In the world of U.S. foreign policy, it has been a big week for human rights. In Oslo, President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize saying, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.” And on Monday, Secretary Clinton delivered a strong affirmation of the United States’ dedication to “making human rights a human reality,” using the complementary pillars of human rights, democracy, and development.
The Secretary’s speech shed light on several ways in which the United States is advancing the “human rights agenda for the 21st century.”
Engaging for results— Secretary Clinton made it clear that the United States is not engaging bi-laterally and multilaterally with the sole aim of “making nice.” Even in our most difficult relationships, engagement is a way to demonstrate our willingness to make progress and gain a better understanding of the incentives and pressures that affect our negotiating partners’ positions.
Strength and success based on truth and fact— Our commitment to human rights is universal, as is our commitment to truth and accountability. This means not only critiquing the shortcomings of others, but doing so with the confidence that we are holding ourselves to the same standards. A commitment to truth also means that U.S. policy, like our democracy programs, is founded on facts and experience, not conjecture or ideology. Our lessons from the past inform our understanding of the linkages between democracy, development, and human rights.
Leveraging two track efforts— The United States is engaging both governments and civil society. We have challenging relations with some governments, but we share common cause and purpose with all people. As we pursue full scale diplomacy in our bilateral relationships, we know that support for civil society organizations is crucial to long-term progress.
Global scope, global partners— Our human rights efforts will be focused and strategic. But, a universal commitment should not apply in selected times and places. So we will devote attention to those places that present the most daunting and discouraging human rights challenges. Meanwhile, we will sustain efforts to secure long-term gains around the world, preventing backsliding where progress has been made.
After the Secretary concluded her formal remarks at Georgetown University on Monday, students were invited to ask questions. A young woman asked about the role of artists in advancing human rights. The Secretary’s answer reminds us of the human potential that drives our commitment:
"[A]rtists can bright to light in a gripping, dramatic way some of the challenges we face… I think that artists both individually and through their works can illustrate better than any speech I can give or any government policy we can promulgate that the spirit that lives within each of us, the right to think and dream and expand our boundaries, is not confined, no matter how hard they try, by any regime anywhere in the world. There is no way that you can deprive people from feeling those stirrings inside their soul. And artists can give voice to that. They can give shape and movement to it. And it is so important in places where people feel forgotten and marginalized and depressed and hopeless to have that glimmer that there is a better future, that there is a better way that they just have to hold onto."