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December 04, 2013

Rice: US Faces Tough Choices in Upholding Human Rights Principles, National Security

by Dan Robinson

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice says the United States remains firmly committed to defending human rights, although it sometimes faces "painful dilemmas" and "tough choices" in situations across the globe.

Addressing a conference sponsored by the advocacy group Human Rights First, Rice said President Barack Obama has always been clear that advancing the principles of democracy and respect for human rights is central to U.S. foreign policy.

She said the United States stands for the rights of women, the LGBT community, and minorities, defends freedom of worship, assembly and a free press, as well as champions open government and civil society.

At the same time, Rice said the U.S. sometimes faces what she called "painful dilemmas" when the need to defend national security interests clashes with "the fundamental commitment to democracy and human rights."

"Let's be honest. At times, as a result, we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear," said Rice. "We make tough choices. When rights are violated we continue to advocate for their protection, but we cannot and I will not pretend that some short-term trade-offs do not exist."

Rice listed successes, including working through the United Nations to halt violence in Cote d'Ivoire, helping to remove the M23 militia from the battlefield in Congo, and working for progress toward inclusive democracy in Burma.

She said the United States "called to account" some of the world's worst human rights abusers, including governments in Iran, Syria, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Sudan.

Even as the world tests the potential of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue, she said another key test is whether there will be progress on human rights.

"We call on the government of Iran to allow the U.N. Special Rapporteur to visit the country. Our sanctions on Iran's human rights abuses will continue, and so will our support for the fundamental rights of all Iranians. The Iranian people deserve the same right to express themselves online and through social media as their leaders enjoy," said Rice.

Rice noted modest economic reforms in Cuba, but condemned arrests of human rights activists. She renewed a call for the release of Alan Gross, the American sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba after being convicted of crimes against the state in 2011.

Rice also said the U.S. continues to speaks clearly and consistently with China about what she called shortsighted restrictions on freedoms there.

"When people in China cannot hold public officials to account for corruption, environmental abuses, worker and consumer safety, or public health crises, problems that effect China as well as the world go unaddressed. When courts imprison political dissidents who merely urge respect for China's own laws, no one in China, including Americans doing business there, can feel secure," she said.

In Russia, Rice said the U.S. "deplores selective justice and the prosecution of those who protest the corruption and cronyism that is sapping Russia's economic future," and does not remain silent about... the Russian government's systematic efforts to curtail the actions of Russian civil society, to stigmatize the LGBT community, to coerce neighbors like Ukraine who seek closer integration with Europe, or to stifle human rights in the North Caucasus."

Rice said the U.S. has a stake in promoting inclusive politics in Egypt to avoid driving opponents into the arms of extremist groups.

"We have spoken out about the deleterious impact the new demonstrations law and its heavy-handed enforcement [are] having on freedom of assembly in Egypt. We will continue to urge non-violence and progress on Egypt's roadmap toward an inclusive and stable democracy," she said.

Rice urged the lifting of restrictions on civil society in Bahrain. She said the U.S. rejects incitement and violence in the West Bank against Israelis, while rejecting settler violence against Palestinians and "daily humiliations" she said must end "for a culture of peace to take root."