Human Rights News

Syndicate content
The U.S. Government Source for International Human Rights
Updated: 2 years 43 weeks ago

U.S. Concerned by Passage of Discriminatory Law, Arrests of LGBT Individuals in The Gambia

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 09:52

We are dismayed by President Jammeh’s decision to sign into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals and are deeply concerned about the reported arrests and detention of suspected LGBT individuals in The Gambia. These reports follow the signature into law of a bill that imposes harsh sentences for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality.” The United States strongly opposes any legislation that criminalizes consensual relations between adults. We urge the Government of The Gambia not to arrest or detain individuals solely on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens to which they are entitled under The Gambia’s international human rights commitments. We call on the Government of The Gambia to reverse the deteriorating respect for democracy and human rights.

- Source:

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Secretary Kerry on Tunisia’s Presidential Election

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 09:55

I congratulate the Tunisian people on today’s presidential election. This historic moment has come about due to the strong commitment by Tunisians from across the political spectrum to democracy and the rule of law. With a continued emphasis on political and social cooperation and consensus-building, Tunisia’s democratic path will remain an inspiration to all those in the region and around the world who are working to build the foundation for an inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous future. I saw firsthand the power of Tunisia’s example when I visited earlier this year, and the United States will continue to support Tunisia’s transition and provide economic and security assistance to the Tunisian people. We look forward to the successful conclusion of Tunisia’s presidential election process by the end of this year and are committed to working with the democratically-elected government that will lead the country in the years ahead.

- Source:

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Key Outcomes from the Annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 18:06

The United States was proud to host the third Annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons (LGBTI) held in Washington from November 12–14. The conference was the largest such gathering to date, bringing together senior leaders from government, civil society and the private sector to discuss and strategize on how to most effectively protect the human rights of LGBTI persons and promote their inclusion in development programs. Thirty governments were represented from all regions as well as representatives from nine multilateral agencies, including the United Nations and World Bank. Key outcomes of the conference include:

  • Joint Communique: Over 25 governments and multilateral bodies formally affirmed their commitment to increase cooperation to advance the human rights of and promote inclusive development of LGBTI persons through agreeing to support a joint communique issued yesterday. The communique sets out important principles to guide our collective engagement and notes the signatories’ plan to continue to hold regular discussions on an annual basis to strengthen cooperation and coordination.
  • Chile Joins the Global Equality Fund: Chile became the first Latin American government to support the Global Equality Fund. Chile joins a group of nine like-minded governments, two corporations, three private foundations and Out Leadership who are all dedicated to committing resources to advance the human rights of LGBTI persons through providing support to civil society organizations.
  • PEPFAR Launches New Partnership with Global Equality Fund: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced plans to provide funding for the Global Equality Fund to document how stigma and discrimination, including discriminatory laws and policies, impede efforts to address HIV/AIDs, as well as undermine human rights.
  • New Initiatives to Support the Human Rights of Transgender and Intersex Persons: Private donors announced efforts to strengthen assistance to transgender and intersex persons through activist-led funding initiatives.
  • Increasing Research and Data on LGBTI-related Assistance: Activists, researchers, and a number of governments expressed their intention to further explore how to most effectively share information on efforts, both diplomatic and financial, to further advance the human rights of LGBTI persons.

The United States and other governments greatly look forward to the next conference to be organized by the Netherlands in early 2016 as an opportunity to continue to build the global coalition of stakeholders in support of the human rights of LGBTI persons.

- Source:

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Baer Response to OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Astrid Thors

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 17:29

High Commissioner Thors, we are pleased to see you again since your last presentation before the Permanent Council in July. Your visit is particularly appropriate given ongoing threats to security in the OSCE region. We rely heavily on your essential conflict prevention work, and we thank you for your report.

Your efforts have remained timely and targeted in the wake of ongoing Russia-backed separatist aggression in eastern Ukraine and abuses by de facto authorities against members of ethnic and religious groups related to the occupation and purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. We agree with the assessment you made of the Russia-crisis manifesting itself in Ukraine when you were in Geneva last month at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meeting, when you said that “it threatens the foundation of Europe’s public order, as confirmed by the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments.” The dangerous situation created by Russia in Ukraine’s Donbas and Crimea regions has far-reaching implications for your mandate of ensuring the protection of the human rights of members of minority groups.

We commend you for traveling to Ukraine in recent months and reporting on the situation there. In fact, the Needs Assessment on the Integration of Formerly Deported People in Crimea, Ukraine, which was prepared by your office in 2013, served as an early warning of the sharp decline in the respect for the human rights of members of minority groups we are now witnessing in Russia-occupied Crimea. This report, and your subsequent work, noted that Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainian communities in Crimea are particularly vulnerable. Unfortunately, under Russia’s occupation of Crimea, these communities are in fact under serious threat. We note a report released this week by Human Rights Watch documenting a wide range of abuses, including enforced disappearances and systemic harassment of independent civil society and media. High Commissioner Thors, we encourage you to travel more frequently to Crimea to assess the situation on the ground. We hope that you and other OSCE institutions, including the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, will be afforded unfettered access to Crimea in order to fulfill your mandates.

We also commend the Serbian government for the successful administration of National Minority Council elections

High Commissioner Thors, while you remain seized with the situation in Ukraine, we hope you will continue to engage actively in other countries as well. We congratulate you on your successful trip to Serbia. You noted the positive steps made by Serbian authorities to support Romanian and Vlach speakers. We also commend the Serbian government for the successful administration of National Minority Council elections last month.

We also want to recognize the first visit to Albania by a High Commissioner for National Minorities since 1994. We agree with your assessment that a climate of respect for national minorities prevails in Albania. Your visit reinforced the steps taken by Albanian authorities to improve their institutional framework to address minority rights.

Thank you for the update on your October trip to Latvia. We view positively your indication that Latvian authorities recognize the need for continued work on integration issues and to look for ways of reaching out to minority communities with locally produced content, including through an increase in Russian-language programming provided by the public broadcaster. Additionally, we commend your ongoing work with Moldovan authorities to develop a national integration strategy for national minorities. These efforts demonstrate that your office will remain pivotal in improving the situation for national minorities throughout the OSCE region.

The agreement with the Ministry of Education in Kyrgyzstan represents a positive step toward a balanced language policy

We particularly commend the cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Education in Kyrgyzstan that you signed in October. The agreement represents a positive step toward a balanced language policy that safeguards linguistic diversity in that country. Despite this progress, we must reiterate our call for the need for a meaningful reconciliation process to overcome the ethnic divide that persists in the wake of the interethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

High Commissioner Thors, your strong contribution at the Gender Equality Review Conference demonstrated an important trajectory for OSCE work in the years to come. The participation of minority women in political and public life is vital to functioning democracies. You rightly emphasized that, “broad, inclusive participation contributes to stable, just and secure societies.” We welcome your goal of launching an assessment of political participation mechanisms for members of minorities in central and southeastern Europe, and look forward to the results. Additionally, we welcome your cooperation with ODIHR to publish a handbook on national minorities’ involvement in electoral processes, and your recommendations to implement important aspects of the 2012 Ljubljana Guidelines on Diverse Societies.

Thank you again, High Commissioner Thors, for your valuable work. We wish you all the best going forward.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Baer Response to the OSCE Chair-in-Office’s Special Representative Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 17:27

The United States warmly welcomes Ambassador Tagliavini back to the Permanent Council.

Dear Thomas, as you said, Ambassador Tagliavini didn’t hesitate for a moment and quickly packed her bags when asked. I have a sense that the challenges in the ensuing months may have made her wish that she had hesitated a little bit longer before jumping into the abyss, as it were. I don’t think it would bring Heidi any comfort to know that the impression that we have is that whenever there is a difficult situation that calls for somebody of determination and principle, we will now think of calling on Heidi Tagliavini, which may not be good for you in the future either, because you have served so diligently and determinedly, with such even-handed grace in the position that you have undertaken on behalf of the Chairmanship, as well as on behalf of all of us.

We join others in applauding your unwavering commitment and tireless work to support a peaceful future for all of Ukraine. We thank you for providing clear assessments of the implementation of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, including at last week’s briefing to the UN Security Council. Serving as a steward of the peace efforts, you have stressed the importance of following through on the implementation of all provisions of the Minsk Protocol and subsequent Memorandum during your regular consultations with the Russian Federation and with Ukraine, the other two participants in the Trilateral Contact Group.

The United States shares your assessment that both the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum are valid, binding upon all signatories, and must be implemented in good faith. Unfortunately, not all the signatories have done so.

Russia has moved fighters and weapons across the border, and continues to enable separatist activities

Mr. Chair, the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine continues to be marred by Russia’s disregard for the commitments it made in Minsk. While fighting temporarily diminished after the initial signing of the Minsk Protocol, the Russia-backed separatists used this lull to expand the area under their control. Moreover recent activities in the Donbas indicate a new military build-up in the area, threatening the fragility of the ceasefire. Russia has moved fighters and weapons across the border, and continues to enable separatist activities that violate the ceasefire and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We are also concerned that Russia continues to occupy Crimea, which remains part of Ukraine. De facto Russian authorities in Crimea commit serious abuses against members of religious and ethnic minorities and those who rightly criticize the illegality of the Russian presence in this part of Ukraine.

Colleagues, Ukraine has made clear through word and deed that it is committed to implementing the Minsk agreements and to pursuing national unity and peace. President Poroshenko has gone to great lengths to uphold the Ukrainian government’s part of the agreement with Russia, and the separatists it backs, by taking positive steps to implement the twelve points of the Minsk Protocol. It is unacceptable that neither Russia nor the Russia­backed separatists have reciprocated Ukrainian efforts.

Russia and its proxies must change course

Mr. Chair, the Minsk agreements provide a roadmap to a peaceful outcome in Ukraine. Yet a political solution cannot be reached if only one side is committed to forging it; one cannot effectively implement this roadmap with parties who fail to keep their word. Russia and its proxies must change course.

Ambassador Tagliavini, as you mentioned last week in your briefing to the UN Security Council, a sustained ceasefire is impossible to achieve without a secure border. In Minsk, all sides agreed to permanent monitoring of the Russia-Ukraine border and the creation of a security zone along the border. Yet, Russia has not allowed the Ukrainian government to regain control of its side of the international border. Moreover, Russia has refused to press the separatists to allow the Special Monitoring Mission access to the border area. It also rejects the needed expansion of the Russian border checkpoint observation mission. We call on Russia to be fully committed to meaningful dialogue and the ceasefire commitments made in Minsk, including removing all weapons and fighters from Ukraine and returning control of Ukraine’s international border to the rightful authorities in Kyiv.

Ambassador Tagliavini, thank you for taking the time to brief us today, and for your fact-based assessment. Russia’s failure to implement the commitments it made in Minsk is plain for all to see. We pledge to support your efforts to ensure that all signatories fulfill the commitments you so carefully and impartially helped to forge.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Baer on Ongoing Violations of OSCE Principles and Commitments by the Russian Federation and the Situation in Ukraine

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 17:25

The United States condemns, in the strongest terms, Russia’s continued disregard for its international obligations and commitments which obstructs the path toward a peaceful and united future for Ukraine. The root of the problem in eastern Ukraine remains the same: Russia’s flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its failure to honor the pledges it made in Minsk.

Allow me to highlight a few recent examples of violations of OSCE principles and commitments, as well as the Minsk agreements, on the part of Russia and the separatists it backs: Russia has failed to remove all illegal military formations, equipment, and militants from Ukraine; separatists have taken advantage of the agreed-upon pause in fighting to expand their control of territory beyond the ceasefire lines agreed in Minsk; separatist attacks have increased significantly, notably on positions around Donetsk airport, Debaltseve, and Mariupol in Donetsk oblast, and northwest of Luhansk city in Luhansk oblast; Russia continues to violate Ukrainian airspace with its helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles; Russia has failed to help restore Ukrainian government control of Ukraine’s side of the international border, and failed to allow the needed expansion of the Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints of Gukovo and Donetsk.

Mr. Chair, the United States condemns the Russian convoy of 20 vehicles that crossed the international border into Ukraine on November 16, again in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. During last week’s Permanent Council meeting, participating States voiced alarm at the previous crossing from Russia of over 80 cargo trucks, without Ukraine’s permission or international inspection, purportedly to provide humanitarian aid.

Rights in Crimea truly are “in retreat.”

Mr. Chair, we are concerned by reports of ongoing abuses in Crimea. On November 17, Human Rights Watch—an international NGO whose work has been previously cited by the Russian Federation here in the Permanent Council—released a report titled “Rights in Retreat” which documents the disturbing decline in the treatment of the inhabitants of Crimea since Russia began its occupation of the peninsula. The report outlines how the occupying “authorities” have limited free expression, restricted peaceful assembly, harassed those who oppose Russia’s occupation, targeted Crimean Tatars and other minorities for abuse, and discriminated against Ukrainian citizens. As the title of the report indicates, rights in Crimea truly are “in retreat.”

We also note the Human Rights Watch report’s recommendations, one of which is that the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission be granted access to Crimea and establish a permanent presence there. We remind the Permanent Council that the mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission encompasses all of Ukraine, including Crimea. We reiterate that Crimea remains an integral part of Ukraine, and we call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.

We call on Russia to withdraw all Russian military personnel and equipment from Ukraine

There are no excuses for the ongoing and continuous breaches of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum by Russia and its proxies. We call on the Russian government to stop fueling the fire with new weapons and support for the separatists, and to withdraw all Russian military personnel and equipment from Ukraine. If Russia is committed to the Minsk agreements, it will take action. It will also call on its proxies to implement all of commitments they have made. In line with Minsk, Russia and its proxies must stop ceasefire violations, release hostages, repudiate the illegal, bogus “elections” of November 2, and return the Ukrainian side of the international border to Ukrainian control.

We have previously stated that if Russia fully implements its commitments, including those made in Minsk, sanctions could be rolled back. If, instead, Russian authorities continue their aggressive and escalatory actions and violations of international law, we are prepared to deepen existing sanctions and consider imposing additional costs on Russia.

Mr. Chair, the United States continues to support Minsk and calls for its full implementation. We call on Russia to honor its international obligations and commitments, and end its illegal actions against Ukraine immediately.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Baer on the Extension of the Deployment of OSCE Observers to Two Russian Checkpoints on the Russian-Ukrainian Border

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 17:14

In connection with the adoption of the Decision for the Extension of Deployment of OSCE Observers to Two Russian Checkpoints on the Russian-Ukrainian Border, the United States would like to make the following interpretative statement under paragraph IV.1(A)6 of the OSCE Rules of Procedure:

The United States finds it deeply regrettable that the Russian Federation would not consider expanding the geographic scope of the Observer Mission, despite requests from numerous other participating States. We once again have to accept a limited-scope mission, covering just two border checkpoints—which account for approximately one kilometer of the 2,300 kilometer border. We are concerned that due to Russia’s undue restrictions of its work, the mission will be unable to monitor the extent to which Russia is participating in and facilitating the flow of illegal arms, funding, and personnel to support the separatists in eastern Ukraine or to obtain any meaningful assurance if and when Russia acts to stop that flow of support to the separatists.

We note that Step 4 of the September 5 Minsk Protocol delineates a clear role for the OSCE in monitoring and verification on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian international border, and the creation of a security zone in the border areas of Russia and Ukraine. There are strong linkages between ceasefire monitoring and border monitoring, and the OSCE approach to both of these activities must not be unduly restricted. The Russian Federation has repeatedly prevented the expansion of this mandate to include other border checkpoints and monitoring between checkpoints and, in so doing, Russia raises serious concerns about its resolve to implement this critical element of the Minsk Protocol.

