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Why We Move: Advancing Human Rights and Democracy in U.S. Foreign Policy

Jonathan D. Farrar, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Remarks to the Dimensions of International Migration Conference
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
April 13, 2007

Thank you Professor Sethia for that kind introduction. And I would like to thank Dr. Shereen, Dr. Ortiz and Dr. Morales for putting on this conference, and Mayor Torres for hosting us. It is a real pleasure to be back at Cal Poly Pomona. Next year will make 30 years since I graduated. I'm glad to see at least a couple of familiar faces, including Dr. John Moore, who was so influential for me in my choice of career. I'm particularly looking forward to meeting some members of Cal Poly's Model United Nations team. I remember well my own trips to New York City as part of Cal Poly's first Model United Nations team. It's hard for me to believe that it has been almost 30 years since that program began.

Today's conference brings together experts from a wide range of disciplines, as well as representatives from the private, nonprofit, and governmental sectors--a testament to the many actors that are involved monitoring and responding to international migration issues.

As a native of Southern California, I think the location of today's conference at Cal Poly is very appropriate. Southern California has been home to a diverse Native American population, was settled by Europeans and others, and continues to this day to attract people from all over the world. I appreciate the opportunity to address this conference and participate in sessions over the next 2 days, and I hope that my perspective as a career diplomat working on democracy, human rights and labor issues can provide some useful perspectives on the issue of international migration.

Our bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, covers what has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy under Democrat and Republican administrations: the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights. Our bureau promotes democracy and human rights abroad, while reporting on progress and setbacks in countries around the world. Our bureau of the State Department began in the 1970s in response to what Congress felt was a lack of human rights considerations in American foreign policy. This legacy of Congressional support for the work of our bureau is just as strong today as 30 years ago.

President Carter made human rights a focal point under his Administration, and our bureau, then called the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, implemented many of his policies. The bureau received a boost in the Reagan Administration when the President created the National Endowment for Democracy, and related entities, to promote the work of local civil society organizations around the world--from party building organizations in Latin America to women's empowerment groups in Africa. As the Cold War ended, Presidents Bush and Clinton used the bureau to promote stable transitions for countries from the Soviet Bloc, as well as countries that had received support from the U.S.S.R., in Asia, the Near East, Latin America and Africa.

Today we continue this work, promoting what President Bush calls the "non-negotiable demands of human dignity." This is relevant to our upcoming discussions over the next 2 days on international migration because strengthening civil society and democracy allows states to be more responsive to their people, which can help avert international migration crises. Stable, democratic societies are also conducive to economic growth, which impacts migration and people's desire or need to leave their homes to find employment in other countries.

Building democracy involves not just free and fair elections, but democratic governance once leaders are elected. This entails checks and balances both from other branches of government, and from non-governmental sectors, including the media.

That's why we promote the development of strong civil societies that include a free press, labor and professional organizations, and organizations that promote the inclusion of women and minorities in political and economic life. These organizations provide an important check on government, while also helping government respond effectively to the needs of the people it is supposed to serve. So, countries need free and fair elections. Our task is to help democracy deliver.

We have three key tools at our disposal:

First, we work on the development of policy, which entails working with other parts of the State Department, the National Security Council, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the new Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other government entities to promote, in close consultation with Congress, the development of civil society around the world.

Second, we have programs that promote human rights and democracy by funding NGOs that do the actual work of building democratic institutions on the ground. Our programs support training journalists, judges and NGO workers; help to run and monitor elections; and monitor human rights abuses.

Third, we issue reports on the status of human rights around the world. This past month the Secretary sent to the Congress our Country Reports on Human Rights, as well as a summary of the work the U.S. does internationally to support human rights and democracy. We work very hard to make these reports as accurate as possible. In a Congressional hearing several weeks ago on extrajudicial killings in The Philippines, for example, our human rights report was quoted back to me a number of times to describe the state of human rights in that country.

