Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On March 24, the United States expressed our concern in the Permanent Council about the possibility of the Human Rights Watch Office being closed in Uzbekistan. We very much regret the Supreme Court has now ordered Human Rights Watch to close its office in Tashkent.
International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have an important function to play around the world, and their work is wholly consistent with the concept articulated by President Karimov for “further deepening democratic reforms and creation of a civil society” in Uzbekistan. We see the closure of Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan as a significant step backwards from Uzbekistan’s international and OSCE commitments to further develop civil society and transparency in the country.
As we pointed out in March, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed the central role human rights play in the U.S.-Uzbek relationship when she urged President Karimov on December 2nd last year “to demonstrate his commitment to insure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are truly protected in” Uzbekistan. We repeat that call today and urge the Government to take steps to bring this matter before the court for reconsideration. We also call on the Government to take positive steps to open space for civil society, and particularly for international NGOs, in a manner consistent with OSCE principles.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States is concerned by the Uzbek Supreme Court’s decision to close the Human Rights Watch Office in Tashkent. International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have an important function to play around the world, and we regret that Human Rights Watch will not be able to do so in Uzbekistan.
From left: Christian Marchant of U.S. Embassy Hanoi, Ambassador Steve Beecroft of U.S. Embassy Amman, Under Secretary William Burns, Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner, Julia Nunez on behalf of Damas de Blanco, and Holly Lindquist Thomas of U.S. Embassy Tashkent.
Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the accomplishments of four human rights champions. This Administration, and particularly Secretary Clinton, have made advancing human rights one of our top national security priorities. The events unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa remind us of the universal aspirations of women and men across the globe to live in dignity, to find freedom and opportunity, and to shape their own destinies. They remind us that stability is not a static phenomenon, that political systems and leaderships that fail to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people become more brittle, not more stable. And they remind us of the enduring significance of fundamental human rights for American interests around the world, and for what we stand for as a people and as a country.
The leaders we honor today have shown by example how to uphold the basic freedoms that are under threat in so many parts the world.
First, the “Damas de Blanco” or the “Ladies in White” of Cuba. Damas de Blanco distinguishes itself not only by the depth of its commitment to the release of political prisoners, but by the full measure of its bravery in defense of human rights in Cuba. The Damas helped create the conditions that led to the release of the political prisoners arrested during the “Black Spring” crackdown of 2003. With much of the battle for human rights in Cuba forced underground, the Damas de Blanco kept marching. And they keep on providing a poignant weekly reminder of the day-to-day repression that Cubans face. We stand alongside the Damas de Blanco in calling for the release of all remaining political prisoners; we are pleased to have Julia Nunez with us today to accept the Human Rights Defenders Award on behalf of Damas de Blanco.
In her remarks two weeks ago on the release of the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Secretary Clinton noted, “Here at the State Department, human rights is a priority 365 days a year.” State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service Officers as well as Foreign Service Nationals tirelessly work to support the freedoms we all cherish.
Today, I am honored to highlight the work of colleagues who have made a real difference around the globe in promoting human rights issues. Ambassador Steve Beecroft’s advocacy for human rights in Jordan, including for women and children, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities, is a superb example of the determination and commitment of our colleagues in diplomatic missions around the world.
As his nomination by the Bureau of Near East Affairs makes clear: “Ambassador Beecroft’s clear vision, brilliant strategy, and tireless advocacy have resulted in the country re-engaging across the board on a broad range of human rights issues, with progress on both individual cases and systemic reform. He saw opportunities for progress even when the environment seemed barren, and nurtured them patiently to fruition using personal diplomacy, public engagement, and targeted assistance programs for government and civil society. ”
It is not only our Ambassadors who promote human rights. We honor today two officers serving in two different parts of the world who have demonstrated integrity and innovation in their work to protect and defend universal freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and freedom of religion. They are Holly Lindquist Thomas of the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and Christian Marchant of U.S. Embassy Hanoi.
Holly has made a critical difference in the lives of individuals and their families in Uzbekistan. She made key contributions in persistent approaches to the Government of Uzbekistan that led to the release of businessman and opposition leader Sanjar Umarov. Holly’s surveys around the country, on the issue of child labor during the cotton harvest, provided first-hand information on the underlying causes of this phenomenon and the true conditions of children.
In Vietnam, Christian has been a persuasive advocate for Vietnam’s beleaguered dissident community, serving as a conduit for imprisoned dissidents, their families and the outside world, and working to ensure that the bilateral Human Rights dialogue produces concrete results. In one case, literally on the courthouse steps, Christian’s intercession prevented a political activist from being beaten.
We congratulate all four of you. You richly deserve these awards. In recognizing your service, we also honor the human rights defenders and civil society activists who are doing hard work every day in every part of the world to turn the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into reality. Thank you.
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
World Press Freedom Day is observed every year on May 3 to remind us of the critical importance of this core freedom. It is a day in which we celebrate the invaluable role played by the media in challenging abuses of power, identifying corruption, and informing all citizens about the important issues that shape our world. It is also a day for us to sound the alarm about restrictions on the media as well as the threats, violence or imprisonment of many of its members and their families because of their work.
Last year was a bad one for the freedom of the press worldwide. While people gained greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies, governments like China, Ethiopia, Iran, and Venezuela curtailed freedom of expression by limiting full access to and use of these technologies.
Moreover, more media workers were killed for their work last year than any year in recent history. The high toll was driven in large part by the election-related killings of more than 30 journalists in the Philippine province of Maguindanao, the deadliest single event for the press in history, along with murders of journalists in Russia, Somalia, Mexico and Honduras. In this year, like in other years, nearly three out of four of the journalists killed were local news-gatherers who were murdered in their own nations.
Chauncey Bailey was one such local journalist. A tireless reporter who covered his own city of Oakland, California, Bailey was widely respected for his many exposés of abuse and corruption. He was gunned down 3 years ago, near his office, while taking a homeless man to breakfast. A trial of the alleged perpetrator is scheduled to begin this summer. Such accountability is critical to deterring further attacks. I note with concern that the murderers of journalists succeed in avoiding responsibility for their crimes in nearly nine out of ten cases, and urge fellow governments to address this problem.
Even more journalists and bloggers find themselves imprisoned in nations around the world. Iran, following its crackdown on dissent after the last elections, now has more journalists behind bars than any other nation. Governments in Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela imprisoned journalists who wrote articles critical of government leaders and their policies.
But for every media worker who has been targeted there are countless more who continue to inform their communities despite the risks of reprisal. On World Press Freedom Day, we honor those who carry out these vital tasks despite the many challenges and threats they face as well as the principle that a free and independent press is central to a vibrant and well-functioning democracy.