Strengthening Human Rights: MongoliaLorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Remarks to "Dialogue" Televised Broadcast to Ulaanbaatar, Hosted by Judlyne Lilly
May 14, 2002
Secretary Powell: (from videotape): The worldwide promotion of human rights is in keeping with America's most deeply-held values. It is also strongly in our interests. Freedom fights terrorists, instability and conflict. Time and again experience has shown that countries which demonstrate high degrees of respect for human rights are also the most secure and the most successful. Indeed, respect for human rights is essential for lasting peace and sustained economic growth, goals which Americans share with people all over the world.
President Bush, the Congress and the United States, and the American people are united in conviction that active support for human rights must be an integral part of American foreign policy. The United States will be a steadfast friend to men and women around the world who bravely seek to improve the observance of international human rights standards within their own countries and worldwide.
The Bush Administration is working in cooperation with governments, inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental groups, and individuals to help bring human rights performance into compliance with international norms. We are actively pursuing a broad human rights agenda at the international, regional, and bilateral levels. Our agenda includes the strengthening of civil society, the spread of accountable government, equal justice and legal reform, freedom of the press, religious liberty, tolerance, workers rights, protections for children, and the human rights of women and minorities.
Ms. Lilly: Hello, and welcome to "Dialogue;" I'm your host Judlyne Lilly. Since 1977, the U.S. Department of State has been required by law to present Congress with an annual report on human rights conditions around the world. Human rights represent an important part of the U.S. relationship with every nation.
Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, is here to discuss U.S. human rights and democratic policy and the roles they play in the U.S.-Mongolian relationship. In his position, Secretary Craner coordinates U.S. foreign policy and programs that support the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy worldwide. Before joining the State Department, he was the president of the International Republican Institute, and has served on the National Security Council. Secretary Craner, welcome to "Dialogue."
Before we get started, Mr. Secretary, I would like to ask you a question: What are the elements of human rights and democracy in the U.S.-Mongolian relationship?
Mr. Craner: Well, Judlyne, let me thank you for having me on this program. As you just heard Secretary Powell say, the interest in human rights in our country continues, especially after September 11th. The reason for that is that we believe that democracy breeds more stable, more economically vibrant countries with which we are going to have very, very good relationships. It is no accident that democracies around the world are among our best friends, and the nations with whom we often have great difficulty are not democracies. What we have developed in Mongolia since 1990 is a rapidly growing and much closer relationship than we had for decades before, and it's partly because Mongolia has been released from the chains that constrained it before. But it's also because after it was released, Mongolia has really developed rapidly as a democracy. As I mentioned to you before, they have had a series of elections there since the early 1990s, resulting in regular changes in the parties controlling the government. But even beyond elections, much of what you look for in a democracy is freedom of the press and freedom for ordinary citizens to form NGOs. Now, lately, we have seen greatly improved prison conditions, for example, and a new human rights commission. All of these things help strengthen and solidify a good relationship with the U.S., and so in a sense, form the basis of the very good relationship we have with Mongolia.
Ms. Lilly: Thank you, sir. Our participants are standing by in Ulaanbaatar. But before we start, I would like to remind all participants to identify themselves when they go on the air. Ulaanbaatar, welcome to the show, and go ahead with your questions or comments.
Question: Yes, good evening and good morning from Ulaanbaatar. This is Theresa Markiw. I am the public affairs officer here, and let me introduce our panelists to you. We have with us Mr. Otgonbayar, who is foreign policy advisor to the prime minister. We have with us Ms. Oyun, who is a member of parliament and head of the Civil Will political party. We have with us Mr. Tsogtbaatar, who is foreign policy advisor to the president of Mongolia. We have with us Ms. Nararjargal, who is head of the NGO Globe International, which is involved with freedom of expression and works a great deal with the media here in Mongolia. And we also have, serendipitously, Mr. Ken Bhattacharjee, who is a legal officer for Article 19, and has been here in Mongolia for the last week working with Globe International. And now I'll turn it over to our first panelist, Mr. Otgonbayar.
Question: Good morning. I would like to ask Mr. Craner one question -- what do you think will be the relationship between human rights and public safety after the September 11th events?