Therefore, we call upon the Permanent Council to remain seized of the matter and continue discussions with the aim of expanding the mission sufficiently to permit a true accounting of the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. We also call upon the Russian Federation to provide, on an urgent basis, the proper protection, privileges, and immunities for the Observer Mission and observers participating on the Russian side of the border.

I request that this interpretative statement be attached to the decision and to the Journal of the Day.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the OSCE

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Baer on Investigations of Incidents on Maidan and in Odesa by Ukraine

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:37

The United States welcomes the Government of Ukraine’s investigation into the killings that took place in February on the Maidan in Kyiv and the tragic violence in May in Odesa that led to scores of deaths and injuries. We look forward to learning more about the investigations’ findings in due course.

These investigations are important on many levels. Not only are they vitally necessary to identify the culpable parties in these two violent incidents and bring them to justice, they are also part of the larger reform effort underway in Ukraine. Let us remember that the demonstrations in Kyiv, which began one year ago on November 21st as a peaceful protest, gained so much support because they were seen by many as the only venue in which the people of Ukraine could express their opposition to the Yanukovych government and its culture of corruption and disregard for the rule of law. In contrast, the new government of Ukraine has focused its efforts on substantive reform, enhancing transparency, combatting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and working more cooperatively with NGOs and civil society. The investigations into the deaths on the Maidan and in Odesa are important parts of this larger effort.

The United States applauds and supports Ukraine’s reform efforts, and urges the OSCE – as an organization and all of its participating States – to strongly support Ukraine, including both the government and Ukrainian civil society, in these efforts. We also call on Ukraine not to be deterred from pursuing genuine reform against the backdrop of the crisis in the Donbas region and the ongoing occupation of Crimea. The people of Ukraine who helped to usher in a new government and a break from the past deserve no less.

Thank you, Madame Chair.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the OSCE

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Under Secretary Sewall Remarks at the American Center

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:13

Thank you very much for the very kind introduction, Salman.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here at the American Center in New Delhi, which like its counterparts all over the world is an incredible bridge between our cultures. It is a tremendous source of pride to us that over 200,000 visitors came here last year to learn more about the United States and our government’s policies.

I am also very grateful to all of you for coming here today.

As the world’s largest democracy of 1.2 billion people, India has enormous strategic importance for the region, for the international system, and of course for the United States. With its long and proud history, India is widely admired in the United States, and the foundation of the friendship between our countries is unshakable.

It has been exciting to be here in your country and experience first-hand India’s enormous energy and vibrancy. You can see it everywhere: in India’s booming technology sector, in the rich and diverse cultural traditions of its many religious and ethnics groups, in its active civil society which includes the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi, and in the hopes and aspirations of its people.

My visit here comes at a crucial time with India’s new government on the verge of a reform push to further strengthen the country’s economic development, to achieve greater openness as a society, and to further enhance its role as a regional leader. There is a sense of progress in the air, and we in the United States stand ready to partner in your efforts to fully realize your enormous potential through exchange of expertise and continued dialogue.

In the United States, we consider an open and participatory society to be a vital element of our national experiment, a great strength that requires constant effort on our part, but continues to propel the United States’ international leadership. In our experience, a vibrant and vocal civil society sector is the strongest underpinning of progress because it enhances the voices and harnesses the talents of all citizens. Similarly, India also recognizes that openness and social inclusion is central to the country’s future – as captured by your leadership’s vision, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (“Together with All, Development for All”).

It is important that India and the United States go beyond increasing the efficiency in the productive sector, to achieving higher outputs of goods and services, and the exploration of new export markets. These efforts must be supported by a national discussion with civil society to explore solutions to societal challenges. Otherwise, these social challenges will threaten to hold back development. India already has mandated corporate social responsibility goals, and its e-governance initiative is a modern way of keeping citizens involved and abreast of government policies and initiatives. Through international fora, such as the Global Issue’s Forum and the U.S.-India Women’s Empowerment Dialogue, we can further strengthen the exchange of best practices.

Many of you have taken on a responsibility to represent peoples’ voices by working in civil society organizations of all stripes. You have chosen, in Mahatma Gandhi’s words, to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” This is an enormous gift to India’s future, and the United States stands with you who are seeking to ensure that India’s dynamic growth includes all of its population.

The best way to ensure the full contribution of all sectors of society is the development of real opportunities for all — including members of historically marginalized communities – scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, people with disabilities, religious minorities, or the poor, for example. They all should join in building a stronger society. Governments enable this by encouraging development of skills by investing in education and job training opportunities.

Any participatory economic process needs to be enshrined by the equal protection under the rule of law.

At the State Department, I am responsible for a broad array of international policy issues from human rights to civilian security, law enforcement and conflict prevention. There is a common thread running through my responsibilities — the importance of just, transparent, and accountable rule of law, without which all of these goals are undermined.

Let me be clear—strengthening the rule of law does not mean giving people in power additional tools to enforce their will. The rule of law must be built on laws and institutions to protect rights for all and, where protection fails, giving citizens the ability to access and pursue justice. It is the antidote to discriminatory traditions and customs, which undermine overall progress toward peace, stability and growth.

Some citizens face challenges that require special attention, and I would like to speak for a few moments about some of those challenges.

Many women and girls still confront inordinate obstacles to achieving the same opportunities and respect that their male counterparts enjoy. Many will never enjoy true economic opportunity because they face so many other related obstacles. In particular, girls are frequently denied education and are thus trapped in a cycle of financial dependency. This may reflect discriminatory customs such as requiring them to amass a dowry for marriage or otherwise contribute to family income, or even simply barring girls from participating in life outside the home.

Discrimination against females is a challenge that both our nations face in different ways. In the United States, the more highly educated will have more women than men, but they will still face obstacles because of their gender. As President Obama recently said: "here’s the challenge […], our economy and some of the laws and rules governing our workplaces haven’t caught up with that reality […]. So while many women are working hard to support themselves and their families, they’re still facing unfair choices, outdated workplace policies. That holds them back, but it also holds all of us back. We have to do better, because women deserve better. And when women do well, everybody does well.”

Based on our shared values, the U.S. And India can be partners in promoting women's empowerment around the world. This is already happening. The U.S. Agency for International Development is partnering with India's Self Employed Women's Association to provide training for Afghan women in communications, professional and vocational skills. Through this program, India's enterprising women are working across boundaries toward economic empowerment that has the potential to change South Asia and the world.

Another global challenge erodes girls' ability to be educated and women's ability to contribute to society is forced or early marriage – when children in their teens or younger are denied the opportunity to develop fully through childhood. Early marriage affects a girl’s health and wellbeing, and it also often denies her a full education. During my visit, I am seeking insights from a range of civil society and government experts in India who work on this issue as I seek to understand how India can best harness and empower its enormous human capital.

These are, sadly, not the only challenge for women. Both our nations have recently engaged in impassioned, public — and private — discussions about the prevalence of gender-based violence and the need for all of society to take action to stop it.

Media reports document horrifying cases of rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and other forms of gender-based abuse that occur in both our countries and around the world. And many women who are abused fail even to report their experience to police, family members, or advocates—often because they fear it will yield nothing, or in some cases, may expose them to further abuse and stigmatization. In some places in the United States, as well as in India, forensic resources go unused or are unavailable, leaving women who have bravely reported their experiences without key evidence that could help ensure justice.

Entrenched norms and attitudes regarding women lie at the core of the problem. President Obama has spoken out about sexual violence within the US armed forces and on American college campuses. He has called upon Americans to address individual and collective attitudes about gender and violence to end the abuses. We applaud Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to address gender-based violence and look forward to continued momentum on this critical issue.

This is another area where the United States and India share an active partnership. The Delhi State Government and UN Women have partnered with the U.S. government to implement the Safe Cities program in New Delhi — an innovative program that adopts a gender empowerment lens on the issue of urban planning and infrastructure development. The goal of our collaboration is for girls and women around the world to reclaim their right to public spaces.

In addition to reducing incidents of gender based violence, it is essential to implement legal or administrative reforms to ensure dignity and justice for survivors. This is both a matter of rules and of institutions – in particular the professionalism of those within the criminal justice sector to respect the gravity of crimes of sexual violence. This, too, is an enormous challenge for countries committed to upholding human rights and realizing the full potential of all their citizens.

As the United Stats and India identify best practices within our own societies, we share ideas about how best to address these challenges – to deter perpetrators and strengthen stigmatization of their criminal behavior, to train police officers on the appropriate handling of gender-based violence cases, and to strengthen institutional capacity for protecting victims and prosecuting offenders.

It seems self-evident that societies with such vast economic potential in women cannot leave half their population behind if they are to reach their full economic, social, and political potential. There are simply too many women whose contributions as citizens, entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters cannot be fully realized because of violence, prejudice, and ignorance. Together, government, academia, civil society and the private sector can provide solutions to many of the critical challenges facing women and girls.

Let me offer another observation about the rule of law. It must extend to the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. As the United States has repeatedly raised our voice about this concern around the world, we sometimes hear the response that LGBT issues must be subordinated to cultural and historical preferences. But we are not talking about cultural issues—we are talking about people. People should not be subjected to violence, abuse, or discrimination simply because of the peaceful expression of who they are.

That was as true for African Americans in the United States during the Civil Rights movement as it is for LGBT persons in the U.S. and around the world now. My country’s most searing human rights struggles have involved ending baseless discrimination around issues of identity. That is why combating discrimination and violence against vulerable minorities, including ethnic and religious minorities, has become a key concern at home and a core tenet of our diplomacy.

As you might expect, then, we—along with many others in the international community and your own civil society —are closely following the developments around the criminal status of homosexuality in India and urging that laws must not discriminate against members of the LGBT community or perpetuate a climate that risks fueling violence toward them.

True rule of law cannot be legalized persecution or prejudice. True rule of law is based on the fundamental equality of persons before the law.

Yet — and this is my final point about rule of law — even societies with the best laws on the books can be undermined by the corrosive effects of corruption. Corruption strips away protection of rights and access to justice that a democratic state is supposed to provide for its citizens. Corruption is not easily rooted out—neither in India, nor in the United States—but we have been heartened by the aims of the new government and civil society partners in India to tackle it head on. India has made some significant strides in this regard with its landmark Right to Information Law empowering everyday citizens with the information they need to improve service-delivery and enhance economic efficiency. Now the architects of the Right To Information movement in India – Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey – are helping other leaders apply this approach through the civil society steering committee of the international Open Government Partnership. Another outstanding example for the use of technology in strengthening democracy and accountability is the web site "," which enables citizens to share first-hand experiences and helps promote anti-corruption reform in government agencies.

President Obama spoke in September at the United Nations to the American commitment to advancing open, transparent and accountable government at home and abroad. He challenged governments to open up and share data to enable entrepreneurs to pursue new innovations and businesses create jobs. Discussing solutions to these challenges not only furthers the participatory openness of a society to every sector, but it further cements and strengthens it. As you are undertaking these important discussions, the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We are neither perfect, nor infallible, nor do we have the answers to all these challenging issues. We are, however, deeply committed to finding the answers together and to learning from the discussions that led to them in both of our countries. Thank you.

- Source:

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Power at the Save the Children Illumination Gala

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 12:34

Thank you so much, Jennifer, and please know that the other 192 countries have nothing on my five-year old and my two-year old, [Laughter] for the record. And thank you Carolyn and everybody who has spoken up here. Thank you, especially—there’s a lot of fancy people here—but thank you especially, Lily—Lily! Let’s give it up for Lily! [Applause]

Before the year 2004 when the Red Sox—from Boston—[laughter] won the first of three World Series championships this decade [applause] it may have been tempting to believe that Ben Affleck cared about the underdog because of his own personal suffering. [Laughter] But now we know that there must be something else going on.

Back in February, Ben testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the ongoing civil war and atrocities being carried out in Congo. At the outset, he told the Committee, “I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert. I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about.” But then Ben proceeded to lay out an in depth analysis of the evolving situation in a place he has traveled to 14 times in the last decade – touching on complex issues like the disarmament of rebel groups and the specifics around the renewal of the mandate for UN peacekeepers. He wrapped up with a set of extremely targeted policy recommendations and this was the furthest thing from amateur testimony.

For anyone who has ever talked to Ben about the Congo, you know that this is how he rolls. On the one hand, he is utterly humble and self-effacing about his role and his knowledge, on the other he is wholly dedicated to helping a region and a people who have suffered the most horrific violence imaginable.

The way Ben has learned – or as he would say, has “done his homework” on Congo – is by asking questions. Lots and lots of rigorous, drilling down, precise, never let go, never let up, always a follow up, questions. And that’s whether he’s talking to high-level policymakers or local human rights defenders, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, victims of atrocities, or perpetrators, Ben probes for answers. Why has the campaign to disarm that rebel group fallen short? How can we empower and protect girl victims of rape so that they are less afraid to report it. Questions aimed at understanding what is broken, and how to fix it. And Ben is a sponge; he soaks up all the facts and arguments and then turns them around for his advocacy and the service that his organization provides.

Ben has been asking these questions for nearly a decade about a place that far too few ask any questions about – a region where, in some parts, two out of three women and girls have been sexually assaulted; where nearly half of the people in the region know someone who has been a child soldier; in a country where nearly three million people have been internally displaced by violence.

Yet, where many people saw a region that would always be divided by war, just because it had been for so very long, Ben saw a reason for hope for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His homework taught him that, empowered with the right tools, people in Congo can and are rebuilding their families and communities.

In a world where aid too often comes from the top down, and treats beneficiaries as passive victims who need outside saviors, the organization Ben founded does the opposite. The Eastern Congo Initiative finds partners in communities who can build change from the grassroots up, and gives them the tools that they need to do it. Women lawyers who bring the perpetrators of unspeakable sexual crimes to justice; educators who give former child soldiers an accelerated primary education so that they can catch up with their peers; birth attendants who can consult and can prevent maternal deaths. ECI recognizes that these local actors – teaming up with the actors – make the most effective change agents. And while they are willing to fight alone, they shouldn’t have to.

The impact of the support that ECI provides – and Ben’s effort to convince other governments and organizations to lend similar support – has been profound. It has given people who want to change their country, who want to be better for themselves, for their families, for their kids, the means to do it.

So, as much as Ben may say he’s not an expert, this much is certain: he is making an outsize impact in a region and for a people he believes in, and he is making other people believe, too.

For that reason, it is an honor to present Ben Affleck with the Save the Children’s Global Child Advocate Award. Congratulations, Ben.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the UN in New York

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Power at the UN Security Council Session on Policing in Peacekeeping

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 11:55

Thank you, Foreign Minister Bishop. Thank you for being here and chairing today’s session – the first ever Security Council session dedicated to policing, one of the most important tools in our collective arsenal to prevent violence and conflict. Your presence here, Madam Minister, is a testament to Australia’s deep and enduring commitment to improving UN policing in the context of peacekeeping operations. I had the privilege recently of engaging with Commissioner Hinds, the Australian head of UN police in Liberia, and he was extremely impressive in a very difficult operating environment. Of course, every one of the missions represented here are difficult operating environments of different kinds. So thank you, gentlemen for your great leadership.

We meet at a time of growing demand for UN police in peacekeeping missions. In April, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of 1,800 UN police for a single peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. That is more than all the UN police who were deployed in every peacekeeping mission in 1994, when there were only 1,677 all told. In 2012, there were 56 authorized Formed Police Units. Today, there are 72 – that kind of differential in just a two-year period.

The increasing demand for UN police reflects our evolving understanding of their role. We recognize that UN police are central to ensuring the overarching objective of peacekeeping missions, which is not merely to stop conflicts, but to build a sustainable peace in their place. As such, what we ask of UN police has evolved, too, from passive monitoring of the performance of local police, to taking on many law enforcement duties and training host country forces.

