President Obama’s Leadership with International Human Rights (Part 6 of 8)

preventing mass atrocitiesPart six of our eight part series focuses on preventing mass atrocities as well as multilateral efforts to prevent human rights efforts. These issues will be worth watching over the course of the next 12 months, maybe even 24 months, as many international issues progress. These issues and situations include the Thailand protests, the Ukraine protests, the situation in South Sudan, as well as increased violence and upheaval in Bangladesh and Cambodia. These situations may require UN intervention or US diplomacy, so President Obama’s leadership with foreign policy will be watched as he finishes his second term.

Preventing Mass Atrocities

President Obama announced in 2012 a comprehensive Administration strategy to prevent atrocities, underscoring that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” The U.S. government is working to implement that strategy and investing in prevention efforts within the U.S. government and around the world. As part of this strategy, President Obama established an Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and prioritize atrocity prevention efforts within the U.S. government. Through the Board, U.S. departments and agencies are identifying and helping address atrocity threats and developing new policies and tools to enhance the capacity of the United States to effectively prevent and respond to atrocities.

Improving our own capacities

Agencies are using early warning tools to ensure timely attention to potential drivers of atrocity risk and share our analysis with other governments; assisting U.S. embassies by providing surges of skills and expertise to help assess and respond to atrocity threats; and developing and implementing new training for personnel serving in countries at high risk.

Multilateral institutions and peacekeeping capabilities

The U.S. government is working closely with other governments to help build the capacity of the United Nations and other institutions to better protect civilians, mediate conflicts, and take other effective preventive measures.

Supporting country-specific prevention efforts

The U.S. government is undertaking and supporting preventive measures in countries around the world, including supporting the training and deployment of African Union peacekeepers to the Central African Republic; supporting efforts to prevent violence and protect vulnerable communities in Burma; supporting projects that lay the foundation for accountability for atrocities in Syria; and continuing to advise and assist regional partners as part of a comprehensive effort to mitigate and end the threat posed to civilians and regional stability by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Strengthening Multilateral Human Rights Mechanisms

Leading at the UN Human Rights Council

Since joining the UN Human Rights Council in 2009 and following our re-election in 2012, U.S. leadership has helped muster international action to address human rights violations worldwide and make the HRC more credible and effective. The United States supported the establishment of international commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and help lay the groundwork for accountability, including in Syria, North Korea, and Qadhafi’s Libya. We led the creation of a UN special rapporteur on Iran to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation. U.S. co-sponsorship helped adopt the first-ever resolution in the UN system on the human rights of LGBT persons. We built a global coalition to advance freedom of assembly and association worldwide, including by facilitating the establishment of the first-ever Special Rapporteur for these issues and by underscoring the important role civil society plays in promoting and protecting human rights. And we worked across historical divides to win adoption of a landmark resolution calling on all states to take positive measures to combat intolerance, violence, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, while protecting the freedom of expression.

Related Links:

President Obama’s Leadership Part 1 – LGBT Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 2 – Women’s Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 4 – Civil Society, Open Government, Internet Freedom

President Obama’s Leadership Part 5 – Human Trafficking

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President Obama’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 5 of 8)

human rights issues asiaAfter finishing four parts in this series (links are below), and present the 5th part here, I’ve finally determined that there will be a total of eight parts in this series. Only three more to go, as today’s post discusses the Obama administration’s leadership on human trafficking.

The administration hasn’t done much on the issue, and it would be tough to take action within the next two years among the other issues to be addressed, but it’s great that human trafficking is mentioned as a human rights issue that needs to be addressed. Human trafficking is a gross human rights violation that doesn’t get enough attention, and although it’s associated with many other countries around the world, this problem is also happening here in the United States. A big part of the issue is changing some of the laws, as in some states, trafficking victims are treated like criminals instead of victims. For example, if they are forced into prostitution, then they are more likely to be treated as a criminal for selling sex, instead of as a victim for being a sex slave.

Combating Human Trafficking

Following President Obama’s call to action at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012, and continuing with the first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking in April 2013, a report and recommendations to the President by his Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and a further set of commitments announced this past September, the Administration has been working across the Federal government and with partners in Congress, local, state, and foreign governments and civil society to deliver on an ambitious agenda to combat modern-day slavery, which afflicts far too many communities, both here at home and around the globe.

