The United States strongly condemns the unjust and harsh verdict against human rights activist and respected lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran, and calls for her immediate release. Ms. Sotoudeh is a strong voice for rule of law and justice in Iran. We are dismayed by her continued detention and loss of the right to practice law.
Her conviction is part of a systematic attempt on the part of Iranian authorities to silence the defense of democracy and human rights in Iran. It is one in a series of harsh sentences targeting the lawyers of Iran’s human rights community which perseveres despite threats, torture, and imprisonment. We call on the Iranian government to address the international community’s “deep concern at serious human rights violations in Iran” as expressed in the December United Nations General Assembly resolution and to respect its human rights obligations, including its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman,
The United States was shocked and saddened by two recent and brazen murders of human rights defenders in Russia. On January 19, Stanislav Markelov, director of the Rule of Law Institute in Moscow, and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist with the Novaya Gazeta, were murdered in broad daylight in central Moscow. An attorney who spent the better part of the decade pursuing human rights and social justice cases, Markelov had represented Anna Politkovskaya prior to her death in 2006. The murders occurred minutes after Markelov announced at a press conference that he would continue to fight the early release from prison of Yuri Budanov, a former Russian tank commander who was convicted in July 2005 of strangling an 18-year-old Chechen woman. With Ms.Baburova’s death, Novaya Gazeta has lost four reporters to murder or other mysterious circumstances since the year 2000.
We would welcome an initiative by Russia to report to the Permanent Council on the status of their investigations and their efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes, which unfortunately are not isolated cases. If left without justice, the killings of journalists and human rights activists have a chilling effect on freedom and respect for the rule of law in a society.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
I want to thank the Union of Journalists and the Moscow Human Rights Bureau for organizing this event and for the invitation to join you today. The topic of today’s roundtable is certainly timely. Last week’s verdict in the Anna Politkovskaya case and last month’s murder of Anastasiya Baburova have kept the subject of journalist security at the front of all of our minds. The topic is also extremely important. Any contract murder is a terrible crime, but the murder of a journalist in order to silence him or her, has ramifications for society beyond the crime itself. It undermines freedom of the press and freedom of speech, essential elements of any society that aspires to be free and democratic.
In thinking about the public ramifications of a murder, we must never forget that any murder is first and foremost a tragedy for the victim’s family and loved ones. Alix Lambert’s fine Russian-English book, The Silencing, about the murders of six journalists, draws attention to this human element by compiling essays from the victims’ friends and family. Alix’s book is focused on Russia. But, as she writes, silencing of journalists is not just a Russian problem. The United States and other countries too have seen their share of violent crime against journalists. In 1992, New York Mafia boss John Gotti ordered the assassination of a radio talk show host, Curtis Sliwa, as retaliation for public comments Sliwa had made about Gotti. Fortunately, Sliwa survived. Chauncy Bailey, the former editor of the Oakland Tribune, was not so lucky. He was murdered in 2007 in what appears to have been retaliation for articles he wrote exposing local corruption.
And one of the most horrific crimes in recent years was the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. But I am proud to say that cooperation between Pakistani and U.S. law enforcement solved that case and resulted in the conviction of the mastermind, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.
The Pearl case underscores the importance of international cooperation in protecting journalists. Journalists from different countries should share best practices and publicize crimes against their fellow members of their own community. The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists has taken the lead in this area and we laud their efforts. At the same time, law enforcement agencies should share intelligence and evidence and cooperate on investigations, as was done in the Pearl case. And, finally, governments must send an unambiguous message that the murder of journalists will not be tolerated. This is most important to me, that such a message be sent.
I am happy that representatives of all of these communities are present today. I hope that this roundtable will start a U.S.-Russian dialogue in this area and will help both our countries to better protect journalists and the values of free speech for which too many of them have died. We hope that the Russian government will do everything in its power to bring to justice all those responsible for these crimes, and assure it of our full support of those efforts.
Good afternoon. And I wanted to thank (inaudible) for welcoming us all here at the Spaso House. I feel deeply honored to have a chance to meet with you this afternoon and express to you how highly I regard the work that you are doing on behalf of your country and the Russian people. Both President Obama and I want to stress strongly how the United States stands with those who work for freedom, campaign for justice and democracy, and who risk their lives to speak out for human rights.
We believe that Russians yearn for (inaudible) rights, just as Americans and people around the world. I have been encouraged by President Medvedev’s statements towards a more open society and his stated commitment to combat corruption and strengthen the rule of law. He has also acknowledged that Russia’s prosperity is dependent upon responsible governance, because stable economic development is impossible without accountable, transparent governance.
We believe that innovation and entrepreneurship can only thrive in an open society where knowledge and ideas are exchanged as freely as goods and capital. Just as competition in the marketplace fuels growth and better products, political competition produces more accountable governance and better political solutions.
