Tag Archives: human rights

Free Press = Free Society

Information is power. Few people can make a living, hold their governments accountable, and educate their children without a healthy supply of free- flowing information. Citizens need accurate, timely, independent news they can trust. So do businesses and markets. And so do governments. Media freedom keeps societies and economies vibrant, energetic, and healthy. When the free flow of news and information is cut off, individuals suffer. Societies suffer. Economies suffer.

But even as we observe World Press Freedom Day this year, threats against journalists are rising. As of last December, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 179 reporters in jail around the world. And journalists continue to be threatened, attacked, disappeared, or murdered for trying to report the news.

In the past year, the world witnessed both the promise of, and the peril to, a free press. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, journalists, bloggers, filmmakers and pundits chronicled the protests sweeping across the region, while some citizens armed with nothing but cell phones risked their lives to upload the truth – by text, tweet, and pixel. In doing so, they were exercising a fundamental freedom enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Yet too many governments attempt to censor the media, directly or indirectly. Too many investigative journalists are being silenced, many for exposing corruption – at local, state, or national government levels. Too many attacks and murders of journalists go unpunished.  In some cases, it is not just governments attacking, intimidating, and threatening journalists. It’s also criminals – drug cartels – terrorists or political factions. When journalists are threatened, attacked, jailed, or disappeared, other journalists self-censor. They stop reporting stories. They tone down stories. They omit details. Sources stop helping them. Their editors hesitate to print stories. Fear replaces truth. All of our societies suffer.

Like Estonia, the United States looks to all governments to take the steps necessary to create the same space we Americans and Estonians have enshrined in our societies for independent journalists to do their work without fear of violence or persecution. We pay special tribute to those courageous journalists, bloggers, and citizens who have sacrificed their lives, health, or freedom so that others could know the truth. And we honor the role of free and independent media in creating sustainable democracies and open, healthy societies.

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, freedom of information

Honoring Women in an Age of Participation

Secretary of State Clinton has noted that “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish.” These words have particular relevance as we celebrate International Women’s Day around the world and as we continue to make strides for women’s progress.

On December 10th, 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three extraordinary women who have led the fight for human rights and democracy in their home countries – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. Their achievement signifies recognition on the world stage of the essential role that women must play in the hard work of building peace and sustainable communities in the 21st century.

In December, President Obama released the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, charting a roadmap for how the United States will accelerate and institutionalize efforts across the government to advance women’s participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace. This initiative represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict, by ensuring that their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the fabric of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.

This International Women’s Day, Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama will host the 6th annual International Women of Courage Awards, honoring 10 remarkable women from around the world. These women have shown exceptional bravery and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Their stories represent just a few of the emerging leaders found in every corner of the world.

Yet, as we rightfully honor achievements, we must also be reminded that International Women’s Day is an opportunity to renew the call for action, investment, and commitment to women’s equality. We are at a moment of historic opportunity. Secretary Clinton has referred to this era as “the Participation Age”. This is a time where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of their society.

Around the world, we are witnessing examples of the Participation Age.  I have been privileged to meet a large number of Estonia’s remarkable women, women who led Estonia into freedom and women who spearhead this country’s political, diplomatic, business and artistic communities today.  Estonian women are no less than the very foundation of a society that has suffered much throughout history and has persevered and emerged victorious.  Estonian women rock!

Women are also a cornerstone of America’s foreign policy because the simple fact is that no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity.  Investing in them means investing in global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone – the world over.  As we honor them today, let us renew our resolve to work for the cause of equality each and every day of the year.

 

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Internet Freedom AND Intellectual Property Rights

The positive power of the internet has changed the paradigm of international diplomacy, of global governance, and indeed the human condition.  Secretary of State Clinton articulated most clearly last year that the United States, “On the spectrum of internet freedom, [places itself] on the side of openness.”

Over the course of the last several weeks, interested parties in America and around the world have reacted strongly for or against efforts in the U.S. to maintain internet freedom while attempting to find a way to protect the vested property rights that creators, artists, and engineers have in their product.  At issue were two proposed pieces of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA.”) Amongst all the complexity of this issue is a rather clear goal we Americans share with our democratic partners and friends around the world:  Full, unfettered and free access to the internet by the global citizenry AND the protection of the intellectual wealth of our innovators and creative minds from on-line theft.  

As we seek to address both of these interests, it should come as no surprise that our efforts of protecting intellectual property online cause legitimate attention to the scope of any regulation of the internet.  Of course neither our government nor the American people wish unintentionally to provide a pretext to those who wish to suppress democratic rights under the guise of “legal protections.”  Once completed, U.S. legislation that would protect the rights of American intellectual property and internet freedom would likewise serve to protect such rights and values the world over.  Again, Secretary of State Clinton has confirmed that “there is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

The White House meanwhile has set U.S. Administration policy regarding intellectual property legislation, stating that while piracy is a serious problem on the internet, the President will not support any proposed legislation that would reduce freedom of expression or otherwise detract from the Internet’s potential.  Both the President and our Congress have called for legislation that is narrowly-tailored with a focus on criminal activity.  Such tailoring should address U.S. and international concerns about internet freedom and its liberating role for people seeking free expression and democratic rule from one corner of the world to the other.

Two important engines of America’s economy, represented by places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and their international counterparts, should work together and help tailor workable laws in all our countries that will protect property rights, freedom of speech, and internet assembly.

