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Remarks at Briefing on the State Department's 2002 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 31, 2003

Secretary Powell

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to present the Department's Country Practices Reports for 2002 on Human Rights Practices throughout the world.

These congressionally mandated reports reflect the steadfast commitment of the United States to advance internationally agreed human rights principles worldwide. Our country was founded on the precept that freedom is the birthright of every human being, and America is proud to serve as a force for freedom across the globe.

As we lead an international campaign against terrorism, we are also working to extend the blessings of freedom at home and abroad. People of every race, religion and region, people of every color, creed and continent, want to live in freedom, in safety, and to create a better future for their children.

As I speak, U.S. forces and our coalition partners are fighting to protect our country and the world from the potentially catastrophic combination of an outlaw state, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. In the process, we are liberating the Iraqi people from a ruthless tyranny that has showed utter contempt for human life.

We are resolved to help the Iraqi people achieve a united and stable country and move toward democracy and prosperity under a representative government that respects the rights of all of its citizens.

Saddam Hussein's regime is a classic illustration of the fact that such regimes which ruthlessly violate the rights of their citizens tend to pose the greatest threats to international peace and stability.

In contrast, states which demonstrate a high degree of respect for human rights are likeliest to contribute to international security and well-being. Where human rights and freedoms flourish, terrorists and tyrants do not thrive, and conflict and chaos do not reign. America's democratic values, our national interest and our obligations to the international community demand that the defense and promotion of human rights are an integral and active part of our foreign policy.

The Bush Administration is strongly committed to working with government leaders, nongovernmental organizations, free trade unions and individuals across the globe to improve compliance with international human rights standards. We are working to foster accountable governance and spur political, legal and economic reforms. We are channeling development assistance and other resources towards nations that govern justly, that invest in their people, and that embrace economic freedoms.

We are helping to create the conditions that make societies strong and vibrant through our support for the rule of law, independent media, religious liberty and the rights of minorities. We are working to defend the rights and enhance the political, social and economic standing of women by championing their full participation in the public life of their countries and their equal access to essential services.

Brutality against women, the rape and the mutilation of women, can never be justified, whatever the circumstances or culture.

The United States is a leader in the international effort to combat the appalling crime of human trafficking, of which the overwhelming majority of victims are women and children.

And we join in solidarity with courageous men and women all over the world who strive to advance human rights and democratic values within their own countries and throughout the international community.

These Country Reports on Human Rights Practices will help to shape the Bush Administration's policy decisions as we work toward a safer, freer world. We also trust that the information contained in these reports will prove useful to other governments and to the press and the public as they seek to expose and eradicate human rights abuses and to increase human rights compliance.

We have done our utmost to ensure that these reports are accurate and objective. They speak for themselves. They also speak to President Bush's solemn pledge that the United States will always stand for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity.

With that, I will hand the briefing over to Lorne Craner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, who will make his own statement and then take your questions with respect to the Human Rights Report.

Before I leave, though, I am prepared to take a question or two on any other subject, if you are so interested.

George.

QUESTION: On the report. The report is rather harsh on China. Have you decided whether or not to seek a resolution on China at the Human Rights Commission?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have not made a decision on that. As we have said to the Chinese, we have seen some slippage over the past year and it is of concern to us, and we have raised it with them on a number of occasions, most recently my last meeting with Foreign Minister Tang.

QUESTION: Is there anything you would like to say about what your hopes and goals are for the trip that you're going on tomorrow, particularly -- well, in each of the two stops?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, as I told you last time, I think it was up at the lectern, now that the UN work is behind us and some time was freed up, I'm able to travel and this week opened up for me and so I thought I would take advantage of it, go to Turkey, and to review the situation there, have a chance to catch up with the work of Ambassador Khalilzad and to make sure that we have a common understanding of the situation in Northern Iraq. I want to reassure Turkish leaders that we believe that the work we are doing there now should make it unnecessary for them to consider any incursions in the region, but at the same time to hear their point of view and make sure that we have a common understanding.

In Brussels, I'll have the opportunity to meet with a number of individual ministers, but also to talk to NATO as a group and with the addition of some others that will also allow me to speak to the EU. I have to do a number of trips like this, really, in the weeks and months ahead, but Brussels is a stop that was intended to get a number of them in one place.

