Event Date: 7/10/2007
Thank you to all who submitted questions on the Freedom Agenda. We just celebrated Independence Day in the United States, a celebration that gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of freedom and liberty. The United States has a long tradition of supporting democracy and human rights abroad, and I appreciate all the great questions on this important topic.
If you would like to keep on on the latest, be sure to check www.state.gov and www.state.gov/g/drl for information on the Freedom Agenda.
Let’s get started.
Question: Do you think there is a chance of bettering the situation in Myanmar? What measures ought to be taken to make this brutal dictatorship disappear in order to free the people there? What do you think of China backing this regime? Isn’t China a power far too influential in the region so that we may conclude that there is no solution unless China is willing to take part in promoting freedom, human rights and democracy?
Mr. Krilla: Thanks for the question.
The long-term prospects for improving the social, humanitarian, and economic conditions in Burma depend on the willingness of Burma's military regime to engage in meaningful reform. This would require the regime to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and engage in a genuine dialogue with the leaders of Burma's democracy movement, leading to a transition to a civilian, democratic government that respects human rights. Burma also would need to invest seriously in health, education, and infrastructure and abandon its human rights violations, including attacks against civilians in ethnic minority areas, which have resulted in the outflow of approximately 200,000 refugees to neighboring countries.
The United States provides humanitarian aid to Burmese living in Thailand’s border areas near Burma. Many of these people are refugees and displaced persons, due to the poor conditions in Burma, and the American development agency USAID has a range of programs to serve them, including programs that promote governance, health, education and HIV/AIDS services.
China quickly is becoming Burma’s most important partner, offering debt relief, economic development grants, and soft loans used for the construction of infrastructure and light industry in Burma. China has an important role to play in convincing Burma's ruling generals that only through good governance and the rule of law will Burma achieve unity, stability, and prosperity.
Question: As someone who has personally overseen some important steps of African countries towards stabilization and democracy, what special agenda does the President’s Freedom Agenda contain for Africa? Is there hope for so many countries which cannot be called but "failed" states with regard to human rights and freedom? What can be done to reduce the culture of corruption in African countries?
Mr. Krilla: Thanks for the question on Africa. I spent several years living there, and have dedicated a good portion of my career to working with Africa’s leaders, NGOs and citizens to promote freedom and democracy on the continent, which is a vital component of U.S. foreign policy and the Freedom Agenda.
Examples of democratic governance in Africa can be seen in countries such as Botswana, Ghana, Mali, and South Africa. In the past year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) held its first democratic and credible presidential and legislative elections in more than 40 years; democratic elections were held in Benin, Madagascar, and Mauritania; and Uganda adopted a multiparty political system. The advances in these countries provide hope for all of Africa in relation to good governance.
The United States uses many tools to promote democracy and freedom in Africa. These include assistance to strengthen government institutions and electoral processes, to build the capacity of civil society to advocate for reform, and programs to promote free and independent media.
Our assistance includes programs to target corruption, in countries such as Zambia, Chad, Liberia, and The Gambia. We help develop modern, efficient, and transparent legal systems, promote accountability for projects financed by oil revenues, and encourage greater transparency in the extractive industries.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation is another way in which we promote good governance and efforts to combat corruption. The MCC just added two aid agreements in Africa – one with Mozambique, and another for Lesotho. This brings the total MCC programs in Afria to $2.4 billion out of $3.9 billion for the program overall. That means Africa is getting a good share of this new program which promotes self-sufficiency.
Question: Mr. Krilla, what is your opinion about the democracy and freedom in Venezuela under Chavez's leftist regimen and what is the U.S. going to do to stop him while he is promoting the socialism, populism and antiamericanism in South America and also making agreements with Iran, Cuba, and buying weapons in Russia.
Mr. Krilla: President Chavez is a democratically elected leader. Nevertheless, the United States, and the international community, are increasingly concerned that the Government of Venezuela is not ruling in a democratic fashion. Our 2006 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Venezuela noted that the human rights situation during the year was characterized by politicization of the judiciary and harassment of the media and of the political opposition, all manifestations of the increasing concentration of power in the executive branch. Recently, President Chavez refused to renew the broadcast license of the oldest independent television station in Venezuela, RCTV. Numerous international NGOs have condemned the closure of RCTV as a severe blow to media freedom.
According to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to which Venezuela is a signatory, democratically elected governments have an obligation to govern democratically. We are working with the Organization of American States to press Venezuela to respect the rights of its citizens. In her remarks before the OAS General Assembly in Panama on June 4, Secretary Rice called on the OAS to send the Secretary General to Venezuela for a mission to analyze the situation. Secretary Rice also raised the closure of RCTV and the growing threats to freedom of expression in Venezuela. She echoed the United States Senate’s call in Senate Resolution 211 for OAS leadership and action. “…[T]he members of the OAS must defend freedom where it is under siege in our hemisphere and we must support freedom wherever and whenever it is denied.”
In regard to President Chavez’s pursuit of arms deals, the U.S. has communicated our concerns about Chavez’s arms buildup in the past, and will continue to do so.
Question: Why do we continue to tolerate a virtual invasion from Mexico? It seems the U.S. has done very little to demand human rights reforms and massive redistribution of wealth through land reforms, and universal education programs necessary to true democracy from our closest neighbor. The President has squandered his relationship with his "good friend" Vincente Fox and now we have an even worse situation than when he entered office. We should not be asking what is wrong with U.S. Immigration law and the U.S. economy but what is wrong with Mexico's laws and economy!
