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Secretary Clinton’s Human Rights Speech at Georgetown *updated*

December 14, 2009

This morning prior to the speech I wrote a blurb about Laura Rozen’s preview of the speech and I touched on some of my concerns about Obama’s approach (or lack thereof) to human rights thus far.

I will be updating this post shortly because I am interested in what people think and I’ve found some interesting articles gauging reaction to the speech which I want to highlight here. But for now, I just wanted to get the transcript up so people could read it.

**UPDATE**: The State Dept. released the video:
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Here is the transcript:

Thank you Jasdeep, Dean Lancaster, and President DeGioia for that kind introduction and thank you for having me here today.

There is no better place than Georgetown University to talk about human rights. President DeGioia, the administration, and the faculty embody the university’s long tradition of supporting free expression and free inquiry and the cause of human rights around the world.

I know that President DeGioia himself has taught a course on human rights, as well as one on the ethics of international development with one of my old colleagues, Carol Lancaster. And I want to commend the faculty, who are helping to shape our thinking on human rights, conflict resolution, development and related subjects; and the university community overall, including the students, for working to advance interreligious dialogue, for giving voice to many advocates and activists working on the front lines of the global human rights movement through the Human Rights Institute at the law school and other programs; and for the opportunities you provide for students to work in a fine international women’s rights clinic.

All of these efforts reflect the deep commitment of the Georgetown administration, faculty, and students here to this cause. Thank you.
Today I want to speak to you about the Obama administration’s human rights agenda for the 21st century. It is a subject on the minds of many people who are eager to hear our approach, and understandably so. It is a crucial issue that warrants our energy and attention.

My comments will provide an overview of our thinking on human rights and democracy, and how they fit into our broader foreign policy, as well as the principles and policies that guide our approach. But let me also say that what this is not: It is not a comprehensive accounting of abuses or nations with whom we have raised human rights concerns. It is not a checklist or a scorecard. In that light, I hope that we can all use this opportunity to look at this important issue in a broader light and appreciate its full complexity, moral weight, and urgency.
With that, let me turn to the business at hand.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary. Because, in his words: “only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”
Throughout history and in our own time—there have been those who violently deny that truth. Our mission is to embrace it, to work for lasting peace through a principled human rights agenda and a practical strategy to implement it.

President Obama’s speech also reminded us that our basic values, the ones enshrined in our Declaration of Independence—the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—are not only the source of our strength and endurance, they are the birthright of every woman, man, and child on earth.

That is the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the prerequisite for building a world in which every person has the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential; and the power behind every movement for freedom, every campaign for democracy, every effort to foster development, and every struggle against oppression.

The potential within every person to learn, discover and embrace the world around them; the potential to join freely with others to shape their communities and their societies so that every person can find fulfillment and self-sufficiency; the potential to share life’s beauties and tragedies, laughter and tears with the people we love—that potential is sacred.

That is a dangerous belief to many who hold power and who construct their position against an “other”—another tribe or religion or race or gender or political party.

Standing up against that false sense of identity and expanding the circle of rights and opportunities to all people—advancing their freedoms and possibilities—is why we do what we do.

This week we observe Human Rights Week. At the State Department, though, every week is Human Rights Week. Sixty-one years ago this month, the world’s leaders proclaimed a new framework of rights, laws, and institutions that could fulfill the vow of “never again.” They affirmed the universality of human rights through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and legal agreements including those aimed at combating genocide, war crimes and torture, and challenging discrimination against women and racial and religious minorities. Burgeoning civil society movements and non-governmental organizations became essential partners in advancing the principle that every person counts, and in exposing those who violated that standard.

As we celebrate that progress, our focus must be on the work that remains to be done. The preamble of the Universal Declaration encourages us to use it as a “standard of achievement.” And so we should.

But, we cannot deny the gap that remains between its eloquent promises and the life experiences of so many of our fellow human beings.
Now we must finish the job.

Our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a human reality.

The first step is to see human rights in a broad context. Of course, people must be free from the oppression of tyranny, from torture, from discrimination, from the fear of leaders who will imprison or “disappear” them. But they must also be free from the oppression of want—want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact.