I want to give them an update on Operation Iraqi Freedom and also begin conversations about our hopes for Iraq in the future, for the people of Iraq, how we can all work together to provide a better life for them and to help them to rebuild their country after decades of devastation by the Hussein regime.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how do you reconcile the fact that on your list of the coalition in the war in Iraq many of the countries show up pretty badly in the report, particularly, for example, Uzbekistan and Eritrea? When you're waging a war supposedly to liberate the Iraqi people, how is it that some of your allies have records which are pretty bad themselves?

SECRETARY POWELL: We are waging a war to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq and, in the process, liberate the Iraqi people, because this is a regime that oppressed its people and would not get rid of its weapons of mass destruction.

We do not believe it is inconsistent to work with nations who are willing to assist in this effort who, themselves, have some problems with respect to human rights, that we candidly talk to them about and encourage them to change. Assistant Secretary Craner spends a great deal of his time visiting these countries, and in each and every one we make it clear to them that even though we're cooperating in some areas, cooperation can improve and our relationship can be strengthened if they will adhere to what we consider the basic, basic concepts of human rights.

So it's a question of working with them to improve the situation in those countries at the same time that we are working with them in a willing coalition, such as we are, in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about Laos? The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, for the third year in a row, recommended that Laos be a country of particular concern, but the State Department didn't take that recommendation. Can you tell me why and can you tell me if the human rights concerns that seem to have gotten worse this year are going to come in to play in the negotiations about whether you're going to give normal trade relations to Laos?

SECRETARY POWELL: We take a comprehensive look at every country, but I think for the specifics of the justification, I'll see if Assistant Secretary Craner wants to say more about it, or we might have more when Ambassador Boucher has a next opportunity to brief you.

QUESTION: Sir, more about your visit to Turkey. Have you ruled out asking them to have more troops in -- to have U.S. troops in there, particularly as the war might take longer than perhaps some people were --

SECRETARY POWELL: At the moment, I think I know of no additional requests that the Pentagon has, my colleagues in the Pentagon have. And I'm not carrying anything, but of course I'll be talking to Secretary Rumsfeld and my colleagues over there before I arrive in Turkey to see if there are any specific issues they wish me to raise.

QUESTION: Do you foresee any role for NATO in the post-war Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's not the purpose of my visit, but I know that NATO has been expressing interest in out-of-area activities and how they can play a more effective role in the 21st century, and so I would be interested in any ideas they have. But no, we are not -- I am not going for the purpose of negotiating any NATO role in the new phase of Iraq's life after the liberation of its people.

QUESTION: Do you think the United States has done enough in terms of public diplomacy in the Arab world? Are you disappointed with these efforts? I know administration officials are going on television over there, but what more can be done? And are you disappointed?

SECRETARY POWELL: We're doing as much as we can. We're always looking for new ways of carrying our message to the Arab world. We do spend a great deal of time on Arab television and we are looking for every channel that we can use. We are sending a lot of material out to our embassies and our embassies are in touch with the governments and with the publics of the countries in which those embassies are located.

I also hope that as the operation progresses and as we are able to break the back of Iraqi resistance, which we most certainly will be doing in the days ahead, and people are no longer intimidated, people are no longer terrified by the Fedayeen or by the intelligence and security apparatus that, for the most part, has these people trapped in their towns and villages, we are confident that when the people are free to speak and understand that the United States and its coalition partners have come in peace to provide them with a better life, images will flow from that that I think will make the case that the United States and its coalition partners came for a specific purpose, a number of specific purposes: one, to get rid of the weapons of mass and break this nexus between rogue states' weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, and now that that regime did not comply with its international obligations, remove it and put in place a representative government that will provide a better life for the Iraqi people; get rid of the torture chambers; get rid of a regime that would cut the tongues out of people who would resist it. This kind of barbaric behavior has no place in the world, and I think that message will eventually come through.

One more.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, it's been about a week, I believe, since you last reported that you had talked to Foreign Minister Ivanov or sent him the latest material about military related goods. Have you had any response yet?

SECRETARY POWELL: I talked to him again this morning, but we did not discuss that particular issue. I think they may still be looking at it. I haven't gotten a response back from him and it may come back through other channels, as well.


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