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.
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.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you John. Let me also welcome you here, it’s nice to see everybody and thanks for taking the time to come out. There are two reasons I wanted to meet with this group early in my visit. As the Ambassador said, this is literally the first visit that I’m having off the plane. One reason is to hear from you all who are working these issues every day, about the challenges you face in building the sort of Russia we want to see that is more democratic, with respect for human rights, transparency. And the other is by doing the meeting visibly to demonstrate our support for your work on those very issues.
I hope you’ll agree that we have stuck to that principle. In every meeting I’ve been in with the President and his Russian counterparts or the Secretary of State and her Russian counterparts, human rights and democracy and our strong support for rule of law and transparency has been high on the agenda.
And you’ll remember, of course, when President Obama was here last summer at the summit and meeting with NGOs and political opposition and students, again, as a sign of our vigorous support for a vibrant civil society in Russia and a chance for him to hear personally from people like you about what the real situation is.
We know that what you do is not only difficult but sometimes even dangerous. We’re well aware of cases like Anna Politkovskaya, Paul Klebnikov, Natalya Estemirova, and of course we’re coming on the anniversary of the Magnitsky case and we are very conscious of those issues and focused on them in our bilateral discussions with Russia.
So I know you are all regularly in close touch with the Ambassador and the embassy on these issues and they of course report to us in Washington, but again I see this as an opportunity to hear from you directly. So again, thank you very much for coming and I look forward to some conversation. Spasibo.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to thank you and everyone who has really seen this vision and is working to realize it. I love the whiteboards on both ends with what looks to be a very comprehensive and complex agenda. And I am very pleased to be here to thank you and to celebrate the work that you and colleagues do every single day to create and sustain strong civil societies in Russia and the United States.
We also had a very important summit today between Presidents Medvedev and Obama. Mike McFaul from the National Security Council is here. And Mike, as you know, is a very longtime supporter of a vibrant civil society in Russia. And, as President Obama said when he met with many of you in Moscow last summer, we recognize the critical nature of civil society to a vibrant democracy, and we want to create those relationships between our two countries and between civil society in each country that can assist in answering questions and solving problems.
Some quick examples that I just saw with the exhibits here this afternoon – we need creative, committed, courageous organizations like you and yours to find innovative solutions, to expose corruption, to give voice to the voiceless, to hold governments accountable to their citizens, to keep people informed and engaged on the issues that matter most to them.
As part of the Bilateral Presidential Commission that the two presidents established that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I are coordinating, we launched a Working Group on Civil Society. And I was privileged to meet with civil society leaders. I don’t know if anybody – was anybody here at the meeting that I had at Spaso House last – yeah, yeah, good – last October? And I was extraordinarily impressed and moved by the stories and the level of commitment and connection.
And we want to keep building on these relationships. We want to share best practices. We want to find new avenues for collaboration. We want to disseminate new technologies. We want to expand and strengthen your work. For example, following the U.S.-Russian Innovation Dialogue last February, Russian and American NGOs signed an MOU to promote the Text4Baby model, which uses mobile service technology to provide health information to pregnant women and new mothers. And I think we saw maybe a reference to that up on the board there.
And when I saw some of the creative ways that you can use a technology to educate people about elections, to fight child exploitation, to link groups together, to promote human rights, expand access to libraries and vital health services, I was very encouraged. Because we are going to continue to focus on this area and to empower people with the tools that they need to chart their own lives and to take stands wherever necessary.
We have a dedicated group inside the State Department focused on how to use technology in the 21st century. We call it 21st Century Statecraft. I saw Jared Cohen when I came in. I don’t know if Alec Ross is here or not. But who else is – anybody else here from your team, Jared? We have a great team of really dedicated young people – primarily young people – who care deeply about connecting people up. And I’m very proud of the work they’re doing. They have been everywhere from Mexico to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Syria to Russia, and every place in between. And we want to be a facilitator to help empower you in this area.