This is logical. If one of the main reasons we need peacekeeping missions in the first place is the fragility or utter lack of public security, then it follows logically that for countries to be able to protect their own people and for peacekeeping missions to be able to wind down eventually, we need to strengthen host country law enforcement. Our ability to build more accountable, professional police in host countries is the sine qua non of broader efforts to reestablish – or in some instances to establish for the first time – the rule of law.

That is why the United States is investing in strengthening UN police forces. This year alone, we have provided training for 15 Formed Police Units, which are deployed to five different UN peacekeeping missions, and provided equipment to ensure the swift deployment of UN police units from Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Togo.

And it is why we commend the recent commitments of police personnel announced by Bangladesh, China, Finland, Mongolia, Nepal, and Rwanda, which were announced at the Peacekeeping Summit co-chaired by Vice President Biden in September. These contributions are critical to filling the gap between current capacity and current need.

UN police are showing they can handle complex duties, such as protecting civilians and maintaining law and order. In South Sudan, it is the responsibility of just three UN Formed Police Units made up of 350 police from Bangladesh and Nepal, together with 500 UN individual police officers, to provide internal security in nine camps that are providing shelter to approximately 100,000 internally displaced persons. People who support the government and people who oppose it live in close proximity in these camps, as do people from ethnic groups that have been pitted against one another in South Sudan’s brutal civil war – making the job of policing the camps an extremely challenging one. The UN gets and deserves a great deal of credit for opening its gates in South Sudan to the people fleeing violence, but it is also worth singling out UN police who are responsible for preventing violence once people are inside those gates.

In the Central African Republic capital of Bangui, five Formed Police Units and 100 individual police officers, together with a pair of military battalions, are fully responsible for public security in the city from 4 pm to 8 am, every single day.

Given the rising demand for and the demands on UN police, it is remarkable that this is our first-ever Security Council session dedicated to the issue, and the first time Council members are being briefed by police contingents. This is indicative of a broader lack of communication from the field to the Council. The Council will benefit tremendously from having more visibility into challenges and problems in the field. We need to establish fluid lines of communication that allow missions to swiftly share information from the field.

And this should just not mean Security Council sessions like this one. We should have multiple means of securing regular feedback on what is working and what is not. That will make operations more accountable and more effective, and we will more helpful in supporting you in your hours of need.

Rising demands and responsibilities are also why we need to do a better job of tracking performance. To that end, we welcome the development of the Strategic Guidance Framework, and in particular the focus on human rights, protection of civilians, and transparency. The U.S. Government participated in the regional consultation on the framework in Norway, and we found the session appropriately critical and constructive. This approach – learning in real time from the successes and failures from the field, and bringing Member States into the discussion – is the right one to address the increasingly complex challenges faced by UN police. Now, for the framework to be effective in the real world, it must be made actionable for police leadership on the ground. And we must keep adapting and improving upon the framework based on the feedback of those who know best.

In that spirit, we see our questions today to police commissioners as an initial exchange in what we want to be a much more regular back-and-forth. I have two questions in closing.

First, the protection of civilians is central to the mandates of modern peacekeeping operations. It is also a fundamental responsibility of law enforcement. Yet, as we have often highlighted in the Council, in practice, missions routinely fail to live up to this mandate. What are your views, all of you active in areas where this issue has arisen at some point in the mission life, on how police in particular can help implement the mandate to protect civilians? What obstacles have you encountered in fulfilling this responsibility? Do the police under your command have clear guidance on what protection of civilians entails and how it should be carried out? And what steps can you take, or have you taken, in the field to ensure that police from very different policing cultures, and from different contributing countries have similar interpretations of what protection of civilians means? This is of course an issue also on the troop contributors side, but this bears exposition and exploration on the policing side.

Second, and finally, Madam President, understanding the critical role police can play in building up host country capacities of law enforcement bodies, one of our collective challenges is balancing the need to provide law and order in circumstances where there is a policing vacuum, while at the same time rapidly and intensely training local police so they can reassume their responsibilities. The presence of international police cannot become an excuse for local police not to step up – and that is a risk. I’d love it if you could, if each of you could speak to this question of balancing the need to actually provide law and order when civilians are in need of security, with the need not to become a crutch for host countries. And it’s a very, very challenging issue. And any insight you can offer as to anything the Council can do to remove the obstacles that you have on the ground in strengthening host-country law enforcement.

Thank you.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the UN in New York

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Secretary Kerry Transgender Day of Remembrance 2014

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 15:19

On this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, we honor the memory of the innocent souls who died because of who they are and who they love.

Today and every day, the United States stands with the LGBTI community and its allies to stop all acts of hate and violence against gender non-conforming people.

I will never forget standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1998 to honor Matthew Shepard, a young man killed just because he was gay. His mother, Judy, had a profound lesson for all of us: Loving one another doesn’t require us to compromise our beliefs. Love only demands that we choose compassion over intolerance.
We have made considerable progress since Matthew Shepard’s murder, but we have a long road still to travel across the globe.

Today, transgender people are still targeted for violence and harassment at an alarming rate. That’s why standing with the transgender community is the first step in ensuring they enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else.

In July, President Obama signed an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination against transgender employees in the federal workplace. And in March, the Department of Justice launched a program to train law enforcement to expand their outreach to the transgender community.

At the State Department, we support all efforts to combat discrimination against transgender persons. Last week, we brought together courageous activists from around the world at the Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for LGBTI Persons. We focused on how to stop violence, harassment, and prejudice here in the United States and around the globe.

To the transgender community, I want all of you to know that the United States stands with you. We embrace diversity and we fight evil, and we work towards a day when no mother anywhere fears the pain of having to mourn a child lost to bigotry and hatred.

- Source:

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Power at the Fusion “Rise Up” Conference

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 17:23

p>Moderator: Thanks so much Ambassador Power.

Ambassador Power: Nice to be here.

Moderator: Thank you. So [inaudible] from early on, we always want to change the world. Right? You wanted to change the world. And then, suddenly, you are the Ambassador to the UN and you can change the world. So what do you want to change?

Ambassador Power: Oh, gosh. Where would I start? I've – on the President's instruction – really prioritized prevention of atrocities, sexual violence against women and girls, and then one of the things that helps mitigate that, girls empowerment in the developing world. It’s become an issue [inaudible] because of the kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria, who just were so determined to get an education that they actually risked their lives by going to take a test in an area that is vulnerable to Boko Haram. And that gives you such an insight into how much longing and how many aspirations are there out there. And I feel our job is – and this is, again, very much the President's direction to us – is to find ways to resource those who are trying to help bring those aspirations to reality.

Moderator: As a former journalist – I don't know if you still consider yourself a journalist or not?

Ambassador Power: Well, when I first got to the White House six plus years ago and I went into the Situation Room, I would get this “intruder alert, intruder alert.” And that sort of passed. Now I'm very comfortable and thrilled to be representing the United States. But I still have a journalist mentality because stories are everything, I think, if you want to connect.

Moderator: Okay, so the idea as journalist, we have this debate right now about point of view journalism, if, as a journalist, if it's allowed to have a point of view covering a story, having the point of view of the immigrants or the victims. So, as an ambassador, would you take that point of view – politics? In other words, do you take the point of view of the victim, the point of view of those who don't have rights, and that you feel that it's your responsibility to fight for them?

Ambassador Power: Well, let me show and not tell in responding to your question, just to give two examples. The Security Council, which is where I spend a lot of my days, dedicated – 15 countries – dedicated to promoting and enforcing international peace and security – we had two issues come up over the last year. One, most recently Ebola, which maybe we could talk more about. And we decided that it was important to declare Ebola a threat to international peace and security. So, not merely a public health issue, but bring it before the Security Council. It was the first time in the history of the UN that a public health emergency had come before the Security Council in the way that we did with Ebola. And we did that while the United States was the President of the Security Council in September.

At that point then you decide, okay, who speaks to the Council? Who speaks to the world? And normally, the proposals that are put forward are, you know, some government representative of each of the three countries and then some official UN representative, bureaucrat, et cetera, and the rest of us. And I said no, we've got to get a voice from one of these countries, like a person who is working within an Ebola treatment clinic and who feels the frustration of not having enough beds or enough fuel or enough bleach even to care for people. And we found this amazing Liberian doctor working for Doctors Without Borders – not doctor, I'm sorry, health worker – working for Doctors Without Borders. And he literally on the big screen of the Security Council, he got totally away from the sterile facts and figures and he just told the story of what it was like to turn a father away who was carrying his daughter.

And you could have heard a pin drop in the Security Council. His name is Jackson Neama and he said to the world, he said, "If you do not act, we will all be wiped out." So that's one example. The second just an example, briefly, on Syria, where there's just been so much suffering, and we have to keep working to try to bring about a solution to really one of the most monstrous conflicts I think we've ever seen, we decided we were going to try to bring the Syrian government before the International Criminal Court, or Syria, the country, before the International Criminal Court. Russia and China vetoed that effort, rejecting the possibility of accountability for these crimes.

And so knowing that veto was coming, I thought, how can we use this to show what is lost by this act of a veto? And we tracked down somebody who had survived the chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime, had been left for dead, literally left on a floor with a bunch of other victims, they were about to put a sheet over them, and then a friend noticed he was moving and he was alive, and basically came back to life, almost, is the way he puts it. And so in my remarks at the time of this veto, I said, look, in an ideal world, the testimony of witnesses who survived a chemical weapons attack would be heard. But hey, we're not living in that ideal world right now because of this veto, so this is what this young man would say. This is what this young man said that he would say at the Hague if he had been given the chance. And I just read what he would have said, how he wanted to testify, and then he was in the Security Council chamber.

So, these are just two examples of how you can just bring the people who are affected by these crises into these organizations and mechanisms that have been a little impervious to that for too long.

Moderator: So let me talk about those two issues. Let's start with Ebola first. You were last October in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. What did you learn? Do you think we have stigmatized those who are suffering from Ebola?

Ambassador Power: I think there is a tremendous stigma that exists, particularly in the countries. I met with one 24-year-old woman in Guinea who had survived Ebola – just one of the strongest, most poised young ladies I've ever met – and she said that she feels she's had three lives: the first life was pre-Ebola, where she was concentrating on her family, her studies; the second was this horrific time where she was felled by this virus and had to just focus on her survival for two or three weeks as she went through the process and somehow managed to survive – a huge number of her family members did not – and then she said now she's in her third life, her post-Ebola life, as a survivor. She said her third life is by far the worst. She said no one – she can't get welcomed back into her community, she's completely shunned, almost as lepers were once shunned, even though she's an Ebola survivor and indeed has immunity to Ebola and can be a huge part of the solution. So, the stigma in the region is very bad. I've seen even just in the reaction in coming back to the United States that people are a little, you know, who used to hug me –

Moderator: They don’t want to touch you anymore?

Ambassador Power: Not quite, but you know – but ensuring that people understand what Ebola is and what it isn't; that it is not airborne, that there are precautions that you can take very easily in order to not incur infection. I mean, several thousand U.S. troops are on the ground in Liberia without infection, doing good work to build Ebola treatment facilities and so forth. Our diplomats, our Peace Corps volunteers, aid workers. I mean, there's a whole life that goes on in these three countries also apart from Ebola. And that is a life we have to also support in this very difficult period for these countries.

Moderator: Okay, so that's about Ebola. The other issue that I wanted to ask you has to do with the use of force. In 2011, you argued for bombing Libya, Qaddafi’s Libya. And many people were surprised by that. If we use the same principle for Syria right now, and we realize that bombing ISIS is not enough, is your philosophy that force has to be used sometimes, that we might need eventually boots on the ground in Syria?

Ambassador Power: Well, I think to state the obvious, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for any of these issues and there is no algorithm whereby you plug in the number of attacks, you know, multiplied by the number of months and refugees – every case is very, very different. And I think just to focus on Syria – well, actually, let me focus on the larger framework. I think when we've seen mass atrocity happening, such as that in Syria, you have a responsibility – and this is, again, very much President Obama's view – to open up the tool box of American foreign policy, of multilateral diplomacy, and ask what are the tools that can be put in play to try to mitigate this horrible suffering.

So, that can range from simply writing a check and caring for the seven million people who have been displaced – seven million, the most refugees and displaced persons since World War II. That's a critical part of our response. A political process that tries to get the parties to the table, tries to get Russia and Iran to put pressure on the regime, even as we and others work with the opposition to try to forge a political solution. It could provide – in the case of Syria, it has meant providing support to the armed opposition groups, because they're trying to protect their communities and their families. And, of course, in the case of ISIL, it has meant air strikes against a monstrous terrorist movement that is making its way across the region. So – and that's not even to mention economic sanctions and all of the other measures that we've put in place. I mention all those –

Off-Camera: Samantha Power, millennials think you’re a war hawk. You're no better than John McCain, who you used to criticize. I and my fellow young activists used to admire you. I used to think you were a true humanitarian. It's clear now that you've drunk the administration’s Kool-aid. Your naïve support –

Moderator: We’ll talk about that.

Ambassador Power: Okay.

Off-Camera: – of the war in Iraq is an example of this. You don’t deserve to be here, where people are talking about rising up. You're not supporting people who are rising up –

Moderator: I’m going to ask you about that so, I just want them to finish and then –

Ambassador Power: Okay.

Off-Camera: – We need ambassadors to the United Nations who support diplomacy and not military intervention. War across the world [inaudible] –

Moderator: We're listening. Sir, it's okay, we are listening.

Off-Camera: – which is why we're all here. We're here to rise up against war –


Off-Camera: – whether it's a war on Syria [inaudible] diplomatic and political solutions, not military solutions. And that doesn't mean going into the administration’s toolkit of foreign policies to look at arming rebels that are going to come back to haunt us one day [inaudible] –

Moderator: I think we’ve heard the message and –

Off-Camera: – anything else and this is a short-term strategy that's –

Moderator: This is what I’m going to do. I’m listening to what you’re saying. We are listening, and I am listening, and they are listening. And I want to ask the ambassador to talk about that, would that be okay? Ambassador, you want to address that?

Ambassador Power: Sure.

Moderator: Sir, it's okay. Please, don’t push them. Ambassador.

Ambassador Power: Okay, thank you. Well, the great thing about living in this country – particularly as an immigrant, one is extra appreciative of this – is to get to argue this out and discuss and people have very different views and very strong feelings, and particularly strong feelings after a decade-long investment in a war in Iraq that cost thousands of American lives and has seen in Iraq, you know, horrible civilian suffering –

Off-Camera: [Inaudible]

Ambassador Power: – one thing, though, about living in a democracy is that people also listen and also get to talk. And don't talk over one another when you're actually trying to –


Moderator: So instead of avoiding the issue, I think that the way to do it – and that’s precisely in the spirit of this conversation – is to tackle it directly. So, they are saying that you are for war.

Ambassador Power: Yeah.

Moderator: Are they referring to what you argued for Libya? Are they referring to what you are doing for Syria right now?

Off-Camera: Yes.

Ambassador Power: I have no idea. I'm never going to be talking about internal deliberations and debates, and I would urge people to be very careful about –

Moderator: What's your position?

Ambassador Power: I'm not going to discuss my position. I work for the president of the United States. The president of the United States decided that with Moammar Qaddafi closing in on the town of Benghazi, and with him pledging to hunt down the people in Benghazi like rats, the president of the United States decided he was going to try to prevent that from happening. That is – that produced a military campaign that succeeded, of course, in liberating the people of Benghazi, but has not succeeded in dealing with some of the root issues in Libya, such as the tribal dynamics and the militarization that occurred in the wake of that effort.