Improving Victim Services and Building Effective Law Enforcement:

Identifying and serving victims and ensuring effective law enforcement are core elements of our efforts to promote successful anti-trafficking strategies, both at home and abroad.   To better coordinate and strengthen services for victims of human trafficking in the United States, the Administration is developing the first-ever comprehensive federal strategic action plan, which details a series of coordinated actions to strengthen the reach and effectiveness of services provided to victims of human trafficking.  In addition to numerous law enforcement initiatives at federal, state, and local levels, federal agencies have also recently launched a pilot project with ten embassies around the world to increase the flow of actionable trafficking-related law enforcement information from host countries to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States, which will be used to identify victims and human traffickers both in the United States and around the globe.

Shining a Light on Government Responses to Trafficking Around the World

The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) each year sheds light on the global dimensions of the human trafficking problem, including child soldiering, sex trafficking, and forced labor, and on the anti-trafficking efforts of over 180 governments, including the United States.  The honest assessments provided in the TIP Report have proven to be one of our strongest tools to encourage foreign governments to take responsibility for the trafficking occurring within and across their borders and to help target our anti-trafficking foreign assistance. In addition to the information highlighted in the TIP Report, we also engage bilaterally at the highest levels of government on this issue, make targeted use of sanctions, and support foreign governments and stakeholders on a broad array of anti-trafficking initiatives.

Strengthening Protections in Federal Contracting

In September 2012, President Obama signed Executive Order 13627 to strengthen our country’s existing zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking in government contracting, outlining prohibitions on trafficking-related activities that will apply to federal contractors and subcontractors, and providing federal agencies with additional tools to foster compliance.  This past September, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council issued a proposed rule to implement this Executive Order and the Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013.  The Department of Defense has also published a proposed regulatory supplement with additional steps that the Department will take to further prevent trafficking in its own supply chain.

Leveraging Technology

The Administration has been working with partners in civil society and the private sector to find new ways to harness the power of technology to more effectively combat human trafficking.  As one of many such examples, after being brought together by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, leading technology companies have partnered with advocates and survivors to develop new online applications to reach trafficking victims online and on their phones and link them with services in their community.  The National Human Trafficking Resource Center – which, since its launch, has received nearly 90,000 calls and identified close to 12,000 victims – is now operating on a new mobile texting platform to more effectively connect with under-reached victim populations.

Related Links:

President Obama’s Leadership Part 1 – LGBT Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 2 – Women’s Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

President Obama’s Leadership Part 4 – Civil Society, Open Government, Internet Freedom

President Obama’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 4)

human rights issuesToday’s post in our ongoing series covering the Obama administration and their leadership on international human rights specifically looks at civil society, open government and Internet freedoms. It can be argued that the Obama administration has shown more leadership for these specific rights abroad than at home, since Edward Snowden isn’t going to get any support for his work for an open government and that were unsure of what steps will be taken regarding the NSA’s spying of Americans. But, below is an overview of what’s been done so far. It will be interesting to see what can be accomplished in the final two years of the Obama presidency.

Supporting and Defending Civil Society

Stand with Civil Society Agenda

In late September, President Obama initiated an intensive, multilateral effort to support and defend civil society from increasing restrictions and enable civil society organizations (CSOs) to contribute to the economic, social, and political development of their countries.  Working through existing institutions and initiatives including the United Nations, the Open Government Partnership, the Community of Democracies, and Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development, the United States will collaborate with other governments, civil society, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and multilateral organizations to: (1) promote laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinate multilateral, diplomatic pressure to roll back restrictions being imposed on civil society; and (3) identify new and innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to civil society.

Real Help in Real Time for Threatened CSOs

The United States is partnering with 18 other governments and foundations through the Lifeline: Embattled CSOs Assistance Fund to offer emergency financial assistance when civic groups are threatened.  Since its founding in 2011, Lifeline has assisted 255 civil society organizations in 69 countries to increase their safety.

Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders

In 2013 alone, the United States invested $500 million to strengthen the work of CSOs across development sectors, with a particular focus on developing the next generation of civil society leaders.  Through the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative and recently-launched Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, the United States is enhancing the capacity, leadership skills, and connections between young leaders committed to building strong democratic institutions and working with government to address common challenges.

Open Government Partnership

The United States is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership  (OGP), a global effort to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, harness new technologies, and transform the way governments serve and engage with their citizens.  In just over 24 months, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has grown from eight to over 60 countries, which have embraced the key principles of open government – promoting transparency, fighting corruption, and energizing civic engagement through new technologies and approaches to strengthen the democratic foundations of our own countries.  The United States has worked both domestically and internationally to ensure global support for Open Government principles.  We have made important progress to improve the ability of citizens to obtain access to government records, released government data that fuels entrepreneurship and innovation, and increased government spending transparency.