To fulfill their potential, people must be free to choose laws and leaders; to share and access information, to speak, criticize, and debate. They must be free to worship, associate, and to love in the way that they choose. And they must be free to pursue the dignity that comes with self-improvement and self-reliance, to build their minds and their skills, bring their goods to the marketplace, and participate in the process of innovation.
Human rights have both negative and positive requirements. People should be free from tyranny in whatever form, and they should also be free to seize the opportunities of a full life.

That is why supporting democracy and fostering development are cornerstones of our 21st century human rights agenda.

This administration, like others before us, will promote, support, and defend democracy. We will relinquish neither the word nor the idea to those who have used it too narrowly, or to justify unwise policies. We stand for democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to enjoy consistent protection of the rights that are naturally theirs, whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran . Democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality over the long term.

But it is crucial that we clarify what we mean when we talk about democracy. Democracy means not only elections to choose leaders, but also active citizens; a free press; an independent judiciary and legislature; and transparent and responsive institutions that are accountable to all citizens and protect their rights equally and fairly. In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day-by-day, it is the reason they govern. Democracies protect and respect citizens every day, not just on Election Day. And democracies demonstrate their greatness not by insisting they are perfect, but by using their institutions and their principles to make themselves—and their union— “more perfect,” just as our country continues to do after 233 years.

At the same time, human development also must be part of our human rights agenda. Because basic levels of well-being—food, shelter, health, and education —and of public common goods—environmental sustainability, protection against pandemic disease, provisions for refugees—are necessary for people to exercise their rights. And because human development and democracy are mutually reinforcing. Democratic governments are not likely to survive long if their citizens do not have the basic necessities of life. The desperation caused by poverty and disease often leads to violence that further imperils rights and threatens the stability of governments. Democracies that deliver on rights, opportunities, and development for their people are stable, strong, and most likely to enable people to live up to their potential.

Human rights, democracy, and development are not three separate goals with three separate agendas: that view doesn’t reflect the reality we face. To make a real and long-term difference in people’s lives we have to tackle all three simultaneously with a commitment that is smart, strategic, determined, and long-term.

We should measure our success by asking this question: Are more people in more places better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?

Our principles are our North Star, but our tools and tactics must be flexible and reflect the reality on the ground wherever we are trying to have a positive impact. In some cases, governments are willing but unable without support to establish strong institutions and protections for citizens, for example the nascent democracies in Africa. We can extend our hand as a partner to help them try to achieve authority and build the progress they desire. In other cases, like Cuba or Nigeria, governments are able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve. There, we must vigorously press leaders to end repression, while supporting those within societies who are working for change. And in cases where governments are both unwilling and unable—places like the eastern Congo—we have to support those courageous individuals and organizations who try to protect people and who battle against the odds to plant the seeds for a more hopeful future.

The challenges we face are diverse and complicated. And there is not one approach or formula, doctrine or theory that can be easily applied to every situation. But today I want to outline four elements of the Obama administration’s approach to putting our principles into action, and share with you some of the challenges we face in doing so.

First, a commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding everyone accountable to those standards, including ourselves. On his second full day in office, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the use of torture or official cruelty by any US official and ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

Next year we will report on human trafficking not only in other countries but also in our own, and we will participate through the United Nations in the Universal Periodic Review of our own human rights record, just as we encourage other nations to do.

By holding ourselves accountable, we reinforce our moral authority to demand that all governments adhere to obligations under international law, among them not to torture, arbitrarily detain and persecute dissenters, or engage in political killings. Our government, and the international community, must counter the pretensions of those who deny or abdicate their responsibilities and hold violators to account.

Sometimes, we will have the most impact by publicly denouncing a government action, like the coup in Honduras or the violence in Guinea. Other times, we will be more likely to help the oppressed by engaging in tough negotiations behind closed doors, like pressing China and Russia as part of our broader agenda. In every instance, our aim will be to make a difference, not to prove a point.

Calling for accountability doesn’t start or stop at naming offenders. Our goal is to encourage—even demand—that governments must also take responsibility by putting human rights into law and embedding them in government institutions; by building strong, independent courts and competent and disciplined police and law enforcement. And once rights are established, governments should be expected to resist the temptation to restrict freedom of expression when criticism arises, and be vigilant in preventing law from becoming an instrument of oppression, as bills like the one under consideration in Uganda to criminalize homosexuality would do.