In one of my early discussions with Minister Lavrov, he said, well, you know, we don’t like it when you have so many NGOs coming to Russia. And I said, well, send Russian NGOs to the United States. (Laughter.) We’ll be happy to have them. And I really mean that. I think the more exchange and the more – (applause) – cross-fertilization the better.
I am one who believes that despite different historical experiences, different cultural backgrounds, there is so much that connects the United States and Russia. I think that President Medvedev saw that firsthand in Silicon Valley over the last 36 or so hours. And I think he understands the necessity of modernizing not just the Russian economy, but the Russian political system as well. And I was very excited to hear reports from Mike and others about how well-received the president was at Stanford and some of the other stops he made, and to meet with some of the many thousands of Russians who live in Silicon Valley. And I think it’s great that Russia is looking to try to create that kind of center for technology and growth right outside Moscow, and we want to help because we think that it’s in everyone’s interest do so.
But there is another element to our agenda. By shining a spotlight on the work of civil society groups like yours, we think we can help protect activists whose work can make them a target of abuse and violence. In particular, as I said last year, the United States remains deeply concerned about the safety of journalists and human rights activists in Russia. Among others, we remember the murdered American journalist Paul Klebnikov; the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention last year. We continue to urge that justice be delivered in these cases. We’re committed to working with you to find ways to reduce threats and protect the lives of activists.
So there’s a lot that we have done in this past year, and there’s more still to do in the so-called “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship. Our countries still have and will always have differences. There are not two countries that will agree on everything. There are not two people who will agree on everything. But we are speaking very openly, honestly and frankly about our areas of disagreement, and we’re looking to narrow those and then try to make progress across the board.
At a summit like the one just concluded between our presidents, it’s not only bringing presidents together. We think it is also symbolically bringing communities together. And that’s what you’re doing in real time here because you’re helping to intertwine Americans and Russians. Under this bilateral commission that we have set up, we’ve had more than a hundred meetings. There is a very long report that’s going up on State.gov of the report of the work of the bilateral commission. I invite all of you to look at it. We’ve really done some extraordinary things together, and there’s a lot more that lies ahead.
So I want to thank you. Thank you for your energy, your creativity, your passion, your commitment to building a better life for yourselves, your families, and for your fellow citizens. And I really urge you to continue to take on the issues that have such a big impact on people’s lives. And as you do that, we want you to know that you not only will have the support of the United States Government, but you’ll have the support of organizations like IREX. You’ll have the support of other NGOs, of academics, of the American private sector, but most significantly, the American people.
We will continue to seek ways to support and expand your work on behalf of the Russian people. And we are very excited and very hopeful about what we can do together. I think that the potential is just enormous, and we cannot grow weary making progress together. It sometimes seems for those of you who are on the front lines of any movement for change, that it is just excruciatingly slow and disappointing and frustrating. But if you look at the great sweep of history, the changes that have occurred – not just in Russia, but in the world, literally, in the last two, three decades – have been breathtaking.
So I see it from the position of how much has already happened, and then I think about how much energy we have behind what we need to be doing now and in the future. And I really hope that each and every one of you realizes that you’re performing a great service – an act of true patriotism on behalf of not only your country, but on behalf of a better life that will provide a stronger foundation for a positive, constructive relationship between the United States and Russia.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
QUESTION: On December 5, 2009 the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expired, but negotiations regarding a new one between Russia and the United States have so far failed. What are the major obstacles for the new treaty?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to complete this agreement soon. It’s a technically very complex treaty to accomplish. We share an interest in making real reductions in our strategic arsenals, and that is the most important point. To do that in a way that is verifiable, but which is less costly and less operationally complex than the previous START agreement is the key challenge, and we are working through it together.
QUESTION: Given that the Cold War is long gone, why it is imperative to have this treaty signed? What may happen if it does not go through?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As President Obama said in Prague, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. While the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. As more nations seek to acquire these weapons, the United States and Russia, as nuclear powers, have a special responsibility to lead in efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons. By taking concrete steps such as the new START Treaty, we can reduce our own stockpiles and encourage others to do the same. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have both recognized the importance of having a quality agreement that meets the needs and interests of both sides and I am confident that we will be able to get there together.
