that it is in compliance with the Declaration for Human Rights Defenders, mandate 53/144. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going to turn to my lawyer for this one.

MR. KOH: You have a right to remain silent. (Laughter.) Well, let me say I won’t comment on the specific bill. That’s not something that we do in this forum. We will do it with regard to hearings and other things that are presented on the bill. On the basic notion, do governments have – I mean, do individuals have a right to call their governments to account, it’s a core principle of how the U.S. system has operated, notably absent in other countries.

I think if I could just say a word to follow what Mike said, it’s important to realize two things: how radical the notion of international human rights is, that simply by virtue of being born as a human being you acquire certain rights that you cannot sell, that cannot be taken from you, that you don’t have to own property or have a certain amount of money or be a certain skin color or a certain gender to possess. You have those rights simply by virtue of being born as a human being. And that’s a notion that the Universal Declaration recognized 62 years ago.

Now, there are some people in this country and elsewhere who find that concept threatening, to which I would say we hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that that concept is the very concept on which this nation was founded, that this is a nation that is based on human rights, and that therefore has a critical role to play in advancing the cause of international human rights.

Finally, Eleanor Roosevelt did a remarkable thing in her time. And those of you who haven’t looked at her speeches on the world wide web, we’d encourage you to do that. One of the most touching things is that every night during the negotiations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights she would say a prayer, which was reported in a book about her by Mary Ann Glendon, who is a professor at Harvard Law School. It says, “Show me a vision of a world made new.” That’s the title of the book, A World Made New.

The notion was that after World War II, having experienced unspeakable violence and genocide, we needed to have a different vision to animate us going forward in the 20th century. And what she was saying was the concept of recognizing and protecting fundamental human rights for all persons is what the war was about; it was what we were fighting for, and that it’s so important that we have that concept and that the advance of human rights is a measure of whether civilization is advancing or standing still. So I think that on this day, why do we celebrate it, because of an extraordinary idea, radical idea, that was recognized because it is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and because it’s a measure of the advance of civilization both in this country and elsewhere in the world.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Josh Ruebner. I’m the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and I want to thank you for hosting this event this afternoon.

I’m just a little bit confused about the universality of human rights, given that the Obama Administration has now on two occasions – the Goldstone Report and Israel’s attack on the flotilla — worked to prevent the international community from holding Israel accountable for its human rights violations.

So I have two fairly simple questions. Number one, does the State Department believe that there really truly is one human rights standard for all countries to abide by, or is Israel held to a lower standard of account? And number two: Are Palestinians, in the State Department’s vision, considered equal human beings with equal human rights to Israelis? And if so, when is the State Department going to end our diplomatic and military support for Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Harold and I were there in Geneva when the Goldstone Report was first taken up last September. Since then, I’ve been back to Israel twice, most recently last month, to follow up on our work in this area. So let me offer a couple of observations about what you say.

Yes, there is a single universal standard that applies to every country, including our own. We apply it to the Israelis, and we also view – in an answer to your second question – Palestinians as being human beings under the Universal Declaration and entitled to those rights.

We said three things in Geneva and have continued to say them about the Goldstone Report. One is that the report had a number of flaws, which we’ve identified and which, by the way, we’ve discussed directly with Justice Goldstone, who I know and respect. But the report was a document that had a number of flaws. We could discuss that.

Secondly, we’ve said that the UN forum in which that report was taken up, the Human Rights Council, devotes disproportionate attention to Israel and Palestine. It doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t legitimate. It means that, for example, next March the Council will have not one but six different resolutions on that subject. Lots of other things get no attention. Again, it doesn’t say there isn’t a serious issue. It does say that the institution needs to be reformed.

But the third we said, and we continue to say, is that the report included a number of serious allegations, and we called on the parties, including the Israelis, to take those reports seriously and to establish credible accountability mechanisms. We said that a year ago in September, and those have been my marching orders since then. We are discussing with the Israeli Government, including the IDF, the follow-up measures that we believe they ought to be taking, some of which they’ve taken and some not. We regard it as a serious issue.

