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Laura Bush Vows to Continue Human Rights Efforts

U.S. first lady Laura Bush says she'll continue her advocacy for human rights after she and President Bush leave the White House in January. Mrs. Bush spoke at a private New York-based group, the Council on Foreign Relations, on the 60th anniversary Wednesday of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The declaration guarantees the rights to freedom from torture, slavery, poverty and other forms of oppression.

In her speech, the first lady emphasized her commitment to women's rights, particularly in Burma and Afghanistan.

"I've met thousands of women from many nations, and I've seen that women everywhere have the same dreams. They want to be educated, they want to raise their children in peace, they want to enjoy good health, to be prosperous, and to be heard," Mrs. Bush said. "In Afghanistan, women are working to overcome years of oppression to secure these basic rights."

Mrs. Bush visited a female police cadet training center during a surprise trip to Afghanistan in June. Later, she spoke out against the militants who threw acid on girls walking to school. Ten Taliban members were arrested in the attack that severely burned several girls.

"Most people in Afghanistan want to live their lives free from the Taliban, and Afghans will need our support, and the support of the international community, probably for years, as they rebuild their country," she said.

As for Burma, Mrs. Bush said she focused on the country because its military regime has denied the people almost every promise in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"For decades, Burma's military regime has crushed peaceful dissent and carried out violent campaigns against ethnic populations. Children are conscripted as soldiers and families are forced to perform life-threatening labor. Human trafficking is pervasive and rape is used as a weapon of war," Mrs. Bush told the audience.

The first lady announced an additional $5 million in relief for victims of Cyclone Nargis. In May, the storm devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region, where much of Burma's food is grown. So far this year, the U.S. has contributed $75 million.

"That we flew in to Burma - the junta did allow us to fly the big cargo planes, about 100 flights of cargo planes into Burma. And the rest of this money goes to programs to help refugees in the camps," Mrs. Bush explained. "It's very difficult to help people within Burma without attracting the attention of the government."

Mrs. Bush has said she will continue her human rights advocacy when her husband leaves office in January. Some critics, who have accused the Bush administration of human rights violations in its conduct in the war on terrorism, question whether Mrs. Bush is the best one to speak out on human rights.

At the Council on Foreign Relations event, the first lady took a few friendly questions, and none raised that issue.