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, diplomacy, freedom of information, good governance, Intellectual Property

Eliminating Violence Against Women

Women in every society, in every corner of the globe, still suffer a disproportionate amount of the inequities that exist today. And more often than not, they suffer those inequities at the hands of men.  In too many parts of the world, women are victims of domestic violence, are being trafficked and sold into sexual slavery, or are subjected to the horror of genital mutilation.

So today I want to lend my male voice to the call of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to speak out on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This must not be a day of women demanding their rights while we men stand idly by. Nor can it be a single day commitment.

Not only because men have long had a dominant role in our societies are we the ones who have a special responsibility to shout out for the rights of women. It is also a simple matter of fairness, justice, and decency.  We men need to step forward to demand and protect the inviolable rights of our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends that we have always insisted on for ourselves.  Women’s rights begin with freedom from fear of violence and oppression in any and all of its forms.

And gentlemen, as Americans and Estonians, as proud citizens of modern democracies, we can do even more than just demand the right thing.  We can recommit ourselves to deepening our global partnership of concerted action on behalf of the other 50% of humanity.

 

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Security And Safety Inside 21st Century Democracies

Tallinn experienced a security scare last week as an explosives carrying gunman threatened the staff of the Estonian Ministry of Defense.  With characteristic resolute competence, Estonian security forces ended the threat by shooting the gunman while ensuring that no innocent life was lost.  Other than the press, few people outside the capital of this peaceful and law abiding country were even aware of the dramatic and deadly event in the Ministry.  That’s both good, but also something to think about.  My family, my colleagues in our Embassy, and I are certainly enjoying the hospitality, the beauty, and the relative safety of this country.   I can’t imagine that Estonians loose a lot of sleep over the safety of their cities, towns and villages, or their homes and their families.  They have little reason to.  But as last week’s incident demonstrated, there is no such thing as “it can’t happen here.” 

In America and for Americans, as well as for many others, tragically, it has happened.  Not all that long ago, we would never have contemplated taking of our shoes off in an airport or walking through metal detectors to visit a museum.  Visiting an American Embassy was relatively easy not that long ago and and streets around our diplomatic missions were not closed off.   Tragic experience has changed all that.  We have allowed our lives to become far more complicated in exchange for greater security, not because we want to, but because we have to.  Over the years we have learned to make security precautions less intrusive and more rational.  We have also become more security conscious without being security obsessed.  In the end, we are more secure in a more dangerous world. 

The debate over how much security is enough and how much is excessive will never end in free and freedom-loving societies.  Especially when we are confronted with threats from within, rather than with outside agression, we are loath to relinguish yet another slice of physical and psychological freedom in exchange for greater protection.  We resent being shaken in the belief that our best protection are the just and democratic societies we have built.  However unsettling, the threats we face only reaffirm our most basic principles of personal liberty.  Gritting our teeth, we accept that total security is illusory and we adopt responsible management of  risks to our safety.  Depending on individual national experiences, democracies pass through these resentment and realization phases at their own pace — but inevitably arrive at similar conclusions.

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It’s Internet Freedom, Stupid!

Read a piece in the New York Times of June 12, 2011, entitled: U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors.   Great story.  Great reading.  The ultimate point of the article is freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom to participate in the 21st century communications revolution – the internet and all other forms of wireless communications technology.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made the vigorous defense of internet freedom a central element of U.S. foreign policy.  This policy has nothing to do with a fascination with modern communications technology (although it is cool!)  The policy is based on the simple realization that values first embraced by the young United States more than 200 years ago have found a new medium of electronic transmission.  It bridges distances, borders, cultural differences, political repression and violence, and virtually all other obstacles, to lend a voice to freedom, a voice to people in many parts of the world who have been silenced for too long.  “Let freedom ring!” has become “Let freedom byte!”  That is of course why repressive regimes everywhere do what they can to control or even shut down internet access to anyone who opposes them.  And that is why those of us who live in freedom must do the opposite by insisting on preserving unfettered internet access to all.  The June 12 NYT article notes that is exactly what a group of smart geeks is up to. 

So here is another great way for smart Americans and smart Estonians to work together in support of shared values!  Soon after arriving in Estonia more than a year and a half ago, I invited this country’s IT community to work on internet freedom hard and software.  Let me reissue this invitation.  Please read the NYT article Estonia and lend your considerable IT prowess to liberation technology.

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A New Opportunity for the Serbian People

Serbia’s President Boris Tadic has just announced the arrest of accused war criminal Radko Mladic.  During my time as  U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro and then the Republic of Serbia  from 2004-2007, I did all I could for this day to come.   This is the news that the victims and the families of the victims of the worst autrocities in post-war Europe have been waiting for.  This could also be the break for Serbia’s future that so many of the Serbian people have been waiting for.  During my time in Belgrade, I found most of the Serbian people on the side of justice and for their country to finally be able to move forward.  I reassured them then that the United States wanted to be supportive of a Serbia integrated into the web of Euro-Atlantic relationships.

With Maldic now hopefully being readied for transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, this is also another opportunity for Serbia to take a new approach to its other remaining obstacle to seizing a better tomorrow – its relationship with its neighbor Kosovo.  A positive and constructive relationship with Kosovo that accepts the reality, however unhappily, of Kosovo’s independence, would also allow Serbia at last  to look to the future, rather than the grievances of the past.  For the sake of all my Serbian friends who have waited long enough for a better tomorrow, I hope they are given the chance to seize it now.

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