Mr. Craner: Let me first of all thank all of you for being there. I know that there are others there as well. I have a feeling that I met some of you, because I first visited Mongolia in 1998, and it was actually about this time of year -- it was summertime, which I understand is one of the better times to visit in terms of the weather. But I must tell you it's one of the prettiest countries I have ever been to, and also one of the most inspiring in terms of the leadership you have taken in the region by advancing politics in your country.
The question you ask is a very, very fundamental one. It's one that we have dealt with over and over again since September 11th, and you heard Secretary Powell address it a little bit. We believe that public safety, in the sense of trying to end the scourge of terrorism and trying to build democratic stability, is enhanced by human rights. We believe human rights to be not the only answer to terrorism, but also a part of the answer to terrorism.
If you look at the people who hijacked the airplanes on September 11th, not one of them was from a democracy. If you look at the FBI's 22 most-wanted terrorist list, not one of them is from a democracy. The list goes on and on and on. But the point is that when human rights and democracy are respected in a country, people have outlets for their frustrations, as they do in Mongolia. I know that some of you were members of the opposition for many years, between 1996 and 2000. But you knew you had a place in your country; that politics was not a winner-take-all game, and that one day you indeed might be coming back into power, and that is indeed what happened.
In other countries those options are not available to people, and so they feel compelled to take up arms and pursue their goals in a different way. That's a very long answer, but it's something that we feel very, very fundamentally, that human rights is very important, especially after September 11th. Thank you.
Question: Good morning. I am Oyun, a member of the parliament. Thank you very much for this great opportunity for dialogue. I have a bit of a provocative question. Everybody knows that information is power, but information for few is empowerment for few, whereas the information for many is empowerment for all.
Now, a lot of governments are now striving for transparency and for participation and for good governance values, but is there a time when sharing too much information becomes detrimental? That is, you may spend too much time trying to share information with the public, and then you don't have enough time to do the work itself, spending all your time just sharing information.
Mr. Craner: Right. I think there are two answers. One is my fundamental answer would be no. I always think that a better-informed public is better able to make decisions about their country's future. Obviously there are certain issues both in Mongolia and here in the U.S. that we don't want to discuss in public. There are many security issues surrounding terrorism, for example, that we don't talk about with the general public, because then the terrorists might be able to find out about it.
The second part of the answer I would give you is that I think the more educated the populace, the more important it is to get news and information out there. Because then people have the tools to be able to decide what is good information, what is bad information, what is useful to them, and what is not. And I know that education, again, is an area where your country has been making an effort to move forward.
So, while as I said there's some information that a government may not want to release to the general public and to everybody on Earth, as a rule I always favor getting as much information out as possible.
Question: My name is Tsogtbaatar. I am the president's foreign policy advisor, and I have the following question. First of all, it's my pleasure to be able to participate and to be invited to participate in this event to deal with these important, and as you mentioned fundamental, issues here.
Now, my question is that of the various forms of societal structure that humanity knew in its history, democracy proved to be -- or used to prove to be the form of society that ensures the best economic opportunities for individuals, and that ensures at the same time fundamental and basic human rights. And in this respect, my question actually goes to the U.S. policy in Afghanistan. What would be the ultimate goal of U.S. policy in Afghanistan -- to have a stable democracy, or to have a stable regime of whatever kind you could be able to talk to? Because, you know, there may be risks of establishing democracy. For example, if fundamentalists come to power through democratic elections, then there will be certain risks that the world will have to deal with. My question, therefore, is really whether the short-term strategy is to build a democracy or a predictable regime -- regardless of whether they respect human rights or not may not count. Thank you.
Mr. Craner: The answer I would give is I think we had a philosophy for many, many years, especially during the Cold War in the 1950s and '60s, of pursuing perhaps the latter course that you mentioned. We backed a number of rulers where we thought it was much more stable to have what we thought were predictable people in power. The problem with that philosophy was that the people that lived under those regimes weren't particularly fond of them, didn't think they were very stable, and they eventually got rid of them. And what happened was that we who had backed those regimes all those years were at the receiving end of some of the enmity from the population.