I think, what I was starting to say was that in the face of human rights abuses on a large scale, you have an obligation both to take this perspective very much into account, because of the horrible risks of war and the risks of doing more harm than good as you seek to try to be helpful. But you have to look inside the toolbox and do what you can. When we look back at Rwanda from 20 years ago, we didn't even jam the radio that was being used to broadcast the names and addresses of potential Tutsi victims. We pulled the peace keepers out of Rwanda while people were in peril. Today in South Sudan we are sending more peace keepers in at the same time that there's an ethnic conflict.

So, we're trying to learn from the past. But I do think, the one thing I would say, perhaps, that sometimes doesn't get said enough in discussions like this one, is we do have to have an answer for groups like ISIL. We do have to have an answer for what it means when some movement goes through and wants to execute and enslave Yazidi women, kill Christians, and purge Christians from their homelands, execute whole Sunni tribes who decide that they don't want to live under that kind of oppressive law. And honestly, if you look at this Administration's response to ISIL over the last year, you will see an effort to use the other tools in the toolbox to actually stop their march. And at a certain point, when they keep marching and they keep executing, I think we all, as part of this debate, have to ask ourselves, what would have happened if the United States hadn't begun to take air strikes in support of Iraqi's on the ground?

Moderator: In your book A Problem from Hell, you debate on what should we do as a country when there is genocide, and then you write we have the obligation to explore options between doing nothing or unilaterally sending in the Marines. So, how do you decide?

Ambassador Power: Well, unilaterally sending in the Marines is usually not the right approach in a sense that particularly when something is a crime against humanity or an act of genocide, that should implicate all of humanity and there should be a way using institutions like the one I now work at to mobilize strong international response. And for a lot of crises – Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan – we've been able to mobilize that kind of international response, again, through a peacekeeping presence.

I think, when crimes are being committed against people, you elevate the issue within the government so it doesn't get relegated to low-level people who can't summon resources, let's say, from sanctions from the Treasury Department, or diplomatic condemnation, or some kind of judicial mechanism. I mean, to get anything like that done in the government, requires high-level leadership. So you make sure that the issues get elevated, and then you look at the tools and weigh the costs and benefits.

President Obama has made the judgment, I think very much the kind of judgment that the individuals who were here earlier would appreciate, that in Syria the costs of intervening in the manner that we did in Libya would exceed the benefits and potentially bog the United States down in a war that would not actually deal with the core issues that are driving that conflict in the first place. So, every case you've got to look at, I think, given the circumstances of the case itself.

Moderator: Let me talk about another controversial issue: torture. You've said in the past that torture is prohibited at all times in all places. What happens when there are accusations that we as a country torture enemy combatants using waterboarding? How do you defend the U.S. position against it?

Ambassador Power: Well, I mean, first of all, we just have gone through a process recently where the Congress took on that question: what happened, how did it happen, and what are the lessons that can be learned? And President Obama has been very clear that we need to cooperate fully with that investigation to go back over – even though the acts committed were acts committed prior to President Obama taking office. One of his first acts, as you know, was to ban torture. So that's a process that I think is going to prove very healthy for our democracy as some of those issues are surfaced. It's not easy, particularly for individuals who are career government servants, but it's a very necessary and important catharsis.

And then there has to be accountability for people who violated the law. And whether that's a courts-marshal or other forms of accountability like we just saw with Blackwater actually in U.S. courts, a settlement being found against them. These are very important aspects, not only of us dealing with things that happened on our watch or for which we are responsible, but also sending a signal to other countries that when we talk about accountability, we talk about the importance of looking back in order to move forward, we have that credibility of having done it ourselves.

Moderator: Ambassador, I want to ask about two different countries. I want your reaction about the attack in the synagogue in Jerusalem. How should we respond? Should we support Israel 100%?

Ambassador Power: The attack is unconscionable. I mean, I think any of us around the world could imagine praying in a sanctuary in a place you feel most safe, perhaps, and suddenly for these men wielding axes and knives and everything to come in and – unconscionable.

We have of course condemned the attack, while also lamenting the loss of life. Too many Israelis and too many Palestinians have died in recent months and certainly have died over the life of this long conflict. So our position, as you would expect, is to call on countries to – the leaders to condemn the violence, to condemn any violence against civilians carried out by either side, to call for a calming of the situation and to try to take steps that bring us closer to getting a peace process restarted, because –

Moderator: Do you think it's possible to –

Ambassador Power: It's a very difficult time now because of this sort of potentially escalatory moment that we're in. And this is where leadership from both sides is so important in rejecting violence, in calling for a return of calm, and then in that environment, trying to get people to seek the path of peace. Very, very challenging.

Moderator: Another question on Russia and Ukraine. Do you think that right now Russia is invading Ukraine?

Off-Camera: Yeah it is.

Ambassador Power: Russian aggression against Ukraine, I think, has been well-documented. Certainly, it's something that I do in the Security Council once every several weeks because there is usually some new, outrageous act of crossing the border with Russian soldiers or Russian surface-to-air missiles, or Russian hardware – a whole host of kinds. So, I don't think the definitional issue is as important as actually increasing the costs for Russia as it carries out this act of aggression and basically tries to lop off parts of someone else’s country.

Moderator: But in the case of Russia, is the military option out of the table, always?

Ambassador Power: I mean, President Obama certainly does not think that there is a military solution to this crisis. You can imagine what the human stakes of a military conflagration over Ukraine would be – all around – and how anything like that could spiral. So, we've emphasized political processes. Every time there is an opportunity to sit down – to see the Ukrainians and the Russians sitting down together to try to broker this – we support that. We support enforcement of the latest agreement, the Minsk Agreement. But it is Russia that time and again signs a piece of paper and then the very next day, practically, you see ceasefire violations, you see more Russian hardware coming across the border.

So, if this continues, we will continue to have to escalate the costs for Russia, which is not what anybody wants. It's not in anyone's interest. Certainly I have to – I work with Russia every day on the UN Security Council. Cooperation between our countries on Iran and other things remains extremely important. But we cannot live in a universe where this kind of aggression is tolerated by the international community.

Moderator: Within the United Nations, I want to ask you about drug policy. The top UN drug czar recently criticized the United States. He said that drug wars are being fought all over the world. Here in the United States we allow recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state. What's your response? Are they basically, what they’re arguing is that they are dying over there because there is consumption here in the United States?

Ambassador Power: This is not an area that I myself work on, so I wouldn't really venture to say much beyond we have a federal system here where states have the authority to do different things without the federal government necessarily interfacing with them.

Moderator: Okay, I just have a few more minutes, so let me ask you about protests and rising up. When you see students protesting in the streets of Caracas in Venezuela or in Mexico City or in Hong Kong, is this a trend? You see that something is happening with, here with Facebook that we are reaching, we're starting a new era in terms of protest, and that governments are more vulnerable than ever before?

Ambassador Power: That is an important empirical question, and someone out here probably has the answer as to whether there are as an objective, countable, matter more protests now than there have been. It certainly feels like it. It certainly feels like it. And I think there's a reason for this, which we saw, of course, in the Arab Spring, which continues in pockets across the region, which is that people –

Moderator: [inaudible] Arab spring?

Ambassador Power: I mean, people are empowered and claiming control of their destinies. What I was starting to say is, I think what social media has done in addition to connecting people, which is obvious, it has also allowed people the ability to look and see how many other people share their views, and that's emboldening and empowering for people.

So, in the old days if you were afraid, in an oppressive society, of speaking your mind, and thought that you were alone, maybe the only person – if you could kind of gather all the thought bubbles 50 years ago or whatever, there would have been a lot of thought bubbles saying, "I wish I could get rid of my government." But nobody was prepared, necessarily, to say that. With social media, there are ways of interacting that sort of shield you from exposure, but allow you to see the panoply of people who share your view. And I think that's one of the reasons that people have lost their fear.

But the other reason is every bit as deep, which is that the level of despair, whether over unemployment or over corruption, is so great that when each individual does the cost-benefit about, do I want to go out on the streets and risk getting hit by a member of the security forces or stay home with my family and tolerate living in this, under this kind of oppression going forward, a lot of people are choosing to protest, which gives you a sense also of how troubling some of the practices are in the countries where these protests are happening.

Moderator: Do you think Venezuela should be part of the Security Council?

Ambassador Power: Well, they're going to be part of the Security Council. They've been elected to the Security Council. We made very clear that we think countries who serve on the Security Council – it's such a tremendous privilege and a responsibility – we think countries that serve on the Security Council should respect the human rights of their citizens –

Moderator: You don't think that's happening in Venezuela.

Ambassador Power: I don't think that the security forces crackdown on political protestors and the arrests of people who have a different view about how the country should be governed, that that reflects respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in a way that the UN Charter expects. But beyond that, international peace and security is what we do. I mean, that's what we promote and enforce on the UN Security Council. And I would note that Venezuela voted yesterday with North Korea, refusing to even condemn North Korean human rights abuses, which are some of the worst in the world. Same on Syria. So we don't – we haven't seen them yet stepping up into that responsible role that we would hope every member of the UN would step into.

Moderator: Then just to finish with a personal question: do you consider yourself a rebel?

Ambassador Power: I think –

Moderator: Were you a rebel? Do you think that you are the rebel within the Obama Administration?

Ambassador Power: No, no, no, I don't. First of all, I have no time to think about – to go meta on myself – so I don't have those sort of thoughts. I'll leave it there. But, first and foremost, I consider myself a diplomat, which means not answering that question.

Moderator: Thanks so much for talking to us. I really appreciate it.

Ambassador Power: No, you're great to have me. Thank you.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the UN in New York

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Secretary Kerry Remarks at 3rd Annual Transformational Trends Policy Forum

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 17:16

Thank you. David, thank you very much. Thank you all. Good morning to you. I’m delighted to have a chance to be able to be here and appreciate the breadth of what you all are going to be tackling over the course of the day, so I particularly am grateful. David, thank you for – everyone – rearranging schedules so that we could flip this around today, literally leaving straight from here to go to the airport to head over to meetings tomorrow in London, some of which have to do with Iran and others don’t. And then we are obviously entering in a key period with the negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and I will go to Vienna at the appropriate moment.

But I particularly want to thank David Rothkopf and Foreign Policy magazine for hosting what has become now an annual tradition in partnership with the State Department. And it’s a conference that focuses not just on the immediate, but on the trends that are either transforming now or may have the potential for transforming the world as we go forward. And I think it’s safe to say that the last several years have reminded all of us that there is no such thing as a trouble-free zone on any world map. No country is immune from the impact of troubles in some other country. So make no mistake: Every part of the globe merits our attention, and I’m not exaggerating.

I will assume chairmanship of the Arctic Council next April and we’re already planning a two-year stint of the priorities for the Arctic, and that includes, I might add, priorities that extend to the Antarctic. There is no place that doesn’t demand focus today, and it’s not as a favor to another country that we do this. It’s a necessity for our country, and that’s why America’s foreign policy is so broadly focused. In fact, I would share with you that the enterprise of American foreign policy and the State Department, in particular, is a little bit like an iceberg in the sense that if you’re looking at it on the horizon, you may only see the top third or so above the water, but beneath the surface our foreign policy apparatus is more engaged and more connected in more places on more issues than at any other time in our history, and that is documentable.

Every single day we are pursuing policies that advance a security agenda, an economic agenda, an environmental agenda, a human rights agenda, and a development agenda. And every single day we are making decisions that have an impact on every continent. And I might add it is our privilege as America to be able to have that impact, and to have so many countries look to us for it.

But today I want to focus on the region that I know a lot of Americans wish was out of the headlines – the Middle East and North Africa. As most of you know, I was a United States senator for almost 29 years, and yes, senators know how to talk interminably, but if you’re elected and reelected to the United States Senate five times, I would respectfully assert to you, hopefully it means you have also learned how to listen.

And if I were still in the Senate and I’d gone home for a town hall meeting this past weekend, I’m pretty sure I know what I would’ve heard. “Senator Kerry, if people in the Middle East are always going to fight each other and they want to kill each other, why do we need to get involved? Senator, there are people in New Bedford who are hurting, and how about helping them instead of trying to help the people in Baghdad or Aleppo? Senator, the last time we got involved in the conflict in the Middle East, we spent eight years and trillions of dollars in Iraq. Tell me why this will ever be different, or why does the Middle East matter? Why is it our problem?”

These are all terrific questions; all legitimate. But every question deserves an honest answer, and frankly, even if the truth isn’t easy, Americans deserve nothing less. We all remember that great moment in “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup besieged by tough questions snaps, “You can’t handle the truth.” Well it might be heresy in today’s Washington of simple storylines and hyperbolic headlines, but I think the American people do want the truth. I think they demand it and I think they deserve it.

So when it comes to the Middle East, this is my view of reality, a truth, if you want. We have to be deeply engaged – deeply engaged – in this region because it is directly in the interest of our national security and our economy and it is also in keeping with who we are. Pearl Harbor was the rudest of Awakenings to isolationists at home who, no matter how much some wished it, could not wall off America from the world’s struggles. And 9/11 was a reminder that even a small group could hatch an evil plot thousands of miles from our shores that dramatically changed life for the world’s only superpower. We dare not forget these lessons, not in a world where no distance, no ocean, no fence, no firewall, can truly shield us from danger.

Now technology has also changed things. Technology lets us live faster and longer, travel and communicate more widely, and compress a library of information into a single tiny chip. But when it comes to threats, it has also made the world a lot smaller. In the 21st century, next door is everywhere. There can be no limit to our vigilance either in territory or time. And that is a primary reason why the Middle East matters.

But it also matters because our friends are so important to us. We are proudly and unapologetically connected to Israel and many Arab states with whom we have worked closely for decades. These relationships actually make us safer by enabling us to respond earlier and more capably to such security risks as terrorism, aggression, proliferation, and organized crime. By helping our friends to become stronger, we actually become stronger ourselves. And of course, turbulence in the Middle East is also a real threat to our own prosperity.

I know what some people say. “Well, we’re on the verge of kind of moving towards energy independence, so we can walk away from the Middle East.” Believe me: None of us miss the days of gas lines and price shocks because of instability in the Middle East. And yes, in recent years, we’ve made major strides in diversifying our energy sources. Yes, we now are less reliant on Middle East petroleum. But as we long ago discovered, the energy market is global. And any serious disruption to the Gulf oil supplies can have major consequences for our own well-being, as well as the global economy to which we are all attached today.

And even more than that, our exports drive our economy, create jobs and help our manufacturers, farmers, and service providers to compete and to grow. All of this is jeopardized when the building blocks of international security are shaken. And nowhere are those foundations at graver risk today than in the Middle East.

An example is, obviously, a country like Egypt, where it has been the intellectual and foundational cohesive glue, if you will, of the region in many ways for decades. One quarter of the world’s Arab population – fragile and obviously great challenges – if that were to suddenly be in jeopardy because of what is happening, the entire region would be in total turmoil and potentially even sectarian violence unfathomable today.

Another reason the Middle East matters is less tangible but equally profound. The roots of modern civilization can be traced in part to the men and women who centuries ago walked the narrow streets of Damascus and Alexandria, knelt at the holy places of Jerusalem and Mecca, and harvested crops from the fertile plains of the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates valleys. From such distant ancestors we have inherited rich spiritual and ethical traditions that evolved over time into the values and ideals that guide us today. Our own nation is diverse in ethnicity, race, background, and creed, but united by a belief in the importance of every human being.

That conviction has been under vicious assault in the Middle East, and as a result millions of innocent people are living lives turned upside down. Sure, we could turn away, pretend that we don’t see or hear what is happening. But America would not be America if we turned our back on that suffering. It is not who we are, it is not in our DNA, and it is not in our interest.