And frankly, there’s a broader issue, which I’m increasingly focused on, which is the way in which the international community and governments and international institutions deal with the very real phenomenon in the 21st century of what are called asymmetrical urban wars. We face that. I faced it in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many other countries are fighting a new kind of war. And I think one of the things we’re urging the Israelis, we’re trying to do ourselves, is to take a fresh look at what are the maximum civilian protections, what are the maximum ways that humanitarian law can be enforced in these urban settings.

This is not an easy subject, but I can assure you that more than few minutes have gone into trying to address that. I’m committed to continuing to do it, and I have the support of this Department and this government to do it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. I’m Tommy Grandon (ph). I’m in Consular Affairs now, but you’re quite right. It’s been a long haul. I was a staff assistant back in 1968 for President Johnson’s commission on the celebration of the anniversary of the human rights treaties, and I just would like to historically pay tribute to not only Alice Holsted (ph), who was a co-chair with Avril Hariman (ph), but also our executive director James Green (ph), his assistant Steve Shot (ph). And you can’t talk about human rights or women’s rights without mentioning in the same breath Gladys Tulet (ph). Human rights is hard, and you said today is 62 years. I was there on its 20th anniversary, and we’re still chugging along. Please keep it up. Thank you.


QUESTION: I’m Mark Hangman (ph). I’m with U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Thank you for having us here today, and I just want to recognize how amazing it is to have people with your credentials in and commitment to human rights working in this Administration. Unfortunately, the United States has not ratified the most widely recognized human rights treaty in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I’m just wondering what the prospects are of the Obama Administration getting that treaty package together and shipping it to the Senate so the Senate can take it up in the not too distant future. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going back to my lawyer.

MR. KOH: Well, I think it’s an important point. We very much want to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have ratified two protocols connected to it, which was an important step. I think that one of the things that we have to explain to those who are not in our political system is that to ratify a treaty takes not just the support of the executive branch and the support of civil society but the support of 67 senators, which is a super majority, which means that a relatively small number of senators can prevent a treaty from being ratified.

That does not prevent us from trying to move into full compliance with the treaty before we get to the point when the actual ratification occurs. And so I think as we said at the Universal Periodic Review, the difficulty of our political mechanism often leads to the opposite pattern in our country from some other countries. Some other countries ratify first then comply either later or never. Our country tends to try to move into compliance, and then when we have achieved that, at that point it becomes possible to get the political support to get the ratification.

That’s not a reason why we will not push for those ratifications. We do not believe the objections to the Convention that have been made by others are well founded. We think the Convention is something that should, indeed, be ratified by the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would just say just one other point on that. Senator Durbin’s Human Rights subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, I guess, last week or the week before on CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Melanne Verveer, who is the Ambassador for Women’s Issues here, testified on that. Secretary Clinton has made it very clear we’re going to continue to push on that.

And there’s also the relatively new Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, and we are moving forward also to try to tee that up in a place. So these are priorities for us. As Harold said, the political reality makes it challenging, but it’s not stopping us from doing what we can to be – and get those things in place so when the moment is right we’re going to able to really push forward.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name Sumej Sudani (ph) and I’m a student at Georgetown University. And my question is, recognizing the fact that we are in a war in terror and the fact that America is perceived, if not believed to be allied with nations that do not promote human rights, I wanted to ask if there are moments – or if the United States should put its national security interest before human rights, and if so when?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: When I said earlier that the policy of this Administration, articulated by the President and the Secretary of State, is that of principled engagement, it precisely is aimed at addressing that question.

I was with the Secretary last week in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Those are all countries where we have important security interests at stake relating to the war in Afghanistan, but there are also human rights issues. And those issues were raised. We’ll continue to raise them.

I think the challenge for this or any administration is to be clear that we have a range of issues with all sorts of governments, and we’ve got to be able to be multifunctional. We’ve got to be able to say, yes, we have security interests, but that’s not going to prevent us from raising the human rights concerns. And we did, and we did it very forcefully.

MR. CROWLEY: Just to add to that, this should – this is never an either-or situation. We have a range of interests with countries. We don’t have one approach to a country and – we look at what can be the most effective means of helping to transform the practice inside other countries. Well, how do we best influence them?

In a case of North Korea, a country with which we have profound human rights concerns, we do not have diplomatic relations with that country and we try to work those both in our public statements and in the dialogue we have with other countries, such as China, which has a relationship with North Korea.

