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Special Briefing On US Human Rights Record 2005-06


Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 5, 2006

On-The-Record Briefing : Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry F. Lowenkron on the Release of the Annual Report, "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005-2006"

(10:40 a.m. EDT)

MR. ERELI: Hello, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today, which is to talk about the release of the report, "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005-2006." We have with us today Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, who will give brief opening remarks, followed by our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron, who will brief you a little bit more on the report itself and be available to answer your questions.

So Under Secretary Dobriansky, please.

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Good morning. President Bush in his National Security Strategy reaffirmed our conviction that promoting democracy is the most effective way of ensuring international stability, countering terrorism and extremism, and advancing peace and prosperity. Our goal is to create a world where people will not have to fear persecution for the way they worship, the words they speak or the ideas they write. Our strategy is to assist citizens in other countries in their efforts to spread democracy and the message of basic rights for all, as embodied in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

This annual report prepared by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor captures our global support for these local efforts. In FY2005, the United States budgeted $1.4 billion for human rights and democracy programming. We focused our resources and diplomatic initiatives on what Secretary Rice has called transformational diplomacy, working with partners to better their own lives, build their own nations and transform their own futures.

We supported programs, for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq to empower those countries' women who have taken up posts as parliamentarians and ministers and who will be critical in shaping the futures of those nations. We funded women's literacy and education, political leadership development, communications training, voter education and capacity building for women NGOs. We helped lay the foundation for free and fair parliamentary elections in Ukraine by providing technical assistance to draft key legislation on reform, including electoral reform. We funded programs to create a national voter registry and trained election commissioners. Through grants to local NGOs and independent media, we promoted voter education and an open and informed discussion of key issues. We spent some $95 million to fund some 266 programs in about 101 countries to advance government and NGO efforts to combat trafficking in persons as well. We worked with international partners to establish the Foundation for the Future in support of civil society and the broader Middle East and North Africa and to activate the United Nations Democracy Fund.

It is essential that governments work efficiently and accountably at the local level, have a dialogue with a vibrant civil society, have strong democratic institutions that represent all citizens. NGOs are some of our most important partners in speaking out against human rights abuses and undemocratic practices, holding governments accountable for their actions and giving a voice to citizens' concerns.

Yet in the past year around the world, from Belarus to Russia to Zimbabwe, NGO workers have suffered harassment and imprisonment. Laws have been passed to limit their activities, to impede their registration and to undermine their legitimacy. We condemn these acts and we will continue to support and defend those courageous activists for democracy.

It is the obligation of every free nation to promote human rights and good governance. This is not a task for one nation or one year. It is the work of generations in which the international community must participate. We look forward to expanding our partnership with the community of democracies as we work towards our collective goals.

Now I would like to introduce Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron who will present the Supporting Human Rights and Democracy Report.

Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Good morning. Let me start by saying I'm back. Last month I delivered this -- the Human Rights Report. This is the companion piece. This is the Supporting Human Rights and Democracy Report.

The report illustrates how our transformational diplomacy has helped citizens in some 95 countries turn their growing demands for human rights and democracy into action. President Bush has said that America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and make their own way.

Today, in every continent and in every region, men and women are pressing for their rights to be respected and their governments to be responsive, for their voices to be heard and their votes to count, for just laws and for justice for all.

There is also increasing recognition that democracy is the form of government that can best meet the demands of citizens for dignity, for liberty and for equality. Last year in the broader Middle East, we witnessed indigenous calls for democratic reform, the beginnings of political pluralism, unprecedented elections and new protections for women and minorities. The people of Iraq went to the polls three times and held to democracy's course despite high levels of violence. The men and women of Afghanistan cast their ballots countrywide in the first free legislative election since 1969, even as the government struggled to expand its authority over provincial centers. The first post-conflict elections in Liberia resulted in Africa's first elected female head of state, marking a milestone in Liberia's transition from civil war to democracy. Latin American and Caribbean democracies continue to confront challenges of strengthening weak institutions, fight corruption and redress social inequality.

In 2005, Ukraine's new government, reflecting the democratic will of its people, made notable improvements in human rights performance. And Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim majority country, strengthened the architecture of its democratic system when, for the first time, citizens directly elected their leaders at the local and provincial levels.