Now, I’m not talking about being the world’s policeman, no. And I don’t think our job is to fix every problem. But in the time I’ve lived, I have seen a lot more people wish that they had done more to ease human suffering when they had the chance than have thought later on, well, wait a minute, we were too generous, or wait, the Marshall Plan did too much for Europe, or maybe, well, we shouldn’t have bothered trying to save those lives in Bosnia or Kosovo. Does anybody really believe those things today? Engagement is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do, because the billions of dollars that we and others now devote to emergency response and recovery could be invested instead in creating new opportunities for growth both domestically and overseas. That’s the difference between running in place and working to build a better world.

Now let me be clear about something: The United States is not party to the sectarian and inter-ethnic rivalries that divide much of the Middle East, nor do we have to be. We do not covet any country’s land or resources. We believe the region’s people, not outsiders, should determine how and by whom they are governed. And we think the rights of all, including minorities, should be upheld. We respect everyone’s desire to worship in accordance with the dictates of conscience. And after our experience over the last decade, we are fully aware of the hazards associated with external military action.

In short, the United States does not go in search of enemies in the Middle East. There are times, however, and this is one, when enemies come in search of us. And you know exactly what I’m talking about. The group calling itself the Islamic State is, in fact, neither a state nor truly Islamic. It is an adversary without a uniform, without any support by any government, and offering nothing, nothing in terms of coherent social or a political program. But it is a foe we take very seriously, in part because the dysfunction of some governments in the region has enabled these killers to seize control of more land and more resources than al-Qaida ever had on the best day of its existence.

It has stolen vast quantities of weapons and money. It is attempting to recruit the fanatical and misguided in dozens of countries. And it has gained sway over a considerable portion of Iraq’s midsection, including Mosul, the second-largest city. In the process, it has become a threat to America’s core interests. The terrorists pose an unacceptable danger to American personnel and facilities in Iraq and elsewhere, and their aggression adds to the terrible burdens placed upon our friends and allies in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. And unless checked, this network could become a rallying point for the alienated and disaffected on every continent, spawning and imitators and spurring individuals in far-flung places to commit stupid, destructive, suicidal acts.

As the Islamic State or ISIL has shown by its actions, its desire is to impose its will over as many people and as much territory as it can. But unlike some extremist groups, it is relatively well organized, disciplined even. Its actions are systemic and planned. And ISIL doesn’t hide its crimes. ISIL is defined by its crimes because the terrorists have nothing positive to offer anyone. Their strategy is based entirely on fear, and many of their captives are executed, some beheaded, some buried alive, some crucified. Others are given a choice to pledge allegiance or die. Children are tortured, killed, or forced to take up arms. Cultural and religious shrines have been desecrated, including the graves of prophets honored by all the children of Abraham. Aid workers and journalists such as David Haines and Alan Henning, James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and now in a crime that we have condemned in the strongest possible terms, Abdul Rahman Peter Kassig – they have all been among those brutally murdered. And as those who have escaped have dramatically testified, women and girls are sold into slavery, threatened, raped, and treated like chattel.

ISIL’s leaders assumed that the world would be too intimidated to oppose them. Well, let us be clear: We are not intimidated; you are not intimidated; our friends and partners are not intimidated; ISIL is very, very wrong.

On September 10th, President Obama outlined America’s plan to mobilize broad coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. Two months later we are implementing Operation Inherent Resolve through multiple lines of effort, first by providing support to our military partners in the region; second, by applying pressure to the sources of terrorist financing; third, by striving to reduce the flow of foreign fighters; fourth, by exposing the absurdity of ISIL’s religious claims; and fifth, by furnishing humanitarian aid to those hurt or made homeless by the terrorist attacks.

This strategy, which has both short and long-term elements, is starting to gain traction. On the diplomatic side we’ve reached out across the globe to Europe, Asia, to all parts of the Middle East to solicit solidarity and help. We’ve assembled a broad team in our own government, from Defense Secretary Hagel and the experts in the Treasury Department, to General John Allen, our special envoy to the coalition and a man who has served in the region and knows it well.

And ironically, we have found that our best recruiting tool is ISIL itself. ISIL is a coalition multiplier. And governments that can’t agree on almost anything else agree on the imperative of confronting and defeating these terrorists. This is true of Sunni and Shia leaders, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, members of smaller minority groups. Where once there was suspicion and discord, we now see the Saudi foreign minister link arms with Iraq’s Kurdish and Shia leaders. We see the Government of Turkey agree to allow Kurdish fighters to cross its border and take on ISIL. We see the multi-confessional leadership of Lebanon jointly resisting armed incursions into their territory. In just a few weeks, the coalition has attracted more than five dozen contributors while many others have expressed horror at the terrorists’ tactics and goals.

The breadth of this backing illustrates the galvanizing nature of the ISIL threat. It gives us the diversity and the credibility to move on all fronts, and it will provide Iraq’s Sunni tribes with the confidence that they need to ultimately reclaim their lands.

One of ISIL’s problems, after all, is that familiarity breeds contempt. As one Sunni leader in Iraq said recently, ISIL has humiliated the top sheikhs of Diyala and has done horrible and unforgivable crimes against people here. Last month, that tribe joined with Iraqi national forces in driving the terrorists out of 13 villages in its home province. As far back as January, we had begun increasing our reconnaissance flights and ramping up aid to the Iraqi Security Forces, shipping Hellfire missiles and other weapons that would’ve enabled the government, with stronger leadership, to prevent its territory from falling into the hands of terrorists.

This summer, after Mosul fell, President Obama sent a team of U.S. military advisors to assess the situation. But he also made clear to Iraqi leaders that they had to end the political gridlock that had alienated members of Iraq’s Sunni majority – minority. And they had to put in place a leadership team – this was a requirement for our engagement – that would inspire widespread loyalty. They had to assemble security forces that would fight for more than clan, more than tribe, more than creed – fight for all of Iraq. And they had, in short, to create an alternative to ISIL that Iraqis from every faction could get behind.

To allow time for that, the coalition moved to halt ISIL’s attempt to slaughter the Yezidi religious minority, and we did so. In coordination with Iraqi forces, we established control of the strategic Haditha Dam and rescued the besieged population of Amirli. And more recently, coalition airstrikes have aided fighters in Anbar and Kurdish defenders across the border in Kobani. Participating aircraft have come from America, Australia, several European countries – and in Syria, also from the Gulf states, unprecedented.

We are receiving vital help from NATO and have gained the support of foreign ministries and parliaments from one end of the Earth to the other, including the Asia Pacific, from which the President and I have just returned. Together, we are implementing a plan with our Iraqi partners to strengthen their security forces and stand up a new national guard. The guard is a breakthrough idea, because it will ensure that Iraqis are protected by people with whom they are familiar and in whom they have trust. It’ll break down some of the sectarian divide. And the new units will operate at the provincial level, but will be answerable to the ministry of defense in Baghdad.

Overall, our campaign has begun to have significant impact. The momentum that ISIL built up during the summer has dissipated. It continues, yes, to commit terrible crimes. But it has also been forced to relinquish bases, abandon training sites, alter its mode of communications, disperse personnel, and stop the use of large convoys. Meanwhile, Iraq’s national army is preparing to launch a counteroffensive and will do so when the time is right. And that is not a matter of years; it is a matter of months.

The process of internal political reform in Iraq is also going forward. For the first time, a truly national cabinet is in place. The new prime minister, president, speaker of the council of representatives have all expressed their determination to avoid the paralyzing sectarian rivalries that smooth the way for ISIL’s gains. But as these strong leaders recognize, yes, substantial obstacles remain. Iraqi officials know that they must move quickly to reform discriminatory laws and build greater trust among Sunni tribes. They must bolster their governing institutions and make the country’s armed forces more diverse, more professional. Our international coalition can be counted on to help with equipment, with training. But the political will to fight, to defend, and to liberate must come from within. From Erbil in the north to Basra in the south to Fallujah in the west, Iraqis must take the lead in rescuing their country from those who are trying to steal it.

Containing and gradually reducing the threat that ISIL poses is job number one for our Iraqi partners and for the coalition, increasingly led by the Arab community itself. But even if the government in Baghdad fulfills its responsibilities, it will still face a dire challenge because of events in Syria where ISIL has also established a destructive presence. The coalition’s decision to carry out airstrikes in Syria came in response to a direct request from Iraq for help in defending against ISIL’s aggression – a job that will be far harder if the terrorists can just duck across the border for reinforcements, money, and supplies. Removing that option, which is what we have begun to do, will take time, but controlling the border is an essential element of the coalition’s military strategy. No matter how long it takes, we will succeed in doing that as the Iraqi army stands up and presents itself to do so.

Now, I am aware that some believe that airstrikes against ISIL in Syria will have the perverse effect of actually assisting the country’s longtime dictator, Bashar al-Assad, whose ruthless repression has really generated the gravest humanitarian catastrophe certainly of this century. But that assumption is actually based on a misreading of the political reality in Syria. In fact, the Assad regime and ISIL are actually dependent on one another. That’s why Assad has relentlessly bombed areas held by the moderate opposition while doing almost nothing to hinder ISIL’s march.

This is a point worth emphasizing. Assad and ISIL are symbiotic. ISIL presents itself as the only alternative to Assad. Assad purports to be the last line of defense against ISIL. Both are stronger as a result. If this kind of opportunism sounds familiar, it is. History holds many examples, including in Central America three decades when rightwing militaries and leftwing guerillas each exploited the extremism of the other. And the cycle was broken only when the United States joined with regional allies and political moderates to build up the center.

There are vast differences between Latin America then and the Middle East now. I understand that. But the political equation of extremes against the middle is undeniably present in Syria. For too long, Syrians have felt that their only choice is actually no choice at all. With terrorists on one side and a vicious dictator on the other, our strategy, in coordination with our partners, is to offer the possibility of a new and more constructive choice – a reveille, if you will, for the moderates that excludes both the terrorists and Assad, an option that will be welcomed by every Syrian who wants to live in a country marked by civility and inclusiveness, good governance, and peace. And we believe that is what most Syrians are searching for, a way out of the chaos and out of the bloodshed.

That is why going forward the coalition intends to work with all Syrians who will work with us to empower the center. And progress is possible, we believe, if we are patient and combine coercive measures with creative diplomacy, and if we demonstrate the kind of international cooperation shown by our effort to destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Russia and the United States worked very closely to do that, and now, for the first time in history during a conflict, all the chemical weapons that were subject to the convention have been removed and destroyed. It doesn’t get enough focus, but think what would happen today if ISIL had access to those weapons had that not happened.

We believe there’s an opportunity for cooperation, and we are – even as we have difficulties in Ukraine, we talk with the Russians about this. We talk with the Saudis and others, and we will continue to believe there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. The most desirable outcome remains a negotiated political transition to a new and broadly representative government, and that would be the best way to marginalize foreign fighters, enable the return of refugees, and begin a process of reconciliation and recovery. This can only be a gradual process, but ISIL’s emergence gives us a fresh cause to move in the right direction. The opportunity is there. We must seize it, and to that end, the United States calls on every country that has the ability to be able to make constructive contribution to that endeavor.

Now, I want to emphasize this coalition is not just a military campaign. It is a multinational effort, increasingly, as I said, marshaled by the Arab community, to promote stability and peace throughout the region for the benefit of everyone in the region. And although the center of our activities is Iraq – and Syria, to some degree – ISIL’s influence is by no means confined to one part of the world. Its recruits, tragically – surprisingly to some – can come from any country. They can be male or female, of any ethnicity, and with or without spiritual convictions. Last year, two young men left Great Britain to join ISIL. Among the books that they ordered before departing was “Islam for Dummies” and “The Qu’ran for Dummies.” So let’s be honest: Those recruiting for ISIL aren’t looking for people who are devout and knowledgeable about the tenets of Islam. They’re looking for people who are gullible enough to believe that terrorists enjoy a glamorous lifestyle and pliable enough to do whatever they are told. The Arab ringleaders of ISIL may be evil, but they’re not stupid. That’s why the vast majority of suicide bombers and front line fighters are foreign recruits – and notice none of the leaders go seek paradise for themselves. The foreigners are also ordered to perpetrate many of the worst crimes, because they lack any ethnic or linguistic ties to they – those that they’re called on to kill.

To extend its influence, the leaders of ISIL have called on followers to, “explode volcanoes of jihad,” and they’ve asked them to do that in every country. Last month I visited Canada, where two terrorist attacks occurred a few days apart, one of which was directed at the nation’s parliament. Last week a terrorist group in Egypt proclaimed fealty to ISIL. ISIL insists that its acts of murder, torture, slavery, rape, and desecration are in response to the commands of God – a claim that is, to use an old Boston expression, garbage. Much depends on the ability of respected figures from every branch of Islam to help potential recruits understand that ISIL is against everything that faith teaches and in favor of everything that it abhors.

In September at the UN Security Council, President Obama chaired a high-level meeting on the challenge posed by foreign fighters. That gathering, coupled with the launch of the coalition, has sparked a sharp spike in the information that is being shared all across the world now – a broad array of initiatives designed to make it harder for people to join ISIL and less likely that ex-militants will escape detection when they’re trying to return home. Last February, for example, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah issued a decree banning Saudi citizens from joining or publicly supporting extreme religious and ideological groups. Indonesia has banned ISIL, revoked the passports of militants, and detained suspect travelers. In October, the United Kingdom arrested four ISIL sympathizers who had returned from Syria with plans to behead innocent people in the streets of London. The United States and other countries from Norway to New Zealand have warned citizens against travel to the war zone, and we are – they are – all prepared to take legal action against those joining or aiding ISIL.

In implementing these policies, we should allow young people who in the past signed up without knowing its true nature and who are genuine in their effort to seek rehabilitation to do so. But those who continue to join and fight today have no excuse. ISIL’s identity as a band of murderous thugs should be plain to everyone, and those who willingly claim that identity for themselves bear the full onus for their actions.

So we have to curb the flow of recruits to ISIL, but we must also halt the flow of money. ISIL gets millions of dollars, literally, a month from extortion, looting, selling stolen oil bought by smugglers who operate outside of the conventional banking system. However, at some point, the oil does have to enter the legal economy. And by working backwards, we’ve been able to map where most of it comes from and to develop ideas about how to stop it. And we will also continue to bomb and destroy ISIL’s oil infrastructure.

Meanwhile, ISIL may find that extortion and theft are dwindling sources of revenue. Overrunning and looting a town can indeed be profitable, but when the plunder is spent, all that remains is another village to feed, one more position to defend. In the provinces where ISIL now operates, the Iraqi Government had expected to spend more than two billion in administrative costs and services. Raising even a fraction of that amount to pretend to deliver the government they have promised to people is not possible. And when you combine it with other financial demands, it will place a growing strain on terrorist resources. We’ve already seen a 75 percent cut in pay for ISIL fighters in Mosul. That’s why we keep saying this is a longer-term, patient strategy that we believe in. And as for kidnapping, the United States has set a heart-rending but absolutely necessary example by refusing to pay ransom for captured Americans. Last year the UN Security Council and the G8 firmly endorsed an identical policy, and all of the evidence shows that where and if a country has paid a ransom, there are many more people who are taken hostage.

Further, we have applied sanctions against more than two dozen individuals associated with ISIL or its predecessor group, and the bottom line is clear: ISIL cannot live on hate alone. Acting together, we can gradually deprive it of the financial oxygen that it needs to purchase loyalty. And when that happens, ISIL will not only be morally and intellectually bankrupt, but just plain bankrupt as well.

Finally, our coalition will wage a nonstop campaign in the battle of ideas. Following up on the recent Coalition Communications Conference in Kuwait, governments in and outside the region are implementing plans to rebut terrorist propaganda in both conventional and social media. And while ISIL piles murder upon murder, we are doing all we can to feed the starving, to shelter the homeless, and to heal the wounded. And this is a commitment that we take seriously and that we will honor both during and after Iraq’s efforts to drive ISIL out.

