We condemn the assassination of Kurdish opposition leader Mishaal al-Tammo and the vicious and unprovoked assault against prominent opposition figure Riad Sayf in Syria. The United States strongly rejects violence directed against peaceful oppositionists wherever it occurs, and stands in solidarity with the courageous people of Syria who deserve their universal rights. These acts lay bare again that the Assad regime’s promises for dialogue and reform are hollow. Today’s attacks demonstrate the Syrian regime’s latest attempts to shut down peaceful opposition inside Syria. President Assad must step down now before taking his country further down this very dangerous path.
It is also notable that these acts of violence took place just three days after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution calling for international human rights monitors in Syria in the face of brutal repression. The United States will continue our efforts to mobilize the international community in support of the Syrian people’s democratic aspirations, and work with allies and partners to apply pressure on the Assad regime.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Good afternoon. Let me tell you how pleased I am to be back in Santo Domingo. And I am grateful to our hosts, the Government, and people of the Dominican Republic for the leadership in making the Pathways to Prosperity ministerial a success. I’m also pleased to be here with our ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who understands firsthand how important it is that we continue to stress our efforts to help people escape poverty, achieve prosperity, and build better lives for themselves and their families.
And through the Pathways program, that is exactly what we are doing, by sharing best practices, by embracing good policies, by making it clear that we are going to close the inequality gap in this region, that we’ve had good economic growth, but it hasn’t done enough to lift the many millions of people who are still living in poverty into a better life. We have refocused our objectives. We’ve strengthened our partnerships. We’re working with the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Today at the ministerial, we have adopted a declaration and a plan of action that clearly lay out both the mission of Pathways and the concrete steps we are taking, and we are looking forward to meeting next year in Colombia. We have four pillars for our work: empowering small businesses, facilitating trade, building a modern workforce, and promoting sustainable business practices and environmental cooperation. And I applaud those nations who are serving as co-chairs for these pillars: the Dominican Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay.
We are going to keep working together to translate our intentions into actions. And to help make that progress, earlier today I announced that the United States will commit up to $17.5 million to fund projects that foster inclusive economic growth in the Americas. We already dedicated $5 million during the past year to support a number of successful projects under Pathways. And we’re going to work to increase trade, which is why just a few days ago President Obama submitted to Congress three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. We are hopeful that the Congress will act swiftly to approve them, along with trade adjustment assistance.
Well, we know what works. We’ve got the models that are proving themselves. Now we have to replicate, adapt, and expand those to all of our citizens.
Again, let me say how good it is to be back in the Dominican Republic. I am blessed to have a number of friends here. And this country is a close partner and friend to the United States. We work together closely to pursue our shared security and prosperity through Pathways, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, the Open Government Partnership, and so much else. This is a relationship we highly value. So again, I am pleased to be here and to have this opportunity to make progress together on our shared goals.
Now I would be happy to take some questions. So, Mike, let me turn it over to you.
MR. HAMMER: We have time for two questions from the U.S. side and two questions from the Dominican side. Is Brad Klapper from the AP – pose the first question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, could you describe your feelings after Russia and China vetoed the UN resolution condemning Syria last evening in New York? I wonder if it’s particularly disappointing to you after the lobbying effort you pushed with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And with this route effectively blocked off, where do the United States and its international partners go from here to stem the bloodshed?
SECRETARY CLINTON:Well, Brad, frankly, we believe that the Security Council abrogated its responsibility yesterday. It has a responsibility to protect international peace and the security of civilians. The resolution voted on yesterday represented the bare minimum that the international community should have said in response to the months of violence that the Asad regime has inflicted on the Syrian people.The countries that chose to veto the resolution will have to offer their own explanations to the Syrian people, and to all others who are fighting for freedom and human rights around the world. We note the striking distinction between those Syrians who stand peacefully for change every day in cities across their country and those countries that would not stand with them on even one day in one city yesterday. So the United States and our European allies have made very clear where we stand on this issue, and we think that the people who joined with us from four continents to express our condemnation and call for an end to the violence, and to begin a peaceful transition to a new democratic, non-sectarian Syria are on the right side of history.
In the meantime, those countries that continue to send weapons to the Asad regime that are turned against innocent men, women, and children should look hard at what they are doing. Those nations are standing on the wrong side of history. They are protecting the wrong side in this dispute, and the Syrian people are not likely to forget that, and nor should they.