These are causes that many of you have championed for years, and they are vitally important to Russia’s future. A society cannot be truly open when those who stand up and speak out are murdered and people cannot trust the rule of law when killers act with impunity. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 in retaliation for their work. But in only one case have the killers been convicted. When violence like this goes unpunished in any society, it’s undermining the rule of law, chills public discourse, which is, after all, the lifeblood of an open society, and it diminishes the public’s confidence and trust in their own government.
Those of you here today not only understand the risks, you live them. You have seen friends and colleagues harassed, intimidated, and even killed. And yet, you go on. You go on working and writing and speaking and refusing to be silenced. So I thank you and applaud (inaudible) the courage (inaudible) human rights (inaudible), civil society (inaudible), bloggers and journalists all play a vital role in holding (inaudible) accountable (inaudible) abuses of power. And I want you to know that it is not coincidence that President Obama met with a civil society group in July and that I am here with you to underscore a very simple message: The United States stands firmly by your side.
In our discussions with the Russian Government, we continue to express our support for efforts to improve governance and advance human rights (inaudible). Forging this new partnership with your government is only part of what we intend to (inaudible). We seek to deepen ties between our societies and our peoples. We believe they can do both at the same time, because ultimately, we not only wish to have a closer government-to-government cooperation between the United States and Russia, but we hope to build that on a strong foundation of accountable, democratic governance that will be a very clear signal to our own people, to the Russian people, and to the world that we will lead based on values and not just (inaudible).
So please stay in touch with us. We invite your comments, your suggestions, your constructive criticisms. The ambassador and his staff know you all well, and we hope that this will be part of an ongoing dialogue that will enable us to work together and fulfill many of the hopes and aspirations that you represent.
Now, the ambassador has (inaudible) to each of you, so I want to thank you for coming and I look forward to hearing from him directly about issues that you wish to raise with me. And I thank the press for being here today to be a part of this so we can have a very open and personal opportunity.
Today we mark with sadness the third anniversary of the tragic slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. To date, no one has been brought to justice in this case, similar to other cases involving violent crimes against journalists in Russia, including Paul Klebnikov and more recently Natalya Estemirova. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 in retaliation for their work. In only one case have the killers been convicted.
While we welcome calls by Russian officials defending the necessity of a free press, the failure to bring to justice the killers of these journalists undermines efforts to strengthen the rule of law, improve government accountability, and combat corruption.
As the President made clear in his speech to the General Assembly today, the promotion of human rights and democracy is central to his vision of the world we are trying to build. Freedom, justice, and peace in the world must begin with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of individual human beings.
Over the past year, the Administration has helped to advance this vision in the following ways:
Engaging Multilaterally to Advance Universal Values
Taking advantage of our membership, we have used the U.N. Human Rights Council to:
- Extend international mandates to monitor and address human rights situations in several countries, including Burma, Burundi, North Korea, and Cambodia.
- Lead an effort with 55 other countries to criticize the human rights situation in Iran and express solidarity with victims and human rights defenders on the first anniversary of the contested election.
- Champion new resolutions on Guinea and Kyrgyzstan calling for accountability and heightened commitment to human rights protection and promotion in the wake of human rights crises in both countries.
- Press for stronger engagement by the Council and other U.N. human rights mechanisms in Haiti, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and partnered with Afghanistan to build international support for a resolution on preventing attacks on Afghan school children, especially girls.
- Speak out on serious human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.
- Protest politicized efforts of some members to target Israel while ignoring problems in their own countries.
Committing Significant Assistance in Support of Democracy and Human Rights
With our substantial commitments of foreign assistance, we have:
- Invested more than $2 billion in 2009 alone to strengthen democratic institutions, civil society, the rule of law, and free and independent media, including more than $263 million in support of democratic institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our investments in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow to over $310 million in 2010.
- Provided targeted legal and relocation assistance to 170 human rights defenders around the world, through the Human Rights Defenders Fund, providing a lifeline of protection for raising sensitive issues and voicing dissent. Our efforts help to amplify the voices of activists and advocates working on human rights issues by shining a spotlight on their progress.
- Invested in the capacity of local organizations to promote participatory, pluralistic, and prosperous societies in the Middle East and North Africa through the Middle East Partnership Initiative.
Taking Concerted Action in Key Areas
Exercising global leadership, the United States has:
- Created unprecedented transparency in the extractive industries by passing a new law that requires all oil, gas, and mining companies that raise capital in the United States to publish information about the payments they make to governments.
- Urged the G-20 to make corruption a core part of its agenda going forward, with a focus on critical areas including foreign bribery, transparency in the global financial system, visa denial, asset recovery, whistleblower protection, and public-private cooperation.
- Embraced a commitment to Internet Freedom and launched a State Department task force to develop concerted strategies for advancing it in particular countries.