QUESTION: It seems that two presidents, the Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, and the U.S. President Barack Obama were quite optimistic about the new treaty throughout their meeting and telephone conversations last year. However, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 29th expressed certain concerns about U.S. «aggressiveness» and disruption of the nuclear balance. He suggested linking the U.S. missile defense system in Europe to the treaty in question. What would be your response to Vladimir Putin’s concerns?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As both Presidents agreed in Moscow, the subject of the new START treaty will be strategic offensive arms. We are more than willing to discuss missile defense and other defensive systems with our Russian partners, but we feel that the best way forward is to give each issue the full and separate attention it deserves. We are discussing missile defense cooperation with the Russian Government, and we hope to cooperate on missile defense with Russia to address a range of threats from around the world. Russia and the United States have unique missile defense assets which if used together in a cooperative manner could enhance the security of both countries.
QUESTION: A year ago, you, Madam Secretary, proclaimed a «reset» in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Has this «reset» materialized?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The reset is now well-established, but the true test of its success is how we expand our cooperation in areas of shared interest. We are working closely together in addressing the issues revolving around Iran’s challenge to the international community on nuclear non-proliferation. We are making progress on the new START Treaty. We’ve also made progress in our common efforts in Afghanistan, in trying to build stability there and in dealing with the threat posed by Al-Qaida and violent extremists. We have also been working closely on North Korea and Middle East peace negotiations, together with other members of the international community to tackle these challenging issues which affect the entire world. And finally, with the Bilateral Presidential Commission, we are broadening contacts through expanded cultural and educational exchanges, law enforcement cooperation, joint projects in health and the environment, and other activities which will improve the lives of average Americans and Russians.
QUESTION: Iran is already the hottest political issue of 2010. Given that Iran failed to satisfy requests from the United States and other members of the International Commission involved, what are the odds that the United States will use military force over economic sanctions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The U.S. has always been committed to try to resolve the problem of Iran’s nuclear program through peaceful means. We have worked very closely with our international partners in pursuing engagement with Tehran, including by working with Russia, France and the IAEA to find a creative way to provide fuel for Iran’s medical research reactor in spite of its continuing violation of UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. But Iran has repeatedly refused these opportunities. Now Iran has announced it will accelerate its enrichment activities in defiance of the Security Council’s decisions. We believe Iran’s dangerous steps must have consequences, so we will be working further with Russian and our other partners in applying pressure on Iran to persuade it to reconsider its continuing resistance to engagement on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during President Carter’s administration, in an interview (with The Daily Beast website) in late September 2009, said that the United States will attack Israeli jets if they fly over Iraq on their way to attack Iran. To which extent does this view of the former national security adviser, known to be close to President Obama’s administration, reflect the official point of view of Washington? Do you, Madam Secretary, exclude the possibility that Israel may attack Iran on its own? What will be the consequences?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I hold Mr. Brzezinski in high esteem, but he is of course speaking as a private citizen. We remain focused on trying to convince Iran to work with the rest of the world in a constructive manner. Only by doing so can Tehran have a more productive relationship with its neighbors and the international community at large, a relationship the Iranian people deserve.
QUESTION: The United States is about to deploy more troops in Afghanistan. What goals does your government hope to accomplish there, where others, including the USSR, failed?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As President Obama said in his announcement of his new Afghanistan strategy, our ultimate goal is to defeat Al-Qaida and prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan. To that end, we have devoted new resources to disrupting terrorist networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, promoting a more effective Afghan national government that can eventually lead the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist fight, and working with our partners and organizations, such as the UN, to reinforce the stability of the constitutional government in Pakistan. By taking this multi-layered approach, we believe we will be able to help bring peace and security to the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region as a whole.