MR. HAMMER: All right. The next question (in Spanish).
QUESTION: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that every country in our region is unfortunately affected by the scourge of drug trafficking and the criminality of drug traffickers. No country is immune, and every country must do more to prevent the spread of drug trafficking and the criminal elements who profit from the misery of people.
So we work closely with our colleagues and counterparts in the Dominican Republic. We will continue to do so. Strengthening security for citizens and against criminal elements remains a very high priority. That’s why we are working together in the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. We are partnering with the Dominican Republic’s military to help strengthen its ability to combat narco-trafficking, and we will be very clear about what our expectations are because we know that the people of the Dominican Republic deserve to lead safe, secure, peaceful lives free of the terrible violence that drug traffickers inflict.
We also know that drug trafficking goes hand-in-hand with corruption. And corruption is a cancer in any society. It needs to be addressed and eliminated. So we do support the Dominican Republic’s participatory Anti-Corruption Initiative, which is the kind of program that can help to strengthen governance and increase transparency and improve the institutional capacity of the security forces in the Dominican Republic to defeat the challenge posed by drug traffickers.
So we will continue to work together, but we will also continue to expect that those who are on the front lines of protecting the people of the Dominican Republic or anywhere in the region, are held to a high standard of accountability. Otherwise, we will not be successful.
MR. HAMMER: All right. The next question goes to Andy Quinn of Reuters.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, UNESCO said today that it will allow its full membership to vote on a Palestinian bid for membership later this month, which some say could be a back door to UN recognition of their statehood. Do you think the U.S. should withhold its funding for UNESCO or even drop out of the organization if this happens?
And we are now almost halfway through the one-month timeline that the Quartet gave for resuming direct peace talks. Do you have any reason to be optimistic now that the Israelis and the Palestinians will make that deadline?
SECRETARY CLINTON:Well, first, with regard to the action in UNESCO, I have to state that I find it quite confusing and somewhat inexplicable that you would have organs of the UN making decisions about statehood or quasi-statehood status while the issue has been presented to the United Nations. I think that that is a very odd procedure indeed, and would urge the governing body of UNESCO to think again before proceeding with that vote because the decision about status must be made in the United Nations and not in auxiliary groups that are subsidiary to the United Nations.Having said that, you know where I stand. It is unfortunate that there is a policy to pursue recognition of whatever sort through the United Nations rather than returning to the negotiating table to resolve the issues that will result in a real Palestinian state, something that the United States strongly supports and wants to see as soon as possible. But we know that there cannot be a state without negotiations.
What is the boundary of this state that is being considered by UNESCO? What authorities does it have? What jurisdiction will it be endowed with? Who knows? Nobody knows because those are the hard issues that can only be resolved by negotiation. And unfortunately, there are those who, in their enthusiasm to recognize the aspirations of the Palestinian people, are skipping over the most important step, which is determining what the state will look like, what its borders are, how it will deal with the myriad of issues that states must address.
With respect to the question about the United States’s response, we are certainly aware of strong legislative prohibition that prevents the United States from funding organizations that jump the gun, so to speak, in recognizing entities before they are fully ready for such recognition. So it is still our hope and our strong recommendation that we take this to the appropriate forum, which is the negotiating table, and take it out of international organizations that are basically engaged in actions that are not going to change the lives of the people that deserve a state of their own, namely the Palestinians.
MR. HAMMER: Okay. The last question (in Spanish).
QUESTION: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that we should start with the recognition that the Dominican Republic was extraordinarily generous and helpful to Haitians after the terrible earthquake. The Dominican Republic, both through the government, through its military, through its private sector, through private citizens, was one of the earliest responders to the terrible tragedy that befell on the Haitian people. So we know that in its most terrible time of need, Haiti received help from the neighbor who shares this beautiful island with it.
I’m well aware that there are very serious concerns about the human rights of Haitians, and in particular those who have been here long enough to be – to have been born here and lived here. And we don’t dispute that every nation has a right, a sovereign right, to establish the laws concerning its border security, concerning its nationality, but we also believe that every nation has an obligation to protect the human rights of migrants. And therefore, there must be a resolution that recognizes those human rights, and we hope that we can encourage the Government of the Dominican Republic to look for ways to resolve these outstanding issues of residency and citizenship.