We know that all governments—and all leaders—sometimes fall short. So there have to be internal mechanisms of accountability when rights are violated. Often the toughest test for governments, this is essential to the protection of human rights. And here, too, we should lead by example. In the last six decades we have done this—imperfectly at times but with significant outcomes—from making amends for the internment of our own citizens in World War II, to establishing legal recourse for victims of discrimination in the Jim Crow South, to passing hate crimes legislation to include attacks against gays and lesbians. When injustice anywhere is ignored, justice everywhere is denied. Acknowledging and remedying mistakes does not make us weaker, it reaffirms the strength of our principles and institutions.

Second, we must be pragmatic and agile in pursuit of our human rights agenda, not compromising on our principles, but doing what is most likely to make them real. We will use all the tools at our disposal. And when we run up against a wall we will not retreat with resignation—or repeatedly run up against it— but respond with strategic resolve to find another way to effect change and improve people’s lives.

We acknowledge that one size does not fit all. When old approaches aren’t working, we won’t be afraid to attempt new ones, as we have this year by ending the stalemate of isolation and instead pursuing measured engagement with Burma. In Iran, we have offered to negotiate directly with the government on nuclear issues, but have at the same time expressed solidarity with those inside struggling for democratic change. As President Obama said in his Nobel speech last week, “they have us on their side”.

And we will hold governments accountable for their actions as we have by terminating Millennium Challenge Corporation grants this year for Madagascar and Niger in the wake of government actions.

As the President said last week, “we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

We are also working for positive change within multi-lateral institutions. They are valuable tools that, when at their best, leverage the efforts of many countries around a common purpose. So we have re-joined the UN Human Rights Council, not because we don’t see its flaws, but because we think that participating gives us the best chance to be a constructive influence.

In our first session, we co-sponsored the successful resolution on Freedom of Expression, a forceful declaration of principle at a time when that freedom is jeopardized by new efforts to constrain religious practice, including recently in Switzerland, and by efforts to criminalize the defamation of religion—a false solution which exchanges one wrong for another.

And in the UN Security Council, I chaired the September session where we passed a resolution mandating protections against sexual violence in armed conflict.

Principled pragmatism informs our approach on human rights with key countries like China and Russia. Cooperation with each is critical to the health of the global economy and the non proliferation agenda, to managing security issues like North Korea and Iran, and to addressing world problems like climate change.

The United States seeks positive relationships with China and Russia. That means candid discussions of divergent views. In China we call for protection of rights of minorities in Tibet and Xinxiang; for the rights to express oneself and worship freely; and for civil society and religious organizations to advocate their positions within a framework of the rule of law. And we believe that those who advocate peacefully for reform within the constitution, such as Charter 2008 signatories, should not be persecuted.

With Russia we deplore the murders of journalists and activists and support the courageous individuals who advocate at great peril for democracy.
With China, Russia, and others, we are engaging on issues of mutual interest while also engaging societal actors in these same countries who are working to advance human rights and democracy. The assumption that we must either pursue human rights or our “national interests” is wrong. The assumption that only coercion and isolation are effective tools for advancing democratic change is also wrong.

Across our diplomacy and development efforts, we also keep striving for innovative new ways to achieve results. That’s why I commissioned the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, to develop a forward-looking strategy built on analysis of our objectives, our challenges, our tools, and our capacities to achieve America’s foreign policy and national security objectives. And make no mistake, issues of Democracy and Governance—D&G as they call it at USAID—are central to this review.

The third element of our approach is that we support change driven by citizens and their communities. The project of making human rights a human reality cannot be just a project for governments. It requires cooperation among individuals and organizations—within communities and across borders—who are committed to securing lives of dignity for all who share the bonds of humanity.

Six weeks ago, in Morocco, I met with civil society activists from across the Middle East and North Africa. They exemplify how lasting change comes from within. How it depends on activists who create the space in which engaged citizens and civil society can build the foundations for rights-respecting development and democracy.
Outside governments and global civil society cannot impose change, but we can promote and bolster it.

We can encourage and provide support for local grassroots leaders: providing a lifeline of protection to human rights and democracy activists when they get in trouble—as they often do—for raising sensitive issues and voicing dissent. This means using tools like our Global Human Rights Defenders Fund, which in the last year has provided targeted legal and relocation assistance to 170 human rights defenders around the world.