Pursuing Democracy and Human Rights in Our Bilateral Engagement
- China. In May 2010, the Obama administration held its first bilateral human rights dialogue with China. During the two-day meeting, the U.S. exchanged views with Chinese officials on key issues of concern and laid the groundwork for regular experts’ dialogues on legal, labor, and religious freedom issues.
- Colombia. In September 2010, President Obama and incoming Colombian President Santos announced the “U.S.-Colombia High Level Partnership Dialogue,” which includes a robust agenda on human rights.
- Egypt. The Administration criticized the government’s extension of the emergency law in May. Nevertheless, as promised, the government’s narrower application of that law resulted in the release of thousands of individuals detained under that law, including many political activists and journalists.
- Guinea. Working alongside key stakeholders in Guinea as well as international partners, the United States supported Guinea’s first ever successful democratic elections, which will soon culminate in a second round that will transition the country from military to civilian rule.
- Honduras. We assisted the Honduran people and the Organization of American States (OAS) to negotiate a Honduran solution to the restoration of democratic and constitutional order following the June 2009 coup, and have since supported President Lobo in the prevention, response and investigation of politically motivated violence against journalists and other citizens active in civil society.
- Haiti. We have supported efforts by the Government of Haiti and the UN Mission to Haiti to establish security systems in the camps of displaced persons to defeat violent crime, exploitation and trafficking of orphans/children, and prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based crimes. We are currently assisting the Government of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Commission, the OAS and CARICOM to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections in the wake of the devastating January 12 earthquake, with the goal of ensuring a government with a legitimate mandate to govern and reconstruct.
- Iran. The Administration has spoken out on numerous occasions against human rights abuses in Iran, and successfully undertaken actions in the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly to formally condemn the regime’s actions on human rights. The Administration also played a seminal role in forcing Iran to withdraw its candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
- Iraq. The U.S. played a key role in support of Iraq’s successful national parliamentary election held on March 7, 2010. International and independent Iraqi observers expressed confidence in the integrity of the election. The U.S. continues to provide the majority of support to address the needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, and resettled over 17,000 Iraqis to the United States refugees this past year.
- Kenya. Working alongside the international community, the United States supported Kenya’s recovery from the devastating post-2007 election crisis. Through robust high-level engagement, including by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Clinton, and programming focused on conflict mitigation and capacity-building for democratic institutions and civil society, the United States has stood by the people of Kenya as they move to implement the ambitious reform agenda brokered by Kofi Annan in the wake of the violence, culminating in a peaceful and credible August referendum in which Kenyans adopted a new constitution, the centerpiece of the agenda.
- Kosovo. We supported the holding of successful municipal elections in November 2009, marking a significant milestone for Kosovo in building a multi-ethnic, democratic society. The elections enjoyed increased voter participation by all ethnic groups and international observers generally praised the organization and conduct of the election.
- Kyrgyzstan. The United States responded immediately to the appeal of President Otunbayeva for assistance in the aftermath of the April 7 uprising, re-targeting a significant portion of our existing $53 million in assistance to address new priorities, and provided an additional $58 million in assistance following the violence in June. The U.S. has also worked closely with the international community to support efforts to restore stability, and establish inter-ethnic harmony, democracy, the rule of law, economic security and prosperity.
- Russia. President Obama and Secretary Clinton participated in parallel, peer-to-peer civil society summits that were held during the period of our government summits in July 2009, and June 2010. The President and high-level Administration officials also gave interviews to independent Russian media, met with Russia’s political opposition and civil society organizers, and have promoted the rule-of-law and freedom of speech, press, and assembly as essential elements of Russia’s economic modernization.
- Somalia. Following an extensive policy review, the Obama Administration reoriented U.S. policy on Somalia, which resulted in the provision of capacity-building support and democracy and governance training to Somalia’s Somaliland government in advance of its June elections. Hundreds of thousands of Somalilanders turned out to vote in their fourth election, which international observers deemed free and fair.
Statement by National Security Council Spokesman Mike Hammer on Detention of Peaceful Protestors in Russia
The United States regrets the detention of peaceful protestors in Moscow and Saint Petersburg expressing their support for the thirty-first article of the Russian Constitution guaranteeing freedom of assembly. The reports of beatings by people associated with law enforcement, the rough handling of those detained, and deplorable conditions of detention do not correspond to universal norms assuring citizens freedoms of expression and assembly.
Statement by National Security Council Spokesman Mike Hammer on the kidnapping and murder of Russian Human Rights Activist Natalya Estemirova
We are deeply disturbed and saddened by the abduction and murder of respected human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, abducted from Chechnya and found in Ingushetiya today. This brutal slaying is especially shocking coming one week after President Obama met with civil society activists in Moscow, including those from Natalya’s organization – Memorial. Such a heinous crime sends a chilling signal to Russian civil society and the international community and illustrates the tragic deterioration of security and the rule of law in the North Caucasus over the last several months.
We call upon the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for this outrageous crime and demonstrate that lawlessness and impunity will not be tolerated.