I know there’s a debate about what would happen to migrants who were stripped of their naturalized residency rights. I know that the Haitian constitution seems to suggest that once a Haitian, always a Haitian, and always the right to be considered a citizen of Haiti. So these are very difficult, complex issues, and the United States is a friend to both Haiti and to the Dominican Republic, and we want to encourage the fair resolution of these issues so that people’s rights are recognized, but also a nation’s right to control its borders and its internal laws is also respected. Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: That concludes our press conference.
U.S. Statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Syria, 12th Session
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Syrian government’s gross violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people and its continued violent and deadly repression of peaceful protests.
The Syrian national report touts its human rights record and states that its people enjoy fundamental rights and legal protections, but for over four decades, Syrian security forces have operated with impunity, directed by unaccountable dictators, immunized by unjust laws and protected by a politicized judiciary. The Syrian people remain unable to achieve their aspirations or enjoy universal human rights despite more recently announced reforms that have no purpose except to provide cover for the government’s continued atrocities.
The Syrian government responded to peaceful protests by killing over 2,900 civilians in the past seven months in military and security operations, using tanks and heavy weapons. The Syrian national report states that freedom is a sacred right guaranteed by the constitution but even as we speak, the Syrian people continue to suffer mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture and targeted killing of civilians. A government that fails to respect the will of its people, denies the fundamental rights of its citizens, and chooses to rule through terror and intimidation, cannot be considered legitimate and must step aside immediately.
Bearing this in mind, the United States has the following recommendations:
1. Immediately end violations of international human rights law, including violent reprisals against peaceful protestors, political activists and their families;
2. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience;
3. Expeditiously permit international humanitarian missions, human rights observers and media unrestricted access within Syria, including the HRC Commission of Inquiry; and
4. Allow a Syrian-led transition to take place that will initiate change in laws and lead to the formation of an inclusive and representative government that adheres to the rule of law and upholds the rights of members of religious and ethnic minorities.
The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the Iranian government’s continued repression of its people. Despite statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader and President claiming support for the rights and freedoms of Iranian citizens and people in the region, the government continues its crackdown on all forms of dissent, belief, and assembly.
We are particularly concerned by reports that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is facing execution on charges of apostasy for refusing to recant his faith. This comes amid a harsh onslaught against followers of diverse faiths, including Zoroastrians, Sufis, and Baha’is.
Iran’s government continues to arrest journalists and filmmakers. They are restricting access to information by jamming incoming satellite broadcasts and filtering the Internet.
The United States stands with the international community and all Iranians against the Iranian government’s hypocritical statements and actions, and we continue to call for a government that respects the human rights and freedom of all those living in Iran.
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco, for your briefing. Mr. President, we face a grave and growing threat to international peace and security in Syria today. The Syrian people have moved the world with their aspirations for democracy and universal human rights. But the Asad regime has met their calls for change with cruelty and contempt. Asad has deliberately chosen to use repression and force against unarmed civilians. Thousands of innocent people have already been killed in cold blood, and countless more have been wounded, scarred, and maimed. The Asad regime’s crackdown has grown even bloodier in recent days, and anyone who still doubts the regime’s true character has only to look at the havoc and destruction it has unleashed in the streets of Hama and Deir al-Zour.
Last week, the Security Council finally came together to speak out clearly. Asad has plain international obligations to meet. He must immediately end the crackdown, stop using force against civilians, fully respect the Syrian people’s human rights, and comply with international law. He must heed the Syrian people’s legitimate aspirations and concerns and let them assemble freely, speak out without fear of reprisal, and exercise their fundamental freedoms. He must permit full and unfettered access to humanitarian agencies and workers and cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In failing to do so, Asad is not just ignoring the will of his own citizens. He is not just ignoring urgent calls to end the bloodshed from the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, regional leaders from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, and religious leaders such as the head of al-Azhar. He is also ignoring the tide of history. All across the Middle East and North Africa, brave men and women are standing up for the rights that all of us have but not all of us can exercise. Regimes that meet peaceful and legitimate demands with tanks, guns, and clubs will themselves lose all legitimacy.
The crisis in Syria has already rippled across the region. Refugees fleeing the Asad regime’s onslaught are huddled in Turkey. The Syrian government has risked wider violence by trying to provoke distractions along its frontiers with its neighbors. Asad has breached the most basic rules of diplomacy by sending thugs to attack diplomatic missions. And the Asad regime’s policies of repression and deep reliance on Iran increasingly risk dangerous spillovers of sectarian and other tensions into neighboring nations. We are particularly concerned by the continued flow of arms to Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu said Friday that Turkey had intercepted a shipment of arms from Iran to Syria. We urge all states not to supply the Syrian regime with the arms it will surely turn on its own citizens.
