IamA Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, AMA!
I'm Tom Malinowski, the US government lead for global human rights and democracy policy. Yesterday, I gave a talk at Stanford University on why the United States should stand up for human rights around the world. I'll be here @reddit for the next hour to answer as many questions as I can about human rights. Ask me anything!
Here's the speech: http://www.humanrights.gov/dyn/02/handa-center-annual-public-lecture-on-human-rights/
Thanks for joining me and submitting questions. That's all the time I have and I have to run now. But I'll check back in and try to answer what I missed.
My Proof: Picture: http://imgur.com/l60lh3g
For better or worse, that's how the United Nations works -- it's an organization of member countries, some of which respect human rights and some of which don't. But every country has an obligation to respect the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the various human rights treaties that most countries in the world have signed -- treaties that ban torture, that require protection of civilians in war time, that provide for freedom of expression, religion, assembly, etc. Those norms don't change just because a country like Saudi Arabia joins the Human Rights Council. And the US will continue to ask Saudi Arabia to do more to protect the human rights of its people -- for example, by releasing peaceful dissidents and bloggers from prison, and avoiding indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen.
Hello, Mr. Assistant Secretary,
I have a few questions mainly geared around Saudi Arabia. While I understand that they hold a 1/4th of the worlds oil, I'm not sure how we react to their human rights violations and what we are doing to combat them.
1.) Have we condemned SA for their HR violations? If so, how often?
2.) Do we support/oppose/abstain Saudi Arabia's seat on the UN'S HRC?
3.) Do we have an Ambassador to SA? If so, how has he/she actually responded or treated the situation diplomatically?
4.) Where do we draw the line?
I also have 1 or 2 about Israel and Turkey.
1.) Do we lean more towards Turkey or Israel diplomatically? Both are valuable military assets but Turkey has opposed the Kurds and Israel has bombed some people that probably shouldn't of been bombed.
2.) Is Turkey in NATO? Why or why not?
3.) Is Israel in NATO? Why or why not?
I highly appreciate your time and correspondence. Thank you!
On Saudi Arabia -- as I mentioned in another answer, we do speak out publicly about human rights issues there. Here are a couple of recent examples, though certainly not the only ones: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/01/235704.htm, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/01/250934.htm
Our ambassador to Saudi Arabia also regularly raises these issues with the government there.
As for their membership on the UN Human Rights Council -- the way the system works is that each regional grouping of countries at the UN (i.e., the Asian group, the African group, etc.) selects a slate of countries to represent them on such bodies. Saudi Arabia was selected by its regional group, in which we don't get a vote. But we always do what we can to encourage the selection of members that are committed to human rights.
On your other questions: Turkey and Israel are both close and valued allies of the US -- we work together closely on many issues and are committed to their security and well being. But that doesn't mean we always agree on everything. NATO is a security organization that brings together the United States, Canada, and our European allies; Turkey has long been a member, but our allies outside of Europe, like Israel, are not.
Good afternoon Assistant Secretary, I have a question that originated from my time spent studying abroad and conducting research in Uganda this past fall.
I had the pleasure of seeing you speak at Makerere University regarding Youth Involvement and Democracy in Uganda's upcoming election in February. The question that was on lots of peoples minds, which you duly answered was regarding the US' involvement in Uganda: How could the US support both free and fair elections while also providing singular support for Yoweri Museveni's government, which utterly suppresses those values, under the auspices of fighting al-Shabaab. I understand the support the US provides is military in nature and your response was that the US can promote our founding principles (Democracy etc) while still helping fight a terrorist organization with Uganda's military.
My question is this: In a country such as Uganda where the government, the NRM, and the MILITARY are fused into one entity (until the late 90s Museveni wanted the Army to be the country's police), how can the United States ENSURE the skills, equipment, and monetary support we give the Ugandan government/police/UPDF/CMI doesn't trickle down in the very well known, wide spread stifiling of democracy? (e.g. CMI communications intercepts, CT police election violence against Mbabazi/Besigye, etc.) For my research I worked with CMI and CT police and it was clear that much of their success/training was based on US involvement. I also studied the huge human rights violations and political dominance asserted by the Museveni camp.
Apologies for the long winded question, I truly enjoyed listening to you speak. It was extremely evident the heart and dedication you've put into the promotion of democracy across the world and as a rising Senior in college looking into the Foreign Service as a career, you can only be described as a role model! Thank you!
That's a really good question -- and I really loved coming to Makerere when I was in Uganda! I agree that it's really important for us to get this right. We have good reasons for working with the Ugandan military -- for example, supporting Ugandan troops who are serving in peacekeeping missions in places like Somalia or fighting the Lords Resistance Army. That service protects people and saves lives. At the same time, when security forces violate human rights or interfere in the ability of citizens to exercise democratic choice, it hurts everything we are trying to achieve together -- especially on counterterrorism (since without trust between citizens and security forces, effective CT is impossible). One way we try to protect against this is through our Leahy Law, which prohibits US assistance to any unit of a foreign security force or person in that unit if there is credible evidence that the unit or person has engaged in serious human rights abuses. We also try our best to track how equipment we provide is actually used. But as you can imagine, we can't know everything that is happening everywhere all the time. That's why we also depend on civil society organizations all over the world who expose problems like the ones you are concerned about, and who hold their governments -- and the US government -- accountable. That's why we are really focused right now on pushing back against efforts by some governments to restrict the freedom of civil society groups to do their job.
What is your go-to random fact?