In other countries, we may well have and do have well-founded human rights concerns, but we’ve made a judgment that we can best effect change in those countries from working with that country. You look at an Indonesia, for example, where we have a growing relationship, and through our cooperation and engagement we have, in fact, been able to help transform how Indonesia looks at and holds to account those within government who may be a suspect of human rights abuses.

At times we have pulled back from cooperation and made it clear that our future relationship, our future engagement, our future support, will depend on change and that we hold that country to account.

And through this involvement and having people on the ground helping to demonstrate to them this is how you have a military that relates to broader society; this is how you can create a civil society that can hold government to account but not necessarily be a threat to government. And we believe that we have had influence in various countries around the world.

Michael is going to Vietnam, which is a country where we have transformed our relationship, and while we have come a long way over 35 years, human rights is fundamental aspect of our dialogue expressly because we still have concerns about how the government – the actions the government takes with respect to its own population.

MR. KOH: And since I’m the lawyer on the panel, I hope you don’t mind if I try to narrow the terminology. You said we’re in a war on terror. We would say we’re in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces, which Congress approved in a statute that it passed in September 2001.

The President made clear a year ago today that – in his Nobel Prize lecture, that he does not like to be fighting an armed conflict, but that’s not a choice that he made. It was a choice that was presented to him, and that he’s deeply committed to fighting that armed conflict consistent with our values, because he believes that fighting that conflict consistent with our values makes us both safer and stronger. And among other things, he rejected the use of torture as a tool in that armed conflict and committed himself to pursuing that armed conflict consistent with the rule of domestic and international law.


QUESTION: Hello. My name’s Victoria (ph), and I’m a law student at Northeastern University School of Law, and I’m currently here in Washington as a legal fellow with the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty. And my question is with respect to the conversation in Geneva about the reduction of homelessness and poverty.

And as usual, we reaffirmed our commitment to that – to reducing shelter and food and security. However, we seem to continue to conceptualize that problem as one that is best solved through aspirational policy goals. However, that doesn’t generally seem to be having the effect of precluding states from passing laws that criminalize various activities that are performed by homeless people, life sustaining activities such as sleeping or collecting cans for money for food. Isn’t it time that we maybe re-conceptualize our understanding of food, and shelter, security as human rights as opposed to simply aspiring to solve the problems through various encouraging policies, if you understand what I mean?

MR. KOH: Well, I think – I certainly believe that we have human rights to freedom from want. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt said in 1941. I think that was incorporated in the Universal Declaration, the first part of which had to do with civil and political rights, and the second part which had to economic, social, and cultural rights. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question in 1972 under our domestic law and did not find a constitutional right to be free from poverty, and that has led to a different trend in our domestic constitutional law.

But there are some countries in the world, and ours is one of them, in which polices and pursuing particular policies can then lead to legal change. for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act that has actually led to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – I think the Secretary is here, so I think it probably might be a bad idea for me to keep talking. (Applause)

MR. POSNER: Earlier today we presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to three, four great Americans, and we were delighted that Secretary Clinton led that ceremony. When introducing her, I said that very much as we’ve been talking today about the American — U.S. role, leadership role, in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Eleanor Roosevelt’s role, we feel very proud to be led here at the State Department by someone who very much follows in Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership tradition, a woman who needs no introduction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


Presidential Proclaimation: Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week


In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  More than 60 years later, the Declaration reflects the world’s commitment to the idea that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  As Americans, this self-evident truth lies at the heart of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights.  It is a belief that, while every nation pursues a path rooted in the culture of its own citizens, certain rights belong to all people:  freedom to live as they choose, to speak openly, to organize peacefully, to worship freely, and to participate fully in the public life of their society with confidence in the rule of law.

Freedom, justice, and peace for the world must begin with basic security and liberty in the lives of individual human beings.  Today, we continue the fight to make universal human rights a reality for every person, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or circumstance.  From the freedom to associate or criticize to the protection from violence or unlawful detention, these inherent civil rights are a matter of both pragmatic and moral necessity.