The victims of ISIL already are in desperate straits. There are enormous numbers of people, as you know, displaced in Syria, about 10 million; 6 million within the country – 6 or 7 million within the country; million and a half in Lebanon; million and a half in Jordan or more, a similar number in Turkey. And the coalition is going to need to respond to that need. In the end, it really underscores the inescapable truth: This conflict is not between one civilization and another. Don’t let anybody tell you that. This conflict is between civilization itself and barbarism.

And now we’re all aware that the Obama Administration has been faulted for not having the perfect answer to every question related to the coalition’s campaign – fair enough – but as a student of history, I cannot recall the United States entering into any major confrontation with advanced knowledge of all the possibilities. Certainly, we understand that the politics of the Middle East are tangled by ethnic and sectarian rivalries, that the ground force components of our coalition remain a work in progress, that ISIL will be very hard to dislodge from some areas, and that the coalition’s diversity demands careful management. The coalition has assembled governments that are not fully accustomed to even working together. This makes, yes, for some challenging conversations here and there. But the broad willingness to cooperate is enabling us to make progress, and ultimately we will be far stronger because of the wide range of perspectives that we represent and are bringing to the table.

Now, I readily acknowledge that there are a variety of hard questions facing the coalition, but we’re developing convincing responses to each, and we are determined to succeed because the stakes are so high. And to those who differ, we have a question of our own: Why would it have been better to stand aside and give ISIL a green light to continue its campaign of rape, slaughter, murder, and bigotry across the heart of the Middle East, and what would the consequences of that be? We are confronting ISIL not because it’s easy, but because it’s necessary. In that endeavor, we welcome all questions, but we also want to hear alternatives.

Every critic should be prepared to step forward with an answer to another question: What would they do?

And I also want to think together about another question. The participants in this conference are focused on long-term transformation and future trends, and well we should be. But as we do, let us remember the hard reality of the Middle East: If we don’t defeat ISIL, there will be no viable or acceptable future for the Middle East. And if we don’t build a strong future for the Middle East, it won’t really matter what happens to ISIL. Because over time, we will only win the fight against violent extremism in the Middle East if we have a clear vision of what the future of that region should look like. There must be visible and appealing alternatives to the nihilism that flows from the likes of ISIL, al-Qaida, al-Nusrah, and Khorasan, and those alternatives do exist today. But the stronger and more successful that we can make them, the more we can actually engage in the effort to implement them, the better off we’re all going to be.

Too many countries in the MENA region are held back by inefficient and inequitable economic policies, unresponsive political institutions, inadequate investments in education, and a lack of fairness towards women. Fixing that is a long-term proposition, but long-term commitments are precisely what we need right now. We cannot allow frustration in those countries to grow faster than opportunity. The most dangerous terrorist networks are those that act in the moment, but plan with future generations in mind. We have to do the same. I’ve heard this directly from foreign ministers of various countries in the region, how these groups plot and plan and grab kids when they’re young and capture their minds and pay them a little money in the absence of anybody else doing anything for them, and then they become the recruits and then off they go.

We have to have an alternative. One hundred and seventy years ago, Thoreau wrote that “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” If today’s children are to prosper and raise their own families in a climate that is free from fear, we have to strike – all of us – at the root. And that task is by no means simple, but believe me, it is within our power.

So even as we mobilize forces to defeat ISIL, we must also encourage measures to reform governance and create opportunity throughout the MENA region. That will not happen by trying to persuade the local population to turn away from its rich spiritual and cultural traditions. Change must develop from inside. But by reaching out where we can, investing in what we can, the United States can help to furnish the leverage that builders within the region seek.

In that endeavor, President Obama has asked each of us never to feel constrained by the limits of what we think we can do. He wants us to define and act on what needs to be done. And we know that there are many, many people in the Middle East, in and outside of government, who, notwithstanding current problems, are building platforms for development, diversity, democratic institutions, and peace, and they are doing it right now and they do it often at great risk.

Accordingly, we believe that the region will emerge, ultimately, from its current struggles with a deeper understanding of its own interest in settling disputes and in preventing differences in ideology and creed from degenerating into the kind of conflict that we see today.

We believe that nations that have been torn apart can heal their wounds, as our own country did long ago, and as Iraq has begun to do today. We believe that the destructive summons to terror will ultimately be rejected because it is at odds with the values of the vast majority of the region’s people and at odds with the dominant religion – Islam – of that region.

And finally, we have faith in the future of the Middle East because we trust in the resilience of the human spirit which, along with the love of justice and freedom, has sustained our own land since before there was an America. And so together with our friends, together with our partners, in contrast to the terrorists and nihilists who aim to destroy, we remain builders resolved to create for future generations a better world. And it is our determination to succeed that causes terrorists to fear us far more than we will ever fear them. Thank you. (Applause.)

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Power at the Center for American Progress’ Making Progress: 2014 Policy Conference

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 17:03

Senator Tom Daschle, Moderator: Let me begin the conversation, if I could, by talking about America’s role. There’s a growing debate across the political spectrum, within really both political parties, about what America’s role in the world should be in this day and age; what sort of leadership we should play in foreign affairs. Over the years, especially in the last two decades in particular, we’ve experienced everything from unilateralism to coalitions of the willing to a reliance on our core alliance structure of leading from behind. But there are little consensus about the role of America today and how we should play it, and how best to advance American interests. U.S. leaders face – many U.S. leaders have called for retrenchment, and some have even called for isolation on both the right and the left. So, Ambassador Power, I’d like to start by asking you the question: is it up to America to be the lead actor in the world today? How should we look at that role? Is there a correct model as we look at the circumstances we’re facing worldwide?

Ambassador Power: Thank you, Tom. And thank you everybody for being here, and to CAP for putting on this conference and doing such important work. I mean, you put your finger on a key question for our times. I think that what we see today in the fall of 2014 is American leadership being used on key issues, whether climate, Ebola, ISIL, but whereby we don’t take simple ownership of the issue and decide that we’re going to bear the entire burden alone. We invest our resources, we lead the world, and we bring other coalitions to our side.

So, in the effort against ISIL, in Iraq, in order to support the Iraqi government forces as they try to fend off this monstrous movement, our use of airstrikes. And then we went around the world and said, “Okay, who wants to join on airstrikes? Who wants to join in providing training and equipment to these forces as they reconstitute? Who is going to take care of the humanitarian burden of all the millions of people who’ve been displaced as a result of ISIL’s explosive move across that region?” And now we have a coalition of 60 countries.

Ebola, equally dramatically; President Obama goes before the United Nations in September and says, “Look, here’s what I’m going to do. But if I do this,” and it’s a lot, “it’s not going to suffice.” And if we tackle the problem only in Liberia where the U.S. is deploying more than 2,000 troops and hundreds of CDC and USAID personnel, and aid workers and partnering with Doctors without Borders – but if we just do Liberia, and other countries don’t take the lead in Sierra Leone and Guinea, then our efforts in Liberia are going to be pyrrhic, because people can just cross the border and so forth.

So, you lead by articulating to the American people in the first instance, and to the world why it’s in your interest, and in the collective interest, to act. And then you mobilize other countries to make sure that you’re not bearing these huge burdens alone. And it’s not just even about burden-sharing and resources, which are major issues, but also just the very nature of these kinds of transnational threats, as you all know, are ones where, even if we had all the resources in the world and could bear every burden, you just, you can’t. You know, the foreign fighters in Syria, unless you get other countries to tighten their controls on their borders and prevent people from traveling, the United States, even if it wanted to, couldn’t deal with the foreign terrorist fighter problem alone. And so I think the mobilization of the world around what President Obama said way back when he was a candidate, are common security, common humanity.

Senator Daschle: This conference, as you know, is about making progress, and that applies both domestically as well as in our international efforts in our agenda. We talk at a lot at conferences like this about core progressive values. How would you say core progressive values align with American interests internationally today?

Ambassador Power: Well, I think probably people would define core progressive values in different ways. For me, it would start with regard for human dignity; the dignity of work, the dignity of a fair wage, the dignity to be treated with respect by your neighbors or respect for your own preferences in the way you live your life. And I think President Obama has really urged us to inject concern for human dignity in our policymaking, whether that’s being hugely generous in the face of ethnic violence in South Sudan, or in the face of the horrible displacement out of Syria, or wanting to close Guantanamo, recognizing again that that is – remains even – a recruitment tool and something that terrorist movements use a way of mobilizing their base and so forth.

But I think dignity is one piece of it. And then I think not only looking to make sure that you have domestic legal authority, but also being very conscientious and very dedicated to international norms and international law, while of course always pursuing U.S. interests. So, I think that those: dignity and recognizing that we live in a broad – we live on a planet where our interests also depend on having other people play by the rules, so we are stronger when we lead ourselves by playing by the rules of the road.

Senator Daschle: One of the important roles for the United States historically, and I think especially today, is bringing other countries together in multilateral forums. And there could be no one more sensitized to the need to do that and the importance of doing that, than you at the UN. But whether at the UN or as we saw with the ASEAN and G-20 forums last week, there are multilateral settings that offer opportunities for progress, but can also get bogged down, in part because –

Ambassador Power: I’ve noticed.

Senator Daschle: – of conflicting agendas, in part because you get into just a lot of talkathons that come with the very nature of groups wanting to make points. So how can America balance the importance of working with partners around the world, and the efficiency of our ability to pursue core interests on our own?

Ambassador Power: Well, I get to live a daily talkathon up in New York, so I feel I have a privileged positioned on which to talk. You know, there are a lot of inefficiencies in the international system. Just as within governments, we need to constantly try to streamline and simplify and enhance the interface that citizens have with governments as they regulate, you know, so too in the international system. If you imagine aggregating government habits across 193 governments, imagine what you end up with, right? I mean, that is not ideal. It’s not – if you were starting from scratch in 2014, you’d build a different, a different airplane, probably.

Having said that, if the United Nations didn’t exist, you would definitely build it, because you want a venue to come together. And even those countries with whom we are estranged or not cooperating in visible ways, it’s a channel for communication so you don’t have misunderstanding. It’s a way of pooling resources. You know, it is very, very obvious on the one hand, but also striking to live it where you see that the things that matter most to us, you know, may be very low on the mattering map for other countries. And so too the things that matter the most for them may not be in the top five for us. And so finding – but yet we need them to cooperate with us, let’s say on foreign terrorist fighters, where they think maybe that’s a distant problem compared to, you know, economic development or even climate change, and they need us of course to invest in their economic development and in their dignity, particularly in developing countries.

So we've tried to – I’ve certainly tried to mix it up in New York. And my impatience is the stuff of legend now, insofar as, “How are we still talking about this? I mean, what are you doing?” So, I think you’ve got to inject that spirit. You can’t accept that these institutions need to just be talkathons. We’re trying to do much more brainstorming, you know, much more – trying to bring countries together sort of staring out at a common problem and defining it as such, and then being in a position of, what could we do about it, rather than this sort of positional form of diplomacy that we’ve done, and where there’s certainly a place for that.

The one thing I’d just add finally is it’s tempting to sort of see bilateral dealings as somehow separate from or juxtaposed with the multilateral framework. But the fact of the matter is the way multilateralism works at its best is you start small, and then you expand the circle of consensus and the circle of problem-solving. But ultimately, successful multilateralism will turn also on the extent to which we have maintained, you know, stable and healthy partnerships with different countries around the world. Aggregating those friendships is what allows us to come together. And aggregating the sense of shared destiny and shared interest is what allows us to get a lot of countries to the table around shared threats.

Senator Daschle: So, how does our approach to multilateralism compare or contrast to other great powers, like China or Russia, or even allies like Britain or Japan? Similar or a lot different?

Ambassador Power: That’s an interesting question. I think that – we have embassies in just about every country in the world. And every minute of every day, we have a foreign policy of some kind with that country. And I think we view the multilateral system as a place to advance, whether human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, or economic prosperity or trade relationships, etc. So, we’re constantly looking to advance our very particular foreign policy objectives in particular countries.

So, for instance yesterday we had very important General Assembly votes on resolutions on the human rights horrors in Syria, those in the DPRK, and those in Iran. And these votes – you know, we treat each of those votes as if it’s a huge priority for the United States. We have our embassies fanning out around the world trying to make sure that countries in the Caribbean or countries in the Middle East are voting a certain way vis-à-vis DPRK, in order to send the strongest possible signal to the regime there that they’re going to be held accountable, particularly in light of the recent commission of inquiry, the horrible commission of inquiry report on the camps and the human rights conditions in DPRK.

That ambition, you know, that range, that ability to draw on those resources, I think, is distinct about the United States. And that belief that it is in our interest to go all out on the DPRK at the same time we go out on Iran at the same time. Most of the time with other countries you’ll see some subset of the larger global agenda prioritized and that kind of effort perhaps being brought to bear, although without the resources and the reach that we have. So, and even countries like China that are taking more and more assertive leadership roles within the UN system, including by increasing in a very helpful development, increasing their contributions to UN peacekeeping in a substantial way, sending doctors and other medical professionals to deal with Ebola. So, you’re seeing them begin to step up. But, still, that – what I just described in terms of campaigning around a discrete issue, whether on economic development, on climate, on human rights in any particular country – you wouldn’t see, again, that same kind of ground game or yet that prioritization of that set of issues, certainly with human rights issues, needless to say.

Senator Daschle: So, as I look at our options, is there a downside to bilateralism, like what we’ve just recently seen with our announcement on climate with China, versus taking the traditional multilateral approach?

Ambassador Power: You know, I think that when we do strike big deals and deepen partnerships in very visible ways, it’s a lot – the relations between countries are a lot like that between individuals. Like there’ll be someone over there saying, “What about me?” Like, “Why wasn't I a part of that?” And I think you see that a little bit here and there in the margins, but compared to the good it does – for instance, if you take the historic agreement, the CAP alone – that past and present CAP leader John Podesta, his leadership in helping negotiate that on the president’s behalf; hugely important agreement. And with China and the United States leading together and early, and constituting the two biggest economies and the two biggest emitters, that puts us in a position to lead the world. And the leverage associated with us doing that together, I think, vastly outweighs any momentary kind of sense of, “Oh, I wish that would’ve been a bigger multilateral framework.” And as I said earlier, that is the way you do multilateralism. You start and get key stakeholders to make agreements, and then you broaden out the circle. And that’s of course what our hope is to do on the climate.

Senator Daschle: So let me ask one more question on multilateral institutional infrastructure before I – I want to give to couple of other issues before we run out of time. A lot of the institutions created from multilateral cooperation were created after World War II. We had a big role to fill. Those institutions really haven’t changed much, whether it’s the UN Security Council, the IMF. To what extent do they reflect today and the world as we see it globally? And to what extent, if it’s not as reflective as they should be, is there a potential for reform as we look at making these institutions perhaps more reflective of the current lay of the land?

Ambassador Power: Well, let me separate a couple of different planes on which one can look at that question. I mean, I think you’ve seen over the life of the Obama administration a real emphasis on the G-20 as a hugely important global forum, not only to deal with economic issues, but as we just saw, the G-20 issued a very strong statement on Ebola. And we would view that group of countries as in the first instance the most likely group of countries to contribute health professionals, money, building materials, etc. in the context of Ebola. So, it’s a convenient proxy for those who should have resources that they’re prepared to invest in dealing with common threats and common challenges.

So, that, I think, shift and that emphasis has occurred over the life of the Obama administration. With the crisis in the Ukraine, of course, the G-7, now, has taken on new importance, particularly with regard again to that set of issues. That’s a very useful forum for that, and for a host of other things. So, again, that venue remains important, but the G-20 is of a different order than it would’ve been back even in 2008. And this was happening with the Bush administration toward the end, as well.