What we realized in the 1960s and '70s was that, as you said, democracy is the most enduring form of government. It's the one that delivers best for its people. And that is why, beginning at about that time, we actually went out and actively helped those, as Secretary Powell said, who wanted to pursue democracy in their own countries. The key here is something he's talked about in his biography, which is backing not an individual in a country but backing a country, and believing that most people want to participate in the political life of their country, and believing that democracy is the best form of government for delivering on economics and the other things you mention.
As a rule, we always want to help people in any country -- Afghanistan included -- that want to have more of a say in their country's future. And so that is our goal. It doesn't matter what country you mention. We would like to see more people participating in each country's political life, for them to have more input in the political decisions, because we found in the end, as I said early on, that democracies are America's best friends. We found that for many, many years with Europe. We found it with Japan, Australia, and others. And now as I tell people around the world you have countries like Mongolia, like South Africa, like Mexico, all of which are newly democratic or much more democratic than they used to be, and they are America's friends. We don't agree with Mongolia or South Africa or Mexico on everything. But over time we found that those are the friendliest governments. They are the ones that we would like to see in power, because they deliver for their people. And in the end, that's what's in our interest. So that's again a bit of a long answer to your question, but as a general rule around the world we want to see people more involved with government, not less.
Question: Hello, it's nice to see you on the screen. Thank you very much for your involvement in this important dialogue. I am Nararjargal from the Globe International, and my question is that Mongolia is still missing some important laws, such as public law in public broadcasting and freedom of information. Of course I think that it's a violation of freedom of expression here. And you know that active information to the Mongolians is greatly needed -- 91 of 200 radio -- (inaudible) -- of Mongolia have provisions related to the media, and 51 -- (inaudible) -- very strong positions on freedom of information and media freedom. How do you think that the international community supporting democracy and inter-governmental organizations -- (inaudible) -- pressure our government and parliament to pass these important laws? Thank you.
Mr. Craner: Thanks for the question. And let me begin by congratulating you for being so involved in your country's future as the head of what we would call a civil society organization. I know of your work, and I think you are doing very, very fine things for your country.
I am aware -- because I have followed Mongolia through the late 1990s and into this decade -- that media laws were passed to basically privatize the media in your country. I am also aware there is a wide variety of newspapers in your country, but I am also aware, finally, that many of the regulations to allow the privatization of all media have not yet been issued. Privatizing media is something that we encourage around the world, and it is something we would encourage in Mongolia.
I also am compelled to say that I think it is incumbent upon reporters and journalists also to try and report as responsibly as they can. Here in our country we have journalists who don't do that, and they are very, very popular. But by and large the majority of the newspapers here recognize that in a marketplace of ideas people are going to seek what they think is the truth. So every country has people who are taking advantage of media laws. But in most countries where the media is as open as it is here or in some other countries, people will seek the truth. So we will continue to encourage an opening of the media there, but also try to work with journalists to ensure that they are able to discern the facts as best they can, and then report those to the public.
Question: Hi, it's Ken Bhattacharjee from Article 19, an international human rights organization based in London. My question has to do with the free flow of information, particularly from government to citizens. In Mongolia there are a number of laws restricting the flow of information from the government to citizens. There's a law on state secrets. There are some laws on privacy. I was wondering what your opinion is on adopting a Freedom of Information Act similar to the act in the United States where citizens have a right to access information held by government bodies, subject to certain narrow restrictions.
Mr. Craner: I think those are important laws. I know that Article 19 is based in Britain where their laws are somewhat more restrictive. For many years they had the official secrets act in Britain. But lately they have been loosening up their laws. So in general, I actually think it's a good thing. I don't think it is a very good thing to be able to go after journalists under libel laws or some other instruments that some governments around the world try to use. And I actually think freedom of information acts with the kind of narrow strictures you talked about are very, very important. People need to understand, as I said before, that there is a free flow of information from the government. And if they want to be able to get a hold of information, they should have the opportunity to do that. Thank you.
Question: Hi, it's Otgonbayar, foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister again. I would like to mention here that Mongolia has made considerable success in developing democracy since the '90s. We had a few elections, successful elections, change of governments, et cetera. And I believe that as a country it's an example of development of rival democracy in central Asia, for example, northeast Asia, or former Asian socialist countries. On the other hand, I would just like to ask what is your view on the question of the relationship between the issues of democracy and the issues of development. What I mean is that the poorer the country, the higher the risk of political extremists. And also again it's a question of underdevelopment of judiciary systems, which will inevitably result in human rights records.