The challenges of a new century call for a world that is more purposeful and more united.  The United States will always speak for those who are voiceless, defend those who are oppressed, and bear witness to those who want nothing more than to exercise their universal human rights.  Our Bill of Rights protects these fundamental values at home, and guides our actions as we stand with those who seek to exercise their universal rights, wherever they live.  Countries whose people choose their leaders and rely on the rule of law are more likely to be peaceful neighbors and prosperous partners in the world community.

Part of the price of our own blessings of freedom is standing up for the liberty of others.  As we observe Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week, let us recommit to advancing human rights as our common cause and moral imperative.  Let us continue to stand with citizens, activists, and governments around the world who embrace democratic reforms and empower free expression.  Together, we can advance the arc of human progress toward a more perfect Union and a more perfect world — one in which each human being lives with dignity, security, and equality.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 10, 2010, as Human Rights Day; December 15, 2010, as Bill of Rights Day; and the week beginning December 10, 2010, as Human Rights Week.  I call upon the people of the United States to mark these observances with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

              BARACK OBAMA


Remarks at the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award Ceremony

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Welcome, everybody, and happy Human Rights Day. Please have a seat. Sixty-two years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which established, really, for the first time, the universality of human rights – every human being entitled to rights because of their humanity.

That effort was led by a great American, Eleanor Roosevelt. And in the spirit of that great American, I present to you another great American who carries on that tradition, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. Thank you all. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

Thank you and welcome to what is called the Treaty Room. And I want to thank Assistant Secretary Posner. And although December 10th is the day when we commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thanks to people like Mike and everyone here in this room who works with us at the State Department and across the Administration, every day is Human Rights Day. And we take that as a very serious challenge and mission. And Mike and his staff are doing a tremendous job championing human rights and the values that we cherish here at home and around the world.

And of course, I’m thrilled to do anything that is associated with Eleanor Roosevelt. I am always delighted to speak about the life and legacy of someone whom I admire so much. And it is a great privilege to see her grandson, James Roosevelt, Jr., here to be with us – (applause) – and Allida Black, who has made it her life’s work to edit the Eleanor Roosevelt papers, which might not otherwise have come to such prominence. (Applause.) And we have representatives here from the Departments of Justice and Defense and the White House and especially the families and friends of our honorees who have loved and supported them through so much.

I also want to begin by recognizing the brave men and women around the world who are being persecuted, jailed, or tortured today as we speak for promoting human rights and freedom. We remember them every single day and among them is the Chinese writer, Liu Xiaobo, who has now been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Liu was not there, as you know, to accept the prize, and nor was his wife nor anyone related or connected to him because he is serving an 11-year prison sentence on charges related to his peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy. And we continue to call for his release, and today, we call for the release of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. (Applause.)

In Cuba, the determined women of Damas de Blanco have endured harassment, beatings, and arrest as they march every week, as they once again did yesterday, in support of their husbands and sons who are longtime political prisoners. In Zimbabwe, activists have been arrested, abducted, or beaten after calling attention to human rights abuses and the plight of the poor. And unfortunately, I could go on and on. And there are so many places where we don’t yet see the realization of the rule of law and the recognition of the basic freedoms that are universal.

These rights that are being denied people are written plainly and simply in the Universal Declaration, because Eleanor Roosevelt stood for a basic principle. The language of a document intended to be universal had to be so clear that anyone could understand it. And if you read, as I do, international treaties and agreements – (laughter) – you know that the fact Eleanor succeeded was nothing short of a miracle. So I hope that people around the world, including those of us in our government, will celebrate this day by rereading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reconfirming our commitment to work in any way we can to make good on its promise, which includes the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.

In the past two years, I have traveled literally hundreds of thousands of miles, visited 77 countries, and have advocated for human rights everywhere from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan. And the array of issues that we are working on seems to broaden as we grapple with problems that were not on people’s minds when the declaration was drafted.

Now of course, Eleanor Roosevelt and the other drafters understood that human rights means much more than just political freedom. She wanted to honor the inherent dignity and value of the human being, which to her meant equal rights for every man, woman and child; freedom from want and fear; the opportunity for every person to develop his or her full God-given potential. And it is up to us to harness these ideas to meet the challenges that we now face. So therefore, we must speak out when people are not free to vote or practice their religion; when girls are trafficked or married against their will; when boys are forced to become child soldiers.

