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Clinton: U.S. Human Rights Agenda Based On 'Principled Pragmatism'

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Human rights in a broad context."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Human rights in a broad context."

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says President Barack Obama will continue to pursue the American goal of universal human rights using what she called "principled pragmatism."

"Our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a human reality. And the first step is to see human rights in a broad context," Clinton said.

"Of course, people must be free from the oppression of tyranny, from torture, from discrimination, from the fear of leaders who will imprison or disappear them. But they also must be free from the oppression of want -- want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact."

In a speech December 14 at Georgetown University in Washington, Clinton said the Obama philosophy will be most evident in how the United States regards what it sees as human rights problems in China and Russia.

The White House has been criticized by some human rights groups, and even by some of its allies in Congress, for being too lenient toward China.

In particular, critics seized on Obama's decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama before the president attended an important trade meeting in Beijing.

Clinton said the United States has to use a nuanced approach on human rights with China and Russia because both are important partners on nonproliferation issues and in the global economic recovery.

"Principled pragmatism informs our approach on human rights with all countries, but particularly with key countries like China and Russia," she said. "Cooperation with each of those is critical to the health of the global economy and the nonproliferation agenda we seek, also to managing security issues like North Korea and Iran, and addressing global problems like climate change."

'Candid Discussions'

Clinton promised that the United States will continue to engage in what she called "candid discussions" with Beijing and Moscow about their human rights records.

She said Washington will continue to urge China to acknowledge the rights of Tibetan and Uyghurs, and to push for freedom of religion and expression.

In Russia, Clinton said, the United States continues to ask leaders about the murders of political activists and journalists that have gone unpunished.

But that doesn't mean U.S. policy is not to work with governments who violate their citizens' human rights. Clinton said the White House will continue to pursue "issues of mutual interest" with such nations and said she disagreed with those who believe fighting for human rights and pursuing national self-interest are mutually exclusive.

She said Washington will continue to explore what she called "innovative" ways to do both.

'Best Political System'

More generally, Clinton said, the Obama administration will not let up in its support for democracy around the world because it is the most efficient way to promote human rights.

"We stand for democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to enjoy the consistent protection of the rights that are naturally theirs," she said, "whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran.

"Democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality over the long term."

But she stressed that democracy alone can't ensure human rights, and that democracies can't last if their governments, no matter how democratic, can't offer their people security and a stable way of life.

Democratic governments that can't deliver these necessities fall quickly, Clinton said, while those that provide them can flourish.

"Human rights, democracy, and development are not three separate goals with three separate agendas. That view doesn't reflect the reality we face," Clinton said. "To make a real and long-term difference in people's lives, we have to tackle all three simultaneously with a commitment that is smart, strategic, determined, and long-term."

Championing human rights around the world is not easy, Clinton said, but added that the United States will never stop doing so.

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