Mr. Craner: I think you've raised a very, very important issue, and I would say two things. Number one, it is clear to everybody since these democratic turns began in the 1980s that these kinds of things take time, that an election does not make a democracy. But instead you need to build institutions between elections to ensure that a government in power cannot become -- cannot go out of the bounds of the law.
The second thing is that it takes a long time for the public consciousness to change. It is very, very difficult for people who have lived under a system for many, many years. If I was living in a country -- I'm 40-something. If the system changed today, it would be very, very difficult for me to change my attitude about what the new system -- what my rights and responsibilities are under the new system. So these things take a while. What is critical, we have found, is that a lot of people do not necessarily associate democracy with their ability to say what they want and to be able to vote, et cetera. They associate it with economic betterment. For right or wrong, that's how a lot of people look at it. And that is why you have many governments around the world that introduce economic reforms in their countries, and people understood it was sometimes difficult in the first couple of years of those economic reforms. The successful governments are the ones that do it quickly, number one; and, number two, explain what they are doing to their population. This is what I was getting at in the very first question about flow of information from governments to the people. If people understand that times are going to be economically tough for a while, that there is a reason for it -- they know what's going to come at the end, that it's going to be better -- that it's not going to take 10 or 15 years, it's going to take 4, 5, 6 years and, finally, that their children are going to be better for it, then they will usually buy into it, and they are willing to give the government their backing. But the government has to pursue these changes quickly, and has to take advantage of the outside assistance given. And obviously it's much tougher in a poorer country. But there are again many, many examples of poor countries around the world, like Mongolia, that are making the democratic system work, then going through a small economic change -- Nicaragua in Central America, Mali I already mentioned in Africa -- Ghana in Africa is not a wealthy country. And Mongolia, as we all know, is not among the world's wealthiest countries. But I think a government that can deliver on economic reform and allow democratic changes at the same time is one that is going to earn the loyalty of its people. Thank you.
Question: It's Oyun again, member of the parliament. Another question about information. You mentioned good information and bad information. Mongolia was a very isolated place just 10 years ago, and the information we used to receive was very restricted, very censored, and probably just within the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) countries. Now, after Mongolia opened up there is this huge, sudden influx of information, and I think it's very difficult, especially for young people, to distinguish or to filter the good information from the bad. You know, when you get so much information and data, data is not necessarily information or knowledge, and knowledge is not necessarily wisdom. As Thomas Eliot asked, where is wisdom? We are lost in information. So what would you advise for people in Mongolia, where we are experiencing this transition, where we are all of a sudden getting this huge influx of information -- how should they filter? What should be the criteria for filtering useful information from useless information or good information from bad information? That relates to our issue, human rights and the press, because the press has exploded here -- there are a huge number of newspapers, and it's very difficult for people to filter or get the good information from this flow. Thank you.
Mr. Craner: You raised an important issue. I think my answer to how people are eventually able to discern good information from bad information can only come from more information. It will take time for people to be able to pull all of this into their minds and be able to sort it out. Just as I said before, it's an issue of consciousness, and it takes time for people to be able to develop that kind of consciousness, that can sit through all their receiving and decide what is good and what is bad.
But I think the answer is not to restrict the information but to give people more, and let them sort it out. And, again, the issue you raised is very, very important. That's why we, amongst others, are working with journalists around the world and in Mongolia to point out to them that they have a responsibility, that if they are going to be given the freedom to be able to report as they wish, that it's important that they try to be credible in their reporting.
Having said that, I don't think it should be a matter of law in any country that people should be subject to penalties if what they are reporting is not regarded as correct. Again, as time goes on, as people are able to sift through information and decide what is good and what is bad, the people who are providing bad information will eventually be driven out of the marketplace, or they will be regarded as people who provide unreliable information. We have a lot of what we call supermarket tabloids here that report that, you know, Elvis Presley has been found on the moon -- but most people don't regard that as truthful information. They think it's funny, they think it's odd, but they don't regard that as mainstream information. People have had the opportunity to sort through.
