Report to Congress “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record – 2006”
Tuesday, April 10,2007 00:00
By P&F

On April 5, 2007 the U.S. Department of State issued its Report to Congress “Supporting Human Rights and democracy: The U.S. Record – 2006.” This report highlights U.S. efforts to promote democratic governance and a culture of respect for human rights around the globe.This is the fifth annual Supporting Human Rights and Democracy Report. It documents the many ways the United States worked worldwide last year to foster respect for human rights and promote democratic government.

Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs said, “We are witnessing a crackdown by some governments on NGOs and other civil society actors. A number of governments have passed or are selectively applying laws against NGOs and civil society groups in an attempt to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. The United States is committed to supporting these courageous men and women and to working with governments and civil society through programs and diplomatic initiatives to secure basic rights.”

The report highlights that in spite of international commitments, we are witnessing a crackdown by some governments on NGOs and other civil society actors. A number of governments have passed or are selectively applying laws against NGOs and civil society groups in an attempt to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. The United States is committed to supporting these courageous men and women and to working with governments and civil society through programs and diplomatic initiatives to secure basic rights.

Here are some of the key U.S. initiatives on Human Rights and Civil Society:

–In Africa supporting initiatives to combat sexual violence and abuse against women and improved the ability of governments to investigate and prosecute these cases.

–In Egypt a U.S.-funded program helped thousands of women obtain national identity and voter registration cards, allowing them to participate fully in the civic and political life of their country for the first time.

–The U.S. is supporting efforts in many countries to prevent trafficking in persons and to help trafficking victims.

–In India and Cambodia, U.S.-funded programs have helped rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate child victims of trafficking.

Assistant Secretary Barry Lowenkron said, “As President Bush has said, what every terrorist fears most is human freedom — societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Our diplomatic strategies and assistance programs in support of human rights and democracy are aimed at doing exactly that: helping men and women across the globe transform their hopes into constructive programs for peaceful change.”

Mr. Lowenkron said three core components of a working democracy must be present if human rights are to be effectively exercised and protected:

First; a free and fair elections process with a level playing field to ensure genuine competition;

Second; good governance with representative, transparent and accountable institutions operating under the rule of law, not the rule by law, including independent legislatures and judiciaries;

And Third, a robust civil society and independent media that can keep government honest, keep citizens engaged and keep reforms on track.

For many countries in Africa, as the case of Sudan and the appalling situation in Darfur so grimly demonstrate, ending violence remains central to improving human rights conditions and advancing governmental reforms.

Mr. Lowenkron emphasized that each individual nation or region needs its own kind of advice and support. “The challenges for human rights and democracy across South, Central and East Asia and the Pacific are as diverse as the countries in that vast expanse,” he said.

Secretary of State Rice announced two important initiatives in December of last year,

–to support human rights and democracy defenders, with a Human Rights Defenders Fund.

–and the formulation of ten guiding NGO principles regarding the treatment by governments of nongovernmental organizations.

The Human Rights Defenders Fund will enable the State Department to disburse quickly small grants to human rights defenders facing extraordinary needs as a result of government repression.

The principles are on the State Department website and have already been translated into Arabic, Chinese, Persian, French, Russian and Spanish.

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