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Colombian and US Governments join efforts to help Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Professionals

The closing ceremony for the Second Seminar-Workshop on Leadership Training for Afrodescendants and Indigenous Fellows offered by the Fulbright Commission Colombia to a group of 20 afrodescendants and indigenous fellows in Bogota, will take place on Friday, January 29, 2010. The seminar, developed by the Phelp Stokes Foundation, seeks to train these fellows so they may become future leaders of their respective communities, and pass on their newly acquired knowledge as graduate students to their respective communities. The press is invited to the closing ceremony that will take place on January 29 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the AR Convention Center located on Calle 113 No. 7-80, 2nd floor. The event will be led by USAID Director Ken Yamashita; the director for the Promotion of Higher Education at the Ministry of Education María Victoria Angulo and Fulbright Director Ann Mason.

Fifteen of the twenty participants are afrodescendants and indigenous fellows from the Afrodescendants Leaders Program, the Cultural Studies Program and other such programs financed by the Fulbright Commission, in alliance with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture. This group of professional Fulbright fellows, that will earn Masters and PhD degrees in the United States, come from Quibdo, Bogota, Cali, Tunja, Barranquilla and San Andres and one indigenous professional from the Guajira Department.

Five Martin Luther King Fellows will also participate in the seminar. The MLK Program, funded by the U.S. Embassy, offers English scholarships and leadership training to outstanding university students from Quibdo, Cali, Medellin and Bogota.

 


U.S.-Zimbabwe Bilateral Meeting

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you all for standing by. At this time, all participants are on a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session of the call. At that time, you may press *1 to ask a question. And I’d now like to turn the call over to Ms. Susan D. Page, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Thank you, ma’am, you may begin.

MS. PAGE: Thank you very much. I wanted to let everyone know that the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Johnnie Carson met today with members of the coalition government in a very pleasant discussion on the way forward in Zimbabwe.

He recognized and applauded the economic advances that have occurred in Zimbabwe since the Global Political Agreement was signed two years ago and said that there is no doubt that the country is better off now than it was two years ago when shops were closed and inflation was rampant. He also said that Zimbabwe must now work towards making the same progress in the political sphere that it has seen in its economy. He also acknowledged that while the United States is not perfect, our strength lies in our institutions. And he encouraged the Zimbabwean coalition government to build strong institutions and to continue with political progress, because it’s political progress that will sustain economic growth.

So I’ll stop there and take questions.

OPERATOR: And at this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. You’ll also be prompted to record your name. Please unmute your phone and record your name at the prompt. Once again, it is *1 for questions. One moment, please.

And we do show a question from Celia Dugger of The New York Times. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Ms. Page. How are you?

MS. PAGE: Very well. How are you?

QUESTION: I’m fine.

MS. PAGE: Good, thank you.

QUESTION: I guess I’m just curious – I mean, nothing you said is anything new. Did anything – was there anything new in the exchange? Was there a particular concern (inaudible) anything with Zimbabwe about violence that’s occurring lately, or any conversation with President Mugabe?

MS. PAGE: There was no conversation with Zimbabwe during this meeting, but obviously –

QUESTION: Mugabe, with Mugabe?

MS. PAGE: Sorry. There was no conversation directly with Mugabe, but of course, they talked about the situation in Zimbabwe, and specifically about – from our side, the American delegation talked a lot about the human rights violations, the land seizures, and particularly the recent arrest of the WOZA women from – the women who had been peacefully protesting about the constitutional process and called on senior officials, especially given that this is a coalition government, that they also need to speak out against these types of abuses and not be silent.

QUESTION: Is there (inaudible) to Zimbabweans who are outside the government critical of the – of ZANU-PF? I mean, (inaudible) hearing people say that they think that the sanctions have made – that they play into the hands of ZANU and have – in some ways, could have made the United States irrelevant to the process. I mean, what (inaudible) do you see the sanctions as still playing?

MS. PAGE: Well, first of all, we – I must say that we reject the claim that our sanctions have a broad effect on the economy of Zimbabwe or even on the ordinary – on the lives of the ordinary Zimbabwean.

The sanctions are targeted. They’re targeted towards individuals and towards a few institutions that we believe have been responsible for the policies and the actions that have led to Zimbabwe’s both economic and political decline. We do regularly review our sanctions. We remove people and institutions when we believe that they are no longer posing the same kind of threat. But frankly, as long as these violations of human rights, the lack of respect for civil and political rights of the people of Zimbabwe, as long as they continue, we really can’t lift the sanctions at this time, because people are looking to us as if we are the problem. And we are encouraging the Zimbabweans to look at themselves and address the problems that they’ve brought upon themselves.

