From the Desk of Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs

Washington, DC
September 1, 2010

Dear friends,

One year ago, I was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. With the support of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, we set out to elevate and integrate global affairs—issues that transcend national borders —into every aspect of U.S. foreign policy. It was and continues to be a bold mandate, and I am fortunate to work with an extraordinarily talented and committed team: Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) Mike Posner, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) Kerri-Ann Jones, and Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP) Luis CdeBaca. Together, we are advancing Secretary Clinton’s vision of smart power, and engaging the world on issues of vital concern to human and national security.

I have represented the United States in 15 countries in the last 12 months. Since I last wrote, I have held high-level meetings in Switzerland, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Indonesia, Norway, Nigeria, and Pakistan. I am working closely with the regional bureaus of the State Department to help lead policy dialogues with strategic priority countries, including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Norway, and Pakistan. Our policy objectives have sought to advance the Administration’s active science and health diplomacy agendas, further progress toward meeting the climate and clean energy challenge, save the lives of refugees and the most vulnerable groups of people, and promote democratic principles and processes.

For example, I have just returned from my second trip to Nigeria, where we are assisting the country in the design and implementation of much-needed electoral reform that could lead to credible, transparent and fair elections in 2011.

One of the principal policy areas on which I have focused is water. Water is integral in every element of society—from access to clean water and sanitation and the safety and health of women to the availability of food and the stability in and between nations of the world. During a time of diminishing natural resources and increasing threats from climate change, it is essential that we improve our understanding and prioritization of how water is managed, distributed, and protected.

Date: 06/17/2010 Location: Islamabad, Pakistan Description: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero tours the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) during her visit to Pakistan for the Strategic Dialogue Water Working Group session. - State Dept ImageIn Pakistan, where the devastating flooding is affecting millions, I am working with national and provincial leaders as part of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue to help address that country’s internal water challenges. In the Middle East, I discussed water issues with both governments and civil society representatives who are addressing challenges such as sharing resources and improving desalination techniques. These meetings followed Secretary Clinton’s landmark speech on water as a U.S. foreign policy priority at the National Geographic Society on World Water Day. From Brazil to the Arctic, we have engaged with governments, leading scientists, and civil society on the need for sound practices and good governance on environmental issues, including challenges such as deforestation, carbon emissions, the conservation of the Arctic marine environment, and preservation of fragile ecosystems. The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, along with the Office of the Science Advisor to the Secretary, is elevating science diplomacy and global health to new levels, harnessing the technology and expertise of the science community for the greater good. For example, we partnered with the World Health Organization, United Nations, foreign governments and the private sector alongside other U.S. Government agencies such as HHS, CDC, and USAID in mounting a thorough response to the threat of the H1N1 pandemic influenza in 2009.

Of course, water, sustainability, health, and the environment are just some elements of the global challenges we face. The Obama Administration is actively engaging on human rights, asserting the United States’ leadership as a nation that holds individual rights and democratic principles at the core of our foreign policy. In Geneva, I represented the United States at the Human Rights Council, which the United States joined last year as part of our commitment to engaging with the international community on human rights issues. In Honduras, we are engaging with the country’s leaders to strengthen their democratic institutions and protect human rights.

Human rights are not just an issue for governments, but are also relevant to businesses, whose supply chains, labor practices, and multinational operations often impact thousands, if not millions, of people. In this vein, I am pleased to co-chair with Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Bob Hormats and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson the State Department’s working group on conflict minerals, in which we have developed a strategic plan and convened private sector stakeholders to better ensure that respect for human rights are integrated within all business activities. Under Secretary Hormats and I also co-chair the NetFreedom Task Force, which directs our efforts on the increasingly headline-capturing issue of Internet freedom. Through the NetFreedom Task Force, we are ensuring that freedom of expression and access to information on the Internet are upheld by governments, businesses, and civil society actors alike.

Another element of our human rights mandate is the monitoring and combating of one of the 21st century’s worst crimes: trafficking in persons. We have launched the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which includes a first ever ranking of the United States. As part of our efforts to advance the fight against modern slavery, we have launched a dialogue with diplomats from a wide-array of nations to share best practices and inform one another’s’ work. We continue to engage with NGOs and the academic community to strengthen the “3-P” paradigm of prosecution, protection and prevention.

The plight of refugees and internally displaced people around the world is at the forefront of our work. With Assistant Secretary Schwartz, we continue to respond to the conflicts and natural disasters that uproot people, while also working to secure more land for longstanding, crowded refugee camps, and improving conditions for refugees who are resettled in the United States by increasing the assistance they receive during their first days and weeks in this country.

I traveled to Pakistan twice in the last two months, and was struck by the resilience and determination of the Pakistani people to create a better future for themselves and future generations. The flooding, which has killed thousands and impacted 17 million people, is a disaster of enormous scale, and we will continue to support the people of Pakistan. If you would like to make a personal donation to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is assisting hundreds of thousands, please text “SWAT” to 50555 to donate $10.

As the Administration’s Special Coordinator on Tibetan Issues, I continue to lead the United State’s efforts in support of the Tibetan people. I have met on several occasions with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including last year in Dharamsala, India, along with President Obama’s Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett. I have met with Tibetan refugees in India and continue to promote education, humanitarian, and development assistance to Tibetans.

Today’s landscape of foreign policy challenges includes several common threads that give us hope for a better future. One such thread is better engagement with the next generation around the world. With Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale, I am co-chairing a new State Department Task Force on Youth, which will develop a global strategy that will guide the State Department’s efforts to engage youth and integrate their ideas into the U.S. foreign policy perspective. I was pleased to participate in President Obama’s Forum with Young African Leaders earlier this month, a testament to this Administration’s prioritization of youth.

Similar to the power of youth engagement, Secretary Clinton has also recognized the enormous potential of modern technology for economic growth and stability. We call it 21st century statecraft, and I am pleased to be leading, with Senior Advisor Alec Ross, the State Department’s strategy for mobile money, assessing how we can use this and other mobile tools to achieve U.S. foreign policy priorities, such as financial inclusion, food security, accountability and justice, and government transparency. Youth and technology are just two of the cross-cutting, fresh perspectives that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are bringing to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy; it is a positive indication of how this Administration is constructing modern foreign policy.

Next month, we will be gearing up for several major events in New York: the Millennium Development Goals Summit and the opening of the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, where I will engage in numerous discussions with government officials and civil society representatives from across the globe.

Though we have made progress on global issues, enormous challenges remain, and I have little doubt that the next 12 months will be just as busy as the last year. It is an honor to be serving as Under Secretary of State, and I send my sincere thanks for your support of our work. Please connect with me on DipNote, Facebook, Twitter and our website. I look forward to receiving your comments and observations.

Kind regards,

Maria Otero