We can stand with them publicly—as we have by sending high-level diplomatic missions to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, and as I have done around the world from Guatemala to Kenya to Egypt to speak out for civil society and political leaders and to work backchannels to push for the safety of dissidents and protect them from persecution.

We can amplify the voices of activists and advocates working on these issues by shining a spotlight on their progress —so often courageously pursued in isolation—and by endorsing the legitimacy of their efforts. We can recognize their efforts with honors like the Women of Courage awards that First Lady Michelle Obama and I presented earlier this year and the Human Rights Defenders award I will present next month, and we can applaud others like Vital Voices, the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, and the Lantos Foundation, that do the same.

We can give them access to public forums that lend visibility to their ideas, and continue to press for a role for non-governmental organizations in multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the OSCE. We can enlist other allies like international labor unions who were instrumental in the Solidarity movement in Poland or religious organizations like those championing the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

We can help change agents to gain access to and share information through the Internet and mobile phones so that they can communicate and organize. With camera phones and facebook pages, thousands of protestors in Iran have broadcast their demands for rights denied, creating a record for all the world, including Iran’s leaders, to see. I’ve established a special unit inside the State Department to use technology for 21st century statecraft.

In virtually every country I visit – from Indonesia to Iraq to South Korea to the Dominican Republic — I conduct a town hall or roundtable discussion with groups outside of government to learn from them, and to provide a platform for their voices, ideas, and opinions. When I was in Russia I visited an independent radio station to give an interview, and to express through word and deed our support for independent media at a time when free expression is under threat.

On my visits to China, I have made a point of meeting with women activists. The U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 inspired a generation of women civil society leaders who have become rights defenders for today’s China. In 1998, I met a small group of lawyers in a crowded apartment on the fifth floor of a walk-up building, who described their efforts to win rights for women to own property, have a say in marriage and divorce, and be treated as equal citizens.

When I visited again earlier this year, I met with some of the same women, but their group had grown and expanded its scope. Now there were women working not just for legal rights but for environmental, health, and economic rights.

Yet one of them, Dr. Gao Yaojie [Gow Yow Geeyah], has been harassed for speaking out about AIDS in China. She should, instead, be applauded by her government for helping to confront the crisis.
NGOs and civil society leaders need the financial, technical and political support that we provide. Many repressive regimes have sought to limit the independence and effectiveness of activists and NGOs by restricting their activities—including more than 25 governments that have recently adopted new restrictions. Our funding and support can give a foothold to local organizations, training programs, and independent media.

And of course one of the most important ways that we and others in the international community can lay the foundation for change from the bottom up is through targeted assistance to those in need, and through partnerships that foster broad-based economic development.

To build success for the long run our development assistance needs to be as effective as possible at delivering results and paving the way for broad-based growth and long-term self-reliance. Beyond giving people the capacity to meet material needs, economic empowerment gives them a stake in securing their futures, a stake in seeing their societies become the kind of democracies that protect rights and govern fairly. We will pursue a rights-respecting approach to development— consulting with local communities, ensuring transparency, and midwife-ing accountable institutions—so that our development activities act in concert with our efforts to support democratic governance. That is the pressing challenge we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

The fourth element of our approach is that we will widen our focus–we will not forget that positive change must be reinforced and strengthened where hope is on the rise; and we will not ignore or overlook places of seemingly intractable tragedy and despair: where human lives hang in the balance we must do what we can to tilt that balance toward a better future.

Our efforts to support those working for human rights, economic empowerment, and democratic governance are driven by commitment not convenience, and must be sustained for the long run. Democratic progress is urgent but it is not quick, and we should never take for granted its permanence. Backsliding is always a threat, as we’ve learned in places like Kenya where the perpetrators of post- election violence have thus far escaped justice; and in the Americas where we are worried about leaders who have seized property, trampled rights, and abused justice to enhance personal rule.

And, when democratic change occurs, we cannot become complacent. Instead we must continue reinforcing NGOs and the fledgling institutions of democratic governance. Young democracies like Liberia, East Timor, Moldova and Kosovo need our help to secure improvements in health, education and welfare. We must stay engaged to nurture democratic development in places like Ukraine and Georgia, which experienced democratic breakthroughs earlier this decade but have struggled because of internal and external factors to consolidate democratic gains.