Mr. Krilla: Thank you for your question concerning U.S.-Mexico relations. During President Bush’s most recent trip to Mexico in March, he and Mexican President Felipe Calderon discussed ways to make both nations safer, and more prosperous. They acknowledged that economic growth and job creation are vital to reducing poverty and inequality in Mexico, and as an essential component to any future immigration reform. In addition to our strong trade and investment relationship with Mexico, the United States is committed to supporting the Mexican government’s efforts to increase access to education, health care, and affordable housing.
We also have a keen interest in promoting sound human rights reform and the respect for rule of law. For instance, in order to advance the work of human rights defenders in Mexico, my Bureau funded a program in 2006 to strengthen the capacity of Mexican human rights NGOs (particularly those dealing with violence against women and discrimination against indigenous peoples) and enhance the mechanisms for monitoring, investigating, and documenting human rights violations. Throughout the project, seven human rights workshops were conducted, which included training in such themes as legal strategies, international systems of human rights protections, and tactics for enhanced human rights investigations. The project improved the capacity of human rights defenders as public watch-dogs by strengthening their techniques for building public constituencies for human rights in order to reduce the tolerance and incidence of human rights violations. The Departments of State and Justice are also working with the Government of Mexico and with NGOs to reduce trafficking in persons in and through Mexico.
Question: What is President Bush's assessment of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka? Ambassador Richard Boucher and several human rights groups have raised concerns of HR violations in Sri Lanka by both the government and the terrorists. How would the U.S. administration address such concerns?
Mr. Krilla: We are aware that the return to conflict in Sri Lanka has contributed to a deterioration of human rights conditions in the country. According to the most recent Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Sri Lanka, the government's respect for human rights declined in 2006, due in part to the breakdown for the Cease-Fire Accord. Reports of torture, extra-judicial killings, and curtailment of press freedoms are on the rise. Human rights monitors also report arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of fair public trial, government corruption and lack of transparency, infringement of freedom of movement, and discrimination against minorities. There were numerous reports that armed paramilitary groups linked to government security forces participated in armed attacks, some against civilians. The U.S. Government is also concerned about reports of disappearances, as well as the large number of internally displaced persons.
Human rights abuses in Tiger-controlled areas are also widespread. The LTTE continues to control large sections of the north and east and engage in politically motivated killings; suicide attacks; disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of freedom of speech, press, and of assembly and association; and the recruitment of child soldiers.
We have repeatedly stressed our human rights concerns to the Sri Lankans at all levels, including President Rajapaksa. U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake and the embassy in Colombo are fully engaged in efforts to foster an environment of respect for human rights in Sri Lanka. Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher was clear during his May visit that we need serious action now. We are pressing President Rajapaska to allow the Commission of Inquiry he established last year to freely investigate specific human rights incidents and produce tangible results. We are also looking for ways to build human rights capacity and support increasing staffing and activities for the Colombo office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Together with our allies, we will continue to work towards brokering a lasting peace agreement between the government and the LTTE and urge both sides to uphold the cease-fire and eliminate human rights abuses.
Question: Muslim journalist Shoaib Choudhury is standing trial on July 18 in his home country, Bangladesh, for simply speaking out in positive ways encouraging dialog w/ Israel. If the U.S. and others do not come to his aid, his own government may sentence him to death. Is the U.S. State Department doing anything to advocate for this fine man?
Mr. Krilla: The U.S. continues to call on the Government of Bangladesh to uphold due process and the rule of law. Choudhury’s trial on sedition charges has been postponed several times and was last scheduled to begin on June 28. An Embassy official will most likely observe the trial if and when it commences. We have raised Mr. Choudhury’s case on numerous occasions with the government and will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Question: How do you judge the aspect of "nation building" in the context of the President’s Freedom Agenda? Do you think there is a realistic way to promote vital democracies in the Middle East with Lebanon facing so many troubles, with the Palestinian cause still being unsolved and with dictatorships like Iran and Syria undermining the democracies of Israel and Lebanon?
Mr. Krilla: The President has said that the greatest way to take on extremism is by promoting freedom because freedom is what all people, in all cultures, aspire towards. The struggles you mention in the Near East are not reasons to give up on freedom in the region – in fact, it is all the more reason to support those who are pushing for their voices to be heard.
We think that freedom unleashes the potential of a nation, from economic development to determining how a country is governed. This doesn’t mean that we think democracy is like chemistry, where you have elections, a good constitution, and then you have democracy. In fact, there is no one-size-fits all. Different peoples will find different ways of democracy. The important thing is that we stand by them to help them find their own way.
In regards to the examples you cite, Secretary Rice said recently that under the right circumstances and with the right support, the people of the Middle East “can indeed triumph and triumph democratically.” That being said, it is especially hard for democracy to take hold in a place in which it has not taken hold before, and when there are individuals and groups determined to prevent it. We remain dedicated to the President’s vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, and believe that the Lebanese people deserve an independent and secure country with a democratically elected government free of Syrian influence.
Thank you all for your questions. I am sorry we could not get to them all, but check back on the www.state.gov website for more webchats.