The United States is working together with its international partners to bring greater pressure to bear on the Syrian regime through further coordinated diplomatic and financial measures. We are also working with our partners to stem the flow of the weapons and ammunition that Syrian security forces, under Asad’s authority, continue to use against peaceful protestors. Our Ambassador remains in Syria, where he will continue to speak out against the gross abuses being committed by the regime-and challenge the propaganda it continues to peddle even as it denies access to journalists, human rights groups, and international fact-finding missions.
Mr. President, we now face a growing crisis because of a handful of ruthless people who value their grip on power more than the lives of the Syrian people. Over and over again, Asad has refused to respond to the legitimate aspirations of ordinary Syrians. Over and over again, he has relied on torture, corruption, and terror rather than embracing democracy, liberty, and reform. Through his own actions and choices, Asad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past. The brave people of Syria will determine their country’s future, and Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition is complete.
We commend the Secretary-General for his forthright denunciation of the regime’s violence and his plain conversation last weekend with Asad. We would like to see the UN take further steps to help resolve this crisis, including perhaps sending a senior UN official to Damascus. We support the idea of a briefing by the High Commission for Human Rights, and we remain determined to work with our fellow Security Council members to ensure that this Council meets its responsibilities.
Chairman Chabot, Ranking Member Ackerman, Distinguished Members of the Committee: thank you for inviting us to appear before you today to discuss the Iranian and Syrian governments’ continuing and worsening abuses against their own people.
As people across the region are taking stock of their governments, we see in the Syrian and Iranian regimes a parallel failure to respond to or respect the will of their citizens. Our concerns about these countries’ horrendous human rights abuses are longstanding, but never has their repression been more flagrantly at odds with the realities of the region – the irrepressible demands for democracy and fundamental human rights that have already swept two leaders from power. The United States has played an essential leading role in demanding an end to this repression, enlisting the international community’s support for fundamental human rights in the region, and leveraging our resources to support the peoples’ demands for justice, freedom and dignity. We have used new authorities to single out and sanction those most responsible for these abuses and have encouraged other countries to do join us in this effort. Going forward, the United States will expand our efforts to answer the call of Syrian and Iranian citizens that their governments be held accountable for their actions.
As a prime example of its contempt for dissent, the Iranian regime has held the de facto leaders of the Green Movement, former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest without charges since February. Many from the second-tier leadership of the Green Movement-affiliated entities remain imprisoned or have fled Iran, and their family members have been intimidated, attacked, and detained. This has left the Green Movement beleaguered and scattered. Although demonstrations are rarer, government intimidation didn’t stop the Green Movement last February from demonstrating in solidarity of their kindred spirits protesting government oppression across the Arab world.
In Syria, a committed, peaceful grassroots opposition movement has rapidly emerged in response to the Asad regime’s brutality. Last March, security forces fired upon demonstrators calling for the release of children held for weeks for simply writing political graffiti. That brutal act sparked the collective outrage of the long-oppressed Syrian people. The growing momentum for change, which has drawn people from across Syria to participate in peaceful demonstrations, is now well into its fourth month.
President Asad and his regime have responded with gunfire, mass arrests, torture and abuse. Human rights organizations report that more than 1,800 Syrians have been killed and over ten thousand jailed, while security forces hold the Syrian people hostage to a widening crackdown. Through high-level intervention, Ambassador Ford and Embassy Damascus have secured the release of ten Americans who had been detained on security grounds since January.
Amnesty International has reported killings and torture by security forces in the town of Tell Kalakh near the Lebanese border in May. Residents reported seeing scores of males including some elderly and under18 being rounded up. Detainees described brutal torture, including beatings, prolonged use of stress positions and the use of electric shock to the genitals. Human Rights Watch interviewed 50 witnesses to the weeks of violence in Daraa, and reported that member of various branches of the mukhabarat security forces and snipers on rooftops deliberately targeted protestors and that victims had lethal head, neck and chest wounds.