This year, our diplomats have worked on food security and the need to nourish all babies in the first vital 1,000 days of life. We’ve worked on internet freedom, international disability rights, ending sexual violence as a tool of warfare, diffusing ethnic tensions, and so much more. And we are particularly focused on helping those who are on the front lines in their own countries. And we try to think very hard about what strategy will help and not just get us a headline or get us attention, because that’s not the goal. The goal is to make it possible for people who are very brave, in ways that many of us cannot even imagine, actually realize their full freedoms.

Now, our four honorees have each been pioneers in expanding our understanding and practice of human rights work. Each stood on the shoulders of the generation that went before, and each touched the lives of people who had been excluded or marginalized.
When Louis Henkin began law school in 1937, the term “human rights” did not exist in international law. The words were used only colloquially. But over the next six decades, Lou Henkin changed that. He breathed life into the new human rights movement and pioneered the study of human rights law as a discipline. After clerking for Judge Learned Hand and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Lou began his career in the State Department’s – (laughter) – Bureau of UN Affairs. And he was the U.S. negotiator for the Refugee Convention. He himself had fled the Soviet Union with his family at the age of five and he described himself as a Jewish refugee from communism.

He picked up the intellectual challenge thrown down by Eleanor Roosevelt’s generation – take the rights that had been asserted at the United Nations but were still only theoretical for so many – and weave them into the fabric of international law. He did it at the State Department, as an advisor at the United Nations, and as a law professor. And along the way, he famously refuted the notion that a government could invoke national sovereignty to justify denying the inherent rights of its citizens. Lou was an intellectual giant, and as many of his former students in this room can attest, he was legendary for being both honest and kind. We mourn his passing in October, and I would like to offer my sympathies to his beloved wife Alice and their children. But Alice, we could not honor Lou without also honoring you.

Alice Hartman Henkin was one of only six women to graduate from Yale Law School in 1957, and in so doing she put some real cracks in the glass ceiling for people like me. For three decades as the director of the Justice and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, she has brought together lawyers, business leaders, and educators to help shape U.S. policies on human rights, international law, and peacekeeping. And she helped train more than 300 judges, including four Supreme Court justices in international human rights law.
Lou and Alice were full partners in integrating the United States into the international human rights system. People say that Lou and Alice were like FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Laughter.) But ironically, Lou was more like Eleanor, the lawgiver — (laughter) — while Alice has been like Franklin, whose political skills brought these values into the consciousness of generations of U.S. officials.
So I now have the great privilege of presenting Alice with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to Louis and Alice. (Applause.)

Alice, could you say a few words?

MS. HENKIN: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I’m happy to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award on Lou’s behalf. My only sadness, of course, is his inability to accept it in person. As a great admirer of Mrs. Roosevelt, he would have been especially pleased. Lou was also an admirer of her husband, Franklin, and often referred to FDR’s Four Freedoms speech to Congress in 1941, noting in particular the third freedom, freedom from want.

I will quote very briefly from an article Lou wrote in 1997 in the Texas International Law Journal about that third freedom. Quote: “For many the U.S. system of rights is deficient in that it does not guarantee freedom from want. The place of economic and social rights and U.S. jurisprudence and policy has been unsteady. Indeed, the sentiment that economic, social, and cultural rights are not rights has spread, and reluctance to assume international obligations to realize them has remained strong. However, the United States has joined in promulgating and promoting the economic and social rights through the universal declaration. But economic and social rights are not part of the U.S. Bill of Rights and are not guaranteed by other provisions in the Constitution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on the other hand, recognizes not only the civil rights rooted in natural law and the political rights associated with democracy; it recognizes also the economic and social rights associated with the welfare state: a right to food, housing, health, education, leisure, social security, and work.” End of the quote. Then he goes on to support the U.S. ratification of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights. But that’s for another day. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: When the torch of human rights advocacy is passed from the Eleanor Roosevelts to the Lou and Alice Henkins of this world, and then again to a new generation of activists, it takes a very special person to pick up that challenge. Well, Wade Henderson is such a person. He has spent his life working on grassroots change, first, as Eleanor said, “in the small places close to home” and then on national and international scale. There is scarcely an American civil rights issue that Wade hasn’t touched as an advocate, a scholar, or a community leader. He’s worked on civil liberties, District of Columbia voting legislation, and workers’ rights. He helped past the Hate Crimes law that President Obama signed last year.

