Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a policy speech Monday, said the Obama administration will pursue a "pragmatic and agile" policy in support of human rights around the world. She called the pursuit of a nuclear accord with Iran while supporting pro-democracy activists in that county a "balancing act."
Clinton's speech at Washington's Georgetown University was the most detailed message on the administration's policy on human rights to date. She promised efforts to advance human rights around the world that are "smart, strategic, determined and long-term."
Clinton said the Obama administration's commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding all nations accountable to those standards -- including the United States.
In that regard, she noted President Obama's executive orders on his second day in office barring the use of torture by any U.S. official and mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility.
Stressing the need for flexibility to maximize results, Clinton said public criticism is sometimes the best approach in cases like the June coup in Honduras and violence against protestors in Guinea.
But she said tough and candid negotiations, behind closed doors, are more likely to advance human rights in countries like China and Russia where the United States has a complex agenda.
"In China, we call for protection of rights of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, for the rights to express oneself and worship freely, for civil society and religious organizations to advocate their positions within a framework of the rule of law. And we believe strongly that those who advocate peacefully for reform within the constitution, such as the Charter 2008 signatories, should not be prosecuted. With Russia, we deplore the murders of journalists and activists, and support the courageous individuals who advocate at great peril for democracy."
The Secretary said the assumption that the United States must either pursue human rights or national interests in dealings with the two powers is wrong, as is the assumption that only coercion and isolation are effective tools for advancing democratic change.
She said that with Iran, the Obama administration has offered to negotiate directly with Tehran on its nuclear program, while the same time expressing solidarity with those inside Iran struggling for democratic change.
In a question and answer session with students after her address, Clinton acknowledged that the approach to Iran is a "balancing act" -- trying to assure that U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement does not undermine the legitimacy of the protests themselves.
"This is one of those very good examples of a hard call. After the election and the reaction that began almost immediately by people who felt the election was invalid, it put us in a position of seriously considering what is the best way we can support those who are putting their lives on the line by going into the streets. We wanted to convey clear support. But we didn't want the attention shifted from the legitimate concerns to the United States because we had nothing to do with spontaneous reaction that grew up in response to the behavior of the Iranian government."
Clinton stressed the administration's emphasis on combating human trafficking and other rights abuses largely affecting women. She noted her August visit to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the scene of what she called horrific gender and sexual violence against women displaced by the conflict there.
She also said the administration has elevated in its human rights agenda the issue of persecuting gays and lesbians, citing vigorous U.S. opposition to proposed legislation in Uganda that not only would criminalize homosexual acts, but also would impose the death penalty for them.