Remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony for Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Secretary of State
Thank you. Well, this is an occasion that many of us have been waiting for – (laughter) – and it is both a delight and, frankly, a relief that it has finally come to pass, because I am absolutely thrilled to swear in Mike Posner as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Day in and day out, the bureau that Mike is heading works to promote some of our most basic values. It trains NGOs and civil society leaders to try to turn the principles of democracy into practice, to combat violence and discrimination against women and minorities, to promote interfaith dialogue and fight exploitation in the workplace. We really count on DRL to ensure that people around the world enjoy the rights and responsibilities and the opportunities that should enable them to make better decisions for themselves.
And this work is integral to our foreign policy and to creating the kind of world that the United States and the Obama Administration is seeking. Enabling people and empowering them to participate freely in the life of their societies – expressing their opinions, adhering to the faith of their choosing, earning a decent wage, having a future that is going to provide greater possibilities for their children – these are key to the kind of security, stability, prosperity, peace, and progress that we are seeking.
And it is an important job and it’s a big job, and we needed the right person. And obviously, all of you who are still flooding in to the Ben Franklin Room agreed with me in recommending to the President that Mike was the man for the job. For 30 years, he’s been at the forefront of the international human rights movement. He’s advocated on behalf of political prisoners, called for the prosecution of war criminals, urged the United States to take a principled stand against oppression. As the president of Human Rights First, he led efforts banning U.S. officials from engaging in degrading treatment of detainees. He established partnerships to promote corporate accountability and fair working conditions in the apparel industry. He’s been a force for refugee protection worldwide, leading one of the largest pro bono refugee assistance programs in our country. And as a lecturer at both Yale and Columbia Law Schools, he has helped to prepare a new generation to take up the cause of human rights at home and abroad.
I first met Mike – I knew of Mike, but I actually first met him, the best we can remember – it gets harder and harder – (laughter) – in March of 2007 in Concord, New Hampshire, where Human Rights First organized private individual meetings between presidential candidates and retired military officers to discuss how human rights abuses compromise our values and our national security. Human Rights First’s approach to these meetings was smart, strategic, and principled, and Mike brings all of those qualities and more to his new position. He doesn't just approach human rights theoretically; he understands at a human level the social cost to societies when people are denied their rights or stripped of their dignity. He lost relatives on both sides of his family during the Holocaust, and the pride in knowing that his two great-uncles survived and helped lead the French resistance shaped his world view and motivated him to devote not just his career, but his life, to the cause of human rights.
Now, he’s wasted no time in getting to work. We had this little interlude of confirmation to get through. (Laughter.) But as soon as it was completed, literally, he was on a plane, going to lead the first ever U.S. delegation to the UN Human Rights Council. Our team there under Mike’s leadership not only made significant progress on women’s rights and human security issues, but co-sponsored a successful resolution with Egypt upholding freedom of expression and freedom of religion. And Mike went on to Warsaw to present the Obama Administration’s proposal for advancing the “Human Dimension” of the Helsinki process. I think I only talked to him two times during that period, because I had great confidence that he would indeed be successful as we rejoined the Human Rights Council and it exceeded our expectations.
Now, as assistant secretary, Mike will work with the rest of the Administration, as well as with NGOs, the private sector, and independent media to support accountable institutions of government that protect the rule of law; empower women – a high priority of ours – and minorities so that they can participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives; promote the values of equality, liberty, and fairness so every man, woman, and child has a chance to fulfill his or her God-given potential.
I look at this audience, and I see some champions of human rights – some who have carried the banner both inside and outside of government, lawyers who have done a lot of pro bono work on behalf of human rights, many of you who have served in this bureau and are serving today.
And it is very exciting for me to have a partner like Mike as we carry the message of human rights throughout the world. And I’m certainly looking forward to the months ahead. We have much in front of us. I think we have great opportunities, but we will have to labor literally day in and day out to meet those expectations. And I don’t need to invite you, but I will welcome your involvement and participation, your advice, your constructive criticism. We may not always agree, but we are committed to the same outcomes. And how we get there and what we do along the way to actually maximize our impact is the challenge that we have taken on.
So it is now my honor and privilege to administer the Oath of Office to someone who’s been serving very well already, but don’t tell anyone outside of this room. (Laughter.) And, Mike, if you’ll step forward with your family. Deborah will hold the Bible, and you’ll put your left hand and raise your right and repeat after me.
(The Oath of Office was administered.)