Let me start with policy. Probably the most grave human rights refugee situation in the world today is Darfur. When former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that genocide was occurring in Darfur, that statement was based upon field work from officers in our bureau. We read about Darfur almost every day in the papers, and the U.S Government is responding. The United States is working both bilaterally and multilaterally to resolve the conflict in Darfur and is cooperating with many other international institutions--the United Nations, African Union, and other national political leaders--to broker a political solution to end the violence and build support for a broad, effective and sustained implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. The President has appointed a Special Envoy, Andrew Natsios, to coordinate our response. Our Assistant Secretary was in the region several weeks ago, both in Sudan and Ethiopia, to encourage the involvement of the African Union in coordinating the response by African countries to the crisis. Progress is slow, and the Sudanese Government is difficult, but we cannot give up.

In the case of Cuba, the U.S. stands ready to support positive change on the island. We are ready to assist the Cuban people to chart a new course towards a free and open society that respects human rights, and have a number of programs in place to increase the free flow of information to the island.

Another country of concern to us is Burma, which remains one of the most repressive countries on earth. The military junta rules the country without respect for human rights, religious freedom or democracy. There is no free press or independent judiciary. The regime severely restricts the activities of political parties and civic institutions. There are currently over 1,100 political prisoners, and NLD leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been incommunicado and under house arrest for most of the past 17 years.

We have ongoing reports of gross human rights violations against ethnic minorities by the Burmese Army, including execution, torture, rape, use of forced labor, use of child soldiers, and forced relocation of entire villages. Attacks on ethnic minorities have resulted in more than 500,000 internally displaced persons in the eastern part of the country alone; there are approximately 155,000 refugees living in camps along the Thai border. An estimated 1-2 million Burmese are living in Thailand, many without legal status.

We believe that the terrible conditions in Burma and their effects upon the region pose a threat to international security and thus warrant attention from the United Nations Security Council. In September 2006, the Security Council agreed to place Burma on its permanent agenda. On January 12, nine UNSC members voted in favor of passing a UNSC resolution on Burma, and ,although China and Russia vetoed the resolution, China acknowledged that there were "grave challenges relating to refugees, child labor, HIV/AIDS, human rights and drugs."

Specific U.S. objectives for Burma are the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including ASSK; the start of a credible, inclusive national reconciliation process; an immediate end to military attacks on ethnic minority civilians; and increased access for UN agencies and NGOs to provide humanitarian assistance. The United States continues to encourage all countries with a major interest in Burma, particularly Burma's immediate neighbors China, Thailand and India, as well as other ASEAN members, to press the Burmese regime to undertake reforms.

The second tool we have available to support human rights is programs.

Our Human Rights and Democracy Fund provides nearly $100 million a year to support cutting-edge programs that act as catalysts for lasting change in countries around the world. This fund is just one facet of the resources that the United States can bring to bear to support democracy and stave off an international migration crisis.

We also work to head off refugee and migration crises before they begin. For example, prior to taking on my present position, I served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, and among other duties was in charge of our programs in the Western Hemisphere.

One of our major efforts was to work with the international community to address the dire situation in Haiti, where an interim government was struggling to contain rampant violence, restart Haiti's shattered economy, and prepare the way for democratic elections. Our role was to work with the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), other countries (especially Canada), and the Haitian people to reform and rebuild the Haitian National Police, and bring security to that side of the island.

The Haitian National Police had a long history of corruption and political influence, and contributed more to the widespread unlawfulness in that country than to providing security for the Haitian people. Working with our Canadian and UN colleagues, and consulting often with Congress (where at first there was considerable skepticism about our working with the Haitian National Police), we set about to train, equip, and vet for human rights abuses a new police force. We also recruited U.S. police officers from around the country, including many Haitian-Americans, to join the UN forces there and work day in and day out with the Haitian National Police.

After I arrived in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in November 2005, the first trip I took as part of my new responsibilities was to Haiti. There I found myself meeting with many of the same people with whom I had dealt in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement: the Director General of the Police, the UN mission commander, the Ministry of Interior. It was a vivid example for me of the way that our different programs must be complementary. Both bureaus of the State Department also were working closely with our USAID colleagues, who at the same time were helping to rebuild the judicial system to parallel what we were doing with the police, and to provide humanitarian relief. My bureau now has a program just getting underway to work with newly elected local officials.

