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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for '03

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003

Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Testimony before the House International Relations Committee Washington, DC March 10, 2004

Chairman Hyde, Subcommittee Chairman Gallegly, Mr. Lantos, Mr. Sherman, and Members of the Committee, thank you for holding this hearing to spotlight the submission to Congress of the 28th annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Your focus on these reports, and having this hearing today, reinforces the longstanding belief that America is dedicated to advancing democracy and human rights around the world.

In my travels, and in meetings I've had here in Washington, I often hear first hand from champions of human rights and democracy how grateful they are for what Americans Republicans and Democrats -- have said on their behalf. Those who fight for liberty know that the American people, and America's leaders, are their allies.

When Secretary Powell announced the release of the Country Reports, he reminded everyone what President Bush said two months ago in his State of the Union message: Our aim is a democratic peace, a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. The Secretary also emphasized that the defense and advancement of human rights is America's special calling, and the promotion of human rights is an integral and active part of our foreign policy agenda, and that sentiment is worth repeating.

Words are important, and we have close to two million of them in the 2003 edition of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. But for many years, even as their quality improved, some believed that the use of the words in the annual Country Reports ended on the day they were published. That is no longer the case. More and more over the past few years, the Country Reports have become a basis for the policy process -- for Congressional certifications, for diplomatic demarches, for long-range policy direction and for designing aid programs. Policy makers working to improve human rights are increasingly turning to this volume. In the words of Secretary Powell, they are more than a valuable informational tool -- they are a vital policy instrument (and) they help us to identify and close gaps between principles and practices, between internationally agreed human rights standards and the actual enjoyment of such rights by a country's citizens.

Examined retrospectively, a quarter century of human rights reporting shows that many countries have begun to close those gaps and turned horror stories into success stories. Their examples have helped us understand how gains can be made in protecting human rights and expanding freedom.

For the last two and a half years, we have taken those lessons and applied them to a new world. After September 11, 2001, some observers questioned whether the United States could afford the luxury of concern about human rights and democracy abroad, and whether we might sacrifice our principles for expediency in the global war on terrorism. Within days, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice provided a clear answer: We are not going to stop talking about the things that matter to us -- human rights and religious freedom and so forth. We re going to continue to press those issues. We would not be America if we did not.

In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush underscored the unequivocal U.S. commitment to human rights when he said ...America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance. America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world, including the Islamic world, because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.

Later that year, Secretary of State Colin Powell backed these words by unveiling the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a program designed to assist political, economic, and social reforms in that region. Henceforth, those seeking freedom in the Middle East can count on the same support long provided to Latin Americans, Central Europeans, Asians, Africans and others. The United States is now working across the Middle East to strengthen the skills and opportunities of men and women who wish to compete for office, administer elections, report on political events and influence them as members of civil society. We have reinforced MEPI programming with unprecedented diplomacy to remedy problems described frankly in the Country Reports.

Some worried that our new focus on the Arab world would distract us from advancing human rights and democracy elsewhere. In early 2002, the President announced the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a new compact for global development, defined by a new accountability for both rich and poor nations alike. Nations that invest in their people s education and health, promote economic freedoms and govern justly -- defined by the prevalence of civil liberties, political rights, rule of law, and a government s accountability and effectiveness -- will be rewarded. The MCA will provide a substantial incentive for reducing the gap between human rights ideals and actual practices. Relying on independent indicators, MCA will analyze a country's performance on human rights and democracy and other aspects of just governance. As the recently released report on the proposed methodology for country selection makes clear, the MCA Board can also use the County Reports for supplemental information to assess issues such as the rights of people with disabilities, the treatment of women and children, and worker and other rights.

I am a strong proponent of MEPI and MCA as new ways to deal with longstanding challenges, but I want to take this opportunity to give my strongest endorsement to yet another Presidential initiative to advance human rights, and that is the proposed doubling of the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Where human rights and democracy have been advanced, the NED has been involved. From Nicaragua to Poland to Serbia to Georgia, the Endowment and its family members -- of which I was once a proud part -- have been cited repeatedly by victorious democrats as making the difference. Adding to NED's capabilities would be money well spent.

Within the State Department, other efforts to remedy problems outlined in the Country Reports have intensified. Thanks to strong Congressional and State Department support, the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) within my own bureau has tripled in size over the past 2 years. When our attitudes on democracy in the Middle East changed immediately after September 11th, HRDF, designed to be flexible and innovative, enabled us to put our money where our mouth was. As our troops arrived in Central Asia on their way to Afghanistan in late 2001, HRDF ensured that they were accompanied by American values and we mounted an unprecedented effort to support the development of representative political parties, human rights organizations and independent media. And HRDF has allowed us to begin, for the first time, a substantial U.S. government assistance program in China to advance human rights awareness and support legal and electoral reform.

Through HRDF and other mechanisms, we have also worked more actively to contribute to the promotion of freedom in places like Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Belarus. These efforts to advance freedom have often been strengthened by partnerships we have nurtured with other members of the Community of Democracies, a growing organization composed mainly of nations that over the past quarter century have made the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

In about two months we will submit to Congress a kind of sequel to today's report, which is called Supporting Human Rights and Democracy. Whereas the Country Reports describe problems around the world, the sequel will detail how we're trying to fix them. I would welcome an opportunity to appear before you again after its release.

Mr. Chairman, the introduction of today's Country Reports acts as a comprehensive executive summary, and covers a range of developments in 2003, from the dramatically uplifting to the disappointing. It provides a comprehensive portrait of Afghanistan, where the Loya Jirga crafted a new constitution that will continue to advance to role of women and minorities after 30 years of conflict. The introduction also describes the horrors of the dying days of Saddam Hussein's regime, with its capricious human rights violations.

It describes the stunning July 1 demonstrations by half a million citizens in Hong Kong which caused the Government to withdraw proposed national security legislation, and the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze in November, in the wake of non-violent protests, ensuring a new Georgian democracy. And it describes advances made in Kenya with the accession to power of the country's former opposition.

It also provides a picture of the situation in China, where unfulfilled commitments, backsliding on key human rights issues and the Government s poor record on Tibet have inspired our movement toward a resolution at this year s UN Commission on Human Rights. The introduction also reflects the totalitarian repression in North Korea, the darkening picture for democracy in Burma with the May attack on Aung San Suu Kyi s convoy, and the dramatic worsening of human rights abuses in Cuba, where 75 peaceful dissidents were sentenced to prison terms a year ago. It describes the campaign of violence, repression, and intimidation in Zimbabwe. And it describes the manipulation of elections in Russia and the continued violence and human rights abuses in Chechnya.

It is a purposefully lengthy and comprehensive introduction this year, meant to inform a general reader of the Country Reports, and for that reason, I request that it be submitted for the record.

Before I take your questions, I want to make a poignant end note to my testimony: The world was deeply saddened by the death of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello last August in Baghdad. I had the privilege to meet him on several occasions as I know many of you did. Secretary Powell noted after his death that [he] was a consummate professional who devoted his life to helping others, particularly in his decades of distinguished service to the UN" ... In my book, Mr. Vieira de Mello was a hero, who dedicated his life to helping people in danger and in difficulty. His loss is a terrible blow to the international community.

For those of us who press every day for greater respect for human rights, we may have lost a champion, but not a role model. May his legacy be reflected in a redoubling of our efforts to further the cause of the courageous, fight for the powerless and give voice to the voiceless. Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I m pleased to take your questions now.

[End]

Released on March 10, 2004


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