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Clinton: 2011 a 'Tumultuous' Year for Human Rights

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a news conference at the State Department, Washington, May 24, 2012.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a news conference at the State Department, Washington, May 24, 2012.
STATE DEPARTMENT - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says elections in Egypt and political reforms in Burma show the power of human rights in changing people's lives.

Secretary Clinton says 2011 was an especially tumultuous and momentous year for human rights. "Many of the events that have dominated recent headlines, from the revolutions in the Middle East to reforms in Burma, began with human rights, with the clear call of men and women demanding their universal rights," she stated.

Today in Egypt, Secretary Clinton says those demands are making a difference as voters go to the polls to choose their leaders for the first time.

"Whatever the outcome of the election, the Egyptian people will keep striving to achieve their aspirations. And as they do, we will continue to support them," said Clinton. "We will support people everywhere who seek the same, men and women who want to speak, worship, associate, love the way they choose."

Launching the State Department's annual human-rights report, Secretary Clinton said 21st Century human rights means having the same rights on-line as off. They are not only a question of civil and political liberties, she says, but the fundamental question of whether people everywhere have the chance to make the most of their potential.

"There is a lot of work that remains to be done. In too many places, governments continue to stifle their own people's aspirations. And in some places, like Syria, it is not just an assault on freedom of expression or freedom of association, but an assault on the very lives of citizens," noted Clinton. "The Assad regime's brutality against its own people must and will end because Syrians know they deserve a better future.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner says there were many encouraging developments in 2011; in Zambia and Tunisia there were free elections, in Colombia where he says the government continues to work toward improving justice in human-rights cases, and in Burma.

"Much more needs to be done including releasing all remaining political prisoners, working to end violence against ethnic minorities," said Posner. "But we will continue to encourage that government to keep making progress on those issues in the coming year."

In China, Posner says U.S. officials are closely monitoring what is happening to family members and friends who helped dissident Chen Guangcheng escape house arrest. "In the last several years, there has been a closing of space for human rights lawyers and activists in China. Those are things of concern," he said.

The human-rights report says freedoms of expression, assembly, and association in China have deteriorated with authorities in Beijing resorting to extralegal measures to silence political activists.

Globally, the report says there has been an increase in anti-Semitism and continued persecution of other religious minorities including Ahmadis, Baha’is, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Jews as well as abuse, discrimination, and violence against members of racial and ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.