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September 24, 2013

Obama U.N. Speech is Clear Articulation of Values Based American Leadership

New York City – President Obama’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly was a strong endorsement of the centrality of universal values to American foreign policy, says Human Rights First. The organization welcomed the remarks as a clear articulation of values based American leadership.

“President Obama is right to insist that the U.N. Security Council pass a strong resolution to enforce the agreement of the Assad regime to hand over its stockpiles of chemical weapons to international control for their destruction,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “President Obama made clear that recent diplomatic activity aimed at enforcing the ban on the use and possession of chemical weapons should ‘energize a larger political effort’ to end the conflict in Syria. In addition to these diplomatic efforts, the United States should implement a broad strategy here at home that seeks to bring an end to the Syrian crisis by taking steps that include cutting off U.S. financial markets to those committing international crimes and ending Pentagon ties with those committing these atrocities.”

Human Rights First remains concerned that while the Obama Administration’s strategy for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is clear, there is little clarity on how the United States will persuade the warring factions in Syria to end the conflict that is the root cause of the humanitarian crisis that has victimized millions, and which is destabilizing the region.

Beyond Syria, the President’s remarks were a ringing affirmation to the central place of the ideals of human rights and democracy within U.S. foreign policy.  The President was frank that the United States has what he referred to as “core interests,” beyond these values, but he made clear that promoting human rights and democracy would be an abiding priority in U.S. policy. Human Rights First welcomed the President’s commitment to best promote these values by  working multilaterally and with civil society.

The President rightly emphasized that as a last resort the United States stands ready to use “multilateral military force” to protect civilians from mass atrocities when their own governments are either responsible for these assaults, or unable to prevent them.  He noted that there is need for “new thinking to prevent slaughter within states,” but he insisted that “sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants.”

“The President suggested that it was his willingness to use force in Syria that had prompted the diplomatic progress of recent weeks, and he made clear that, as a last resort, the option of military force to prevent mass atrocities and protect defenseless civilians threatened by tyrants would be part of America’s foreign policy,” Hicks concluded. “That said, it is imperative that President Obama present his vision for a coherent, comprehensive strategy beyond the use of force that can protect the civilian population from widespread, continuing mass atrocities, and secure U.S. interests.”

For more information or to speak with Hicks, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.