Human Rights Advocates Present Plan of Action to Obama Administration

Washington, DC Freedom House, Human Rights First and dozens of human rights advocates from 27 countries today released the U.S.-specific portion of a Plan of Action to advance global human rights.  The plan,  which comes just days after the group met with President Obama and senior administration officials at the White House, includes a recommendation that the U.S. prioritize support for human rights defenders and independent media through the protection of freedom of expression and association in U.S. foreign policy. The recommendations for the U.S. government, formulated during the 2010 Human Rights Summit held in Washington, DC last week, form part of a larger plan of action for all governments and multi-lateral institutions to be released in the days ahead.

The 2010 Human Rights Summit, hosted by Human Rights First and Freedom House, brought together dissidents and human rights advocates from around the globe including Iran, Uganda, Taiwan, Egypt, Russia, and Venezuela with U.S. policy makers, officials from other democratic governments, and human rights and freedom of expression activists. During their meeting with President Obama, summit participants provided a first-hand account of the “on the ground” situation for human rights defenders, highlighted ways in which U.S. policy has impacted their work, and put forward ideas for improving upon these policies in the protection of fundamental freedoms.

“Human rights defenders work every day, often at great personal risk, to bring about positive, lasting change within their societies. By challenging injustice and raising awareness about human rights, these local activists aim to create a more secure world, one in which all people can live in freedom and dignity,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “The United States shares this goal and has pledged to support these courageous activists in their work.  Our job is to make sure that U.S. policy is designed to deliver on that promise. The summit’s recommendations spell out what more the United States can do to stand with those fighting to advance freedom everywhere.”

Among the recommendations released today are calls for the U.S. to formulate a strategy to promote freedom of expression in countries where it is under threat and fulfill its pledge to make Internet freedom an international priority, to engage with other countries in order to counter government initiatives that threaten freedoms of association and expression in multilateral bodies, and to provide direct support to human rights defenders to participate in multilateral, regional and sub-regional human rights mechanisms. A more complete list follows this release.

“It was important for the President to have heard first hand from those who are on the front lines in order for the administration to develop a set of policies that truly address the global assault on freedom of expression and association,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “The meeting with the defenders reinforced the idea that bilateral talks between the U.S. and other countries by any government agency must carry a consistent message on human rights if we hope to strengthen our defense of fundamental freedoms around the world.”

The summit’s format combined working groups and participatory discussions about current threats to freedom of expression and association and the role that governments must play in the defense of these freedoms. In addition to the action plan, the summit gave government officials the opportunity to hear from activists engaged in front-line struggles for freedom and democracy. A group of the advocates will remain in Washington, DC this week to meet with officials from various government agencies to present the plan of action.

2010 WASHINGTON HUMAN RIGHTS SUMMIT PLAN OF ACTION

Headline Action Points for the United States Government

Human rights defenders from more than two dozen countries met in Washington between February 17-19, 2010 and produced the following action plan in two parts: these headline action points for the United States government; and a fuller Plan of Action directed to the U.S. government, other governments, multilateral organizations and civil society organizations.

Introduction

Recognizing that its human rights practices have a far-reaching global impact, the U.S. government must abide by its commitments to safeguard universal human rights.  The United States should prioritize support for and protection of human rights defenders in its foreign policy by emphasizing the promotion of the basic freedoms of expression and association through its policies and activities around the world.

To that end the U.S. government should:

Policy Formulation

  • Ensure that advancing human rights, including the protection of the freedoms of association and expression, are operationalized through a National Security Presidential Directive or some comparable mechanism, and properly resourced.
  • Ensure that the promotion of freedoms of association and expression are included in a national foreign assistance strategy.
  • Strengthen the U.S. Guiding Principles on Non-Governmental Organizations (issued in 2006) by developing them into action guidelines for embassies, missions and other U.S. diplomatic representatives around the world.
  • Formulate a strategy to promote freedom of expression in countries where it is under threat and fulfill its pledge to make Internet freedom an international priority.
  • Facilitate, support and strengthen engagement by independent civil society organizations in regional and sub-regional multilateral bodies.
  • Combat terrorism and violent extremism by promoting more human rights, not less.

Diplomatic Engagement

  • Ensure that consistent human rights and democracy messages are conveyed in bilateral discussions at all levels and in all areas.
  • When establishing bi-lateral structures to deal with human rights issues, include local civil society activists in their development and functioning.
  • In countries where freedoms of association and expression are curtailed, ensure that embassies and missions have a plan of action for supporting independent civil society organizations (CSOs), media and human rights defenders.  This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Convening regular meetings and building relationships with human rights defenders and journalists to show support for their work and remaining engaged in their efforts;
    • Monitoring trials of human rights defenders.
  • Engage with other countries in order to counter government initiatives that threaten freedoms of association and expression in multilateral bodies.
  • Lead multilateral efforts to promote a single Internet and end censorship.

Foreign assistance

  • Ensure that the integrity and independence of U.S. government assistance is maintained.  In those countries where restrictions exist on providing international aid to independent CSOs, the U.S. government should devise strategies for assisting civil society, and should register its objections with the host country’s government. The U.S. government should not acquiesce to the demands of other governments to vet or restrict U.S. foreign assistance to CSOs.
  • Remove onerous U.S. conditions on foreign assistance that jeopardize freedom of association and undermine CSOs.
  • Provide direct support to human rights defenders to participate in multilateral, regional and sub-regional human rights mechanisms.
Press

Published on February 22, 2010

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