QUESTION: So nothing really new in the exchange? Nothing –

MS. PAGE: I mean, look. The reality is they are calling for – unlike when the MDC was in the opposition, they are now also calling for the sanctions to either be removed or suspended and – largely because ZANU-PF seems to have made that a centerpiece of what they are pushing on MDC to deliver.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PAGE: But the reality is this is a political agreement between three parties – between ZANU-PF, between the MDC-Tsvangirai formation, and the MDC-Mutambara formation. And we are not a party to that agreement. They can’t force us to do something that we have decided to do, either via executive order of the president or through legislation.

So – but again, we stress the fact that as long as these violations of human rights, these arbitrary arrests, continued violence and brutality continue, we’re not in a position to lift our sanctions despite how they want to characterize them. And the sanctions that we have, as I mentioned, are very specific. They’re travel bans and asset freezes. And they affect 244 individuals and institutions, companies. That’s it.

QUESTION: Do you know how many individuals – how many of the 244 are people and how many are companies?

MS. PAGE: I don’t have the details in front of me, but if you want, I can get the numbers for you.

QUESTION: All right, great.

MS. PAGE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Once again, as a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. We’re currently showing no further questions.

MS. PAGE: Maybe I could just add, one surprise visitor in the meeting – although as I mentioned, the justice minister, Minister Chinamasa was there, Minister Misihairabwi-Mushonga from the MDC-Mutambara formation was there, Minister Mangoma and others – but the Zimbabwean ambassador to Washington also came, Ambassador Mapuranga. So that was a bit unexpected. And I think if you all will recall, he – Ambassador Mapuranga had called out Ambassador Carson during the Africa Day celebration a few months ago and disrupted a large diplomatic event for the African diplomatic corps by calling the ambassador names – by calling Ambassador Carson names. So that was an interesting show.

But the meeting was very cordial, very pleasant. Unlike I think what seems to be the view that we have suddenly reengaged with Zimbabwe, I’d like to dispel that myth. We have never stopped engaging with Zimbabwe. We have full diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe. They have an ambassador here, we have an ambassador there. We have a very robust program of assistance that we give to Zimbabwe to assist the Zimbabwean people. So we have always been available to speak, to meet, to try to advance our relations. And we were pleased to see this meeting take place, but again, it was hardly a reengagement. It’s continuing engagement. So I think that that was positive.

I just wanted to mention also that this year, U.S. assistance to Zimbabwe was $300 million. This was for health services, safe drinking water, education, agriculture, social protection, and a range of other essential services in line with the priorities of the new Zimbabwean transitional government. And then – that was last year – and then in – following Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s visit to the U.S. in June of 2009, President Obama pledged an additional $73 million. This is for combating HIV and AIDS and for furthering democracy and good governance. So – and then at the same time, in recognition of progress towards macroeconomic stability, the U.S. did not oppose the restoration of Zimbabwe’s voting rights at the IMF.

So these are positive things that we’ve been doing all along, and this was a meeting that was just to further consolidate our good relations.

OPERATOR: And currently, we’re showing no questions on the phone line.

MS. PAGE: Okay.

STAFF: Well, I think that’s – I think we’ll be good to go here, then.

MS. PAGE: Okay. Well, thank you all very much. As I mentioned, it was a good meeting, very cordial, and Michelle Gavin from the National Security Council staff was also present during the meeting, as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Dan Baer. So I think it was a good meeting and a good delegation from the Zimbabwe side as well, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue and helping the people of Zimbabwe.

OPERATOR: This concludes today’s conference. Thank you all for participating. You may disconnect at this time.

MS. PAGE: Thank you.

 
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Car Explosion in Ingushetia Strikes Relatives of Late Human Rights Defender

 

The United States is deeply saddened by reports that four family members of late human rights defender Maksharip Aushev were victims of a car explosion in Nazran, Ingushetia. The State Department posthumously honored Mr. Aushev with its Human Rights Defenders Award earlier this month, for his work shining a spotlight on human rights abuses in Russia’s North Caucasus. We offer our condolences to Aushev’s family and his colleagues who will carry on his courageous advocacy for human rights.

We look to the Russian Government to conduct a prompt and full investigation. We remain concerned about the increasing incidence of violence in the North Caucasus.

 
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Statement about Murders of Human Rights Defenders in Russia

 

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.