QUESTION: World media has written time and again about the threats coming from Pakistan. There are allegations that Pakistan gives shelter to terrorists and that some members of the Pakistani secret service are helping Afghan Taliban. What is your view of the situation in Pakistan, given that this country has nuclear weapons? Aren’t you afraid that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal may end up in the hands of extremists?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Clearly, you cannot expect to bring stability to Afghanistan without also assisting the Pakistani government in combating terrorism in the region as well. That is why the President’s new strategy looks to assist Pakistan in ensuring stability and constitutional civilian rule. We are increasing and broadening our economic assistance to Pakistan with a focus on creating economic opportunity as a means of thwarting extremism. In addition, we are working with Islamabad to strengthen its governmental capacity to ensure that the country as a whole can fight off the terrorist threat from the Taliban and Al-Qaida. We understand that there are no simple solutions to the problems in the region. By adopting an approach that looks to reinforce the economic and governmental capacity of Pakistan and Afghanistan, we will be able to secure our own future security as well as that of the region.
QUESTION: Returning back to U.S.-Russian relations: There have been ongoing discussions both in Washington and in Moscow between the adherents of the so-called “realpolitik” approach, and those who believe that the Russian government should be held accountable for the violation of human rights. President Clinton’s administration was a huge supporter of the Russian democratic development. President G.W. Bush’s administration was inclined to a different approach, in which pragmatism prevailed over human rights issues. What is your approach?
SECRETARY CLINTON: As I said when I visited Moscow, I believe that the Russian people yearn for their rights just as much as Americans or anyone else does. The reset of relations between Russia and the U.S. is not merely on a government to government level but also about bringing our two peoples closer together. And it is on the strong foundation of accountable governance and the rule of law that we can strengthen the many ties between our two nations.
QUESTION: There are plenty of people in Washington who believe that Russia is not ‘grown-up’ enough for democracy, and the United States will be better off supporting authoritarian regime in my country. What will be your argument in support of the first or the second approach?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We reject the idea that some countries are not ready for democracy. We believe that human rights are universal and that all people, regardless of where they live, thrive in an open society where ideas are exchanged freely. This competition of ideas leads to more accountable governance and a more innovative, prosperous economy, which form a solid foundation for the kind of relationship that we are looking for with Russia and Russians. The discussions I had with students and non-governmental activists when I visited Moscow last October reinforced my conviction that Russians share these same basic aspirations.
QUESTION: Previous US administration was fairly aggressive in its rejection of the Russian government’s claims that the former republics of the Soviet Union are “its zone of special privilege interests”, countries like Ukraine and Georgia first and foremost. What is your view on that? Would you consider Ukraine and Georgian membership in NATO any time soon?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The United States stands by the principle that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions to chart their own foreign poliices and to choose their own alliances. We reject the notion of zones of influence as 19th century ideas. We fully support the decisions of NATO and its ‘open door” policy toward membership for both Georgia and Ukraine.
QUESTION: Vice-President Joe Biden, while on his visit to the Caucasus last year expressed a very harsh opinion regarding Moscow’s politics towards the post-Soviet countries. Is it to say, that you and Biden have a different approach to the issue?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Both Vice President Biden and I support the President’s vision and policies. We all want to seek a fruitful working relationship with Russia. At the same time, we recognize that there will be differences. The United States continues to fully support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. We, like the overwhelming majority of countries in the international community, consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be integral parts of Georgia.
QUESTION: Research has been done that problems with obtaining visa to European Union and the United States contribute to the negative view Russian people hold of the West. Would you consider free entry anytime soon between our countries?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Our visa policies are based on U.S. law and the concept of reciprocity. While visa-free entry into the U.S. is a long way off, we can do more to ease travel for our citizens in the short run. We are actively working with the Russian government through the Presidential Bilateral Commission to make it easier for both Russians and Americans to visit each other’s countries and see for themselves just how much we have in common.
QUESTION: One, personal question, if you don’t mind. It has been announced that Chelsea has got engaged (Congratulations!). Does your current job leave any time to be involved in her wedding plans?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Like any mother of a bride to be, I am excited and happy for my daughter.