You are seeing the same issue again in countries around the world that have become more and more democratic over the past decade or two. But most countries are figuring out it's better to pull more information in. It's going to help with your economic development, for people to know what's going on in the outside world, as well as what solutions other countries that are going through this transition are finding. Ultimately that will be to Mongolia's benefit.
Question: Hello, sir. This is Tsogtbaatar again, foreign policy advisor to the president. My next question would be that for the last past 10 years we have been working hard to build a viable, enduring democracy. As you said, in a country that has never had this sort of system to build such a society and such a system was like building a country anew. For these 10 years, through a chain of trial and error, we have come to the system that we have as of today; it will be developing further, and we have a long way to go.
Meanwhile, though, what we have learned with the assistance of donor countries and the donor community -- especially the United States, Japan, Germany and other donors -- is of great value, and we believe that there is already certain valuable experience that can be shared in this region. Having this in mind, we are planning to organize next year a conference on new democracies -- new and restored democracies, and through doing that we want other countries to learn what we have gone through, where we had mistakes, where we had winning points.
So, in this regard, I would just like to seek your comment as to whether you would believe in the fact that such sharing of experience would be first of all useful for other countries, and whether we have come to the stage where we can share this valuable experience that we have lived through for the last 10 years.
Mr. Craner: Thank you. My answer on both your questions is what we call an unqualified yes, for a couple of reasons. By the way, your ambassador is going to be coming in to visit me to talk about this idea. But I think it's a brilliant idea, and here's why. It is very, very important for countries like Mongolia -- but even more importantly countries that have not reached Mongolia's stage of political and economic development -- to be able to learn from Mongolia and countries as I mentioned in Africa, countries in eastern Europe, and countries in Latin America that are beginning their democratic transitions, or that are well along with their democratic transitions, as Mongolia is.
You know, it's fine for folks to come from the U.S. or Australia or Britain -- and this is what I used to do for a living -- to talk about our own experiences with democracy and how we developed. But the fact is that those events happened for us now 240 years ago. We have had 240 years to get it right, and we still don't have it straight.
What we've tried to do is offer not only our successes but also our errors to others. But it is still much more relevant for somebody to come, say, from the Czech Republic, you know, to a country that is just beginning its transition, like Indonesia, or from somebody to come from an El Salvador to a country in Africa, just because their experiences are much more recent, fresh, and relevant. So I think what you are offering to do is very, very important. I would very much encourage it, because I think you are going to have a lot of lessons for a lot of countries. And I think the other countries that you are going to invite are going to learn a lot from each other. I think you are making a very, very important contribution to the kind of development you've had in Mongolia -- for that to be able to occur elsewhere. So I would very much encourage you to follow through on this. I had already heard of it over the past couple of weeks, and I am already an enthusiastic fan. And I hope -- I am sure I will be even more excited after your ambassador has visited me.
Question: It's Nararjargal again from the Globe International. My next question is that the Government of Mongolia and some of our politicians often complain that the place is not very ethical. You know that the Government of Mongolia has conducted two examinations on the media quality, and one of them examined the violation of laws restricting the distribution of erotic pornography in Mongolia, and -- (inaudible) -- newspapers called it as I remember four years ago. The last examination was taken by the present ruler, and two newspapers -- (inaudible) -- violated laws against -- (inaudible) -- and two newspapers were brought to the court, and those two newspapers have been (inaudible) quality of the press?
Mr. Craner: We have a very, very open system here. It is very hard even to sue a newspaper for what we call libel. If somebody accuses me of something, I have to be able to demonstrate that they knew it was false when they accused me of it. I don't know -- I am sure it happened in the 1800s, maybe, but I don't recall ever hearing about the government closing up a newspaper here, because it is in our Constitution that one is not supposed to do that. It may have happened, say, during the Civil War. So we come from a very, very, very open philosophy of media. And, as I told you before, there are people here who propound odd theories about the world who continue to be allowed to publish. We believe that is a bedrock of freedom. And, again, people will be able to sort out what is useful and what is not so useful.