But in spite of this intense repression, the Syrian people have lost their fear. They have not backed down. They are continuing to take to the streets to demand freedom, respect for their basic rights, and a transition to democracy. Beyond demonstrations, we have also seen the opposition organize itself and begin to articulate an agenda for Syria’s future, recognizing that the strongest Syria is one in which all citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity, are equal participants. And for our part, the Obama Administration has articulated clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing invested in the Bashar al-Asad regime, which has clearly lost legitimacy, most importantly in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have taken to the streets. A peaceful and democratic transition would be a positive step for Syria, the region, and the world.
It is up to the Syrian people to determine what the next chapter holds for Syria, as the pages turn toward a new future for this country. President Asad can delay or obstruct it but he cannot, however, stop it. As Syrians chart their own future, we hope to see the participation of and respect for all of Syria’s ethnic and religious groups. The United States, and the international community, want to see a Syria that is unified, where tolerance, respect for human rights, and equality are the norm. This is the message that Ambassador Ford is delivering to the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people.
Even as the Syrian military and security forces have besieged communities, conducted mass arrests, targeted emergency medical responders, tortured children, shot peaceful protestors with impunity, cut off water, internet and telephone services, and barred an independent media, people have found ways to get their word out, through reports, images and videos taken by brave demonstrators and smuggled out.
In bearing witness to these terrible abuses, the United States has and will continue to play a crucial role. Demonstrators have peacefully protested for over a month in Hama, where over 10,000 Syrians were killed in 1982 by President Asad’s father Hafez Asad. The people of Hama kept their peace despite their tragic history and the provocation of the government forces besieging the city. We know this precisely because our representative to the Syrian people, Ambassador Ford, toured Hama and reported seeing no protestors carrying weapons, nor damage to government buildings. We also know through Ambassador Ford’s reports that, contrary to the promises from President Asad to end the emergency law and follow proper judicial procedures, the government has carried out sweeps and arrested dozens of peaceful demonstrators in Hama, and reports of torture in custody are well documented. Our diplomatic presence and watchfulness is an important way for us to gain independent knowledge of the facts, to show support for Syrians’ rights, and to speak directly and plainly to the Syrian government about the need to change course.
Returning to Iran, more than two years since that country’s disputed presidential election, Iranian authorities persist in harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, and imprisonment of their citizens, as well as some of ours. Targets include those who demand accountability from their government and who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens; ethnic and religious minorities; journalists, women’s rights activists, bloggers and students.
Unfortunately, the situation has only further deteriorated in 2011. Protestors were killed in Tehran in February and in ethnically-Arab areas in April; political prisoners are held in deplorable conditions with convicted murderers in former stockyards; those released from prison are forced to pay exorbitant bail sums or often released with conditions such as long bans on travel or work in their field; additional sentences were levied on those already in prison merely for sending letters to family members; mass executions of mainly ethnic minority prisoners have been carried out without their families’ knowledge; at least 190 people have been executed this year, more than in any other country in the world except China; restrictions on speech have intensified; journalists and bloggers continue to be targeted by the regime for daring to write the truth; teachers and other workers are harassed and incarcerated when they seek freedom of association and payment of wages owed; trade union leaders remain imprisoned on questionable charges; politically-active students have been banned from universities; entire university faculties deemed un-Islamic face threat of closure; and, recently, female journalists and artists have been arrested for merely practicing their profession.
Particularly troubling is the deepening persecution of religious minorities. On May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali tried 11 members of the Church of Iran, including Pastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of “acting against national security.” This month, Iranian courts ruled that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani must recant his Christian faith or face the death penalty for apostasy. In March, over 200 Gonabadi Sufis were summoned to courts around the country to answer allegations that they were insulting Iranian authorities. In April, eight other Sufis were re-arrested on charges of disrupting public order – charges for which they had been punished with flogging and imprisonment. The Iranian government also continues to arrest and harass members of the Baha’i faith.
As the Iranian and Syrian regimes have expanded their repressive tactics, we have expanded the scope of our efforts to challenge these governments’ deplorable human rights violations. We have designated 11 Iranian officials and three government entities for serious human rights abuses in accordance with the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act and, as the act requires, we are actively seeking more information on possible targets. Separately, on July 8, the United States and the United Kingdom imposed visa restrictions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals who have participated in human rights abuses in Iran. Iranian officials subject to this visa ban include government ministers, military and law enforcement officers, and judiciary and prison officials.