So we stand ready—both in our bilateral relationships and through international institutions—to help governments who have committed to improving their institutions, by assisting them in fighting corruption and helping train police forces and public servants. And we will support others, including regional institutions like the Organization of American States, the African Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where they take their own steps to defend democratic principles and institutions.

Success stories deserve our attention so that they continue to make progress in building sustainable democracies.

And, even as we reinforce successes, conscience demands that we are not cowed by the overwhelming difficulty of making inroads against misery in the hard places like Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, and Zimbabwe, or on the hard issues like ending gender inequality and discrimination against gays and lesbians—from the Middle East to Latin America, Africa to Asia.

We must continue to press for solutions in Sudan where ongoing tensions threaten to add to the devastation wrought by genocide in Darfur and an overwhelming refugee crisis. We will continue to identify ways to work with partners to enhance human security there while at the same time focusing greater attention on efforts to prevent genocide elsewhere.

As I said in Beijing in 1995 “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights” but that ideal is far from being realized in Goma, the last stop I made in the Democratic Republic of Congo in August, and the epicenter of one of the most violent and chaotic regions on earth. When I was there, I met with victims of horrific gender and sexual violence and refugees driven from their homes by the many military forces operating there. I also heard from those working to end the conflicts and to protect the victims in unfathomably dire conditions. I saw the best and worst of humanity in a single day in Goma: the unspeakable acts of violence that have left women physically and emotionally brutalized, and the heroism of the women and men themselves, and of the doctors, nurses and volunteers working to repair their bodies and their spirits.

They are on the front lines of the struggle for human rights. Seeing firsthand the courage and tenacity of these Congolese people – and the internal fortitude that keeps them going – is humbling, and it inspires me to keep working.

These four aspects of our approach—accountability, principled pragmatism, partnering from the bottom up, and keeping a wide focus where rights are at stake—will help build a foundation that enables people to stand and rise above poverty, hunger, and disease and that secures their rights under democratic governance. We must lift the ceiling of oppression, corruption, and violence. And we must light a fire of human potential through access to education and economic opportunity.

Build the foundation, lift the ceiling, and light the fire. All together. All at once. Because when a person has food and education but not the freedom to discuss and debate with fellow citizens—he is denied a life he deserves. And when a person is too hungry or sick to work or vote or worship, she is denied a life she deserves. Freedom doesn’t come in half measures, and partial remedies cannot redress the whole problem.

Now, the champions of human potential have never had it easy. We may call rights inalienable, but making them so has always been hard work. And no matter how clearly we see our ideals, taking action to make them real requires tough choices. Even if everyone agrees that we should do whatever is most likely to improve the lives of people on the ground, we won’t agree on what course of action fits that description in every case. That is the nature of governing.

We all know examples of good intentions that did not produce results. And we can learn from instances in which we have fallen short. Past failures are proof of how difficult progress is, but we do not accept claims that progress is impossible.

Because progress does happen. Ghana emerged from an era of coups to one of stable democratic governance. Indonesia moved from repressive rule to a dynamic democracy that is Islamic and secular. Chile exchanged dictatorship for democracy and an open economy.
Mongolia’s constitutional reforms successfully ushered in multiparty democracy without violence. And there is no better example than the progress made in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago, an event I was proud to help celebrate last month at the Brandenburg Gate.

While the work in front of us is vast, we face the future together with partners on every continent, partners in faith-based organizations, NGOs, and socially-responsible corporations, and partners in government. From India—the world’s largest democracy, and one that continues to use democratic processes and principles to perfect its union of over 1.1 billion people—to Botswana where the new president in Africa’s oldest democracy has promised to govern according to what he calls the “5 D’s”—democracy, dignity, development, discipline, and delivery, providing a recipe for responsible governance that contrasts starkly with the unnecessary and man-made tragedy in neighboring Zimbabwe.

In the end, this isn’t just about what we do; it’s about who we are. And we cannot be the people we are — people who believe in human rights—if we opt out of this fight. Believing in human rights means committing ourselves to action. When we sign up for the promise of rights that apply everywhere, to everyone, the promise of rights that protect and enable human dignity, we also sign up for the hard work of making that promise a reality.

