For Immediate Release: February 18, 2010
Washington, DC – Frontline human rights defenders from around the globe met today in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House with President Obama and senior administration officials to discuss ways that the United States can counter the deterioration of human rights around the world. The activists are in Washington, D.C. for a summit hosted by Freedom House and Human Rights First.
Frontline human rights defenders from Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Russia, Indonesia, Venezuela and other nations described the increasing repression against them and encouraged the President to play a greater leadership role in defending fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression.
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House outlined the challenge, saying, “We are facing a global freedom recession. The pressure on civil society activists has intensified and warrants a bold response by all democracies. The United States should lead the way.” She added, “The U.S. should start by rejecting demands by governments to ban U.S. aid to independent groups.” The United States recently acquiesced to such demands from Egypt and Bolivia, for example.
The activists commended the President for his commitment to leading by example and urged that he follow through on his promise to align U.S. counterterrorism policies with universal human rights standards.
“U.S. national security policy has real consequences beyond America’s borders. That message was delivered loud and clear during today’s meeting,” said Human Rights First President & CEO Elisa Massimino. “Human rights defenders risk their lives every day in defense of freedom and democracy. The United States has an obligation to support their courageous work, and that begins by setting a strong example here at home—closing Guantanamo, bringing terrorist suspects to justice in civilian trials, and ending the practice of indefinite detention.”
The group engaged in a wide-ranging discussion covering many country situations. Specifically, the activists welcomed the administration’s attempts at outreach to the Muslim world, but said that the Administration’s engagement policies have not yielded substantial human rights improvements on the ground.
The groups were pleased with the administration’s willingness to engage with them and the seriousness with which the President and senior officials grappled with these issues. They will be issuing a Plan of Action at the conclusion of the Summit with specific recommendations for the U.S. and other governments.