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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Human Rights Awards


Remarks
William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
April 21, 2011

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Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the accomplishments of four human rights champions. This Administration, and particularly Secretary Clinton, have made advancing human rights one of our top national security priorities. The events unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa remind us of the universal aspirations of women and men across the globe to live in dignity, to find freedom and opportunity, and to shape their own destinies. They remind us that stability is not a static phenomenon, that political systems and leaderships that fail to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people become more brittle, not more stable. And they remind us of the enduring significance of fundamental human rights for American interests around the world, and for what we stand for as a people and as a country.

The leaders we honor today have shown by example how to uphold the basic freedoms that are under threat in so many parts the world.

First, the “Damas de Blanco” or the “Ladies in White” of Cuba. Damas de Blanco distinguishes itself not only by the depth of its commitment to the release of political prisoners, but by the full measure of its bravery in defense of human rights in Cuba. The Damas helped create the conditions that led to the release of the political prisoners arrested during the “Black Spring” crackdown of 2003. With much of the battle for human rights in Cuba forced underground, the Damas de Blanco kept marching. And they keep on providing a poignant weekly reminder of the day-to-day repression that Cubans face. We stand alongside the Damas de Blanco in calling for the release of all remaining political prisoners; we are pleased to have Julia Nunez with us today to accept the Human Rights Defenders Award on behalf of Damas de Blanco.

In her remarks two weeks ago on the release of the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Secretary Clinton noted, “Here at the State Department, human rights is a priority 365 days a year.” State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service Officers as well as Foreign Service Nationals tirelessly work to support the freedoms we all cherish.

Today, I am honored to highlight the work of colleagues who have made a real difference around the globe in promoting human rights issues. Ambassador Steve Beecroft’s advocacy for human rights in Jordan, including for women and children, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities, is a superb example of the determination and commitment of our colleagues in diplomatic missions around the world.

As his nomination by the Bureau of Near East Affairs makes clear: “Ambassador Beecroft’s clear vision, brilliant strategy, and tireless advocacy have resulted in the country re-engaging across the board on a broad range of human rights issues, with progress on both individual cases and systemic reform. He saw opportunities for progress even when the environment seemed barren, and nurtured them patiently to fruition using personal diplomacy, public engagement, and targeted assistance programs for government and civil society. ”

It is not only our Ambassadors who promote human rights. We honor today two officers serving in two different parts of the world who have demonstrated integrity and innovation in their work to protect and defend universal freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and freedom of religion. They are Holly Lindquist Thomas of the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and Christian Marchant of U.S. Embassy Hanoi.

Holly has made a critical difference in the lives of individuals and their families in Uzbekistan. She made key contributions in persistent approaches to the Government of Uzbekistan that led to the release of businessman and opposition leader Sanjar Umarov. Holly’s surveys around the country, on the issue of child labor during the cotton harvest, provided first-hand information on the underlying causes of this phenomenon and the true conditions of children.

In Vietnam, Christian has been a persuasive advocate for Vietnam’s beleaguered dissident community, serving as a conduit for imprisoned dissidents, their families and the outside world, and working to ensure that the bilateral Human Rights dialogue produces concrete results. In one case, literally on the courthouse steps, Christian’s intercession prevented a political activist from being beaten.

We congratulate all four of you. You richly deserve these awards. In recognizing your service, we also honor the human rights defenders and civil society activists who are doing hard work every day in every part of the world to turn the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into reality. Thank you.



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