Ok, here is some reaction to the speech. I am highlighting them because they seem to have approached the speech from different perspectives and I thought it was interesting. Here is an excerpt from the NYT:

Rejecting bipartisan criticism, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday detailed an administration human-rights approach that she called “pragmatic and agile,” meant to emphasize not just democracy but also development and to raise sensitive issues with countries like Russia and China behind closed doors.

“Sometimes we will have the most impact by publicly denouncing a government action, like the coup in Honduras or the violence in Guinea,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University during Human Rights Week.

“Other times we will be more likely to help the oppressed by engaging in tough negotiations behind closed doors, like pressing China and Russia as part of our broader agenda,” she said. “In every instance, our aim will be to make a difference, not to prove a point.”

Her speech defended an administration approach that has been criticized by some rights advocates and by certain lawmakers as too gentle or undemanding in its dealings with such countries as China and Sudan.

“Principled pragmatism informs our approach on human rights with key countries like China and Russia,” she said. “Cooperation with each is critical to the health of the global economy and the nonproliferation agenda, to managing security issues like North Korea and Iran, and to addressing world problems like climate change.”

The administration, criticized for Mr. Obama’s publicly mild tone during his recent China visit, has pointed to what it said were the early results of its less-confrontational approach: signs of new Chinese cooperation on climate change and on pressing Iran over its nuclear program.

Mrs. Clinton’s speech, with its strong emphasis on development, contrasted with the previous administration’s priority, especially in its early years, on the spread of democracy.

“Of course people must be free from the oppression of tyranny, from torture, from discrimination, from the fear of leaders who will imprison or ‘disappear’ them,” Secretary Clinton said, according to an advance text. “But they must also be free from the oppression of want — want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality.”

Mrs. Clinton, in language some rights advocates would embrace, did single out specific complaints against Russia and China. She called for, among other things, the protection by China of minority rights in Tibet and Xinxiang, and for greater civic freedoms….


Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said that some in the rights community were concerned that the State Department was focusing on development “to the exclusion of democracy.”

But, he said, “that fear is not at all reinforced by the speech: She’s talking about fighting poverty and empowering people as part and parcel of a strategy that also defends their political rights.”
[emphasis added]

I have to say I thought it was a fantastic speech and I agree with the very positive assessment above from the NYT although I truly believe that countries like China also need some public prodding regarding human rights and not just encouragement behind closed doors. I agree with Secretary Clinton that U.S. policy has to be pragmatic and deal with certain realities- like our economic dependence on China- in a way that doesn’t undermine our other interests.

That said, it would seem that by implicitly agreeing to really only discuss China’s human rights abuses in private, the U.S. is essentially admitting that in this area we perhaps are a bit too accommodating with respect to China’s sensitivities on this issue, or at least that’s my interpretation. After all, what would be the reason for criticizing a country like Cuba, Iran, North Korea, etc. in public and China only in private? The reason would seem to be to not upset China because of the economic situation. While that may be pragmatic in one sense, it potentially sends a conflicting and confusing message about the US approach to human rights. After all, if most discussions take place behind closed doors, some may have cause to question whether they are really taking place at all. Bear with me, I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

China absolutely fears being called out publicly on its human rights abuses because it contradicts their carefully crafted propaganda, and thus to not publicly denounce their abuses is to essentially enable China’s efforts at suppressing the truth. I think it’s also important to remember that for those victims of abuse who are essentially powerless with no monied special interests to take up their cause, to have a superpower like the U.S. speak out on their behalf is incredibly important- it gives them hope and lets them know they have not been forgotten.

But again, overall, I thought it was a fantastic speech.

Now another take…

The reaction from Amnesty International seems to focus primarily on what they see as an inconsistency between US words and actions on the homefront:

Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox issued the following statement in response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address today at Georgetown University outlining the Obama administration’s human rights agenda for the 21st century:

“Secretary Clinton rightly identifies accountability as the centerpiece of any successful human rights agenda for the United States. But if the administration means what it says, then it needs to follow through and back up rhetoric with actions. Discussion of human rights can’t be an empty rebranding exercise.

“The President should appoint a bipartisan commission to investigate the abuses connected to counterterrorism policies since September 11, 2001. The administration must adhere to executive orders already in effect and close the prison at Guantanamo and abide by international legal commitments to end torture.