As the report indicates, the United States has acted in support of these and other indigenous efforts for human rights and democracy. But on-the-ground interaction with government officials, civil society organizations and individuals and through multilateral engagement, we have defended international human rights standards and advanced democratic principles. We have stood in solidarity with the brave men and women who were persecuted by repressive regimes for exercising their rights. So that fellow democracies can better deliver democracy's blessings to their own people, we help them strengthen their institutions of government and sink deeper roots for the rule of law. We have encouraged full participation of all citizens, including women and minorities, in the public life of their countries.

To ensure that the will of the people would prevail, we have promoted political pluralism and helped to level playing fields so that elections would meet international standards. We called to account democratically elected governments that do not govern democratically. And so as independent media and nongovernmental organizations have come under siege in many countries around the world, we have championed their vital contributions to democracy.

In Fiscal Year 2005, we budgeted over a billion dollars for human rights and democracy programming. We also foster democratic reform efforts through well-targeted development assistance such as the Millennium Challenge Account. At the same time, we continue to bring economic sanctions to bear on systematic human rights violators like the Burmese and Cuban regimes. In concert with the G-8 and regional governments and NGOs, we launched two institutions last year to foster indigenous reform: In the broader Middle East and North Africa, the Foundation for the Future, which supports civil society and the Fund for the Future, which supports investment. I accompanied Secretary Rice to the unveiling of both of these new foundations in Bahrain last November.

In Fiscal Year 2005, we provided $10 million to the UN Democracy Fund. As Secretary Rice has said, "Fulfilling the promise of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and building vibrant democracies worldwide is the work of generations, but it is urgent work that cannot be delayed."

In closing, this report chronicles what the United States has done over the past year to defend human rights and promote democracy worldwide. You will find cases, you will find examples in the report. These are meant to be illustrative and they are not exhaustive. We should remember that advances were first and foremost the result of courageous efforts of the men and women across the globe who serve and sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

Now, before I take questions, let me end with this personal remark. I have appeared before you to talk about the Human Rights Report, as I have before NGOs and the Congress. Under Secretary Dobriansky has accompanied me. Secretary of State Rice was here when we unveiled the Country Human Rights Report. What I would ask you is that when you open this up, look at the beginning of the report and you'll see other individuals that are involved. There are -- in every continent there are Foreign Service officers who do this on a 24/7 basis. Last year we awarded our Annual Human Rights Award to Eric Richardson, our Human Rights Officer in Beijing. But it is not about China per se or about the Middle East. You will find names of Foreign Service officers who serve in Kyrgyzstan, who serve in Kuwait, who serve in Colombia, who serve in Belarus and elsewhere around the globe. These are individuals that we felt needed to be singled out for their hard work that they do to advance democracy and to promote human rights.

With that, let me stop and open it up to questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned how NGOs have been under attack in certain countries this year, and can I ask you then to focus on Russia? What is it that the United States has been doing to counter that in Russia and can you tell us what the sort of pushback from the Moscow government has been?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: We have raised the issue of the NGOs at the highest levels and indeed last month Foreign Minister Lavrov was here, had a lengthy discussion with Secretary of State Rice. I joined them the following day to discuss the NGO issue. We made it clear that NGOs are a vibrant part of civil society, a vibrant part of healthy democratic practices, democratic institutions. And we spoke quite bluntly. President Putin himself has said that civil society and NGOs do play a constructive role but they shouldn't be under the control of foreign puppeteers. These NGOs are not foreign puppeteers. We have gone beyond addressing this in discussions with the Russians. We have also indicated that we will continue to support them publicly and privately. This month is when the NGO law comes into existence and we will be monitoring very carefully the implementation of the provisions of that law.

In addition, there's been great interest on the Hill in this issue. I anticipate that we'll be seeing more activity on the Hill because the NGO issue, while it rose to the front and center in the context of the Russian law, is certainly an increasing global phenomenon.

We are also looking at the earlier report. We are also going to be highlighting even more, beginning with next year's report, the assault on NGOs worldwide.