So what happened in Haiti in 2006 and thus far in 2007? There were three rounds of national elections: Presidential, parliamentary, and local. There was progress at last in controlling the criminal gangs that made life miserable for so many Haitians. There was no mass migration. In terms of our discussions here over the next 2 days on international migration, Haiti has been the dog that didn't bark. Does Haiti have a long way to go to become a stable and prosperous country? Definitely. But the work the United States and the rest of the international community are doing there is helping Haiti to progress.

In Thailand respect for human rights and the rule of law were set back with the military coup d'etat in September 2006. In an immediate response to the coup, the United States suspended $29 million in bilateral assistance to Thailand. We remain concerned about the persistence of marital law in some parts of Thailand, including restrictions on civil liberties, press freedoms and political party activity. We have consistently pressed the Thai authorities to fully lift martial law and move expeditiously to return Thailand to democratic rule. In addition to the imposition of sanctions in Thailand, we have also funded $2 million in NGO projects to support independent media and strengthen rule of law, citizen participation and civic oversight in the democratic process. All these programs were tailored to take into account recent political events in Thailand.

Making democracy deliver also means ensuring that working people benefit from the global economy and have economic opportunities in their home countries. The free trade agreements that the United States signs with other countries all include a labor element. My bureau has programs to help make those labor agreements effective - from monitoring labor standards to cracking down on sweat shops and forced labor.

The third tool is the reports we issue. Now, you may be thinking, at a time that the U.S. record on human rights is being questioned, what business do we have to report on other countries? As Secretary Rice noted last month when we released the reports, the strength of a democracy is not that it is infallible, but that it is accountable. We shine a light on human rights abuses because these abuses are wrong, not because we are perfect. All people and countries committed to human rights and democracy should raise concern about such abuses around the world.

Let me give an example. Each year, as we issue our human rights report, China issues a report on the United States. The report is full of citations from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and various websites. We like to note that the Chinese report on the U.S. speaks for itself - we have a vibrant free press that criticizes the U.S. government upon which they can draw in writing a report on the U.S. human rights record. The people of China deserve the same freedoms to criticize their government from within.

This year's human rights reports show that while there has been progress in some areas, supporters of freedom around the world are facing two key challenges:

This first is backlash by repressive governments - such governments feel threatened by democracy movements and take it out on their own NGOs and international NGOs, using everything from administrative or regulatory tactics to physical abuse to stop democratization. Russia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela are vivid examples of this. That's why our reports termed 2006 the year of the pushback.

Second, there is concern that democracy does not always deliver on economic needs: Some critics worry that democracy does not deliver economically so it is not worth pursuing. We see this criticism especially in parts of Latin America, where countries such as Venezuela have turned away from democratic governance, towards a brash form of populism.

We are working to counter these trends. Last December, Secretary Rice announced several "Defend the Defenders" initiatives. First, the NGO Principles, based upon international conventions, which are a code of conduct that we--and we hope other governments--will adhere to when dealing with NGOs. Second, we announced a Global Human Rights Defenders Fund, which will allow organizations to have small amounts of money for emergencies--in case a human rights defender's office is ransacked, for example, or if he or she needs urgent medical care. These initiatives are designed to support human rights defenders, and their ability to engage in civil society and participate in governance.

Twenty five years ago, at the beginning of my Foreign Service career, we were stationed in a newly independent Belize. Belize at that time was inundated with refugees fleeing conflict elsewhere in Central America. The newly independent nation handled its situation with grace and generosity, welcoming these immigrants seeking refuge while also working to control its borders. I was convinced then, as I am convinced now, that Belize's heritage of freedom, and its commitment to democracy and civil discourse, were key to helping it cope with this challenge.

Almost 30 years ago, I found an engaging and welcoming environment here at Cal Poly that prepared me for a career in the Foreign Service. As you prepare to discuss some difficult issues over the next 2 days--war and peace, the horrific conditions under which people live in North Korea--I'm confident that the nurturing environment here at Cal Poly will serve you as well as it did me so many years ago.

Thank you very much.

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