Responding to the atrocities in Syria, President Obama signed two executive orders. The first, E.O. 13572, signed on April 29, targets those responsible for human rights abuses and the repression of the Syrian people. The second, E.O. 13573, signed on May 18, targets senior officials of the Syrian government because of the ongoing crackdown and refusal to implement political reform. These two authorities were used to impose sanctions against President Asad and senior Syrian officials responsible for human rights abuses. In addition to President Asad, the sanctions so far have designated the Vice President, Prime Minister, ministers of interior and defense, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and director of the political security directorate. Other U.S. sanctions target President Asad’s brother and two cousins, the Syrian military and civilian intelligence services, its national security bureau and the air force intelligence, as well as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Qods Force and senior Qods force officers that have assisted the Asad regime in suppressing Syrian civilians.
It is no coincidence both Iran and Syria have responded to their citizens with similar contempt and brutal tactics. As the latter designation shows, we know that the Syrians have employed Iranian help in curbing dissent. This has exposed a strident hypocrisy on the part of the Iranian regime, which has tried unsuccessfully to take credit for democratic movements in Egypt and elsewhere and laud protesters when it suited its strategic interests, but has materially helped the Syrian government crush its own protestors in order to preserve their ally. The Iranian regime’s false narrative is further exposed even as the regime continues to smother its own domestic opposition.. Nevertheless, hundreds of brave Iranian citizens continue to engage in the most basic but critical of human rights work, documenting and reporting on abuses, with the hope that one day Iranian government officials will be held accountable for crimes they have committed against their fellow citizens.
In the case of Syria, we have seen the regime play a cruel double game designed to divert attention away from people’s demands and justify the regime’s monopoly on power. Asad is exploiting fears of sectarianism and factionalism by surreptitiously fomenting violence of an intentionally sectarian nature, while at the same time cautioning Syrians not to rock his carefully guided boat. As a consequence, deadly violence has at times taken a purportedly sectarian shade. This has only left more blood on Asad’s hands.
We view these incidents as further evidence that President Assad’s government continues to be the real source of instability within Syria. He has promised reforms but delivered no meaningful changes. He talks about dialogue, but continues to engage in violence that proves his rhetoric hollow. Assad has made clear that he is determined to maintain power regardless of the cost. And the human toll is mounting.
Nevertheless, the Syrian people will not be distracted – they have shown they will not cease their demands for dignity and a future free from intimidation and fear, and they are countering the regime’s propaganda falsely accusing them of seeking that division and ethnic strife. Asad has made occasional conciliatory gestures, but to date these starts have not been credible, sustained, or made in good faith. The regime’s promises of reform have been shown to be false by the continued arrests and shootings of peaceful demonstrators.
The European Union and other nations have joined the United States in enacting sanctions on key regime figures in Iran and Syria to hold their leaders accountable for the violence. We continue to urge more nations to join our call, in bilateral and multilateral settings, to shine a spotlight on these countries’ gross violations of human rights. We also urge other countries to press Iran on its abuses in their bilateral diplomacy. An international consensus is forming to mobilize greater diplomatic pressure on these regimes. We successfully prevented both governments from joining the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) after they had announced their candidacies and have appropriately used this forum to draw the world’s attention to their offenses. And in the U.N. General Assembly last year, we helped win passage of a Canadian-led resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses by the largest margin in eight years. At the March session of the HRC, we led a successful effort to establish a Special Rapporteur on Iran, the first country-specific human rights rapporteur created since the Council came into being, and last month, the Council confirmed former Foreign Minister for the Maldives Ahmed Shaheed at that position. This historic action sent an unmistakable signal to Iran’s leaders that the world will not stand passive in front of their systematic abuse of their own citizens’ human rights. More importantly, the Special Rapporteur serves as a critical voice for those Iranians whose own voice is repressed because of their political, religious, and ethnic affiliations.
In a Special Session in April, the HRC also condemned the ongoing violations by the Syrian authorities. The Council called on Syrian authorities to release prisoners of conscience and those arbitrarily detained, and to end restrictions on Internet access and journalists. It also established an international investigation led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, though President Asad refuses to allow the monitors mandated by the Council to enter Syria. In the June HRC session, the United States joined Canada and more than 50 other countries in a forceful joint statement that again condemned violations committed by the Syrian authorities and called for credible, independent, and transparent investigations into these abuses, accountability for those who perpetrated such abuses, and unfettered access to the UN High Commissioner’s mission to investigate the many allegations of human rights abuses. The High Commissioner will present a report on the human rights situation in Syria in the September session.