QUESTION: So seeing as you mentioned the talks about this with Minister Lavrov, can you just say what his reaction was, if he agreed with you or he still stays with the Putin perspective?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, his reaction -- if I can capture it in a few words, his reaction was that all countries have laws and regulations on NGOs. And we did push back and say there are laws and regulations under rule of law and laws and regulations that are ruled by law, and what we need to ensure is that NGOs are able to operate -- operate as they have in the past, transparently in a full and open environment, to advance civil society.

Clearly we had a full exchange of views but we're not at the point in which we say that we resolved our differences. The one thing we did agree on is come, I think it is next week, April 10th, I believe, is when full implementation will begin. And as the Foreign Minister said, let us see how this law is implemented and we will continue to have discussions with the Russians as well as with the NGOs that are there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: How far has the United States got in working with Iranian NGOs?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: We have funded a number of NGOs who also work with NGOs in Iran. And let me say there are no shortages of nongovernmental organizations who have -- who are willing to take on the task of trying to help defend civil society. We don't get into specifics in terms of which NGOs. It's not a matter of us to highlight the NGOs. NGOs themselves, if they want to talk about their work, that's fine. But given the sensitivity of essentially doing the work that in most countries would be just simply seen as part of the business, given that sensitivity, we leave it up to the NGOs.

QUESTION: Have you had direct contact with them?

QUESTION: You said that the U.S. budgeted 1.4 billion for human rights.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Human rights and democracy promotion.

QUESTION: Yes. How much was effectively spent?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: In some cases, more than the 1.4 billion.

QUESTION: I'm going to Iran. My question is about Iran, not regarding its nuclear activities but regarding the violation of the simple basic human rights of the citizens. How can you really support them with such pressure that they have by the government, by the regime?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, we supported voices in the Soviet Union and elsewhere during the Cold War and those circumstances were extraordinarily difficult, so we can support them. We will support them.

We don't minimize the difficulty and we don't minimize the backsliding that has occurred in Iran -- the flawed elections, the fact that women were not allowed to run, reformers were dismissed, the crackdown and so forth, internet problems as well. It's not just China; it's elsewhere. We don't minimize the problem. But we feel that we need to be able to address the concerns of the Iranian people.

QUESTION: On Latin America, on two countries, Cuba and Venezuela. You spoke about the sanctions that are still going against countries like Burma and Cuba. Do you have any feeling that those things are bringing any results or do you have any hopes that things are going to improve?

And concerning Venezuela, I assume it is in the list of countries where governments have been democratically elected and do not -- so those are the two areas.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Absolutely. I mean, in the context of Venezuela, we have a democratic government but we do have pressure on the judiciary, we have harassment of the media, we have extraordinary harassment on one of the main NGOs, Sumate, in Venezuela, and this is a cause of concern. And this is one of the reasons why President Bush has said promoting democracy is not just about elections; it's what happens the day after the election. Do you govern democratically?

In terms of Cuba, the fact that most, I'd say nearly 60 or 65 of the 75 prominent dissidents that were rounded up in 2003 still remain in prison despite the calls of other countries to say let's engage in a dialogue, shows that one can accomplish virtually nothing with a dialogue and so the sanctions will have to stay. My view, and it's a view that's borne out by history, is that when change comes it will come; it's not something that we're going to predict, saying next Tuesday at 3 o'clock there will be a change. But until there's any change internally on the part of the Cuban Government to reverse their reprehensible behavior, we have no choice. We have no choice.

One second. I'll get back to you, but a few haven't had a chance.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, again, I mean, what are your options? What are you doing to counter these actions of the government? If I may ask also on Latin America in general, in the National Security Estimate there was a warning about the rise of populism in the region. And I don't know if that warning will -- you know, this concern that you clearly have will translate into specific actions or more budgets for democracy in the region and so on. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: That's a very good question and what I'd like to do is address the broader issue of Latin America. Because we have been charged by pundits on the outside of having a kind of what we call a cookie-cutter approach to democracy and human rights promotion; in other words, we have one formula, we apply it everywhere.

Well, regions are different and countries are different. And what we see in Latin America is that we've gone through a period of democratic reforms. This gets to your question about democratic elections. But then what's the next step? Are they governing openly, transparently? Are the judicial systems independent and strong enough? Are there effective programs to combat corruption? Because you can have economic reform but if you don't have transparency and if you have corruption, then citizens in some of these countries are not benefiting as much from the economic reform as they need to benefit, hence the rise of indigenous opposition.