QUESTION: There has been lots of discussion regarding harsher sanctions towards Iran. However, many believe that these sanctions would most likely be ineffective at this point. How does the United States plan to deal with these new developments? Does the West have any concrete ideas and means to stop Ahmadinejad?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Sanctions, when imposed by the UNSC and enforced by all countries can be very effective. Years of sanctions against Libya, which was pursuing a nuclear weapons research program, ultimately contributed to Tripoli’s decision to drop that idea. We have no illusions in the case of Iran that Tehran will be easily persuaded. We are concerned that steps toward uranium enrichment and testing of missile systems pose a increasingly greater threat to the international community. It would be irresponsible of us not to do all we can to address that threat.
QUESTION: More than 60 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama in December protesting the appointment of Mr. Surkov, the first deputy chairman of the Russian presidential administration, as the co-chair of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. The legislators called him “one of the masterminds behind Russia’s authoritarian course” and urged President Obama to boycott these meetings until he was replaced. What would be your response to the congressmen’s letter?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The Civil Society Working Group under the Bilateral Presidential Commission met for the first time January 27 in Washington. We believe the meeting was a success, having launched a process of dialogue on key issues, including the fight against corruption. The final session of that day brought U.S. and Russian governments and NGO representatives together to share experiences and consider how together they can work to address common problems. Our goal is to have government launch this dialogue and work on various themes between NGOs and other representatives of civil society in both countries, but we hope that we can step back as these contacts and relationships flourish on their own. As for who leads the Russian government delegation to the Civil Society Working Groups, that is a decision for President Medvedev.
QUESTION: We just read that President Clinton had a heart surgery. How is his health? The New Times would like to pass our warmest wishes to President Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for the kind words about Bill, I will be sure to share with him. He is doing very well. . As you know he has plunged back into work on assistance to Haiti, which both President Obama and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asked him to help with. His energy and commitment to helping others in need drive his efforts.
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.
5:38 P.M. (Local) THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, good afternoon. Dobryy Den’. I apologize that I think I’m running late and I’m leaving early. (Laughter.) This is a good reason why civil society is so important — because you can’t always count on politicians. (Laughter.) It is a great pleasure to be with all of you. Through the work that you do, you underscore what I believe is a fundamental truth in the 21st century: that strong, vibrant nations include strong, vibrant civil societies. This was also a key message of the speech this morning at the New Economic School. We not only need a “reset” button between the American and Russian government, but we need a fresh start between our societies — more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges. For history teaches us that real progress — whether it’s economic or social or political — doesn’t come from the top-down, it typically comes from the bottom-up. It comes from people, it comes from the grassroots — it comes from you. The best ideas and solutions come from ordinary citizens who become involved in their communities and in their countries. And by mobilizing and organizing and changing people’s hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape. And oftentimes politicians get the credit for changing laws, but in fact you’ve created the environment in which those new laws can occur. I learned this myself when I worked as a community organizer in Chicago. I’m glad to see my friend here from Chicago, Calvin Holmes, who — we used to work together on a range of civic issues. I was working in communities that were devastated by steel plant closings, and so I went door to door, I worked with churches, trying to learn what people needed. And we had a lot of setbacks — in fact, we had more failures than successes. But we kept on listening to the people, we learned from them, we got them involved. And over time they chose projects to work on — whether it was building a new play lot or improving a neighborhood park or improving the local school or improving housing in the community — and slowly, block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, you started to see change happen: more jobs, better housing, more opportunities for young people. And I learned a lesson — that if you want to bring change, it’s not enough just to be an advocate; it’s not enough to just wait for the government to act. You have to step up and deliver results, real impact on people’s lives. And that is something that I think is lost sometimes when we discuss civil society. There’s a tendency sometimes for this to be a very abstract conversation — with very lofty goals. And since I am a former law professor, I love abstractions and lofty goals. But your neighbor, your friend, your coworker, they’re struggling with very immediate things right now: Can they pay the rent? Can their child go to a school that is going to teach them so