Internet Freedom

With over 120 million in Internet freedom grants since 2008, the United States has made Internet freedom a central program and foreign policy priority.  Programs focus on supporting the development of technology tools to assist activists in highly repressive environments; advocacy programs; training and rapid response to keep activists from harm or advocate for them if in danger; and applied research to help develop strategic responses to Internet repression.  The United States helped to organize the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-regional group of 21 governments that collaborate on Internet freedom. The U.S. and the Freedom Online Coalition worked to pass, by unanimous consensus, a landmark 2012 resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.  The United States has also continued to support a free and open Internet and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, where all interested parties — industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments — participate on an equal footing.

Related Links:

Obama on Human Rights Part 1 – Advancing LGBT Rights

Obama on Human Rights Part 2 – Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women

Obama on Human Rights Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

Obama Administration’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 3)

armed drones and lethal force

Source: The Guardian

“Advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy.  It is what our history and our values demand, but it’s also profoundly in our interests.  That is why the United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere.  We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities.  We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press.” – Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013

Ambassador Rice outlines great concepts and values. The US has made excellent progress with the LGBT community and with women’s rights, but hasn’t done so well with national security and human rights. The third part in these series focuses on those issues, and the Obama administration has a lot more leading that it needs to do with this aspect of human rights. Guantanamo Bay is still open, with Shaker Aamer still held indefinitely, and with a continuing hunger strike. It may take time to close it, but more can be done to improve conditions and to get people like Shaker Aamer out of there.

Although the administration phrases it as “standards for taking legal action,” it’s really a euphemism for unmanned drones and lethal force. Even though the proper officials may be briefed on every single strike, there isn’t any explanation or investigation into drone strikes gone awry, such as the one that killed Mamana Bibi. President Obama is the only president with a hit list and people should not be killed without trial or due process. We’ll let you read the rest below to understand what the administration has to say.

National Security and Human Rights

Closing Guantanamo

President Obama remains determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and erase this blemish on our international credibility.  At the President’s direction, the Departments of State and Defense have brought on new envoys dedicated to this cause, and in August we completed the first successful detainee transfers that were certified under the restrictions that Congress began enacting in 2011.  We are committed to transferring as many detainees as possible under these restrictive provisions, consistent with our security and humane treatment standards, and we expect to be able to announce other transfers in the near future.  We have also begun the periodic review process to carefully evaluate whether the continued detention of certain detainees remains necessary.  As we continue to press to responsibly reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and ultimately close the facility, we have urged to remove the unnecessary, onerous restrictions that have hampered our efforts to do so.

Standards for Taking Lethal Action

Earlier this year, during his comprehensive address at the National Defense University, President Obama announced that he had approved written policy standards and procedures  that formalize and strengthen the Administration’s rigorous process for reviewing and approving operations to capture or employ lethal force against terrorist targets outside the United States and outside areas of active hostilities.  In that speech the President explained that, beyond the Afghan war theater, the United States only takes strikes against terrorists who pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to the American people, where capture is not feasible, and where there is near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.  Congress is briefed on every strike taken as part of these operations, and we are committed to sharing as much information about these activities as possible with the American people and the international community, consistent with our national security needs.  Over time, continued progress against al Qa’ida and associated terrorist groups should reduce the need for such actions.

Intelligence Gathering

In August, President Obama directed a review of the scope of our surveillance capabilities.  Intelligence saves lives—American lives and those of our partners and allies.  While we are committed to continuing to collect such information to meet our critical security needs, we remain mindful of the unprecedented power that technology affords us, and give full consideration to the values of privacy, government transparency, and accountability that we strongly support.

Obama Administration’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 2)

VAWAIn continuing with our series evaluating the Obama administration’s leadership on international human rights, today we are covering of gender equality and women’s empowerment. One policy action to note is the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, which the US says it will lead over the next year. The purpose of this call-to-action is to address gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters, so it’s critical to see how the US leads in light of situations like Typhoon Haiyan and others happening around the world.

Other than that, the Obama administration has done it’s share of work on gender equality. The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized, while the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law. Hopefully, by the end of Obama’s turn, the United States could ratify the International Violence Against Women Act too.