The OAS -- the OAS has this Democratic Charter but there are other calls, other calls for saying we don't need a democratic charter, we need a social charter to address the disadvantaged, those who lost out on the economic boom years. Our view is that a representative democracy, the principles in the Democratic Charter are the way to go, but we really need to ensure that we focus our democracy promotion efforts in the areas of judicial reform, in the areas of greater transparency and in the areas of combating corruption.

Who hasn't had a chance? I'll get back to you in a second.

QUESTION: I notice that in your country by country report from the other month you mentioned UAE, I think, as a country where you mentioned problems. I'm not seeing any discussion in this report about your efforts in UAE except for very briefly, and I'm wondering if you could talk about what you're doing there and why it's not mentioned in this report.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: It's mentioned in the report, but as I said, it's hard to capture in several pages what goes on in one country and we'd be happy after this -- we'd be happy to get back to you and do a deeper dive, if you'd like.

QUESTION: Do you have any progress in establishing kind of a check point to process North Korean refugees?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Do I have progress in the check point of North Korean refugees?

QUESTION: Yeah, establishing a check point to process North Korean --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: The whole issue of North Korean refugees is also -- I mean, I would address that in a wider context. It's looking at the regime, it's looking at refugees, it's looking at humanitarian assistance, it's looking at multilateral approach for North Korea. What I would say at this point is that our Special Envoy Jay Lefkowitz has been working these issues both here, in the White House and on the Hill, and I will leave it at that.

Now to get back to your follow-on question. Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. To follow up on my question on the budget, could you tell us if you are satisfied globally with this record and if you think there are some places where you think U.S. did very well or if there are some places where U.S. could have done better?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: By law, we put out this report year to year. But you cannot -- I'm very clear about this -- you cannot say that by X number of years Y number of countries did better and Z number of countries did worse. We try not to compare countries.

QUESTION: It's not countries. It's your work, the work of the State Department in these countries.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: As has been told to me since I was a child, for improvement there is always room. And that's our approach. We're always fine-tuning country by country, region by region. The critical point is that we also respond to indigenous voices. So I don't sit upstairs with my colleagues and say let's pick Country X and decide what is it that we're going to deliver to them for democracy. I'll give you an example of the case of Ethiopia. They had an open election. They had a fair and free election. They had observers. And then the Ethiopian Government not only walked away from that election but imprisoned the opposition. So we have to rise to the defense of what happens in Ethiopia. Or in Eritrea, where the government threw out the nongovernmental organizations and all the humanitarian issues.

So I would say in the Horn of Africa we've had a setback. I would say in the Middle East we have made some progress. But it's never linear. It's never linear. There are always bumps on the road. The issue that -- the one issue on which I spend most of my time when I talk to the Secretary about these countries and these regions, we talk about the trajectory. Is it going in the right direction? Is it not going in the right direction?

Okay, one more. Okay, two more.

QUESTION: In the (inaudible) list almost 200 countries, in this report only 99 countries and you speak of key countries. What do you mean by "key countries"?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: About key countries?

QUESTION: Yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: What we do is that in consultations with the bureaus, in consultations with other parts of the government, in consultations with our embassies, we single out the countries that we think are in greatest need for a focus on democracy and human rights promotion. So last year there were a number of countries that are on the list that are no longer on this list, so the number does not stay constant year to year.

QUESTION: Yes, I just -- forgive me, I didn't understand your response earlier about how much was budgeted and how much was spent. I think I understand that $1.4 billion was budgeted to be spent between October 2004 and October 2005, but in that period was more than 1.4 billion spent?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: No, well, it's some areas we have to make adjustments, depending on the circumstances on the ground.

QUESTION: So in some areas you spent more than the little -- the amount that was allotted for that area, in some areas less?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: They're always --

QUESTION: But overall, do you know whether it was 1.4 or not?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Overall, would you say it's 1.4 overall? Yes.

QUESTION: Great. Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: That's a yes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Yes, it's a yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

2006/342

Released on April 5, 2006

ENDS


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