We have been working assiduously with other members on the UN Security Council to obtain a resolution condemning the ongoing atrocities being committed by the Asad regime. We are aware that some key Council members oppose such a resolution, but we are moving to forge consensus and will press for a vote.
Our efforts to support the Iranian and Syrian people as they seek to exercise their rights have been consistent and sustained. Just as we do throughout the region, we work with civil society organizations to support their efforts to defend human rights and to advocate for change. We help them expand political space and hold their government accountable. We provide training and tools to civil society activists in Iran and Syria, and throughout the world, to enable citizens to freely and safely exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly on the Internet and via other communication technologies. In cases like Iran and Syria, where governments have good reason to fear the spotlight on their activities, access to technological tools allows the people to tell their story to the world. Despite both government’s ramped up activities to try to suppress information flows, the days are gone when governments could brutalize their people without the world knowing.
As Secretary Clinton has said, “we stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. …This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic.” Our Internet freedom programming is aimed at making sure that voices for peaceful democratic reform across the region can be heard. Countering such regimes’ increasingly active Internet surveillance and censorship efforts requires a diverse portfolio of tools and training. State Department grants will support more advanced counter-censorship technologies, including circumvention tools in Farsi and Arabic, secure mobile communications, and technologies to enable activists to post their own content online and protect against cyber attacks. We also have trained 5,000 activists worldwide, including many from the Middle East, in cyber-self defense. And we plan to expand these efforts to teach democratic activists, journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and others how to protect their online privacy and their data – so that they in turn can train others. Given the evolving state of technology, no single tool will overcome the efforts of Internet-repressive regimes, and that is why we have invested in incubating a diverse portfolio of technologies and digital safety training. This way, even if one particular tool is blocked, other tools will still be available. Likewise, we work to prevent all repressive governments from acquiring sensitive technology to repress its citizens.
A strong, representative government can be responsive to popular demands; an autocratic one is threatened by empowered publics. But these crackdowns also indicate a basic lack of understanding that free speech – whether it’s supportive speech or subversive speech – is harder than ever to suppress in the Digital Age. The young people who have taken to the streets across the Arab world this year understand what their governments are suppressing. It’s not just the Internet, it is people – it’s their demands for dignity and a say in the political and economic future of their countries.
The United States will continue to stand with those who struggle to assert their fundamental humanity. It is essential that these brave people know that the international community supports them, just as it is essential that human rights abusers in Damascus and Tehran know that we are watching them. Until such time as they are held accountable by domestic authorities, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable at the international level.
Similarly, we hope that today’s hearing will serve as further evidence that the American people and our government in Washington stand united in our admiration and support for those across the region who have boldly assumed the duty and made the sacrifices to advance their rights. For this opportunity, we wish to thank the Committee again, and welcome your questions.
CAPTIVE NATIONS WEEK, 2011
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary people yearning for freedom ignite the desires of people everywhere. Such brave actions led to the birth of our Nation, the fall of the Soviet Union, and countless other achievements that have shaped our world. During Captive Nations Week, we remember the men and women throughout the world still suffering under oppressive regimes, and we underscore our commitment to advancing freedom’s cause.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Captive Nations Week Proclamation in 1959 amidst an escalating Cold War, affirming America’s support for the individual liberties of those living under Communist oppression. Our world has transformed dramatically since President Eisenhower first proclaimed Captive Nations Week. The burst of freedom following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the emergence of new democracies that are now steadfast allies of the United States and key contributors to the expansion of human rights worldwide.
With each generation, people have breathed new life into democratic ideals, striving for personal freedom, political and economic reform, and justice. The United States stands firmly behind all those who seek to exercise their basic human rights. We will continue to oppose the use of violence and repression and support the universal rights of freedom of religion, expression, and peaceful assembly; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right of people to choose their leaders.
This week, we rededicate ourselves to promoting democratic values, economic development, and respect for human dignity, and we express our solidarity with freedom seeking people everywhere whose future reflects our greatest hope for peace.
The Congress, by joint resolution approved July 17, 1959 (73 Stat. 212), has authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation designating the third week of July of each year as “Captive Nations Week.”
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim July 17 through July 23, 2011, as Captive Nations Week. I call upon the people of the United States to reaffirm our deep commitment to all those working for human rights and dignity around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.