“People everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people — and not the other way around. The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world.  That was our founding purpose.” – President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012

Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls at Home and Abroad

Promoting Women’s Rights at Home

Within months of taking office, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls with the explicit mandate to ensure that every agency, department, and office in the federal government takes into account the unique needs and experiences of women and girls. The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to promote equality; enhance women’s economic security; and ensure that women have the opportunities they deserve at every stage of their lives. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women get the pay they have earned.  In addition, the Affordable Care Act includes more preventive services and additional protections for women.  The Department of Defense announced plans to remove gender-based barriers to combat service and fully integrate women into all occupational specialties.   From signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – which provides better tools to law enforcement to reduce domestic and sexual violence and broadens protections to even more groups of women – to extending overtime and minimum-wage protections to home care workers (90 percent of whom are women), President Obama and his Administration are making deep and lasting investments in America’s future by protecting the human rights of women and girls, and helping them reach their full potential.

Advancing Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment

The Equal Futures Partnership is an innovative U.S.-led multilateral initiative designed to encourage member countries to empower women economically and politically.  Equal Futures partner countries commit to taking actions including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to ensure women fully participate in public life at the local, regional, and national levels, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth.  The partnership complements U.S. government signature programs in these areas, including efforts to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship through the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy initiative, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative.

Empowering Women as Equal Partners in Preventing Conflict and Building Peace

President Obama issued an Executive Order directing the development of the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was released in December 2011 and focused on strengthening women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.  The U.S. government is taking concrete steps to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate efforts to advance women’s participation in peace negotiations, peace-building, conflict prevention, and decision-making institutions; protect women from gender-based violence; and ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and insecurity.

Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence

The United States released the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, and President Obama signed an accompanying Executive Order directing all relevant agencies to increase coordination on gender-based violence globally; enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention and response efforts; and enhance or expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence.  Over the next year, the United States, joined by partners, will lead the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, with the goal of improving the capacity of the humanitarian assistance system to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters and to ensure such efforts are routinely prioritized as a life-saving intervention along with other vital humanitarian assistance.

Obama Administration Leadership on International Human Rights (Part I)

President Barack ObamaEarlier this month, Ambassador Susan Rice delivered an address regarding the Obama administration’s leadership on international human rights. In this speech, Rice specifically criticized the human rights records of Russia and China while also highlighting what the US has to improve international human rights.

“We support these rights and freedoms with a wide range of tools, because history shows that nations that respect the rights of all their citizens are more just, more prosperous and more secure.” – Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013

Over the course of the final two weeks of the 2013, we’re going to cover in a series of blog posts what the Obama administration has worked on, and hasn’t worked on, during its tenure in the Oval Office. The administration has done well on some issues, while others could use much more work. Today, we’re covering LGBT rights in the US and around the world. This is an issue where the presidency has made great progress, but not every issue will show as much progress and attention.

Advancing LGBT Rights at Home and Abroad

Domestically Advancing LGBT Equality:

In his first term, President Obama and his Administration took significant steps toward equality for the LGBT community. The President signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that included important new protections for the LGBT community.  The Obama Administration also issued important guidance to ensure visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones at hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments, implemented the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in federally funded housing programs.  Finally, the President also ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and has directed his Department of Justice to work with other departments and agencies to ensure the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor is swiftly implemented, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations.

International Initiatives to Advance LGBT Rights and Nondiscrimination

In December 2011, President Obama signed the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, requiring that federal agencies work together to meet common goals in support of the human rights of LGBT persons globally.  Consistent with these goals, the United States assists activists and individuals under threat around the world through public statements, quiet diplomatic engagement, and targeted programs.  Through the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership, the United States works with government and private sector partners to support programs that combat discriminatory legislation; protect human rights defenders; train LGBT leaders on how to participate more effectively in democratic processes; and increase civil society capacity to document human rights violations.  Additional programs and research focus on protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad

Working with our embassies overseas and civil society on the ground, the United States has developed strategies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct in countries around the world.

Engaging International Organizations in the Fight against LGBT Discrimination

The United States works with our partners to defend the human rights of LGBT persons through the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and in other multilateral fora.  In addition to supporting resolutions specific to LGBT issues, such as cosponsoring the historic June 2011 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons, the United States works to ensure that LGBT persons are included in broader human rights resolutions and statements.

Promoting Action and Coordination

The United States will host in 2014 a global gathering of donors and activists to pursue ways we can work together to strengthen protections for LGBT persons around the world, including by ensuring assistance in this area is strategic and coordinated with our like-minded partners.