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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2004 > March

Remarks at the State Department Reception In Honor of Freedom House

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
March 11, 2004

Thank you very much Paula (Paula J. Dobriansky is Under Secretary for Global Affairs), and Jennifer (Jennifer Windsor is the Executive Director of Freedom House which co-hosted the reception) and Lorne (Lorne Craner is the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and it is a great pleasure to receive you all here at the State Department this evening and to serve as your host. I am pleased to accept this book from Freedom House, about the worst abusers of human rights on the planet. I hope that one day we will all assemble here and I’ll be handed a 3x5 card instead of this book. Let that be our goal; that’s what we’re all about.

The other day I was giving a SVTS (Secure Video-Teleconference System) lecture to a bunch of our young officers who had assembled in Warsaw from all of Europe. These were the young junior officers of the State Department who’ve only been in the Department a year or two. In fact, most of them have come on since I became Secretary of State. We really have a big recruiting effort and these are wonderful young people who come in to serve their nation in the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, as our technicians and management specialists around the world.

About 120 of them had been assembled in Warsaw and after I gave them a pep talk and punched them up the way I used to do battalions – when I was able to command battalions – I asked for questions. You get the usual questions that are often written out beforehand, so that nobody is embarrassed in front of the Secretary of State: “Dear Mr. Secretary, do you believe that . . . ” -- that kind of thing. But then I said, “Okay, enough of the written questions. Is there anything anybody just wants to say?” Well, one young person came to the front of the room and she said, “We work on a lot of these reports that you all feel are so important back there. And it takes a lot of work and we have to spend a lot of time with ministers and the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the PVOs (private voluntary organizations) and all sorts of people in the countries that we work in. And they don’t really like us prowling around in some of these areas and then we send all this information up to Washington and to the State Department and it gets ground up and reports are produced, and we have to then receive the criticism from the countries where we’re located because they didn’t like the way they were treated in one or more of these reports. Mr. Secretary, my question to you is, is this really important? Do you really use this information; do you use these reports?”

It was a terrific question from a junior officer, from somebody who is really wondering whether all the labor that goes into our human rights report, our trafficking in persons report, our international religious freedom report, and all those other similar reports that essentially are requests of the Congress to us, make a difference. What I said to the young woman is that all of this is valuable, all of it is used. I use these reports constantly. When somebody from one of these countries comes in and wants to know what they have to do to qualify for the Millennium Challenge Account funding, for example, or to have a better bilateral relationship with the United States, I just say, here, look at what we said about you in the human rights report, or in the international trafficking in persons report. Look at how you look to us, measured against not American standards, but universal standards that everybody agrees to, universal standards that reflect the belief of every religion on the face of the earth and the Almighty in whose eyes every individual on the face of the earth is precious.

And so I tell them don’t see this as some imposition on you; see this as a tool you can use in your country, to make a better life for your people. This isn’t just to hammer you or for our Congress to hammer you. This is to help you become a better government and a better nation and to do a better job to take care of your people and to let them pursue their dreams and their ambitions constrained only by their own ambition and abilities that they have been given by that God.

And so the work that we’re involved in rests on the basic belief in freedom, democracy and the dignity of individuals. George W. Bush is a President who believes in these values so very, very deeply. He says what he means and means what he says. And when he says that the United States is determined to protect the “non-negotiable demands of human dignity,” as he put it in the National Security Strategy, he means it. And he doesn’t just talk; he acts.

This morning we woke up with more than 55 million Afghans and Iraqis enjoying the freedom that they did not enjoy just a short time ago. They awoke to the promise of freedom because George Bush didn’t just talk, George Bush acted.

Today the dangers posed to free peoples by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction proliferation are not gone, but they are certainly diminished. We saw that terrorism is not gone, by the tragedy that struck our friends in Spain today. But overall it is diminished as we see by Libya turning in its material, and other nations wondering why they’d been pursuing these kinds of weapons. And they are reflecting on that because George Bush acted.

Today there is greater prospect of relief for those who are suffering from HIV/AIDS, and from the crimes of trafficking in persons, because George Bush acted.

Today the Millennium Challenge Account is beginning to lift tens of millions of people from poverty and restore their hope and their dignity, because George Bush acted.

And today the flame of freedom is brighter in the world than ever before, because this President acted.

It’s fitting, therefore, that we gather here, today, after a Freedom House discussion about the world’s worst human rights abusers, because George Bush is concerned about them, concerned about the problem they create for their people and for the world. And it’s fitting that we do so as we look ahead, as was noted earlier, in just four days to this year’s UN Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva.

It’s no secret that we’ve been disappointed with the CHR (Commission on Human Rights) in recent years. As the country, the United States, that originally championed the UN system, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Commission on Human Rights, we Americans have been saddened by the fact that the commission has sometimes been used to shield human rights abusers from the condemnation they richly deserve.

The credibility of the CHR has been damaged. In the face of what has happened, some people say, well let’s just forget about it, forget about the CHR, forget about the United Nations, and throw up our hands and walk away.

But not us. We’re not quitters.The world would not understand if we walked away from these international institutions. So with our democratic partners we seek to restore the integrity of the Commission on Human Rights, re-energize its capacities, and rebuild its credibility.

And once we’ve done that we’re going to turn up the volume. We’re going to make life more uncomfortable for regimes like those in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, North Korea and Zimbabwe, which violate, repeatedly and systematically, the inalienable human rights of their peoples.

We’re going to continue to support even more persecuted human rights activists like Aung San Suu Kyi and Oswaldo Paya.

The United States will support resolutions on these and other countries’ human rights records this year at the meetings, and we will call on all democratic states to join us in defending human rights, consistent with the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights.

And that’s not all we’ve got in mind for the UN system and for its associated agencies. As you know, the United States has strongly supported the Community of Democracies, which brings together over 100 democratic nations to strengthen democratic principles around the world. And now we’re building on the Community of Democracies to form a democracy caucus within the United Nations system.

Such a grouping, united by its members’ shared ideals and democratic practices, will help the entire UN system live up to its founding principles. We envision a coalition of democratic countries consulting and cooperating in how they will vote in the UN, and uniting our voices to promote democratic ideals worldwide.

We want to provide an alternative network to existing blocs, not a replacement for them. We want all countries to be able to freely associate themselves with the ideals of freedom that will carry their peoples to security, prosperity and peace in the 21st century.

We know that Freedom House will support these good causes, and I don’t need to tell this audience, in this beautiful room, how important the support of Freedom House is – we’re like family. You are part of our freedom-loving family.

Whenever I think of Freedom House, I hear in my head that wonderful, wonderful, Humphrey Bogart line toward the end of “Casablanca.” You know that great scene at the end as they’re walking away from the airplane, and he’s walking with the French captain and old Humphrey turns to the French captain and says: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” That beautiful friendship between the United States and Freedom House will soon enter its seventh decade, and I know it will only grow stronger with the passing years.

So again, welcome all of my friends of freedom, all of those of you representing Freedom House here this evening. Thanks for coming; enjoy yourselves, please, and celebrate Freedom House for all it has accomplished, and for all it will accomplish.

And so, to Freedom House, thank you, salud, keep up the great work. God bless you all.

Released on March 26, 2004

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