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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor > Releases > Remarks > 2002 > October - December

The War against Terrorism and Human Rights

Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Xinjiang University
Urumqi, China
December 19, 2002

I am delighted and honored to speak to the youth of Xinjiang University today. It is a rare opportunity for an American official to come to this part of China, to meet with a wide range of interesting people and to hear from them directly about their interests and concerns. I am grateful to the Chinese government for arranging my appearance here today.

In my work as Assistant Secretary of State, I advise and represent President Bush and Secretary Powell on U.S. policy in support of human rights and democracy around the world. I have been lucky over the past two years to be able to travel to many distant corners of the globe to observe the situation of different peoples living under very different sorts of governments and to discuss issues of importance to the United States and them. I am always particularly interested in listening to the views of young people and students, and to answer the very good questions they have.

I was not much older than you when I first came to China as a college student in 1981. I have returned many times since, the last time with President Bush when he met China’s leaders in February. Like all visitors to China, I am amazed by the rapid economic progress and much of the political progress that has taken place since the 1980s.

But it is to a region just across China’s border, Central Asia, that I traveled most often this year. Just last month, I was in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. I had no idea when I took this job that I would go to Central Asia so often. I go there because those nations -- like China -- are allies in the war on terror. So why, you may ask, does the American government send a person who works on human rights to countries that are allies in the war on terror?

I'm sure that you are all aware of the terrible events that occurred in my country on September 11, 2001. I was a witness to those attacks; I could see the Pentagon burning from my window at the State Department. It is difficult to overstate the profound psychological effect these attacks and the deaths of 3,000 people from 90 countries had on the thinking of the American public.

After September 11, with the knowledge that there were people who wanted to hurt us and who had the stated desire to kill as many Americans as possible, some Americans believed that we as a nation had to take whatever means necessary to punish and prevent terrorism. Some felt that, in the face of this new threat, we no longer had the same freedoms and liberties that have been considered a part of the American way of life since the founding of our country. They also believed that we should forget about human rights in other countries, if it is expedient to do so to fight terrorism. As one who witnessed the attacks, I can understand this emotional reaction. But I also believe it is wrong, for a number of reasons.

This is the first reason: Human rights are the ability of people to live with dignity and freedom, to have the power in the choices that matter to them, so long as those choices do not infringe on the rights of others to also live lives of dignity and freedom. They are called rights precisely because they cannot be discarded when times get tough or when circumstances become difficult. We believe we have these rights by virtue of being humans, and the fact that they may be inconvenient at times or make certain things difficult does not make them any less real, or make us and our government any less obligated to respect them.

Fighting the war on terror is undoubtedly made more complex by the need to respect individuals’ rights, but even our very legitimate and necessary pursuit of security does not allow us or our government to trample on the rights of our fellow man.

Moreover, security and respect for human rights are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they support each other. Many of the root causes of terrorism – hopelessness, despair, a sense of victimization and injustice, and a desire for revenge – are found in downtrodden people whose governments oppress them and prevent them from living lives of dignity. Fanatics and extremists manipulate those feelings for their own hateful purposes, and a vicious cycle is created where repression breeds terrorism and terrorism provokes more repression. We think this is a hopeless and self-destructive cycle, and one that dehumanizes all parties.

Let me be clear: There is no excuse for terrorism, no matter the cause. Nothing can justify the deliberate killing of innocents. But just as terrorism can never be a legitimate response to grievances, so combating terrorism can never be a legitimate reason to ignore human rights. It might be tempting to think that authoritarian measures beyond the law or even in the law’s name will be most effective in uprooting and defeating terrorists. But security obtained under these circumstances is at best temporary, at worst illusory.

Both President Bush and Secretary Powell have made very clear publicly and privately that the U.S. does not and will not condone governments using counterterrorism as an excuse to silence peaceful expressions of political or religious views. When we see terrorists, we will act against them, but we do not believe we can condemn a whole religion, or a whole people, because some among them commit terrorist acts. I think we have shown this most clearly in Afghanistan, where we did not strike emotionally and indiscriminately. Instead, our action in the war was aimed deliberately only at the terrorists and the Taleban that supported and sheltered them. In the process, we liberated millions of Afghan Moslems from oppression, and we are now helping them build a nation in a manner that they want and choose.

In Xinjiang, as I told your provincial leaders yesterday, America has condemned the Al Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement. But I am here today to reaffirm our friendship for the peaceful people of Xinjiang. And I am here to restate what our Ambassador to China and I have said many times: We believe people like Rebiyah Kadeer should be released from prison. To quote President Bush: "America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice, and religious tolerance … including in the Islamic world."

Last week, Secretary of State Powell announced a new American program to aid economic and educational progress and advance human rights in the Middle East. He did so because it is the only way that those societies, like all societies throughout the world, can best maximize the potential of their people, and make a real future defined by greater freedom, greater peace and greater prosperity.

As Secretary Powell has said, "Countries which demonstrate high degrees of respect for human rights are the most secure and the most successful. Indeed, respect for human rights is essential to a lasting peace and sustained economic growth..."

I had an opportunity to see what Colin Powell meant last month in Seoul, South Korea, where 102 nations gathered as a "Community of Democracies". If we had tried to have that gathering 25 years ago, we could not have held it in South Korea because it was a military dictatorship at the time. And there would have been not 102, but maybe 32 countries that would have qualified to be part of a "Community of Democracies." But today countries from Mongolia to Mali to Mexico are illustrating that democracy and human rights are not American or European concepts. There are many forms of democracy around the world, each appropriate to its particular country, culture and history. What they share in common is the knowledge that democracy does not just mean building government institutions, but a system in which the government is responsive to the needs of the people, and is accountable to them through the rule of law and the check of an electable opposition.

I began my talk today by noting that I have visited Uzbekistan frequently this year. As I look out over this audience, I am reminded of a meeting I had last month with students at Tashkent’s law school. As I looked into their faces, as I look into yours, I think that no one so young should be burdened with the trauma and tragedy that terror has brought to our world. But the students there have begun, with American funding, a legal aid clinic to help ensure that Uzbekistan’s war on terror leads to greater freedom, not greater repression.

We need to learn from these students if we’re going to win the war on terror. We also need to understand that we cannot rely on force alone. My government and others must work towards a future of full lives and fulfilled dreams – a future built on a strong foundation of human rights and human dignity where terrorists will find no home. This is our vision for the war on terror and human rights, and we hope all governments will come to share it.


Released on December 24, 2002

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