Remarks to the Press on the Release of the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, everyone. I’m here today to present the 35th annual report to Congress on the state of human rights around the world. The struggle for human rights begins by telling the truth over and over again. And this report represents a year of sustained truth-telling by one of the largest organizations documenting human rights conditions in the world, the United States State Department.
I want to thank Assistant Secretary Mike Posner and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and our hundreds of colleagues and embassies around the world for working so hard to make this report an honest compendium of global human rights issues. I also want to thank the many people around the world who monitor and fight for human rights in their own societies, and from whose information and recommendations we greatly benefit.
In recent months, we have been particularly inspired by the courage and determination of the activists in the Middle East and North Africa and in other repressive societies who have demanded peaceful democratic change and respect for their universal human rights. The United States will stand with those who seek to advance the causes of democracy and human rights wherever they may live, and we will stand with those who exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in a peaceful way, whether in person, in print, or in pixels on the internet. This report usually generates a great deal of interest among journalists, lawmakers, nongovernmental organizations, and of course, other governments, and I hope it will again this year.
As part of our mission to update statecraft for the 21st century, today I’m also pleased to announce the launch of our new website, humanrights.gov. This site will offer one-stop shopping for information about global human rights from across the United States Government. It will pull together reports, statements, and current updates from around the world. It will be searchable and it will be safe. You won’t need to register to use it. We hope this will make it easier for citizens, scholars, NGOs, and international organizations to find the information they need to hold governments accountable.
Here at the State Department, human rights is a priority 365 days a year. It is part of the mission of each of our ambassadors. It is on my agenda or on Under Secretary Otero’s or anyone else’s who meets with foreign leaders. And it is a core element of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, because it actually is in line with our values, our interests, and our security. History has shown that governments that respect their people’s rights do tend, over time, to be more stable, more peaceful, and ultimately more prosperous.
We were particularly disturbed by three growing trends in 2010. The first is a widespread crackdown on civil society activists. For countries to progress toward truly democratic governance, they need free and vibrant civil societies that can help governments understand and meet the needs of their people. But we’ve seen in Venezuela, for example, the government using the courts to intimidate and persecute civil society activists. The Venezuelan Government imposed new restrictions on the independent media, the internet, political parties, and NGOs. In Russia, we’ve seen crackdowns on civil society groups turn violent with numerous attacks and murders of journalists and activists. In China, we’ve seen negative trends that are appearing to worsen in the first part of 2011.
As we have said repeatedly, the United States welcomes the rise of a strong and prosperous China, and we look forward to our upcoming Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Beijing and to our continued cooperation to address common global challenges. However, we remain deeply concerned about reports that, since February, dozens of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals, and activists have been arbitrarily detained and arrested. Among them most recently was the prominent artist, Ai Weiwei, who was taken into custody just this past Sunday. Such detention is contrary to the rule of law, and we urge China to release all of those who have been detained for exercising their internationally recognized right to free expression and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all of the citizens of China.
Beyond a widespread crackdown on civil society activists, we saw a second trend in 2010 – countries violating the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association by curtailing internet freedom. More than 40 governments now restrict the internet through various means. Some censored websites for political reasons. And in a number of countries, democracy and human rights activists and independent bloggers found their emails hacked or their computers infected with spyware that reported back on their every keystroke. Digital activists have been tortured so they would reveal their passwords and implicate their colleagues. In Burma and in Cuba, government policies preempted online dissent by keeping most ordinary people from accessing the internet at all.
The third disturbing trend of 2010 was the repression of vulnerable minorities, including racial and ethnic and religious minorities along with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In Pakistan, for example, blasphemy remains a crime punishable by death. And the blasphemy law has been enforced against Muslims who do not share the beliefs of other Muslims, and also against non-Muslims who worship differently.
In the first two months of 2011, two government officials in Pakistan who sought to reform the law, Governor Taseer and Minister Bhatti, were targeted by a fatwa and assassinated. Also, in Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria, violent attacks by extremists have killed dozens of people who have been peacefully practicing their religions, Christians and Muslims alike. In Iran, we have multiple reports that the government summarily executed more than 300 people in 2010. Many of them were ethnic minorities. For example, in May, four Kurdish men were hanged in Evin Prison. They had been arrested in 2006 for advocating that Iran should respect human rights. They were reported to have confessed to terrorism under torture. And because I believe, and our government believes, that gay rights are human rights, we remain extremely concerned about state-sanctioned homophobia. In Uganda, for example, homosexuality remains illegal, and people are being harassed, discriminated against, threatened, and intimidated.
But the news is, of course, not all bad. We have seen improvements in the human rights situations in a number of countries, and we’ve also seen the uprisings of the past months in the Middle East and North Africa, where people are demanding their universal human rights. In Colombia, the government began consulting with human rights defenders. It is supporting efforts to stop violence. It has passed a law to restore land and pay reparations to the victims of the very long civil conflict that occurred in Colombia. Guinea held free and fair elections and inaugurated its first democratically elected president. And Indonesia boasts a vibrant free media and a flourishing civil society at the same time as it faces up to challenges in preventing abuses by its security forces and acting against religious intolerance.
Societies flourish when they address human rights problems instead of suppressing them. Freedom from fear makes economies grow as citizens invest, innovate, and participate. Where human rights matter, children grow up with the precious belief that they matter, too; that they should be able to live in dignity and shape their own destinies. People everywhere deserve no less. And we hope that this report will give comfort to the activists, will shine a spotlight on the abuses, and convince those in government that there are other and better ways.
And we want to see progress. We started doing this report 35 years ago because we believed that progress is possible. And certainly, if you were to do a chart from 35 years ago to today, you would see a lot of progress in a lot of places. But at the same time, we must remain vigilant, and this report is one of the tools that we use to be that way.
Thank you all. Now, Assistant Secretary Mike Posner.