In the United Nations, Security Council reform has been something that many have aspired to, for many, many years, for the obvious reason which you state, which is surely 69 years after the founding of the UN, the dynamics, the power dynamics, the economic dynamics, and so forth in the world, the demographics, everything has changed and surely there should be some modernization. The challenge is that one of the reasons that we would, that one would wish to see an updated set of international institutions is to enhance legitimacy and effectiveness, and to enhance a sense of shared ownership over the entire United Nations, because there’s a sense of alienation by some of the powerful countries that have been doing more than their fair share, like Germany and Japan you know, tremendous contributors to the UN over many years, but were not part of the regular decision-making body.

But having said that, and with that alienation, and with that aspiration to render it more effective, there is no more divisive issue in the UN membership. And so there just hasn’t been a proposal that has attracted a kind of plurality or a majority because everybody wants at a moment when things are being revisited, everybody wants in. And so, just as I was describing earlier in the context of bilateral deals, so too this is something where people want UN Security Council reform, but they, again, have very different views as to how you would bring it about.

So, we remain open, you know, and as these debates play themselves out they’re heating up now because it’s the 70th anniversary approaching. And the question it poses of course rightly being asked. But it’s not clear that there’s a pathway that could gather a critical mass. And, of course, we would remain very attached to our veto, which is a hugely important feature of our leadership within the UN system. So that’s not something we’d be prepared to give up. But on the membership, we certainly see the case.

Senator Daschle: Let me turn to a couple of very specific challenges that you’re very involved with. The first is Ebola. You just came back from Africa a couple of weeks ago.

Ambassador Power: I did. Thank you for giving me a hug earlier.


Senator Daschle: Yeah, and I’d do it anytime. But I’m curious, as you explored the challenges we face, as you saw firsthand what we’re up against, and the progress or in some cases maybe the lack thereof, how would you characterize our biggest challenge today?

Ambassador Power: Well, we just still don’t have enough. There’s not enough that has been committed. Progress in whether it’s funds, health workers, beds, as in beds in isolation units, ambulances, fuel. I mean, since again, President Obama went to the UN and stood with the Secretary General and made this appeal and we waged a full-court press around the world to get people to contribute, we have closed, we have narrowed, we say, a very large number of gaps.

But, again, particularly as you get out into the rural areas in the three countries, I mean you still have people who have never heard of Ebola. Our ambassador in Guinea was just out hiking in the countryside away from Conakry, the capital, and just went up to a group of women and said have you heard of Ebola, speaking to them in the local dialect and everything we have a wonderful ambassador in Guinea. And so, just, social mobilization, basic, again things that money can buy: SIM cards for cellphones, cellphone coverage in parts of the country that doesn’t exist, and how that and these are the kinds of things you can’t turn on a dime.

So, what is so gratifying is in my own experience in dealing with crises and foreign policy challenges, there’s something very unique about the anti-Ebola effort, in that you can really measure progress. You can on my trip a couple of weeks ago, four days before I arrived, the rate of safe burial within 24 hours in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, was only 30 percent. The British had come in, they revamped the command of control working with the Sierra Leone military and civilian authorities, and that safe burial rate, just in a four-day period, had gone up to 98 percent within 24 hours, which stands to play a really important role in infection control, because unsafe burial is a huge source of infection. Same in Monrovia, because of the U.S. effort.

The U.S. has deployed these mobile labs around Liberia. We visited one about an hour flight away from Monrovia, about an eight-hour drive in Bong Country, and there are these three Navy microbiologists who had just set up this lab two weeks before we arrived. One of them had decided to become a microbiologist 20 years ago because he read Hot Zone, the Preston book about Ebola. So he can’t believe his fortune that he’s sitting here looking at Ebola under a microscope to test local samples. Before this little three-person unit of microbiologists, contributed by the U.S. Navy, arrived, the testing in that area was taking as much as a week. The samples were being driven on motorcycle, and sometimes getting lost en route to Monrovia. There was only one lab in Monrovia, and everyone in the country had to wait in order to get their test results.

So, just by showing up, that one-week time has now been cut to between three and five hours. Now what does that mean? Tangibly, it means that before, people who were Ebola-positive and Ebola-negative but didn’t know it were cohabitating within Ebola treatment units for a week. That’s not good. That’s not isolation; that’s not what one would seek. Moreover, the beds were full. And now the testing results are coming back, and 70 percent don’t have Ebola; they may have malaria, they may have a cold. If you’re lucky, if there has been social mobilization, people will be coming forward. So, now those beds are being freed up, and you’re starting to see efficiencies.

But back to your original question, I am personally, I think we’ve done a very good job on the hardware, which is the Ebola treatment units, building the facilities where people can be isolated. The software, now, is what is needed: more healthcare workers in the here and now, but also if you look out four weeks or six weeks, that next tranche, who’s going to replace the people in-country today? And this is where us making clear as the American people just how much we value the work that American doctors and nurses are doing as they go over there. So, health workers and the social mobilization, getting the locals to do away with the stigma and the fear that pervades, so that the next time our ambassador goes hiking in the countryside, everyone you meet is telling you about Ebola, rather than again, it being perceived to be foisted upon the countryside by the center, which is a bit of a risk right now.

Senator Daschle: So let me ask you it may be too early to be able to answer this with any clarity but to what to what extent are there already lessons learned for the next Ebola, the next H1N1, the next SARS? What can we take from this experience that might help us prepare more proactively for the next one?

Ambassador Power: I think if you look at the funding request, the resource request that President Obama sent up a week or two ago to the Hill and that we are working very constructively with both parties now to refine, I think you see some of those lessons already put in place: making sure that every state has the capability to deal with infectious disease or viruses like this that may be foreign in the first instance, but where you have training protocols that are put in place very quickly. Research into vaccines, you know, investing more in the prevention side of things. In the countries in question, part also of our funding request is to make sure that we don’t invest billions of dollars here in dealing with Ebola, get to the back end of the crisis, and then the Ebola treatment units get dismantled because they’re just tents and bricks, and they’re not themselves sustainable structures, the white vehicles belonging to the international community all get put back on cargo ships. And then what’s left of the health infrastructure of these countries?

The reason that it spread so quickly, in addition to some of the issues related to where the outbreak first occurred, being in a border region and with travel and so forth, but is that the systems were too weak to deal with it unlike Nigeria, which was able to draw on the expertise acquired in an anti-polio – a polio eradication campaign a generation ago. That expertise was tapped to deal with the challenge in Nigeria. Nothing like that existed in these three countries. So in addition to the U.S. preparedness, which is very, very important in making sure it’s done at the relevant, with relevant health officials at the state level, really investing not only in these countries’ health infrastructure, by bringing the World Bank and others into that effort, but also looking across the continent. And this is what the President’s global health security agenda, which predated the Ebola crisis, is now, but now has new adherents in the international community because of what’s happened. Hopefully, that’ll be the venue in which some of these changes will take place.

Senator Daschle: We didn’t get to ISIS, we didn't get to Syria, we didn’t get to Iran. There is a whole list of things we didn’t get

Ambassador Power: Sorry about that.

Senator Daschle: But your answers were terrific, and I just can’t thank you enough for taking time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule to be here.

Ambassador Power: My pleasure.

Senator Daschle: And I know I speak for every person in this room in thanking you for the incredible leadership you give us every day. Thank you.

Ambassador Power: Thank you. Thank you so much.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the UN in New York

Categories: News Pit Feeds

U.S. Remarks at the Security Council Open Debate on Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 16:49

Good morning, and thank you, Madame President, for the opportunity to participate in this important open debate. And thank you, Mr. Secretary General, for your briefing. The United States deeply appreciates Australia’s leadership in advancing the global community’s response to terrorism and to violent extremism.

The group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, does not just threaten global security. The cruelty of this group and others associated with al-Qaeda threaten the values upon which the United Nations was founded. Like other violent extremist groups, ISIL is the product of a brutal, nihilistic ideology that glorifies violence and death. The horrific massacres of Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians, Yezidis and other minorities demonstrates that ISIL spares no group from its murderous agenda. While continuing to terrorize and kill, ISIL is engaged in active recruitment activities that have attracted significant numbers of foreign terrorist fighters from dozens of nations across the world to join them in Syria and Iraq to commit these terrorist acts.

The actions of ISIL, and the foreigners that have joined their ranks, are despicable. Just this past Sunday, we were reminded of this horrific barbarity in ISIL’s murder of a humanitarian aid worker, Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig. ISIL terrorists, likely from Western countries and thus foreign terrorist fighters, were seen once again in an ISIL video, along with their cohorts, participating in this cowardly and outrageous act targeting an innocent American humanitarian aid worker who wanted to do nothing more than to provide help and comfort to the Syrian people. The spirit of goodness and service that burned so brightly in Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig is what binds humanity together, and it is that light and that same commitment to a better world that will ultimately prevail over the destruction and hate of ISIL.

As we honor Abdul-Rahman’s service and sacrifice, we see other tragedies unfolding beyond Syria and Iraq. In Canada, less than a month ago, violent extremists in Quebec and Ottawa killed Canadian soldiers and attempted to harm senior government officials. And yesterday, we witnessed the despicable terrorist attack on worshipers in a synagogue in Jerusalem, resulting in the murder of four innocent civilians, including American citizens, as well as the injury of many more. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the victims and their families.

These incidents, along with ISIL’s unrelenting bloodshed and brutality in Iraq and Syria, remind us that we must do more to counter violent extremism, and to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters.

The Security Council has recognized that countering this threat will require the international community to develop new tools, new approaches, and new ways to harness our collective efforts. The Security Council’s recent products, including the Presidential Statement adopted today, provide an important framework for addressing this threat in all of its complexity.

In September, the Security Council adopted Security Council Resolution 2178 at a summit chaired by President Obama focusing on one aspect of this menace: the global flow of foreign terrorist fighters to and from these conflict zones. The wide support that Resolution 2178 received – with 105 co-sponsors – demonstrates the international community’s solidarity to meet this threat.

The United States is working and will continue working with all of our partners on countering the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into the region, and we stand ready to help others do the same. Over the past year, the United States has worked with Western Europe, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Gulf States to press for greater cooperation on information sharing, border security, law enforcement, capacity-building, counter-messaging, countering violent extremism, and terrorist financing. We are pleased to see stronger counterterrorism laws and more terrorists brought to justice in the Balkans, increased security cooperation in North Africa, terrorist financing reforms in the Gulf, and closer cooperation with Western European partners.

But more must be done, and as President Obama has emphasized, all of us must help our partners build their capacity to meet the evolving threat of terrorism, including countering the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and countering violent extremism in the most vulnerable communities. The Global Counterterrorism Forum’s first-ever set of international Good Practices for a More Effective Response to the Foreign Terrorist Fighter Phenomenon provides a good guide to doing so. Preventing foreign terrorist fighters from reaching Syria and Iraq, and then slipping back across any of our borders, is a critical element of our strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.

The Security Council has recognized that tackling the ISIL challenge will require using other tools, including financial measures and sanctions, as we resolved in August through the adoption of Resolution 2170. And today’s Presidential Statement once again addresses the importance of choking off all financial support for ISIL that funds its violent terrorist acts and its recruitment. In the coming months, the Security Council should consider if additional actions and measures are needed to ensure that ISIL does not use oil, ransoms from kidnapping, banks, Iraq and Syria’s cultural property, donations, and other means of financing to carry out its murderous campaign.

We welcome and value the important work of the United Nations’ counterterrorism bodies, including the analytical work of the al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee Monitoring Team of Experts to more effectively counter terrorist financing, recruitment and travel, and the Counterterrorism Executive Directorate’s efforts to identify legal and capacity gaps in Member States. Beyond the UN’s official counterterrorism body, there needs to be more integration, where appropriate, of counterterrorism into the UN’s other related efforts.

The Council has now firmly established the importance of countering violent extremism. We reiterate the central importance of these international efforts to counter and respond to toxic violent ideologies of terrorism. We must work together to de-legitimize ISIL’s hate and violence, and we must expose its dark, false, and deadly vision. In this regard, we particularly welcome efforts this week by the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, whose governing board met this week and approved an accelerated funding mechanism to allow the Fund to provide small grants to community-based organizations on projects to counter the violent extremism of ISIL.

The challenges we face in countering terrorism could not be more important, and so it is fitting, Madame President, that today this Council has adopted an important framework to help guide additional efforts. Now we must do more. As we have heard from Council members today, we are united in the face of this threat to our security and our values. We must turn outrage into action, we must do so together, and we must do so decisively.

I thank you, Madame President.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the UN in New York

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Remarks at the Launch of UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 18:55

Thank you, Roger-Mark. As you noted, my bureau supports UNFPA’s work to increase access to reproductive health services and prevent and respond to gender-based violence throughout the world.

For this reason, I am very pleased to join you all for today’s launch of the 2014 State of the World Population Report on “The Power of 1.8 Billion: Adolescents, Youth, and the Transformation of the Future.”

As this report points out, our hopes for peace and prosperity depend on what happens to this, the largest generation of young people in human history.

But as it cautions, many of them struggle against almost overwhelming odds. In some countries, a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete her education.

The vast majority of young people, nine in 10, live in less developed countries –where poverty is most prevalent and healthcare and schooling hardest to come by. And scarce resources are just one problem.

This report notes that young people often face additional hurdles, such as laws and social norms that can keep them from receiving reproductive health information and services – services they urgently need – to preserve their options, pursue their future goals, and even save their own lives.

For example, while millions of women have an unmet need for contraception, it is married adolescent girls, ages 15 to 19, whose unmet need is the greatest of all. They are only about a third as likely to use contraceptives as married women over 30. Many of these girls have no say in the matter. Unmarried adolescents also struggle to get information that could help them avoid early pregnancy or HIV. Health care workers or families may be hostile or judgmental, and laws may require young people to get parental consent to obtain family planning information or services.

The consequences of this unmet need can be grave. Among 15 to 19 year-old girls in low and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and unsafe abortions are a leading cause of death. And while HIV fatalities for other age groups are falling, among adolescents, they are rising.

What is encouraging – and the report makes this clear – is that we can solve this. The report recommends a number of promising interventions – steps the Obama Administration fully supports. They are:

  • Stopping early and forced marriage and preventing adolescent pregnancies
  • Strengthening sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights among young people, including adolescents
  • Preventing and addressing sexual and gender-based violence
  • Discouraging harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation
  • Promoting equal education for girls
  • Improving young people’s prospects for finding good jobs.

There are no painful tradeoffs here. These interventions are mutually reinforcing – and create a virtuous cycle.

More education, less child marriage and gender-based violence, delayed childbearing, healthier kids, stronger economic growth, gender equality, and expanded opportunity all go together.

That is one reason why the U.S. government supports young people’s reproductive rights, youth-friendly, integrated sexual and reproductive health services, and age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education. For example, USAID has been working in countries across the globe to meet adolescent health needs through its “Youth in Development” policy.

And why the Obama Administration has devoted more than $20 million to Secretary Kerry’s signature “Safe from the Start” initiative. Its aim is to stop gender based violence in emergencies. And, as a part of our PEPFAR HIV programs, we have reached over 114,000 survivors with post-rape care over the past four years.

And we are not alone. The vast majority of governments have lined up to support these types of policies – and the goals set forth in international consensus documents starting with the Program of Action that emerged from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Many have also passed laws to protect the health and rights of young people. But as this report demonstrates, that may not be enough.

For example, there is ample evidence that early and forced marriage is hazardous for girls, exposing them to dangerous pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and often trapping them and their children in poverty. And almost all countries have established some legal minimum age at marriage. Yet one in nine girls in developing countries gets married before she turns 15. Some child brides are as young as eight or nine.

This report points to one important reason for this. Often, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States and South Asia, laws against early marriage are not enforced. For example, India has criminalized marriage for girls under 18, but in 2010 only 11 people were actually convicted of violating this law.