Other countries have more restrictive laws; some have laws that I think are too restrictive. A number of countries have laws surrounding pornography and other issues, and this is something we have been dealing with even on the Internet. I think a government needs to be able to demonstrate, number one, a very high tolerance for media and number two, a very, very good case when it wants to shut down a newspaper, or a media outlet.
I will tell you that there was concern here and elsewhere last year over the closure of these media. I would also note that nothing has been closed since. But that is the kind of thing that leads people to turn their heads and say is freedom regressing in a country? And, as I said, you need to have a very, very high level of tolerance and a very, very high level of proof to be able to do that kind of thing, so you do not have people wondering if it's part of a regression of freedom in a country. Thank you.
Question: Hi, it's Ken Bhattacharjee from Article 19 again. I had a question about the post-September 11 situation. One thing we've noticed when we meet with government officials in various countries, including Mongolia, is that some government officials point to anti-terrorism legislation in countries like the U.S., Britain, and other Western countries, and they would say, for example, if the United States and Britain are becoming more restrictive in terms of the free flow of information, why should we start becoming more open? How do you deal with that sort of argument?
Mr. Craner: The way I deal with it is to pretty much dismiss it. I don't have much patience for that kind of argument. It usually comes from countries that are at the other end of the scale in terms of the restrictions they place not only on the press but also on their own population. If you look at the kind of legislation we have designed -- for example, I have had people in this country -- but I will tell you not in other countries -- raise military tribunals. We have designed those with the kinds of safeguards that other countries that have military tribunals do not have in place. So I find it, frankly, pretty specious when people raise those kinds of arguments. It's frankly more of a red flag to me, or another indicator to me of what their governments are like, than about their true concern over the state of the media, either in the U.S. or in their own country. Thank you.
Question: Assistant Secretary Craner, this is Theresa Markiw again, PAO. We have a very interested audience here, and we have been soliciting some questions from the audience, so I'd like our audience members to ask you some questions.
Mr. Craner: Sounds good. Go ahead.
Question: Sir, this is -- (inaudible) -- political assistant of the embassy. Dr. (inaudible), the associate of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project on human rights strengthening in Mongolia would like me to ask you one question. First of all, he actually would like to compliment you on your updated insights on Mongolia's present-day political and economic situation, and steps taken to promote human rights in the country. And so his question is: Mongolia is the first country in Asia which proclaimed equal political rights and opportunities of men and women in its first constitution of 1924. What do you think about it, and basically what are your comments on women's and men's equal rights issues?
Secondly, Mongolia is working on the national human rights program with the financial support of the UNDP. So this is for your information; basically are you aware of that program? Thank you, sir.
Mr. Craner: Thank you. Yes, I am aware of the work of the UNDP, which I think has been very, very important in Mongolia. And I would encourage them to continue working there. I certainly hope they will.
Mongolia has been a leader in Asia on a number of issues having to do with democracy. And, as you just pointed out, amongst them is the place of men and women in the political life. Just as a matter of course, we think that is very, very important, the leadership role that Mongolia has taken, but also the opportunities that are open to women in the parliament. I know that a fairly large proportion of this parliament consists of women. I believe in the last parliament it was an ever larger proportion. But the point is that women have access to the political system, they can run as candidates, and they can certainly win as candidates. I suspect that men are voting for them, but I suspect many women are voting for women, and I think that's a good thing. It's important in a country's political system that women are part of it, but also that women can sometimes better represent issues that are important to women. I know Mongolia has been making advances on trafficking issues, for example. I know there's issues of domestic violence in Mongolia, and in some ways women are better able to project those issues in the national political system, while being concerned about the economic and the political issues that all people are concerned about. But in my previous life when I worked with a democracy-building group, it's something that we pointed out to male-dominated political systems, that they were missing half the vote if they didn't involve women in their political process, if they didn't try and get women to run as candidates, and if they didn't encourage women to vote for them. So I would congratulate Mongolia again on its leadership role on this issue, and also on the number of women in Mongolia who are involved in political life, both within the political system and with NGOs. Thank you.