that they can succeed in the future? Those are the day-to-day struggles that they’re wrestling with. And if they can’t see a connection between what you are doing and their lives getting better in the short term as well as the long term, then it’s very hard to get any traction over time. Now, no community is the same and every country will follow its own path. So let me be very clear: Russia’s future is up to the Russian people. Not every choice that’s good for the United States is going to be good for Russia. Not every model of organization or development or democracy may be easily transplantable from one country to the next. But let me also say that we can learn from each other — and I do think there’s some universal principles. So I commend you for this summit, designed not to lecture, but to listen, as was already pointed out; not teach or impose solutions, but to learn from each other, from the bottom up. As today’s speakers explained, there are so many opportunities for new partnerships: developing strong, prosperous communities; expanding education and exchanges that open young minds to each other’s countries; promoting healthy lifestyles that help people live longer, more productive lives; discovering the clean energy technologies we need to protect our environment and confront climate change. These are the challenges that we can meet together. And meeting these challenges, in turn, requires what many of you have dedicated your lives to sustaining — a vibrant civil society; the freedom of people to live as they choose, to speak their minds, to organize peacefully and to have a say in how they are governed; a free press to report the truth; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; a government that’s accountable and transparent. And we honor all of you for the passion and perseverance that you bring to these causes. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t think these are American ideals and I don’t think they are the monopoly of one country. They’re universal values. They’re human rights. And that’s why the United States of America will support them everywhere. That is our commitment. And that is our promise. And in supporting these ideals, it’s also important that we uphold them ourselves. And that’s why I take the last speaker’s admonition as a useful reminder — that what we do matters, in part because although we know that sometimes we’ll fall short of our ideals, when we do — they can be an excuse for others. Our journey to perfect our union goes on to this day. And that’s why I did order the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and I did ban torture — without equivocation and without exception. Here in Russia, I welcome the steps that President Medvedev has taken so that civil society groups can play a more active role on behalf of the Russian people. And I want to acknowledge that we are joined today by representatives of two important organizations: the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Presidential Commission on Human Rights and Civil Society. Make no mistake: Civil society — civil groups hold their governments to high standards. And I know — because this audience includes Americans who’ve been critical of me for not moving fast enough on issues that are of great importance. They’ve said it to my face. In the Oval Office. While I was President. (Laughter.) They told me I was wrong. And in some cases they changed my mind; in some cases they didn’t. And that’s okay, because we’re not going to agree on everything — but I know this: Their voices and their views and their criticism ultimately will make my decisions better, they will make me ask tougher questions and ask my staff tougher questions. And we’ll find out: Are there ways of doing what we need to do that conform to our deepest held values and our ideals, and that are sustainable over the long term? That makes our country stronger in the long term, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. So this summit reminds us: The fresh starts have to be between more than just two Presidents. They have to be between our two peoples, our two societies. They have to be more than just common security — the Cold War weapons we dismantle. It must be about our common opportunity — the future of progress and prosperity that we build together. And I think that the leadership here in Russia, both civil and governmental, understand this. I had lunch with President Medvedev this afternoon, and we started talking about health issues and the continuing high mortality rate among Russian men in particular. And we talked about alcoholism and we talked about smoking. And we talked about the fact that government programs can be initiated, but to the extent that there’s been success in the United States around reducing smoking levels, it’s not only a matter of changing laws — it’s also been changing attitudes, so that people feel that they need to change. And they internalize these different attitudes. That’s something that civic society can do in a way that government never can. I then met the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, and he talked about how, you know, government exchanges are useful, but religious organizations, they can help melt away the suspicions and mistrust that have built between people over time. So just in those two conversations in the span of 15 minutes, essentially what I heard was a call for action from you. Confidence that what you are doing matters, even when sometimes it seems hard and it seems as if nobody is listening. That’s what our work here on Earth must be about, what Tolstoy called the “sole meaning of life” — “to serve humanity.” Thank you for making that cause the meaning of your lives. And good luck to all of you. Spasibo. (Applause.) END
5:50 P.M. (Local)