“The administration can’t insist that other countries adhere to human rights protections while continuing to detain people outside the rule of law at home. The administration should bring charges against Guantanamo detainees who can legitimately be charged with a crime, and release the rest without further delay. To date, more than 100 individuals have already been cleared for release but remain unjustly detained in Guantanamo.

“In his Nobel Prize speech in Oslo, President Obama stated that ‘no nation can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we are not willing to follow those rules ourselves.’

“Amnesty International commends the administration for signaling that it intends to engage closely on human rights. This is welcome progress.

“It should carry this message forward through measurable progress at home. Taking these steps would further enhance national security. This means prioritizing accountability for torture, fully implementing already ratified human rights treaties, and signaling strong support for those human rights treaties not yet ratified, reconstituting an Interagency Working Group on Human Rights, creating an independent, nonpartisan National Human Rights Commission, and issuing a comprehensive Executive Order on Human Rights.”


20 Comments leave one →
  1. pcfs1 permalink
    December 14, 2009 9:46 pm

    Stacy once again thank you so much for posting this excellent speech by the Sec. os State on Womens Rights. There is so much work that needs to be done and some glimmer of hard work that has been accomplished on Womens Rights abroad. Madame Secretary did give many areas of hope and improvement. The Arts for one and the fact that the State Dept. is looking for ways to develop and place forward the many avenues of the Arts in foreign countries will be a great accomplishment for strong messages of hope.

    • HonoH permalink
      April 2, 2012 7:38 am

      中共賣國 —


      – HonoH

  2. Terry permalink
    December 15, 2009 4:50 am

    A truly remarkable speech, just jam packed with ideas and solutions and examples. She must have given three or four dozen examples of human rights issues all of which she is intimately knowledgable of. Have we ever had a secretary of state with this kind of commitment and sheer energy to face all of these intractable problems? This is her most personal and important speech this year. I think this is her life’s work and she was right to take this position when it was offered to her although it does take her out of domestic politics for a while where we also need her. I liked how she brought together and encapsulated her years as first lady with her political career and now her tenure as secretary of state, and reminded us that these are problems she has been aware of and worked on for years. Her human rights work has really been a continuum of thirty plus years. She was encouraging in reminding us of the progress the world has made in human rights in the last sixty years and how big a part the United States has had in this advancement. But I also appreciated how she also puts our nation on the list of those countries who violate human rights everyday and how she intends to do whatever she can to highlight these abuses and make changes domestically.

    Hillary’s heart came through in her answers to the three questions at the end, particularly the last one dealing with how artists influence the advancement of human rights. I wanted her to go on and on. As eloquent as her prepared speech was, it was her answers to those questions that shows how beautifully she wrestles with and articulates ideas and how gorgeously she speaks. She can be dazzling answering questions. She is an amazing woman and enormous talent and I simply love her.

  3. December 15, 2009 6:44 am

    I agree Terry, particularly in that she highlighted problems here at home, something which the Bush admin. would never do and still doesn’t do- we won’t have credibility in the area of human rights unless we look inward and acknowledge the problems here at home and take steps to fix them. Obama has taken a few steps in that direction but I wish he would do more to roll back the damaging directives and signing statements which Bush signed which gave the executive branch almost total control over citizens in a time of war. Obama’s Justice Dept. has been a bit of a disappointment as they’ve defended many of the Bush administraton’s position on secrecy and disclosure and the war on terror. Glen Greenwald does a great job of highlighting these things (much better than I could ever do) as does law professor Jonathan Turley who is frequently on MSNBC (I think I link to his website in my sidebar).

    Hillary’s incredible record on human rights is one of the reasons I think she could achieve so much positive change not just here at home but abroad- I think she more than anyone could actually have a positive effect on countries like China and Russia.

    I do think the US needs to articulate the fact repeatedly that economics cannot be separated from human rights- as I’ve said many times on this blog, China’s rise as an economic powerhouse was due to multiple factors but it sure helped them that they were able to attract American businesses due to their use of slave labor, no environmental regulations, no labor protections or product safety requirements- and that is largely STILL the case although China claims they are cleaning up their act somewhat. That is an example where human rights and economics are intertwined and actually hurt U.S. economic interests.