Question: Hello, my name is Zanaa Jurmed. I am director of the National Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Watch Network Center in Mongolia, and I am a member of the regional council of Asia-Pacific Human Law and Development. There are millions of undocumented migrant workers working around the world. In Korea, for instance, more than 20,000 Mongolians are working there, but they are undocumented too, and they support more than 100,000 people's lives here in Mongolia. Also 260,000 migrant workers are working, but they are undocumented too. But now the Korean Government is having a policy to deport these migrant workers. And my question is, what's the policy of the U.S. on migrant workers? I hope that I talk about human rights and labor issues. What is the policy of the U.S. on undocumented migrant workers? And what's the policy of the U.S. to positively influence other countries’ treatment of the migrant workers? Thank you.
Mr. Craner: This is really a very, very complicated issue. It is so complicated that we are actually still working through our own policy on this. What we do know and what we have decided is that it is important to treat people from around the world here with respect. But it is also important to have them abide by the laws.
What I do think is important -- and I was just talking with somebody about this earlier today -- is that people often leave their own country and seek work in other countries because at home they can't find a job. I think it's very, very important that we and others help countries to be able to develop their economies, so people don't feel compelled to go overseas for either a job or a higher-paying job so that they can send money home to their families. It's a tragedy that families are split up that way, but it should certainly be the case that people have the opportunity if they want to stay in their own countries and work or if they want to go legally to other countries to be able to have a job there. But, as I said, it's a very, very tough issue, and it is something we are still working through, especially with countries that are our neighbors. Thank you.
Question: Good evening. My name is Tsahia Elbegdorj, president of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Liberty Center. Our NGO has the mission to protect democracy, human rights and freedom. So I would like to hear your unofficial impression on current news that has happened in Mongolia -- but I would not like to hear your official opinion. Recently, you know what demonstration means for the Mongolian democratic process. Actually, the demonstrations of thousands and thousands of people brought us democracy without any blood, and we are very proud of these demonstrations of the 1990s. And I think you even witnessed some of them.
So currently the two big squares where democratic demonstrations were held are both closed -- one, Sukhbaatar Square is closed because it is used for diplomatic purposes only. Now Freedom Square was recently closed because it is being reconstructed as a children's game place. What do you think of these places, and what is your unofficial impression of this news?
Mr. Craner: Unfortunately, I wish I had been there in 1990 -- I was not. I had the opportunity to meet some of the men and women who led those demonstrations, and I have at home one of the posters -- it shows a red horse that was used during those demonstrations -- at least a copy of it. So I can understand completely, having met folks, and having seen pictures of it, why this was so important -- demonstrations are such an important mark in Mongolia. And I certainly understand why they were an important factor in bringing democracy to the country. I did not know the two squares were closed. I did not know one of them -- I heard you say one of them was being turned into a child's park -- I did not know that. Certainly the main square, it seems to me, is quite large, and I am surprised to hear it all needs to be closed for diplomatic reception. But I would need to know more before I could comment with a comfortable level of information officially or unofficially on those circumstances.
But, you know, in any country places close to the seat of government where people can protest need to be provided. Here in the United States you can still protest across the street of the White House, and you can still protest on the lawn of the Capitol -- you need to have a permit to do it, but those are pretty freely issued. And I just think it's important not only that people have a sense that they can go to the seat of power and petition through demonstration, but also that people in government have a sense of what the population cares about. Otherwise, it's very easy, I can tell you from being in government, to fall out of touch with what people outside of government think. So, again, I'd have to hear more on the closure of the squares. But I do think it's very, very important for people in government to be able to understand what ordinary people think, and to be able to see it up close. Thank you.
Question: Hi, this is Otgonbayar again, foreign policy advisor to the prime minister. I would rather like to make a proposal on one issue here regarding the present media. In Mongolia we have a lot of accusations and counter-accusations about the role of media and the role of journalists in public, political life. But personally I often observe that over serious issues there is a lack of professional skills of journalists who cover this issue, who often fail to go in-depth on the issues. So that's why I would like to say we would be really grateful if the United States could further assist to improve the professional skills of journalists, specifically in the business news coverage as well as foreign policy issues.
