Under Secretary Otero's Keynote Remarks at the European Union's Human Rights Day Event

Daniel Baer
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
EU Mission To The United States
Washington, DC
December 11, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for that kind introduction. It is a special honor to be with you the day after the European Union was awarded the 2012 Peace Prize. My warm congratulations to you.

And thank you also to the embassies that are cohosting today’s event—Cyprus, Finland, and Lithuania—as well as the embassies of the Czech Republic, Sweden and the UK which have supported this event as well.

I am very sorry that Maria Otero could not be here. As you’ve heard, there was a death in her family overnight, and certainly my thoughts are with her. Those of you who know her know that she brings wisdom, grace and warmth to all that she does, and so I am glad that she can be with her family, as I’m sure she is a comfort to them.

Maria and I have traveled together and worked on many issues together over the last three and a half years—so it’s an honor to be her understudy today, and I thank the mission for inviting me to deliver her remarks in her stead.

Today’s meeting fits well with the EU’s legacy of working for peace and justice. And I am pleased you have organized such a distinguished panel to address the issue of human rights, a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day, when we celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In adopting the Declaration, governments around the world recognized that human beings are, by virtue of their birth, endowed with certain inalienable rights. And these rights serve as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Today, we continue to look to the Universal Declaration not just as a reminder of our values, but as a guide for action. As Secretary of State Clinton said last week in Dublin, “it is a time-tested blueprint for successful societies.”

The theme of today’s event – “Supporting Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association, and Political Participation” – is particularly appropriate. For we recognize that human rights are not just about freedom from violence, torture, unlawful detention, discrimination, and oppression. Human rights also include the fundamental freedoms to speak, associate, assemble, and follow one’s faith.

The European Union and the United States have been strong partners in promoting these basic rights that are so important to securing other rights. We are bound together by a common history and shared values, within which these fundamental freedoms play a key role.

Today, I’d like to highlight a few areas where the EU and the United States are working together to promote and strengthen human rights around the world.

First, we both work to ensure that the freedoms of expression, association, and political participation enhance citizen involvement in the democratic electoral process. As Secretary Clinton has said on numerous occasions, a vibrant civil society in which citizens and activists engage in vigorous public debate is one of the fundaments of free, democratic nations. Such public deliberation helps keep citizens informed, exposes them to a variety of opinions, values and interests, and induces them to refine their own views and defend them with good reasons.

And democratic elections, in turn, help to protect fundamental freedoms and to promote good governance, by enabling citizens to hold their leaders accountable. Thus, the mutually reinforcing feedback loop between civil society and democratic institutions creates a virtuous circle of vibrant democracy.

Second, we work together to protect freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as a number of other international instruments. Of course, protecting the right of expression does not mean endorsing everything that people say. There are billions of people on earth; some of them will say terrible, hurtful things. They may offend our religious feelings or defame groups we belong to. Rather than banning such speech, the rest of us should use our own freedom of expression to challenge, condemn, and reject hateful or offensive speech.

Working with youth from many European Union countries over the past few years, we have shown that it is possible to stop bigotry and promote respect across lines of culture, religion, tradition, class, disability, and gender. The 2012 Hours Against Hate campaign uses social media to invite youth throughout Europe and around the world to volunteer their time with someone who does not look like them, live like them, or pray like them. The success of the campaign is evident through the more than 20,000 volunteer hours pledged globally. People from faith groups, NGOs, international organizations, universities, businesses, governments, and other individuals in Europe and around the world have joined the campaign.

Third, we share the same objectives in the fight against anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, LGBT individuals, and persons with disabilities. The EU continues to play the leading role in combating all forms of discrimination across the European continent. We applaud the EU’s Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies as an important step in protecting the rights of the members of the Romani minority, and we encourage the EU to press forward in its commitments to promote the social and economic inclusion of members of all marginalized groups.

We also applaud the EU Council’s adoption in June of an “EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy.” And we look forward to continue working closely with newly appointed EU Special Representative Mr. Lambrinidis on the implementation of our human rights policy. (Incidentally we are already working together-- I was in Geneva last week for the first UN Forum on Business and Human Rights where Mr. Lambrinidis and Mike Posner both addressed the plenary session.)

Fourth, as Secretary of State Clinton noted in a recent speech in Washington, we will cooperate with the EU to promote democracy and human rights in those parts of Europe that are not yet where they need to be. The Secretary reiterated this message in Dublin last week when she met with embattled civil society organizations from across Europe on the sidelines of the OSCE ministerial meetings.

Beyond Europe, we applaud some of the newest members of the EU for using their recent experiences with democratization to support democratic aspirations in Eurasia, the Middle East, and North Africa.

And we look to our European allies to help improve security and build new relationships in Asia. As Secretary Clinton said, “our pivot to Asia is not a pivot away from Europe. On the contrary, we want Europe to engage more in Asia along with us, to see the region not only as a market, but as a focus of common strategic engagement.”

And as a good example, European governments, including Germany, UK, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Poland, have joined the call for Chinese authorities to address the worsening human rights conditions in Tibetan areas.

The United States is deeply concerned and saddened by the continuing violence in Tibetan areas of China and the increasing frequency of self-immolations by Tibetans.

Chinese authorities have responded to these tragic incidents with measures that tighten already strict controls on the freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association of Tibetans. Official rhetoric that denigrates the Tibetan language, the Dalai Lama, and those that have self-immolated has further exacerbated tensions.

The United States government has consistently urged the Chinese government to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions. These policies include increasingly severe government controls on Tibetan Buddhist religious practice and monastic institutions; education practices that undermine the preservation of Tibetan language; intensive surveillance, arbitrary detentions and disappearances of Tibetans, including youth and Tibetan intellectual and cultural leaders; escalating restrictions on news, media and communications; and the use of force against Tibetans seeking peacefully to exercise their universal human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, we celebrate Human Rights Day every December. But advancing freedom and human rights is our daily work, as the Secretary noted in Dublin, and we must continue the hard work of “making human rights a human reality.” We continue to press for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people, and we will stand with citizens, activists, and governments around the world that do the same, as we strive for a world in which each human being lives freely and with dignity. Thank you.