This fourth annual edition of Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005-2006 demonstrates that the United States is engaged in supporting indigenous efforts to build democratic institutions that are central to protecting human rights and democratic principles. The advancement of human rights and democracy will enable diverse nations and people to choose governments that are accountable to the governed, that exercise the rule of the law, and that respect human rights.
The annual Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award for exceptional achievement in the field of human rights and democracy recognizes the work by officers of foreign affairs agencies abroad. It is intended to pay tribute to outstanding research and reporting on human rights and democratic developments and, above all, the advancement of strategies and institutions that will deepen respect for human rights and democracy.
Eric Richardson of Embassy Beijing was selected as winner of this year's award for exceptional achievement in the field of human rights and democracy. Mr. Richardson was selected from an impressive group of nine candidates and one country team nominated by their Ambassadors during a year when democracy and human rights issues were often at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.
In the challenging human rights environment of China, Eric succeeded in advancing the human rights agenda. Eric was nominated by his Ambassador for "tracking one of the world's most complicated human rights stories." Eric was instrumental in supporting the tough negotiations that contributed to China's decision to meet long-standing U.S. Government requests for human rights improvements. The negotiations he supported resulted in concrete steps by the Chinese on religious education; opening of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office; visits by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF); and release of a key political prisoner. In addition, he solicited proposals from independent NGOs that led to U.S. Government funding for programs that support AIDS outreach, provision of social services by faith-based NGOs, and work with the disabled. Eric tracked over 50 political prisoner cases and regularly raised them with the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Eric has worked tirelessly to support the human rights components of high-level visits, including arranging visits for the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary.
Choosing the winner of this year's award was a challenge because of the high qualifications of other nominees. All nominees were remarkable for the demonstrated commitment to advancing human rights and democracy in their host countries and all of them deserve the Department's praise and gratitude. The other nominees were:
In Laos, Greg Chapman demonstrated exceptional achievement in human rights and democracy. Through Greg's efforts, several NGOs established projects on rule of law and good governance. On religious liberty issues, Greg met frequently with religious groups to discuss their concerns on religious intolerance. Furthermore, Greg worked exhaustively to find a resolution to the Hmong insurgency.
In Kyrgyzstan, Jennifer Croft was acknowledged for her role in the "dramatic transformation of Kyrgyzstan this year," which included the removal of an increasingly autocratic leader and the first democratic transition of presidential power in the history of Central Asia. Jennifer is a USAID democracy specialist who contributed to post reporting, organized the deployment of 50 Embassy election monitors, coordinated U.S. assistance to support reforms, and encouraged other donors and embassies to support democratic change.
Kathleen Fitzgibbon in Chad was nominated for her "energy, initiative, and will to make a difference, which led to excellence at her post in N'Djamena, Chad." Kathleen worked with human rights NGOs to document abuses, which led to the release of some prisoners. Kathleen was responsible for the "Rights to Know" radio program covering civil and political rights education. In addition, she created a Child Protection Network among government, NGO, and multilateral organization officials.
Richard Michaels in Kuwait was nominated for his success in the fields of democracy and women's rights. Richard led the Embassy's coverage of the Kuwaiti women's suffrage struggle, coordinating reports, enlisting assistance of his Embassy colleagues, and producing weekly cables. Additionally, Richard compiled reports from media and web logs, a growing medium for political expression among Kuwaiti youth.
Patrick Murphy was commended for his "courage, perseverance, and compassion in support of democracy and human rights in Burma." Patrick's investigative and reporting skills bolstered U.S.-led international pressure that has moved the regime to take small, but significant steps: curtailment of some forced labor practices and arrests of local officials for labor violations; ICRC access to the country's prison and labor camps; freeing and sentence reduction for several hundred political prisoners; and establishment of anti-trafficking legislation.
Marc Nordberg, Carson Relitz, Lyle McMillan, Dmitry Semenov, and Alla Vikhnina were nominated as a team for working "in unison to advance the cause of human rights and democracy in Belarus." This team effort toward comprehensive and analytical reporting contributed significantly to developing and strengthening U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis Belarus in the months leading to that country's 2006 presidential election. The team has been proactive in producing press statements on human rights trends and continuously provided support to the country's only independent newspaper.
In Colombia, Kiersten Stiansen was recognized for her "thorough, concise, and objective reporting combined with her superb outreach skills and keen policy instincts." Kiersten's contacts in government, the NGO community, and with the Colombian Armed Forces have ensured that threatened human rights activists received government protection, which in turn saved their lives. Through her keen diplomatic engagement with key government officials, she urged an impartial investigation into the massacre of eight members of a peace community.
Michael Sweeney in Thailand is commended for being "a tireless and deeply committed promoter of universal human rights," and for expanding democracy-related capacity building programs. Michael actively reported on the Tak Bai incident, during which 80 protestors died. Michael's efforts on democracy programs include successfully implementing a Department grant supporting Thais applying for full Thai citizenship, and a program on press freedom. He was also responsible for tireless efforts on behalf of Burmese in Thailand, and reported extensively on opposition groups in Thailand.
Noah Zaring is recognized as a leading expert on human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam. Noah's human rights reporting and analysis contributed directly to a bilateral religious freedom agreement with Vietnam, which President Bush praised as a "landmark" agreement. Noah met tirelessly with government officials, religious leaders, and community activists to discuss these ongoing issues. Further, Noah worked on the release of several high-profile and relatively unknown political and religious prisoners.
Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record is produced by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Just as we have many partners in the work of strengthening human rights and democracy, we have benefited from the contributions of many others to this report. Other bureaus of the State Department and U.S. Embassies abroad, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other U.S. Government agencies come together to advance democracy and human rights in many ways. We hope that this volume captures the totality of what we do as a team to identify and respond to the world's most pressing human rights and democracy needs.
Barry F. Lowenkron
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor