MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today, we have with us Assistant Secretary Posner. Many of you have been here before, but I want to give just a few ground rules before we begin. If you have cell phones or other electronic devices, I ask that you turn them off. I also want to remind you all that this briefing is only – during the question-and-answer period, it’s limited to foreign press only.
Without further ado, I will give the floor over to Assistant Secretary Posner.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thanks very much. Welcome, everybody. I want to just take a couple of minutes by way of introduction to say a few words about the report and then I’ll take your questions.
This is an annual exercise. It’s the 35th year we’ve produced the report. It was – it covers 194 countries, but not the United States. We subject ourselves to that review in a range of other ways, including, in the last year, through the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations, which we did last fall, producing a report, submitting it in September, and going to the UN Human Rights Council in November, and then taking recommendations and incorporating them and reporting back last month in Geneva.
Its origin is with congressional mandates from the 1970s tied to U.S. bilateral security and economic assistance, and two amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act sponsored by Congressmen Fraser and Harkin, now-Senator Harkin. It’s become much more than that, and the report is both a factual basis for the United States Government to make assessments and policies relating to human rights. It’s also the single most comprehensive report on human rights produced by anybody in the world – 194 countries, 2,200,000 words, 7,000 pages. It is a huge undertaking involving tens of thousands of hours by people in our Foreign Service.
The report’s not a policymaking document. It is really intended to provide a factual basis, a framework or a foundation for us then to make decisions. And we will make those decisions and continue to do so, and I imagine at least some of you will want to know more than what the facts are but what we’re doing about it, and that’s fair game.
Three trends in the report that we highlighted and Secretary Clinton highlighted this morning: One is that, increasingly, governments are restricting the space of civil society to operate. More than 90 countries have passed new laws or regulations in the last several years. We singled out a new NGO law that’s been proposed in Cambodia, which is, in fact, being debated this week, which would make it much harder for NGOs to operate.
We single out, secondly, some of the ongoing restrictions in the Middle East and elsewhere on internet freedom. There is a growing, I think, anxiety by governments in closed societies that the internet is changing the game and making it easier for dissidents to raise their voices, and so governments are both trying to prevent access to the internet but they’re also cracking down by basically violating the privacy of activists as they use the internet. Glad to talk more about that. We’re actually doing a lot about that. It’s a big subject.
And then the third broad trend that we outline in the report is the growing set of human rights problems, violations related to intolerance and discrimination, whether it’s racial, religious, ethnic, discrimination based on sexual orientation – a range of examples relating to LGBT in Africa and elsewhere; a huge set of concerns in, for example, Pakistan, where a blasphemy law has been highly controversial and resulted in some targeted killings; broad concerns about religious discrimination, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic targeting, et cetera.
So we’ve got a big agenda. We’re trying to work on it in our diplomacy, but today’s exercise is really just to get the facts out there and give us all a basis for the conversation. With that, let me stop and open the floor to questions.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. My name is Andrey Surzhanskiy. I’m with ITAR-TASS News Agency of Russia. And so, obviously, my question is on Russia. Do you see any improvement in any of key areas of human rights in Russia, or it’s mostly a negative trend?
And secondly, if I may very, briefly: Since the United States has committed to take a close look at their own human rights record, what would be your assessment of U.S. performance in that area? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure. On the issue of Russia, I don’t know that I would say that there are great improvements. There’a certainly areas of concern: a closing space for activists to operate; more targeting; the 31 movement, referring to Article 31 of the Russian constitution, the monthly demonstrations underscoring the importance of freedom of assembly, March 31 demonstrations in a host of cities, crackdown in particular in St. Petersburg; some of the still unresolved investigations into the cases of the journalists – Poltavskaya*, for example – the human rights activist Estemirova; the prosecutor – or the lawsuit brought by Mr. Kadyrov against Orlov from Memorial. There are a range of ways in which I think the space is getting narrower for people to be critical. So these are things that we are concerned about. Magnitsky’s case, the fact that there was a death in custody and the investigation has gone nowhere.
There are a range of things we continue to raise. We obviously have a range of other interests with the Russian Government, but these are issues that have not gone away. And in some respects, I think if you talk to the human rights community as I did when I was there last summer, there’s a feeling that there is a – it’s a difficult environment.
On the United States, I think we are proud of the report we did to the UN. It doesn’t represent a clean bill of health. As we said in the report, we are constantly striving to form what our founders called a more perfect union. We’ve got lots of challenges, lots of issues that we deal with. On the national security front, for example, President Obama in 2009 talked about closing Guantanamo. We haven’t gotten there yet. We don’t have exactly a great deal of cooperation from the Congress in that. We have, I think, made progress in protecting detainees in detention, in security detention from what were once called enhanced interrogation techniques. We’re not doing that anymore. We have a range of issues relating to detention practices in other security situations in Bagram in Iraq and elsewhere. So we have a range of issues on the security side.
On the domestic side, discrimination is still something we face on a daily basis, whether it’s discrimination against Muslim American community, African American; we have a set of immigration issues. All of those things are covered in the UPR report. But I think that the important thing for us as a society is that we have a very lively civil society NGO community that never lets us forget what our failings are or shortcomings, and we have a quite open debate domestically about those things. In preparing for the UPR, we had 18 sessions where we brought a thousand NGOs together to talk about the whole range of issues.
MODERATOR: We’re going to go to New York. New York, please state your name and news organization, please.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Chen Weihua from China Daily. Yeah. I wanted to ask about – the report here in the U.S. on China is like more than 140 page. I don’t know. It’s probably the longest report. And it’s usually followed by the second day, third day, a report from China on U.S. human rights problems. And I just want to ask do you – I mean, this happened for many years. Do you take the report from China seriously since there is no report from you on the U.S. situation?
And also, I mean, what’s the response you usually receive after the release of reports on 190-some countries. Is there a lot of protest, or what other countries say? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: On the report from China, we do read it. We read it closely. It’s not very different. In fact, it’s probably much less complete or critical than a lot of things that are produced here by our NGO community. I think it would be a great thing if the Chinese Government would allow its domestic critics the same opportunity to comment on the Chinese reports on China as our critics do on what we’ve produced through the Universal Periodic Review, through the treaty body reports. We’re about to submit a report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another on the Torture Convention. Both of those will happen later this year. We are very open to the notion that people in this country have not only a right but are well open to be critical of what we do, and we engage them in that criticism.
By contrast, what’s so, frankly, frustrating about the Chinese Government’s response is that there’s been such a systematic crackdown on critics – lawyers, activists, journalists, academics, now one of the leading – Ai Weiwei, one of the leading artists. There’s a real systematic crackdown on anyone who peacefully criticizes what the government’s doing. That’s our concern, and frankly, it’s a subject in which we feel that there’s been a rapid deterioration.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Kyoko Yamaguchi. I work Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbn newspaper. About China and report, Secretary also mentioned that there is a negative trend that is worsening, appears to be worsening, and you just talked about the situation also. My question is: What do you suppose is driving China to take such actions compared to last year? What is there – can you point to internal or external events that are driving China to systematically crack on dissidents?
And secondly, can you perhaps talk about this in more timeline perspective? Can you say that the trend is worsening compared to, for example, 2005 or perhaps after the Beijing Olympics? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I can’t – I don’t know that I’m the right one to speculate on why things are declining or getting worse. There was clearly an anxiety and an unhappiness about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo last fall and the fact that the government not only rejected that but attacked the Norwegian Government, attacked anybody – even attacked governments that sent representatives to the ceremony in Oslo. And then I think the second thing that’s – we’re mindful of is the – what people are calling the Arab Spring, the fact that China – Chinese authorities, apparently, took the words Egypt and Jasmine off the web is a reflection of an anxiety that the demand for freedom and political participation reflected in Egypt and Tunisia would somehow find its way into Chinese homes. So I – those are at least two things that we see. Again, I can’t – there may be other factors as well, but it’s clearly a declining situation.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to go to New York. New York, go ahead, please.
QUESTION: My name is Hasan Mujtaba. I’m a reporter of BBC Urdu, and I have a very quick two questions from Secretary. In Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, there are disappearances of thousands, thousands of political activists and Baloch nationalists. And of now, their tortured dead bodies are being recovered from – on one day or the other. Has the United States Administration have taken this issue of serious rights abuses with the Pakistani Government and the military?
And my second question is, if you allow me, that there there is an other kind of terrorism going on in Pakistan for years and decades. That’s gender terrorism against women in the name of honor killings. And has – is there any issue taken with the Pakistan Government on this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I was in Islamabad and Lahore in January and I raised three broad kinds of issues, concerns, one of which you identify, the violence in Balochistan. The other two areas that we expressed great concern, and I continue to do so – we continue to do so, is the broader intolerance of – particularly tied to the blasphemy law and those who are critical of it.
I met with Governor Taseer’s family in January several weeks after he was assassinated. I met with Minister Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs in Pakistan, and then came back here and met him and introduced him to Secretary Clinton. Quite concerned about that, and frankly, one aspect of that is the increased vitriol in some of the Urdu press, which is, I think, a factor contributing to it.
The third set of issues to us that I raised and spent time talking about were some of the excesses by the Pakistani military extrajudicial killings. I met with Pakistani military leaders, and that’s an issue, again, where I think we have a continuing concern.
The second issue you mention – the honor killings – is something that we’ve been following for a number of years, as have people like the Pakistani Commission on Human Rights. We continue to reinforce their concerns. These are issues that matter a lot to me, but also to Secretary Clinton, to Melanne Verveer, and others in the Administration.
MODERATOR: Right here.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Mohamed Taam for Assabah newspaper daily in Tunisia. I have two-pronged questions. First, in the light of some reports that says some of the snipers that the former regime used to pick up people from the streets, they were trained in the ATA programs – that is, the Antiterrorism Assistance program – that’s happened between Tunisia and the United States. Can you, please, tell us whether that’s true or not? And if so, if they really were trained here in the States, will the United States help bring them to justice?
Second question: Don’t you think that having Mr. Qadhafi and his sons in Tripoli running the show that any talk about human rights will be nonsense? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: On the Tunisian question, I have not heard those reports. If you want to bring them to our attention, I’m glad to look at it. I’m not aware of those allegations and so I just can’t respond to that.
On the Libyan question, we’ve been – for as long as these reports have been written, 35 years, we’ve been commenting on the systematic violation of human rights by Colonel Qadhafi and his government. We share the concern that the human rights situation both contributed to the demise of law and order in Libya. It caused people to take to the streets and now he’s reacted, as he’s predictably going to do, violently and extremely. We’re very concerned about the human rights situation in the country. We’re concerned about the humanitarian consequences. We are urging and hoping that other senior leaders of the government, like Musa Kusa, will decide to abandon ship and recognize that this is a failed government and needs to be – and Libyans need to do better. They can do better.
This is a very tough moment for Libyans. But the human rights – it’s one of the consequences of 42 years of denial of human rights, and we’re now hoping that some combination of what NATO’s doing and various diplomatic efforts in the West, but also in the Arab world, are going to help us move to a better place.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yildiz Yazicoglu, Turkish correspondent for T24. I would like to ask about, of course, Turkey. I know report covered 2010, but recently also about press freedom in Turkey increase the negative trends – show us negative trends. So could you comment for us about on Turkey, especially human rights perspective, also include press of freedom?
Also, another – on the other hand, there is a – there will be election June – next June. Do you have any concern about Turkish democracy on the negative trends like that? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure. On the – first of all, on the issue of journalists and press freedom, you’re right; the report covers 2010. But we know that in the first several months of this year, there have been some arrests of Turkish journalists, and I was asked about it this morning in the briefing and those are issues – those cases we’ve raised with Turkish authorities. It’s a mixed record, honestly, on Turkey, and the report reflects that for 2010. Another thing we’re following very closely is the anti – the new antiterror law, which was adopted last year, begin to be implemented. There’s some reform elements of that that were encouraged by the release of young people, for example, from detention, but also some reasons for concern.
On the elections, yeah, we are pleased at the overall progression of democracy in Turkey over the last 10 or 15 years. But it is important that everybody, both there and globally, stay the course and make sure that that positive momentum is sustained. So we will be watching and observing that closely.
MODERATOR: We’re going to go to New York. New York, go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Kristin Jones with the South China Morning Post. On China, the report for 2010 mentions a negative trend in human rights. Can you say a little bit about what has happened in 2011? Have you seen a further deterioration, and how so?
And then secondly, 2010 was a year in which you had a human rights dialogue with China. Can you talk a little bit about what results, if any, you saw in that dialogue and what expectations you have for the continuation of that dialogue?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah. First of all, since the beginning of this year, we’ve seen a range of negative trends: dozens of Chinese activists have been criminally detained, some of China’s top public interest lawyers have been detained, some leading human rights lawyers, like Gao Zhisheng, have been – now disappeared. He’s been disappeared since April of last year. We still continue to raise the case of Liu Xiaobo – 11-year sentence despite the fact that his, essentially, only crime was authoring Charter ’08, and a case that, again, symbolizes what we are most concerned about.
Some family members are being threatened, including his wife, who is under virtual house arrest. There have been a range of other criminalization of online speech, a recent arrest of a blogger named Ran Yunfei in March. So there is a pattern here – journalists, academics, artists, lawyers – and it continues.
We did have a human rights dialogue last May. We’re about to have another one. I was in China twice last year for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and again in October. It’s a tough conversation, and we will continue to have it. It’s an essential part of our relationship with China. We have other important economic and political interests that are on the table, there’s no doubt. But these issues are making our conversation more difficult.
Kurt Campbell, who is the Assistant Secretary for Asia – East Asia – is in China right now. He raised these very same issues yesterday with the Chinese foreign minister and with other senior officials in three separate meetings. Ambassador Huntsman earlier this week gave an extensive speech on this subject in Shanghai. The Secretary spoke about it this morning. We’re concerned, and we will continue to raise those concerns publicly and privately.
QUESTION: Martha Avila from RCN TV, Colombia. I want to know about Colombia, positive and negative aspect, please.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Secretary Clinton, this morning, identified Colombia as a place where we see some important progress. The Santos government elected last year has had, I think, a much more open dialogue with the NGO community, with human rights activists. There’s a new fiscal general who is addressing some of the cases of past violations, which is important. President Santos was here yesterday, met with President Clinton and – I mean, President Obama and talked about a range of labor law reforms, which I think are also a positive sign.
On the negative side or on the challenging side, there is still the broad issue of impunity for the past, huge number of cases, and the question of how to resolve that – not easy. There are still some violent episodes that need to be addressed. I’d say also the ongoing challenges for the Afro Colombian community, for the indigenous community, are longstanding, sort of social human rights problems that need to be addressed. When I was there in the spring, I spent some time visiting with people in those communities.
So it’s a mixed picture, but I would say we’re certainly hopeful. The spirit of and the attitude of the Santos administration has certainly been these are issues that need to be addressed, and we feel we’re making progress on a number of really important fronts.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott with Globovision Venezuela. This report mentioned kind of harassment, government harassment, against the media, private media owners, journalists in Venezuela, but also in Argentina. I would like to know, do you consider this as a trend in the region, or how? And what to expect, because it is more like recommendations or so? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I don’t know that I would call it a trend. I certainly would say, with respect to Venezuela, that President Chavez has been increasingly aggressive in challenging the media in particular, but also human rights organizations, as well as political opponents. He is narrowing the space for both daily debate about issues but also for political – real political discourse.
There are other examples in the region of conflict where there’s a debate about press freedom, but I think, again, maybe because I’m looking at the rest of the world, I would say there are many, many countries in Latin America where there’s a quite lively, open press, and it strikes me that those countries far outnumber the situation in Venezuela. So I’m actually quite hopeful that there’s a lot of positive things going on in Latin America and it’s a quite open political environment, including an open press.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Raghubir Goyal, India Globe & Asia Today. Good to see you again. My – just one clarification from this morning at the State Department and a second question I have. Clarification is that have you heard anything from this report as far as India is concerned, since all those in the reports are one of the states in India and Chief Minister Modi and his state-only mention*, whether he had any – or through the Indian Government.
And second, Aung San Suu Kyi – sorry – if you heard anything from her and --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: From?
QUESTION: -- as far as Burma.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Oh.
QUESTION: Aung San Suu Kyi. Right. And finally, my question is – major question: The report doesn’t talk about – much about Malaysia, because there were – minorities are under attack in Malaysia, especially – almost 2 million Indians out of that 1.6 million Hindus. They had demonstrations, peaceful demonstrations, on the streets, more than 50,000 to 100,000 people. But there were torturers, killed, and put under arrest and now their visas and passports were revoked.
Now, my – what I’m saying is that there is a association here in Malaysia, Hindu American Foundation, they had a function again yesterday, also on Malaysia, that they are under attack and they are trying to meet somebody at the State Department or a religious freedom group here.
My question is that – how much are you concerned about the minorities under attack in Malaysia, especially the Hindu minority communities there? Temples are demolished, and they are torturing and killed on a regular basis. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Let me take each of the three questions. On India, I think what I said earlier and what I would say again is that, first of all, we recognize the importance of a – India being the largest and very vital democracy. It’s a government at a national level that, I think, has done a lot of things that we are very supportive of. As you rightly say, at a local level, there are a range of challenges, and I think the report speaks to a number of those. I’m not going to elaborate on that.
With respect to Burma, we have great concerns. Aung San Suu Kyi is now free, but it’s a limited freedom, and she doesn’t, certainly, have the ability or her party to operate in any sense in a way that allows her to really oppose what the government’s doing. That’s a concern, but also the continued detention of over 2,000 political prisoners is something we continually raise, will continue to raise. We now have a new parliament in place, but it’s – it is not clear that that’s going to make any difference in terms of opening up the space.
With Malaysia, the report goes into great detail, including about these issues of minority communities. We also are following the trial of Ibrahim. But we are – I think it’s one of many countries where we are trying to – as I said at the outset, there are a range of challenges in the world that are tied to ethnic, religious, racial differences. Some of those issues that you describe in Malaysia are part of a broader global pattern, where what’s really important is that countries and societies figure out how to reconcile those differences and still maintain commitment to human rights and democracy. Obviously, it’s a struggle in every society, by the way, including our own, going back to the question of what – how are we doing. But it’s an important piece of trying to get peace and stability in the world.
QUESTION: Kitty Wang with NTDTV. My question is: According to a recent report by CECC, that the Chinese Communist Party is leading a three-year campaign from year 2000 to year 2012 against the Falun Gong practitioners in China. I’m wondering if you noticed that and anything you want to do to help the situation there?
And also, you talk about the journalist, their freedom, and do you – also concerned about the human rights abuses by the Chinese embassies and the consulate here in United States? Because a lot of journalists, foreign journalists, they have difficulty to get the visa to go to do the reporting in China. And the – also Chinese descendents in United States, they have difficulty to get their passport renewed or even confiscated by the embassy.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: On the first question, I – on the Falun Gong, there’s no question that a number of the – those affiliated with the Falun Gong have been subjected to detention. The reeducation through labor camps are full of people that have affiliation with Falun Gong. There are a range of concerns we have about religious – minority religious communities as well, the Tibetan community, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang autonomous region, and those concerns have not diminished. In some respects, they’ve been amplified.
