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Human Rights Day Commemoration

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
December 14, 2006

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(12:05 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY RICE:  Thank you.  Thank you, Paula, for that very generous introduction.  And I'd like to welcome Congressman Smith.  I also would like to thank Barry Lowenkron and DRL for their tireless efforts on a day-to-day basis on behalf of those who still need our help to escape tyranny and oppression.

This week we join together with nongovernmental groups and other human rights defenders across the globe in marking the 58th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The declaration's precepts are embraced by people of every culture and color, every background and belief.  They enshrine what President Bush calls the "nonnegotiable demands of human dignity."  In countries all around the world, often at personal risk and against great odds, nongovernmental organizations and other human rights activists advocate for human rights and expose abuses.  They strive to protect the rights of minorities and workers and women and to stop the trafficking in human beings.  They are building vibrant civil societies, pressing for free and fair elections, and establishing accountable, law-based democracies.

Thanks in great measure to their courage and tenacity, gains for human rights and democratic principles have been historic.  But progress is seldom without great challenge and those who press for change often meet with resistance and indeed harsh repression.  Whenever NGOs and other human rights defenders are under siege, freedom and democracy are undermined.  The world's democracies must push back.  We must defend the defenders.

So today I am pleased to announce three key initiatives in support of NGOs and all who advance the cause of freedom in our world. 

First, President Bush has created a Human Rights Defenders Fund.  The fund will begin at $1 million and will be replenished each year as needed.  This fund, to be administered by the State Department, will enable us to quickly disburse small grants to human rights defenders facing extraordinary needs due to government repression.  This funding, for example, could go to cover legal or medical costs or short-term support to meet the pressing needs of an activist's family.

Second, we are issuing ten NGO principles regarding the treatment of governments of non -- by governments of nongovernmental organizations.  These core principles will guide our own treatment of NGOs and we will also use them to assess the action of other governments.  At a time when NGOs are under increasing pressure in many countries, it is imperative that democratic governments work in concert to defend the vital role that NGOs play in building free societies.

The ten principles are meant to complement lengthier, more detailed UN and European Union documents addressing NGOs and other human rights defenders.  We applaud the UN and EU efforts and we hope that our contribution of the ten NGO principles will help to rally worldwide support for embattled NGOs by serving as a handy resource for governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and journalists.

Our third initiative is the creation of two human rights awards.  The Freedom Defenders Award will be presented to a foreign individual or NGO that has shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights and democracy.  The Diplomacy for Freedom Award will be presented to a U.S. ambassador who has devoted the full diplomatic influence of our government to help end tyranny and promote democracy.

Finally, I want to take this occasion to publicly congratulate the recipient of this year's Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award, an outstanding junior officer at our Embassy in Mauritania, Joshua Morris.  Joshua, why don't you step up so that people can see you?  Come join me, come join me.  (Laughter.)

Just a few months ago -- moments ago, I had the pleasure of presenting the award to Josh in the company of his justifiably proud family.  Thanks in great measure to Josh's determination and skill in raising awareness of voter registration problems, the Government of Mauritania reopened voter registration lists to 85,000 of its citizens who would otherwise have been denied the opportunity to vote in last November's elections.  Josh, thank you for your tremendous effort.

As the three initiatives I announced today demonstrate, President Bush remains firmly committed to a foreign policy rooted in human freedom and a central component of that policy is defending the work of NGOs.  The work of freedom cannot be completed overnight, but it is urgent work that cannot be delayed.  So as we join men and women around the world in marking the anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we resolve to work with all free and democratic nations in defending the defenders of human dignity and democracy across the globe.

Thank you very much.  Thank you for coming.  (Applause.)

Released on December 14, 2006

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