The Leadership Conference Wade now has has 200 organizations as members, and its mission is to promote and protect civil and human rights of all people in the United States and to foster an open and just society. And this year Wade also offered his considerable wisdom as the United States prepared our first-ever report on our own human rights record at the Human Rights Council. Above all, Wade is a bridge builder. He understands that our diversity is our strength, and he knows how to bring diverse communities together to achieve common goals. That really does make him a distinguished diplomat as well as a civil rights and human rights activist.

I want to welcome his wife Marsha, who is here today for this special occasion. So please join me in congratulating Wade Henderson as I present him with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. (Applause.)

MR. HENDERSON: Thank you. Good afternoon and thank you. And thank you, Madam Secretary, for those gracious words and Assistant Secretary Mike Posner. I cannot begin to tell you how humbled I am to receive this award in the name of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose devotion to civil and human rights gave birth to a set of universal principles that continue to transform our world for the better.
I’m honored to share this recognition today with Sarah Rial and the late Professor Louis Henkin and Alice Henkin. I had the privilege of studying with Professor Henkin at the Aspen Institute. It was Alice who arranged my participation. I’m deeply honored. It was Professor Henkin and Alice together that were the giants whose work provided the intellectual framework for the growth of the modern human rights movement.

I have some very important people here with me today, and before I go on I’d like to give them the recognition that they deserve, starting with my wife Marsha Henderson, my daughters (inaudible), my uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Wade, colleagues from the David A. Clark School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, where I’m proud to be the first Joseph L. Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law. And I want to thank my colleagues at the Leadership Conference to whom I owe so much, both those who are here and those who are not.

This award really belongs to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations working together for an America that’s as good as its ideals. Fittingly, the Leadership Conference was founded just two years after the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And while we spoke more frequently about civil rights than human rights for most of our history, our work has always encompassed both, so it was only natural that we formally added human rights to our name earlier this year.

It is in this spirit that the Leadership Conference took the lead this year in seeking Senate ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Woman. And we are equally committed to the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If our country is to continue to lead on international human rights, the U.S. should be as committed to these treaties as I know Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Posner are as well. (Applause.)

And as Secretary Clinton said, we were proud to be a part of the Universal Periodic Review effort of the United States before the UN Human Rights Council. It was extraordinary to be among such a diverse group of dedicated individuals, some of whom I have known and worked with for many years, representing the human rights achievements of our great nation. It demonstrated, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said of human rights – and I quote – “Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Thank you, Madam Secretary, for this extraordinary honor and thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Like Lou Henkin, Sarah Cleto Rial came here as a refugee. She was actually displaced twice: first from her home in Southern Sudan because of the civil war; and then from Khartoum, because her work in calling attention to wartime atrocities against women made her a target. For refusing to wear a head scarf, Sarah was once picked up and paraded around Khartoum in a police truck.

Sarah arrived here in 1999 under the refugee laws that Lou Henkin had helped create. She soon began working for a Massachusetts NGO, My Sister’s Keeper. They built a school for girls in Southern Sudan, and they started programs to train teachers and teach adult women how to read. And now they have created a network of 250 women’s peace activists from all over Sudan.

These women hail from ethnic groups that have been at war, but they have come together to lobby the various military factions for peace. These women are tired of war and want to be part of ending it. We’ve talked about this at the United Nations, and we passed Resolution 1327 recognizing the importance of women in peacekeeping. But it takes a person like Sarah to make it happen – someone who flies back to Sudan, kisses the tarmac from which she fled, and starts building peace from the ground up. Tonight, Sarah and her colleagues are headed off to the Nuba Mountains to continue grassroots efforts to build peace and stability.
Sarah is joined today by her three sons and their father and her sister and a wealth of friends, Sarah – (laughter) – from everywhere. So please, give the honor of presenting this award to you. (Applause.)

MS. CLETO RIAL: Thank you, Senator Clinton, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations to my fellow honorees, Mr. Henderson and Mr. and Mrs. Henkin for the extreme exemplary leadership in the field of human rights. I am extremely honored to receive this award.