 
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Remarks by Ambassador John Beyrle at the Reception for the Committee to Protect Journalists

Thank you for coming this evening to recognize the important work of the Committee to Protect Journalists.   It is an honor for me to welcome Paul Steiger, the Chairman of the Board of the CPJ;   Joel Simon, the  Executive Director;   and of course  Kati Marton,  a member of the board and leader of the delegation.

The Committee’s independence and impartiality is the source of its authority in the United States, in Russia, and around the world. It holds all to the same standards of accountability: the CPJ recently called on the American Secretary of Defense to conduct an independent investigation of the 19 American media workers who lost their lives during the fighting in Iraq.

In supporting the work of the Committee, the United States government makes a clear statement of its commitment to the safety of journalists around the world. As Americans, we deeply believe that a free society depends upon a free press;  and a free press cannot exist unless journalists feel safe. If journalists are afraid to report the truth, the press is not free. If those who threaten to kill journalists are not identified and brought to justice, society as a whole is weakened.

Being a jouralist has been a dangerous profession in many countries including my own. The murder of Don Bolles, an investigative reporter killed by the mafia in Arizona, is a well-known but not unique example. Russian history also has known many journalists and writers who were exiled, imprisoned or killed for criticizing injustice, for exposing corruption, or for simply telling the truth. Many of you here tonight knew Natalia Estemirova. She was one of several journalists who spoke about the murder of innocent people, and other violations of human rights in Chechnya. She was killed in July 2009, and her murder has never been solved.

American journalist Paul Khlebnikov was murdered in Moscow in July 2004. He was the author of several books and many articles about the connections between business and organized crime.His killers, and those who ordered this killing, have never been brought to justice.

In October 2006 an unknown assassin killed Anna Politkovskaya, who was widely known for her reporting about the conflict in Chechnya, and her reporting about violations of human rights.  Anna was a true voice of freedom. Her children, Vera and Ilya, are here with us tonight.

Tonight we recognize the courage and determination of journalists in all countries who seek to report the truth;  and we remember those who have lost their lives because they were not willing to be silent. And we recommit ourselves to work for the day when all journalists around the world can work without fear.

And now it’s my great honor to ask Kati Marton to say a few words.

 


Anniversary of the Death of Sergei Magnitskiy

Today we mark with sadness the one-year anniversary of the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitskiy, who died of apparent medical neglect in pre-trial detention in Moscow’s Butyrsky Prison.

We welcome President Medvedev’s statements in support of judicial reform and rule of law, but note with regret that no one has been charged in connection with this case, despite a Justice Ministry investigation. The United States continues to call for the Russian authorities to prosecute all responsible for Mr. Magnitskiy’s death and protect the fundamental rights of all, including those in prison.

For more information on the human rights situation in Russia, click here.

 


Four-Year Anniversary of Politkovskaya Murder

Today we honor the life and work of Natalya Estemirova, a brave Russian human rights defender and journalist, who was abducted and murdered in the North Caucasus region of Russia on July 15, 2009.

Ms. Estemirova devoted her career to bringing awareness and pressing for accountability for human rights abuses, particularly in Chechnya. The international community justifiably gave Ms. Estemirova a number of awards for her important work. A year has passed since her tragic death, yet those responsible for this horrible crime have yet to be brought to justice. We will continue to shine the spotlight on this case as part of our efforts to protect the brave journalists and civil society activists across the globe who, like Natalya, speak out against abuses and work to secure fundamental freedoms for their fellow citizens.

 


Anniversary of the Murder of Natalya Estemirova

Today we honor the life and work of Natalya Estemirova, a brave Russian human rights defender and journalist, who was abducted and murdered in the North Caucasus region of Russia on July 15, 2009.

Ms. Estemirova devoted her career to bringing awareness and pressing for accountability for human rights abuses, particularly in Chechnya. The international community justifiably gave Ms. Estemirova a number of awards for her important work. A year has passed since her tragic death, yet those responsible for this horrible crime have yet to be brought to justice. We will continue to shine the spotlight on this case as part of our efforts to protect the brave journalists and civil society activists across the globe who, like Natalya, speak out against abuses and work to secure fundamental freedoms for their fellow citizens.

 


Russia: Detentions of Protesters in Russia

The United States is concerned by reports that authorities in Moscow on January 31 once again broke up a peaceful demonstration by Russian citizens. The detention of at least 100 protestors, including prominent human rights defenders and opposition political leaders, together with reports of mistreatment against some of the demonstrators, constitutes another blow against freedom of speech and assembly, which are universal and fundamental rights that deserve to be protected and promoted.

 
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Third Anniversary of Death of Anna Politkovskaya

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.

 
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