  4. AmericanBill permalink
    December 15, 2009 9:45 am

    More liberal nonsense. Stacey continues to rationalize this administrations refusing to get tough on Irans human rights abuse and also China. I guess your love of Hillary Clinton makes it impossible for you to see things in an objective way. Barack Hussein Obama seems to care more about his Muslim friends (Americas enemies) than our allies like Israel.

    Hillary Clintons speech was just part of Hussein Obama’s apology tour and it makes America look bad to always be apologizing for things we don’t need to apologize for. We have a right to fight terrorists any damn way we please without needing to apologize. Did the terrorists apologize to us?

  5. filipino-american4HRC permalink
    December 15, 2009 11:59 am

    The Obama administration could actually take a more openly critical stance towards China if Michelle Obama had the passion for, and was allowed by her husband, to speak her mind about human rights abuses (assuming Michelle feels strongly about these, anyway). Look how Clinton admin officials explained the implication of her speech in Beijing: (

    “A senior Administration official traveling with Mrs. Clinton was at pains after the address to explain that it did not mark a return to a more vocal confrontation with China over its poor human rights record. In recent months, Washington has sought to tone down its public remarks on human rights abuses in favor of a more private dialogue that had few results.

    “‘There is nothing in her speech that in any way deviates from our approach on China,” the official said, “or on our desire to get the relationship stabilized and to get some momentum going. This is a United Nations conference and she was speaking out on a global problem.'”

    Yet, look at its impact on those who confront all forms of discrimination against women in their daily lives and work:

    “As Mrs. Clinton recited her litany from the podium, many delegates applauded, some cheered and others pounded the tables.” . . . “‘She talked so eloquently about human rights, and I thought it was very effective, because all of the women here will know that the wife of the President of the United States also thinks about these things,’ said Maria Kamm, a delegate from Tanzania and member of Parliament there.”

    And here’s how Hillary explained it herself:

    “She said President Clinton’s goal is to remain ‘engaged’ with China in a broad and comprehensive relationship, but added, ‘we are trying to have an honest relationship. . .To me, it was important to express how I felt and to do so as clearly as I could,’ she said.”

    I remember when Condoleeza Rice was asked her opinion about the prospect of Hillary succeeding her (this was during her farewell tour in the Middle East), among other things Rice said she knew that Hillary was one of the early voices calling for intervention to stop the genocide in Rwanda. And I remember reading a news report about her participating in a teleconference with pro-Middle East peace youth activists early on in her time as First Lady, where she said it was time for the Palestinians to have their own state. Within a few hours, the White House issued a very public statement that she was expressing her own views and did not in any way speak for the administration. (I think the consternation was genuine.)

    Michelle can actually play that kind of role on certain sensitive issues, but of course she will earn her own Michelle-haters and soon she will be accused of acting as a co-president. So instead, she is dumbed down and packaged as the second coming of Jackie O.

    • rachel permalink
      December 15, 2009 2:16 pm

      It is early in the administration, but it does look like Michelle is going the “safe” route. I understand she has children to think about, but Chelsea was only about a year older than Malia when Hillary became 1st lady. Maybe Mrs Obama doesn’t want to be bothered with these things.

      • Terry permalink
        December 15, 2009 4:03 pm

        Yes, this blog isn’t about the first lady but I am still looking for Michelle Obama’s signature issues that will define her. We will see. The issues where she overlaps with Hillary will be exciting to watch.

  6. pcfs1 permalink
    December 15, 2009 12:08 pm

    Terry, Your comments are so well written. Your insights on the Secretay’s speech is a refreshing reminder to us all of the dedication and hard work that Madame Secretary has on her on going commitment on Womens Rights.
    Thanks You so much.

    Stacy, Thank you for posting this incredible speech the Secretary gave at Georgetown University yesterday. You could tell she gave her all in one of the most important speeches on Womens Rights.

  7. Safia permalink
    December 15, 2009 5:00 pm

    I am pretty new to this blog. I really enjoy reading the posts and comments. You do a great job of keeping up with Secretary Clinton’s incredible schedule. Thanks for the coverage of her human rights speech.

    She is such a positive role model. She has shown that over and over, especially since 2008.

  8. June 24, 2013 1:31 pm

    This was a great speech


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