This report can help close the gap between the principles enshrined in our international pledges, and what young people experience in their daily lives. It can help laws, enforcement, and programs catch up with intentions. It shows how important it is to understand what holds young people back, not only in theory but in practice, and to give them a voice in shaping solutions.

We all know that young people are the future. Thanks to UNFPA, we now know just how much is at stake. Not only the risks of failure, but the enormous benefits within reach with the right mix of enlightened policies and effective programs. Young people deserve the chance to pursue their dreams and to thrive. As this report shows very clearly, by helping youth secure their future, we can also secure ours.

- Source:

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Remarks at the UNHCR Event: Out of the Shadows: Ending Statelessness in the Americas

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 16:23


Thank you for joining us today to help launch this important campaign to end statelessness in the next decade, and thank you High Commissioner Guterres for UNHCR’s leadership on this issue.

I want to briefly say a few words about who the stateless are, why Americans should care about them, and what the USG is doing about the situation.

Who are the Stateless?

There are at least10 million stateless persons around the world, including over 210,000 in our part of the world, the Americas. Over one third of the stateless are children. I believe that many Americans do not understand the plight of stateless people because we rarely encounter it ourselves. Children born overseas to American parents and anyone born here in the United States have the right to U.S. citizenship.

But this doesn’t happen in many other countries around the world. Other countries do not give automatic citizenship to those born within their borders.

In 27 countries, children can be left stateless because women do not have the same rights as men to confer nationality. So if a woman gives birth and the child’s father is not around to confer his nationality, the baby may be denied the mother’s citizenship, leaving the child with no citizenship at all.

This has happened to thousands of Syrian refugee children born without documentation, and without fathers present to help secure their nationality. The war has torn families apart. Yet despite these circumstances, in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as well, a father must be present for a baby to be granted citizenship.

And as a result, these children, who have already faced unspeakable violence and instability in their lives, and will have difficulty attending school, will also face the new and profound challenge of having no nationality. It is a tragedy happening now.

Last year, when I traveled to Kuwait for the first pledging conference for Syrian refugees, I also made time to meet with some activists concerned about statelessness in the Gulf. These were all Kuwaiti women –who are speaking out in support of the Bidoon population. This is a stateless population of over 100,000 people living in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf.

The Bidoon were left without a nationality when Kuwait became independent in 1961.

Let’s face it: These people were already marginalized but their lack of nationality makes their situation worse. And it is a problem that not only hurts the Bidoon population. It affects Kuwaiti society overall by creating a marginalized and vulnerable group that faces huge barriers to becoming self-sufficient.

So why should Americans care? What are we doing about Statelessness?

Americans should care for several reasons. We want to stop needless suffering and indignity.

Seeing individuals stripped of rights and protections, branded as outcasts, and not recognized as equal in dignity and rights, clashes with our values as Americans. So does the notion that children inherit this unfair status and pass it on to their children. We believe that all people are created equal.

This is a solvable problem. Already we have seen instances where countries ended this type of discrimination. For instance, in Bangladesh in 2008, a High Court ruling recognized 300,000 Urdu-speakers as citizens. And in Cote d’Ivoire in 2013, amendments to legislation allowed long-term stateless residents to acquire nationality. That legal reform enabled many of the 700,000 stateless persons in Cote d’Ivoire to become citizens. UNHCR tells us that since 2003, over four million stateless persons have acquired a nationality.

Here’s what we are doing:

We support the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness, and to protect stateless persons. The United States is the largest single donor to UNHCR, providing over $1.2 billion to UNHCR in FY 2014. These contributions to UNHCR’s core budget help fund its efforts to address statelessness.

We use diplomacy to mobilize other governments to prevent and resolve situations that leave people stateless. For example, we advocate reforms to address statelessness in the Human Rights Council when it meets in Geneva and we encourage other governments to support us in this effort.

In 2011, the U.S. government launched the Women’s Nationality Initiative. Its goal is to get countries to change nationality laws that discriminate against women, because these laws are a major cause of statelessness.

As part of this Initiative, the United States put forward a resolution on the right to a nationality with a focus on women and children at the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2012. The resolution highlighted women’s equal right to a nationality. This includes being able to acquire and retain nationality and transmit it to their children on an equal basis with men. This effort is picking up momentum. Forty-nine governments co-sponsored the resolution and it passed by consensus – a significant achievement.

Finally, the United States is pleased to support the International Campaign to End Gender Discrimination in Nationality Laws. UNHCR is a member of the Steering Committee for this campaign, with the Women’s Refugee Commission, other NGOs, and Tilburg University. The campaign conducts advocacy in 12 countries around the world, and aims to host a side event to Beijing +20 commemorations at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March 2015.

This latest campaign, UNHCR’s Global Action Plan to End Statelessness, is ambitious but it should be achievable, if each of us – as citizens, leaders, advocates, government officials – pledges to engage and to push for needed reforms. With enough political will, this problem can be resolved. And in fact, statelessness can be ended in our lifetimes. So I applaud UNHCR for launching this campaign.

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Explanation of Vote at the 69th United Nations General Assembly Third Committee on International Albinism Awareness Day

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 16:18

Explanation of Vote by Teri Robl at the 69th United Nations General Assembly Third Committee on Agenda Item 68(b) L. 35: International Albinism Awareness Day

Thank you, Mr. Chair. The United States was pleased to vote for this resolution welcoming the observance of International Albinism Day. We note the relevance of international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in addressing issues of stigma and violence against all persons, including persons with disabilities.

We believe that States must take effective measure to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons with disabilities, such as those related to albinism.

We regret that an amendment was proposed for this resolution on short notice, without clear guidance on whether it would carry budgetary implications, which conflicts with the spirit of Rule 153 of the UN Rules of Procedure, requiring notification of program budget implications.

Future discussions on how to prevent attacks against persons with albinism can be greatly informed by examining the root causes of such discrimination.

Thank you for your attention.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the UN in New York

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Ambassador Power at the “Genocide and the Jews” Event

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 15:31

Thank you, Shmuley for having me here. Thank you, Elie for being here. And thanks to all of you for coming to see a great man in action.

Elie Wiesel has said, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” Those of us who are blessed not to have borne witness to Nazism have an everlasting duty to remember. And so we must teach our children and our children’s children what happened – we must never let them feel as though the Holocaust was last century’s genocide, a remote historical event. We must always ensure that, while the photos and film footage of the Holocaust are in black and white, we teach the facts in color: the racist evil that brought forth the terrible order of the Nuremberg Laws and the unspeakable destruction of Kristallnacht, the roving Einsatzgruppen exterminating the richness of Ashkenazi Jewry, the heroic Warsaw ghetto uprising, the infernos of Auschwitz and Treblinka.

More than that though, we will always commemorate the richness of Jewish history and identity, something that runs vastly deeper than the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. Hitler wanted to murder Jews and also to murder Judaism, to murder Jewish religion and civilization, and in that he failed. What Nazis did to Jews in those terrible dozen years of Hitler’s reign will always be a part of Jewish history, and each and everyone one of the murdered six million deserves to be memorialized for his or her individual life, as he or she wanted to lead that life. They deserve to be remembered for their love of family or their study of Torah, for their secularism or their spirituality, for their mitzvot and tzedakah. They were professors and laborers, landholders and landness — landless — inhabitants of tiny Polish villages and cosmopolitan artists and engineers, mothers and fathers, and they were children. So many kids.

One of those children grew up to be the man we are honoring tonight. He was a little boy name Elie. Today we know him as a moral inspiration, but before he had that burden imposed — inflicted — upon him, he was a child who had the terrible misfortune to be born a Jew in Eastern Europe in 1928. He’s just one of millions, and we should tell all of their stories, but before we hear from Elie tonight, I’d just like to say a few words about him.

In another time or another place, Elie Wiesel might have grown up to be a distinguished Talmudic scholar. He was adept in his studies and most sincere in his piety. While his father ran a store in the little Transylvanian town of Sighet, Elie’s place was in learning. He was so precocious that he wanted to study the highly advanced mysticism of the Kabbalah, and found an unlikely guide in his studies. Moishe the Beadle, as the villagers called him, was an impoverished, shy, awkward man who worked at the shul, who studied the mysteries of the Zohar with a teenage Elie.

Then one day the Hungarian police shoved all the foreign Jews into cattle cars, and Moishe the Beadle — a foreigner — was gone. After several months, late in 1942, he returned. He told Elie what had happened to him. He and the other foreign Jews had been hauled away to Poland, passed to the Gestapo, and herded into a forest. They were forced to dig trenches. And then they were shot dead. Jewish babies were thrown into the air for target practice, Moishe said. It is hard to imagine a human being capable of committing such unconscionable horror, but this is what Moishe the Beadle described.

Moishe had been wounded in the leg and left for dead. He managed to make his way back to Sighet, and told people what he had seen. “Jews, listen to me!” he shouted. But people wouldn’t listen; they would not and they could not believe. They thought he was imagining it, or had gone mad. They ignored him. And life went back to normal. The villagers listened to encouraging news from London radio, heard of Stalingrad and the preparations for the opening of a second front, and waited for — hoped for — Allied victory. And then, in the spring of 1944, the German army came to Sighet.

After what Elie Wiesel endured in the subsequent months in Auschwitz and then Buchenwald, after the death of his father in the waning days of the war, in January 1945, he would have been more than justified to sit in silence for a lifetime. This orphaned teenager could have mourned privately for his parents, for his little sister, for his grandfather. He could have put the past in the past — somehow. But instead of silence, as you all know well, he chose to invest in words. After his liberation, and his studies in France, he decided to record what he had endured. There could be nothing more painful than reliving what it was like to be in Auschwitz. But though he knew uniquely that it was structurally impossible for words to capture his experience, he bent his will and his words to this task. As he put it once in writing, “Only those who experienced Auschwitz know what it was. Others will never know. But would they at least understand?”

Part of why we have generations of children read Night is so they can learn the uniquely unspeakable history of the Holocaust itself. And in that respect, the impression the book has left on so many is searing. But there’s another reason we have our children read Night.

For most children, Night constitutes their first encounter with the bleakest darkness of the world, and with the moral choices that world presents. It shows not only — not only the evil of the executioners, but also the moral agency of those who could have been upstanders but chose instead to be bystanders. Elie forbids us from being passive observers in his story. To read Night is to ask: “What would I have done? How would I have behaved differently?”

Even more, to read Night is also to ask: What am I doing? What am I doing to stop atrocities in my time? Just as when we say never again, we are making a commitment that goes beyond defending Jewish people, so too when we read Night, we’re readying a book whose lessons go beyond even the Holocaust.

Elie, of course, understood all of this. He understood that Night was part of a larger, timeless, universal project — to be ever-vigilant against the kind of hatreds that could give rise to genocide; to sound the alarm; and to act. And Elie has not only taught this lesson, he has lived by it.

Time and again, Elie has been our siren and our compass.

In 1985, when he was being honored at the White House, a normally placid affair, Elie used the occasion to urge President Reagan not to visit the Bitburg military cemetery, which included the graves of Waffen SS soldiers. “I have seen the SS at work,” he said. “And I have seen their victims. They were my friends. They were my parents.” In his Nobel Peace Prize speech, in 1986, he spoke not only of the persecuted Jews in the Soviet Union and inside Arab countries, but also of persecuted Poles, black South Africans, and Palestinians. In 1993, as Bosnia was burning, Elie turned to speak directly to President Clinton at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, declaring: “I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country!” And in 2006, Elie visited the UN to urge action to stop the slaughter being carried out by the Sudanese government against the people of Darfur. The list goes on.

It is sad to observe that the lessons in Night are ones we need to keep teaching. As many of you know, and as Shmuley has now described, we are witnessing an alarming surge of anti-Semitism in Europe. Far-right racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic political parties, like Hungary’s Jobbik party and Greece’s Golden Dawn, are rising dramatically in popularity. Attacks on Jews are rising. According to the recent European Union Fundamental Rights Agency survey of the eight countries in which more than 90 percent of Europe’s Jews live: more than one in four Jews reported having been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack or harassment in the previous year. One in four. So too are attacks rising on places of worship and historical significance to the Jewish people, such as the attack on the Brussels Jewish museum in May, which killed four people; and the July firebombing, in Wuppertal, of the Bergische Synagogue — which had originally been burned to the ground during Kristallnacht, and had only been rebuilt in 2002.

So it was particularly alarming to discover that, in spite of this alarming trend when I last week attended the second ever OSCE conference dedicated to combating anti-Semitism — one-third fewer countries participated than took part in the 2004 conference; and only one in three of the countries that sent a foreign minister or other cabinet level official back in 2004 to an OSCE conference — the only other OSCE conference on combatting anti-Semitism — only one in three of those countries sent a minister or cabinet level official this year. It was the kind of showing that I know Elie would have called out. Where are you? — he would have said. So I took a page from Elie’s book and asked that same question to the group of diplomats who had gathered. There was a certain awkward silence in the wake of that question — what can one say? It’s not like the problem is going anywhere; the problem is getting worse! And yet, high-level attention is going down. What’s up with that?

At the same time, I cannot tell you how inspiring it was at the same conference in Berlin to look out at the American civil society organization that had journeyed there for this conference. Not only Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, but other groups like the American Islamic Congress and the leading Sikh organization; civil rights groups like the NAACP; and the largest US advocacy group for LGBT rights, the Human Rights Campaign. The richness of the American Civil Society delegation in Berlin at a conference dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism is a testament to a lesson that Elie has taught us all: that anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish issue; it is a human rights issue. A world where the human rights of Jews are at risk is a world where all of our rights are at risk. That understanding is a legacy of Night. And because Night has been taught for generations in this country to millions of schoolkids, I believe we all grew up internalizing this deep truth.

One of the most horrifyingly efficient massacres during the Holocaust occurred in a forest ravine near Kiev, at Babi Yar, where Nazis and their collaborators massacred 33,771 Jews in less than two days. In 1943, as the Red Army pushed back the Nazis on the Eastern front, the Nazis set about trying to destroy the evidence of their carnage. At Babi Yar, they dug up the mass graves and unearthed the bodies they contained. They burned those bodies in massive piles, and brought in huge machines to pulverize the bones. There were so many bodies that it took them a month, working around the clock, to destroy all of them. They were determined to leave no trace.

This effort at Babi Yar exemplified the Nazis’ effort to expunge the Jewish people from history, from the planet, and from history.

Of course, they failed. We know today what happened in Babi Yar and in Auschwitz and Buchenwald and in so many other places.

But perhaps the ultimate paradox of the Nazi effort was that it gave birth to a movement — a movement that, in many, many ways, the man seated behind me, Elie Wiesel helped to create – a movement to prevent genocide. Not only against the Jews, but against people of any ethnicity or religion who would be targeted as such. And today this could include the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq. Tomorrow it could include other groups. That movement exists and that movement exists because so much of our moral architecture was defined by what we read at a young age thanks to Eli Wiesel’s willingness to bend his pen, bend those words, to capture history, and to capture the moral choices that each of us have.

Now the work that Elie Wiesel has started, needless to say, is unfinished. We will always have to be guarding against threats and we have to infuse his life’s work — his essential work — with the spirit of new generations.

More than ten million people now have read Night, millions more than the six million Jews who were exterminated in the Holocaust. Millions more will read it. Its impact is immeasurable.

How horrific it is that it was the Holocaust — it took the Holocaust — to give birth to this effort. Yet how amazing it is to know that my children, and my children’s children, and Elie, your grandchildren will one day open the pages of Night, and be forced to ask themselves the ever-important questions: “What would I have done?” and “What will I now do?”

Thank you, Elie for all you have done and all you continue to do. Thank you for being such a voice and such a friend to me and to so many people around the world who have never had a chance to say thank you. So, thank you.


Categories: News Pit Feeds