I’m not really familiar with the local relations with the embassies here and visas and all that, so I can’t really – I can’t speak to that.
MODERATOR: No. Behind you. Did you still have a question?
QUESTION: Yes. Cindemir Mehmeit, Turkish TV, Haberturk. I know you said mixed record, but if you were to rate, how would you rate the freedom of press in Turkey?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: You’re – this is back to Turkey?
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: You’re asking about Turkey again?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We don’t rate. We just don’t do that. The – one of the advantages of this report is it’s got lots and lots of detail, and we force everybody to go read the reports themselves. We don’t do lists, we don’t have a top ten list or a bottom ten list. Let the facts speak for themselves. We have a fidelity to the truth, and we hold every government to the same standard. And it’s for everybody to go the website of the State Department and download the reports, and then you can make your own judgment as to how it rates.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Kimseng. I’m from Voice of America Khmer Service. I understand that you went to Cambodia in the month of April. And just about one week after you left the country, the main opposition leader was sentenced to jail, hup to 12 years. So what do you think the message that the Cambodian Government sent to the U.S.?
And also concerning the NGO law that is a concern among international community, do you think this going to affect the U.S. international aid to Cambodia? Thank you, sir.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I was there actually in December. I was there the December 10th or 15th, exactly as the government was about to announce the draft NGO law. And that was really the focus of my trip. I raised concerns with the ministry – minister of interior and with others in the government. My deputy, Dan Baer, was out there in February. We raised concerns again. Those concerns are being raised again at a higher level, as the new law has been redrafted and republished but has many of the same fundamental problems.
It is, to me, in some ways emblematic of this trend that I talked about, where governments are not happy with their critics, and so they decide to make it difficult or impossible for them to operate. The law makes it very hard for NGOs to register, especially small ones, and I think it does not do a service to the Government of Cambodia to keep pursuing this law. We’re raising concerns. A number of the European governments have now, through the EU, raised concerns, and a range of Cambodian and international NGOs have raised concerns.
On the trial you talked about, we have also – and the report is quite expansive on this – raised concerns about the lack of political space for the opposition, the fact that the criminal justice system is not as independent as it could be, and the fact that the government, again, is not comfortable with dissent, whether it’s political opposition or the human rights types. So these are concerns for us. How it’s going to affect the relationship, I can’t give you specifics, but I can say that we are very, very focused right now in particular on this NGO law.
MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Cyndi Waite with TV Asahi. You mentioned this morning in the briefing that the situation in North Korea is incredibly grim. Can you talk a little bit about what some of the goals are for the next year, or how we are planning to kind of make some progress there and improve that situation for the next report?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We have, as you know, an Ambassador Bob King, a special expert who deals only with the issue of North Korea and human rights. He has a long experience on Capitol Hill, and he could probably give you a more fulsome answer then I’m going to give.
I think it’s, frankly, one of the hardest, most frustrating places in the world for us. We have very little influence, we have very little contact. It’s a very closed society. It’s a government that has gone out of its way to isolate its own people from the rest of the world. By almost any standard that you want to apply – free speech, access to the internet, freedom of the press, political participation – you name it, the government has basically shut it down. And that’s been true for a long time. It’s a very, very effective strategy to isolate the North Korean people from the rest of the world. And we are, obviously, trying in whatever ways we can to encourage an opening. But again, we do not do it from a position of strength, in the sense that we don’t have a very full relationship with that government because of a whole range of other problems, including the nuclear issue.
So we will continue to try, and I’m sure that there are many people in North Korea who would like to live in a different place. But it’s going to take some time.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you all very much for joining us. I’ll be sure to get out the briefing transcript to you all as soon as possible. Thanks.