Statement by the National Security Advisor

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Statement by National Security Advisor General James L. Jones on International Human Rights Day

Today, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, I welcomed distinguished representatives of leading human rights and democracy promotion groups in the United States to the White House for a meeting with me and senior representatives from over a dozen offices of the National Security Staff.

I reiterated the President's strong and unwavering commitment to the advancement of human rights and democracy around the world, including the right to choose one's leaders, to speak one's mind, to assemble freely, and to worship as one pleases. This commitment was on display again this morning, in his speech in Oslo where he declared that "America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal." In addition to civil and political rights, the President has also stressed that our pursuit of human rights and democracy must deliver real improvements in people's everyday lives – by ensuring that people can meet their basic needs and expanding opportunity and prosperity.

Under President Obama's leadership, the Administration has worked hard to achieve these objectives around the world in four major ways.

First, we've started at home--from day one, renewing American democracy and recommitting ourselves to the protection of basic human rights. In his first days in office, the President issued executive orders prohibiting torture and ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. We are now dealing responsibly with detainees in a manner that is consistent with our values. We are also fulfilling the President's commitment to run the most open, transparent, and accountable government in American history.

Second, we have sought to engage the rest of the world on human rights and democracy, not simply chastising other governments publicly where we have concerns. I have been at the President's side as he has travelled around the world and met with his counterparts, and I can attest—in every country where we have a concern about human rights or democracy, the President raises these issues directly and forcefully.

We also have raised our concerns about human rights abuses publicly. We have condemned human rights abuses in Sudan, Cuba, Russia, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Syria; deplored the systematic rapes and sexual violence in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo; and called attention to the continued repression in Burma and Iran. The President has also been clear on our commitment to equal rights: for women; ethnic and religious minorities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

In parallel to engagement with governments, President Obama has sought to engage citizens of other nations directly on these issues—speaking to a large and diverse audience in Cairo, participating in a civil society summit in Moscow, and holding town hall meetings with students from Strasbourg to Istanbul to Shanghai. In all of his travels, President Obama has affirmed his solidarity with those struggling for more just government and explained directly to people why the United States has a national interest in advancing human rights and democracy.

Third, we have taken a more collaborative approach in advancing human rights. We have joined the UN Human Rights Council, mindful of its limitations but committed to working to strengthen the Council from within. At our first session, we successfully championed a unifying resolution on the previously divisive issue of freedom of expression. We worked closely and cooperatively with Member States in the Organization of American States in condemning the coup in Honduras and seeking a peaceful restoration of democratic and constitutional order. We signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of this new century, and we are making special efforts to implement human rights treaties to which we are already party.

Finally, we are making historic investments in development and working hard to strengthen democratic institutions, because we understand the relationship between democracy, human rights, and development. We are pursuing a comprehensive global health initiative; we leveraged significant new U.S. commitments to launch a global effort to combat global hunger and stimulate rural growth; and we are using our leadership in the G8 and G20 to launch new efforts to enhance transparency, fight corruption, and strengthen the rule of law.

These are the commitments we have made and the progress we have achieved—in just the first eleven months. I believe it's a strong record. And I believe it's only just the beginning of what's possible as part of a new era of American leadership and engagement in the world.