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Remarks at BMENA Forum for the Future Subministerial Panel on "Political Reform"

David Kramer, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
June 9, 2008

Thank you to the government of the United Arab Emirates for the warm welcome and hospitality and for organizing this very important Subministerial event here in Dubai.

Thank you also to Japan for co-hosting on behalf of the G-8 at this event.

We applaud the courageous and determined work of the leaders here today from governments and civil society, who represent a cross-section of the thousands of organizations throughout the BMENA region that are working peacefully to strengthen their countries and institutions.

The U.S. will continue to support both civil society and government reform efforts in the Middle East on multiple levels. We support voices in the region--both in government and civil society--calling for peaceful change. The role played by indigenous civil society actors is critical, and this sector needs to have a protected, legal space in which to operate and prosper. It is critical that civil society be included in a permanent, ongoing manner in all BMENA activities, such as in our meeting today.

Our support for reform must be broad-based and comprehensive. We must work together to strengthen the three basic components of democracy: free and fair, pluralistic elections are only one component of a democratic system. There also must be accountable institutions of government, including an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. In a democracy the citizens of a country should have the assurance that the policies of their government will be held up for criticism by a free and independent press without the interference of their government.
 
We appreciate the comments made by the speakers today on freedom of expression in the region. Freedom of expression and opinion is a right that is still denied in too many places. We support the work of local civil society as they continue to highlight abuses and to remind us of the importance of freedom of expression and opinion to the enjoyment of human rights and democracy. Human rights can only be fully enjoyed in an environment that guarantees freedom and pluralism.

Equality for women is a key foreign policy priority for the United States. 

We appreciate the comments made by Ms. Lamees Nasser on the Gender Institute Study. We applaud the work being done by our NGO partners on the Gender Institute Study, ad we think that this region of the world would greatly benefit from such projects. We look forward to reading the assessment study at this year’s Forum Ministerial.
 
We recognize the work being done by both governments and civil society to empower and promote opportunities for women, and we must continue to support those who are working to bring more opportunities to women worldwide, including in the form of health, education and economic initiatives. We wholeheartedly support causes that improve the lives of women, wherever they live.

The ability of citizens to exercise fundamental freedoms of expression and association, an independent and professional media, a vibrant civil society, and expanded economic and educational opportunities for all citizens are all necessary to a fully functioning democracy and success in the 21st century.



Released on June 13, 2008

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