I would like express my special appreciation to the people of the United States of America. I would not have been here without the willingness of this great country to welcome me as a refugee. I came here to this country fleeing conflict and seeking sanctuary 11 years ago. Thank you, my fellow Americans.

I want to thank my family, my sister, who drove all the way from Atlanta to be here with me this afternoon, my sister-in-law (inaudible), and my children who missed school today – (laughter) – to be here. Thank you so much. My special appreciation to my sisters from My Sister’s Keeper, whom have been my inspiration throughout my work with them, and I really especially honoring my mentor and our regional (inaudible) Gloria White-Hammond who is here with us. (Applause.) They work so hard and they care about women who are 10,000 miles away from here. Pastor Gloria, Lee, and Geneva, thank you so much for being here with me.

This prestigious award is not for me personally. I accept it on behalf of the 525 resourceful students at the Kunyuk School for Girls, the 200 resilient adult women who are learning at the Women’s Peace School, and most importantly, the 200 resilient and the hardworking women who are part of the members of the Sisterhood for Peace Network. And I’m so honored to have my sisters from the Sisterhood Network here with me today. Thank you for taking this time to be here and to work together collaborating across traditional boundaries to promote peace throughout all Sudan. Together, we are forging multiple pathways to sustainable peace in our beloved Sudan.

This award is a tribute to the countless Sudanese women worldwide, who for decades have traveled through long years and many wars in Sudan. We have endured hardships and contributed much to our country, but we have always been relegated to the shadow. This award allows us to come out and tell you and tell the world that Sudanese women have been and are here to ensure that there is lasting peace in our homeland.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said – and I want to tell you, my Sudanese sisters, that this here, this is our award. This is your award. And Eleanor said, “Women, whether subtly or vociferously, have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world.” Today, as women, we seize our power and we claim our destiny in Sudan and in the world. We will achieve our human rights, and we will build peace in our country and throughout the world.

Thank you. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you, Sarah, and congratulations to you, to Wade, to Alice. The stories we’ve heard today are deeply moving, and they show that the struggle for human dignity does bear fruit, even though it sometimes takes years or even decades to achieve. They’re a reminder that we must measure progress over that time.
I just want to end with one story about Secretary Clinton, who’s been working on these issues since she was a student. Back in 1998, when she was First Lady, she presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, and she told the audience about a village she had visited in Senegal. USAID was running a program there and some of the women had come together to press their village to stop the practice of female genital cutting. The concept was radical and so was the notion of the First Lady of the United States talking about it.
Earlier this month, we got an email letting us know that the number of villages in Senegal that have stopped this practice has now swelled to 700. And what’s more, the women have built on their initial success and are working to curb the practice of child marriage in their communities.

So I’m honored, really honored, to have joined Secretary Clinton in honoring your courage and your efforts to chart new pathways forward in the decades to come. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)


The Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will commemorate Human Rights Day by presenting the Eleanor Roosevelt Award to four American human rights defenders for their contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights both in the United States and abroad. This year’s honorees – Professor Louis Henkin, Alice Hartman Henkin, Wade Henderson, and Sarah Cleto Rial – were selected for the extraordinary work they have done to improve human rights, both at home and abroad.

Secretary Clinton’s statement in commemoration of Human Rights Day can be found at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/12/152623.htm

The Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights was established by Secretary of State Albright in 1998, at the direction of President Clinton. The Award honors U.S. citizens who, like Eleanor Roosevelt herself, advocate tirelessly for human rights, both at home and abroad.

  • PROFESSOR LOUIS HENKIN (posthumous) For more than 50 years, Professor Louis Henkin was a major figure in developing the study of human rights law and inspiring generations of legal scholars, government officials and activists.
  • ALICE HARTMAN HENKIN For three decades, as the director of the Justice and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, she has brought together lawyers, business leaders and educators to help shape U.S. polices on human rights, international law and peacekeeping.
  • WADE HENDERSON A tireless civil and human rights leader and advocate, Wade Henderson has led the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as its president and Chief Executive Officer since 1996.
  • SARAH CLETO RIAL A native of southern Sudan, Sarah Cleto Rial is the program director for My Sister’s Keeper, a Boston-based Non Governmental Organization that works to advance political, social and economic justice for women and girls in Sudan.

