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U.S. Announces New Human Rights Initiatives

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (file photo) (epa) WASHINGTON, December 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today announced three new U.S. initiatives aimed at strengthening the support of human rights and democracy around the world.

They include a list of "10 NGO Principles" that Rice said will help the United States evaluate how foreign governments treat NGOs in their countries. Also, a Freedom Defenders Award will be given annually to a non-U.S. nongovernmental organization (NGO) or an individual defender of human rights.

The third initiative is the creation of a Human Rights Defender's Fund, which will be administered by the State Department. It will start with a balance of $1 million and is designed to provide rapid assistance to NGOs or individual human rights activists who find themselves in emergency situations.

"This fund, to be administered by the State Department, will enable us to quickly disperse small grants to human rights defenders facing extraordinary needs due to government repression," Rice told journalists today. "This funding for example could go to cover legal or medical costs, or short-term support to meet the pressing needs of an activist's family."

Rice praised the work of NGOs and said their work has helped make "historic gains" in the pursuit of freedom around the world.

"In countries all around the world, often at personal risk and against great odds, nongovernmental organizations and other human rights activists advocate for human rights and expose abuses," she said. "They strive to protect the rights of minorities and workers, and women, and to stop the trafficking in human beings. They are building vibrant civil societies, pressing for free and fair elections, and establishing accountable, law-based democracies."

Rice made the announcement to mark the start of International Human Rights Week, on the 58th anniversary of the United Nation's adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

She said that the new initiatives reflect U.S. President George W. Bush's commitment to a foreign policy "rooted in human freedom." Essential to that freedom, she said, is defending the work of NGOs.

Rice said the United States is committed to working with all free and democratic nations to defend defenders of human rights and freedom across the globe.