Background Briefing on the Secretary's Travel to Lithuania

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route Geneva
December 6, 2011

MODERATOR: All right, everybody. We are en route from Vilnius to Geneva to celebrate Human Rights Day. To talk about what we’ll be doing this afternoon in Geneva, we have [Senior State Department Official]. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official]. Loudly. Loudly.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: December 10th is Human Rights Day, which is the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And this was a document that Eleanor Roosevelt, as the first chair of the Human Rights Commission, really led. It was her driving ambition to have a global statement coming out of World War II of what human rights were. And it has a concept which really was radical at the time, which are that human rights are universal and everybody, by virtue of their humanity, by being born, has certain rights and dignity.

And so today, the Secretary is going to speak at the UN about that universal declaration and focus in particular on the issue of LGBT rights as part of universal human rights. One broad theme is that LGBT rights are human rights. This is something that this Administration has pressed for the last three years, and this is an effort to raise the issue in a broad international setting.

The second thing is that it’s an effort to reinforce what we’ve tried to do globally both in bilateral policies with governments that criminalize LGBT status or conduct but also to get the United Nations and the Human Rights Council to pass a resolution addressing this. We led the effort, along with South Africa, some of the Latin American states and European states, in June, to pass the first ever resolution at the UN which addresses violence against LGBT people. That resolution calls for a report which will come out in January.

So this speech, broadly speaking, is an articulation of LGBT rights as human rights and an effort to broaden the international consensus or international support for that concept.

MODERATOR: Okay. We will have an embargoed text of this speech for you, we hope, in the next 20 minutes. Let’s go to your questions.

QUESTION: I mean, when you raise this in, like, bilateral forums or international forums, what kind of blowback do you get from more conservative, if you will, societies (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think this is an issue, like many that I deal with, that we deal with, where there is evolving views. If you think about 1948, when the Universal Declaration was adopted, the idea of equal rights for women or equal rights for racial minorities or equal rights for religious minorities, those were things that people were grappling with. And I think there’s been an evolution. This is a subject that’s still at a more early evolutionary stage. We get lots of support from countries in Europe, some in Latin America and elsewhere. We have parts of the world – Africa and the Middle East – where there’s clearly still a great difference of view on this.

MODERATOR: Just to add that the Secretary will make clear in this speech that supporting rights for this community has become an integral part of our diplomatic effort as well, and the Administration has instructed all embassies around the world to pursue these issues, and particularly where rights are not supported by governments.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We – diplomatically now, we have instructed ambassadors to challenge laws that criminalize LGBT status or conduct. We’re putting some money into it. We’re setting up a global equality fund, $3 million to support NGO activists working on this subject. We’re enhancing our protection for refugees and asylees who are being persecuted because of LGBT status.

QUESTION: How does the Administration reconcile the fact that the President won’t explicitly endorse marriage for gay couples at home, but here you are touting human rights, of which marriage is one?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think this – both the speech and our global policy – is dealing with the first iteration of questions. You don’t attack, you don’t commit a violent act, against somebody because of their sexual orientation. You don’t criminalize conduct. And so we’re here trying to, again, broadly speaking, identify a human right, a global human right, which starts with those fundamental principles and which is consistent with everything we’re doing across the board.

QUESTION: Forgive me my ignorance, but she raises this all the time. Has she ever given a speech at – like this (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think this is the most expansive articulation of what has, as I say, been a policy of the Administration from the get-go. This is the most full-ranging articulation of what we are --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the forum (inaudible)?


QUESTION: What are the countries that you are most concerned about where LGBT status or conduct are – is criminalized? What are the places you’re most worried about here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, there are a number of places. We raised the concerns last year about a proposed bill in Uganda which would not only have criminalized LGBT conduct, but even in some cases applied the death penalty. That law was never adopted, but it was – we spent a lot of time on that. There was recently a bill introduced in the parliament in Nigeria which also would criminalize conduct. So we’re facing this in a range of places.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: A range of countries in the Middle East as well.

QUESTION: I can’t remember the last Human Rights Report, but is this becoming more of a focus in your reporting for the Annual Human Rights Report?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We’ve really in the last couple of years added to the instructions to every embassy that this is now an important part of what we report on, and there’s much greater detail in what we’re reporting.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) all the embassies?

MODERATOR: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: When you mention the note to the embassies, when was that? That’s an ongoing effort or new?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, this is – there’s actually now a State Department task force working on this and a whole-of-State Department policy which includes reaching out to embassies. We’ve done that in the last several months.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) last several months?

MODERATOR: Guys, guys, can we do this in an organized fashion?

QUESTION: Yeah. I know you said some of the countries where you see it as a problem, but overall, how many countries are the ambassadors having to fight this issue? Dozens or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I can’t give you an exact answer. What I will tell you is in the spring, we and others introduced a statement at the UN – not a resolution but a statement – and 85 countries signed on to that. So there’s a range of countries that are with us on this. There’s obviously some that are quite much in the other direction.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate that there will be people in the audience here tonight who actively oppose this agenda, and what do you expect them to do?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, one of the things we’re trying to do in a range of human rights issues is to lead. And that means you take on issues that are controversial or in dispute. So there will clearly be, as there are in many things we do, people who don’t agree with us.

QUESTION: How do you reconcile the fact – I mean, you promote religious freedom, obviously, and you – I mean, there are countries that have very repressive religious restrictions or limitations. And in these particular cases – and I mean, it’s not – they don’t face penalties necessarily in some countries for these particular limitations. And this is an extension in some countries, like Muslim countries for instance, a further implementation of their religious beliefs?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: When we see violence, abusive behavior, against a vulnerable population, whether it’s women or religious minorities or gay people, we’re going to say that that’s a violation of human rights and we’re going to protest against it.

QUESTION: But not necessarily tolerance for that? It’s just violence and criminal – criminalizing (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s both violent attacks and discriminatory conduct.

MODERATOR: You’re going to hear the Secretary in her speech speak to both issues.

QUESTION: Could you talk about this particular event? You’ve said it’s pegged to the international day. But what – the venue for this, there’s no particular UNHCR meetings? It’s just invited ambassadors, saying she’s here and invited them to come and hear, but she hasn’t told them specifically what she’s talking about except about the anniversary?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Human Rights Council is not in session, so this is a meeting at the Palais at the UN Headquarters, I think in their General Assembly room. We’ve invited both the diplomatic community and nongovernmental community and others (inaudible).

QUESTION: But you don’t have an ongoing meeting or anything?

MODERATOR: They’re not in session right now.

QUESTION: To go back to Nicole’s question and your comment about leading, the President has not supported, or has not been explicit in supporting or calling for gay marriage, right? And are there not still statutes on the books in certain American states that criminalize some LGBT conduct? So why should anybody listen to the United States of America on this, if its own union is still far from perfect on these issues?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We always say that we’re going to lead by example, and at the same time we are always trying to form a more perfect union. We – the last U.S. states repealed laws criminalizing LGBT conduct in 2003. So we are – what we’re asking the world to do is to not violate people’s rights by attacking them or by criminalizing conduct.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you, everybody.

PRN: 2011/T57-11