Remarks at Human Rights Day Town Hall

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wanted to come by and welcome and give you a little bit of a respite from hearing from the three advocates for human rights, each in their – in his own way truly devoted to the work that we do here at the State Department. And in particular, on this day, I want to thank Mike Posner and everyone in DRL who works with him and for all that you are doing. I want to thank Harold Koh and everyone in L who keeps pushing, pushing, and trying to make sure that our human rights policy continues to lead the world. And I want to thank P.J. Crowley and everybody in his shop who have to explain everything we do or don’t do, which is sometimes the most difficult of all tasks.

But mostly, I came by to thank you, members of civil society, human rights organizations, college students, Hill staffers, State Department colleagues. Thank you very much. Because we thought it was important to really have a chance on this day where we commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a vote of 48-0 in the United Nations, the very core concept that each of us, all of us, are born with equal and inalienable rights.

Those words hearken back to our own Declaration of Independence, which was such an incredible, historical event in addition to representing the very best of our values and aspirations. But from the beginning, the United States has recognized that our rights are inextricably bound up with the rights of others. And we remain committed as a nation, and certainly in the Obama Administration, to working toward realizing a world that was envisioned by both of these declarations, in which every person has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.

Those of us in this great Dean Acheson Hall who lived through the civil rights movement, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid, and so much else knows that these singular achievements are by no means the work of governments alone. In fact, it took civil society pushing governments, and sometimes pulling them against their natural inclination, to just protect the status quo. It took groups of citizens in shipyards and lunch counters and even prisons to keep prodding the conscience of governments and the rest of us.

So for the United States, supporting civil society around the globe is a crucial priority. I made that clear in a speech I gave last summer at the Community of Democracies in Krakow, where we laid out an agenda of support for civil society, because we think it’s not only a matter of good global citizenship, but it’s a key to advancing so many of our national security priorities.

So we intend to make engagement with civil society a defining feature of our diplomacy. We’ve asked our embassies and missions around the world to develop strategies to elevate support for and protection of civil society. Next year, I will launch the new strategic dialogue with civil society to bring together representatives from government and civic groups for regular consultation, just as we do in our strategic dialogues with other countries.

We have seen increased efforts by governments to restrict civic space, whether in Cuba or China’s efforts to somehow divert the world’s attention from the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony today. We really know that we have our work cut out for us. And in Krakow, I called on the UN Human Rights Council to do more to protect civil society and announced the creation of a new fund for embattled NGOs. And I want to thank Lithuania, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Czech Republic for their pledged contributions to this fund and for joining us in providing a lifeline to NGOs under siege. We also have worked with a coalition of countries on the Human Rights Council to create a new special rapporteur on freedom of association.

Now, just last week, Mike and I were in Central Asia, a place where civil society faces severe challenges. And we worked hard to give civil society a voice at the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. And in each country, from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, I met with the brave men and women who are committed to improving the lives of their fellow citizens, often at significant personal risk. These meetings, as they always are for me, were inspiring and deepened my appreciation for the difficult work that you and many others on the front lines of human rights and civil rights actually face every day.

As Mike said, earlier today, I presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights to outstanding individuals: Sarah Cleto Rial, an activist who sought refuge in the United States from Sudan; Wade Henderson, with whom I have worked over many years; and Louis and Alice Henkin, who together helped to promote and protect human rights in international law. And so we’re working to lead by example and hold ourselves accountable. And actually, we’re trying to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenge that America should be the best possible mirror of democracy that she can be.

So this year’s State Department Human Trafficking Report, for the first time, graded our own efforts as well as others. Last month, we presented our own human rights record as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. And just as we ask other governments to work with civil society groups, we also held a special event to allow NGOs from around the world to speak directly with officials from 12 different federal agencies, and we webcast the proceedings.

We’re doing that and a lot more, but we need your advice, your support, your recommendations, your constructive criticism, because we want to help. Human Rights Day is a celebration of you and of what you are doing, and it is also a reminder and a challenge about how much more we all have to do.

So with that, I will turn you back to the triumvirate at the front here to take all the hard questions, because I am moving on. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.


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