8-5-2011By Robert Joyce
Human Rights Defenders
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is to be commended for her meeting with Syrian activists in the United States on Tuesday. Meeting with a high level U.S. government official lends credibility to the essential work these activists perform. The work is all the more crucial given the situation in Syria right now, where the Assad regime is slaughtering its own citizens. Secretary Clinton’s meeting is a great example of what the U.S. could achieve more consistently if the Department of State institutionalized public guidelines on how its senior officials and missions are to engage with human rights defenders. U.S. officials should be meeting with human rights activists as a matter of course. Public guidelines for official interaction with human rights defenders outline measures the U.S. government should institutionalize.
Public guidelines do not suggest any actions that U.S. officials don’t already perform. What they do is simply ask that the State Department make these meetings, visits, and testimonies standing policy. As of now, the position of the U.S. government toward local human rights defenders in any given country depends on the foreign service officer’s discretion. Having no institutionalized guidelines (unlike the EU) means that human rights defenders are not getting the consistent priority they deserve from U.S. diplomatic outposts worldwide. Human rights defenders bring the universal concept of human rights from the abstract to the concrete – making human rights a real, tangible force in the world to be respected and upheld. Our diplomats, following Secretary Clinton’s example need to have a institutionalized guidelines to support this work, which seems to get more important every day.