Mr. Craner: I will take that back in the morning. I know that the embassy has been doing some of that work. I know also that the Mongolian Newspaper Association recently presented an award to our ambassador. I know that we have -- for example, when reporters that we know, American reporters are in the country, we have encouraged them to give those kinds of seminars, to get across to Mongolian journalists the responsibilities of having a free press -- the responsibilities that they hold. I also know that there are a number of newspapers there that continue obviously to be able to publish -- (inaudible) -- for example I know just put out its, I believe, thousandth edition, which is quite an achievement. And I agree with you that it's important for journalists to report responsibly, but again I think in a marketplace of ideas, those that don't -- those whose information is found time after time after time to be incorrect simply won't hold people's attention. And so the marketplace of ideas will take care of that. There is no need to get in and try and interfere with that marketplace of ideas. Thank you.
Question: Sir, another question from the audience, journalist of the -- (inaudible) -- newspaper, Century News -- would like to ask you after more than 200 years of democracy, what is remaining unsolved in the area of human rights in your country? Thank you.
Mr. Craner: I don't think we have enough time to go through all that. There are many, many issues. We have great issues of equality here in our own country. You know, many, many people over the decades and over the centuries have come to America from all over the world, and we still have issues, we still have people here who are not accepting of people of other races and other colors -- even though we pride ourselves on being the "melting pot" of the world. We still have issues with our own police, for example, where the conduct is not perfect. A number of people raised issues surrounding our response to terrorism. I happen to believe that the response we took was very, very measured and justified. But there's a whole host of issues here. We had an election in Miami a couple of years ago of a mayor that turned out to be far from perfect -- there was actually some fraud in the election. We had a recent presidential election here where frankly we should have had better voting machinery -- literally the mechanics of the voting -- I have seen better voting machines in Venezuela than I have seen across the river in Virginia. So there's a lot that we have here to be able to perfect, even after 250 years.
What we think is important is that within our country people have to live within certain parameters. We don't think it is possible in our country for people who would impose a different kind of system to win power in this country because our civil society is developed enough, and our public is conscious enough, despite all the problems we have, that people who would change our system measurably for the worse cannot be elected here. But we still have many, many problems.
And let me finally say that while we are welcomed around the world talking to people about our own democracy, we are very, very aware of that. What we encourage people is to do is learn from our mistakes -- not to think we are perfect, because we are far from perfect. We have made some mistakes over the years. We have also had a lot of progress over the years, but it is important to remember that despite all our successes you can't transfer a system from one country to another. You cannot move the British political system to a country in Asia, or the American political system to a country in Africa. Each country is going to find its own way -- its own way of involving people in its political system. You can't have what we call here a "cookie-cutter" approach, which means you keep trying to press the same thing out.
Question: Sir, this I believe is going to be the last question in this session. So one thing that I've learned during this session is that for our next elections we shouldn't be importing our counting machines from the United States. (Laughter.)
Mr. Craner: I'll tell you the irony actually is that the voting machines I've seen in other countries -- I saw one of the most advanced systems in Venezuela, that you fed the ballot in, it counted the ballots, and then it sent a radio signal back to Caracas at the end of the day -- are made in the United States, but we didn't have them here for our last election. So I wouldn't discourage you from talking to American businesses. I would actually encourage American states to talk to American businesses about how to get a better system. But I am sorry I interrupted you for the last question.
Question: So my question would be, what is your view and comment as to the debate on cultural relativism versus human rights, because this is again pretty fundamental to us. We believe that basic human rights through the customary rules of the international law system have become applicable to all the countries, whether they have acceded to international human rights instruments or not. But still, you know, many countries would believe that they have their own values, and therefore under the disguise of sovereignty they would be willing to use their own --
Mr. Craner: I hear you -- I have heard it around the world -- there's an Asian way of living, there's an African way. There are certain very, very basic principles that people around the world want. I never met anybody who didn't want more control over their own life. Each country may come out with a slightly different democratic system, but there are certain basics that are very important around the world. Thank you.
Ms. Lilly: I am afraid that is our last question, and our discussion must come to an end. Our thanks to Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner for joining us today, as well as to all of our participants in Ulaanbaatar for being with us. For the complete 2001 U.S. Department of State human rights report, go to the U.S. Embassy website. It is also available on the State Department's website at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/. From Washington, I'm Judlyne Lilly for "Dialogue." Good day.
Released on May 29, 2002