That there are three ways to measure the highest mountain in the world. Most people measure from sea level, which gets you Mt. Everest. But the only right way is by distance from the center of the earth, which gives you Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. Which I tried to climb once. And failed. :-(
- measure from sea level
- measure from center of the earth
what's the third method?
Seafloor to peak?
That's Mauna Kea, I believe.
You got it! Base to peak.
What's the most calculated thing you've ever seen an animal do?
Do you fear the perception of the US if some of the 2016 candidates elevate? A lot of our users feel that positions taken on certain religions and ethnic groups paint a negative portrait of the US abroad. Do you see any of tha?
I get asked all over the world about what's happening in the United States, and yes, when political candidates say something that's not consistent with the values we try to project around the world, it reflects on all of us. I explain that we have many voices in the United States, and this is far from the first time in our history when some of them have seemed intemperate or even extreme. Our democratic system has a way of exposing the frustrations and divisions in our country, but then moderating them, and leading us back to a measured consensus, without violence and conflict. Sometimes it isn't pretty. But I actually think that even in such moments, it offers a good model for other countries. In dictatorships, where there is no free press, or right to protest, or free elections, the people who are least empowered are the ordinary, reasonable, moderate people who depend on such freedoms to be heard. The extremists willing to use violence become the only force that can break through.
Do you concern yourself with human rights within the U.S., or only externally?
Human rights - water is one, per the UN. Your statement on Flint?
Democracy: reports of a variety of fraudulent activities in Iowa's caucuses. Your statement?
I only work on international issues -- that is the role of the State Department. But our government, from the president to the domestic agencies responsible for such issues, such as the Justice Department, work on them every day.
That said, these issues come up in my international conversations all the time. The most powerful argument we can make for democracy and human rights abroad is to set a good example at home. When we fall short, as we often have and inevitably will, I hear about it -- and it affects our ability to champion these values elsewhere.
When people in other countries ask me about problems and injustices in the United States -- whether it is cases of excessive police violence or our use of torture after 9/11 -- I acknowledge to them we're not perfect. But I also point out that we have institutions, laws and traditions in the United States that allow our citizens and civil society to expose these problems and demand redress. We don't jail or disappear people who peacefully criticize our government, or shut down websites or newspapers that call us out, and our people can and do change their leaders through peaceful and regular elections when they want a new direction. We don't expect other countries to be perfect either; we simply ask that they afford their citizens these same basic rights.
What do you think is the most important human rights issue today?
As you can imagine that's a hard one for me to answer. There is Syria, of course, given the horrific harm the Assad regime has done to the people of that country, and the impact it is having on the whole world. There is the terrible plight of the people of North Korea. I would never say that any one human rights crisis is more important than others, or that our duty to help people in trouble in one place is somehow smaller than in others.
But if I could mention one thematic issue, it would be corruption. For many people around the world, the human rights abuse they experience most often in their daily lives is a demand for a bribe to get a kid into school, to get justice from the courts, or to get any basic service to which they are entitled. Corruption is part of the core operating software of authoritarian governments, and the reason why many dictators cling to power for so long. But it is also a huge political vulnerability for such governments -- some of them can muster passable justifications for just about anything, from cracking down on dissent to persecuting a minority group (even if their arguments are bad), but no leader in any country or society can justify stealing. For this reason, the Obama administration has made the fight against global corruption a much bigger priority in our foreign policy. We've been pushing for more transparency in the global financial system, so that it's harder for corrupt leaders and their enablers to hide dirty money. We are supporting civil society organizations around the world that are taking advantage of this new transparency to dig up evidence of high level corruption. And our Justice Department has been dedicating more resources to act on such evidence and to prosecute those responsible, when the proceeds of their corruption touch the US financial system.
Good morning, Assistant Secretary! At the end of your speech at Stanford, you quoted the "great philosopher" Billy Joel. :) What's your favorite Billy Joel song?
"We Didn't Start the Fire!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFTLKWw542g
From your experience in Burundi, how do efforts like last year’s UN Human Rights Council resolution requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assess and report on the human rights situation in Burundi actually help people on the ground?
Let me know what you think!
What we really need is to get human rights monitors actually on the ground in Burundi to see what's going on. I just got back from the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa where I pressed the Burundian foreign minister on this. The government of Burundi says that things are getting back to normal there. They say that the recent reports of mass graves, backed by satellite imagery released by Amnesty International, are false. If they really have nothing to hide, they should allow neutral monitors from the UN or the African Union to go in without undue restrictions to report the truth. I think pressure on Burundi will build, including through sanctions, until this and other steps are taken to stop the violence there and begin a real dialogue.
What's something you've experienced that most people never will?
How about getting declared "Persona Non Grata" from a country via Twitter!
What got you started in politics, and who was your biggest inspiration, and why?
I was born in Poland when it was under communism, and though I left as a child the memories of that time, and of what my family experienced, have stayed with me and influenced my choices. When you know what it's like for people to live without basic rights and freedoms, you know how important they are. You know how important politics and participation in politics are when people are kept out of the political arena, no matter how crass and uninspiring politics sometimes can be when we're all allowed in! If you look at my AMA proof photo, you'll see a poster behind me from the first election in Poland, in 1989, when people were allowed to vote freely, and when Solidarity -- the pro democracy movement -- won. Those brave activists were my first inspiration. It's an incredible honor to be able to represent the United States around the world in defense of equally brave folks from Russia to China to Burundi to Burma, fighting for the same chance to have their voice heard.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these Mr Assistant Secretary, I read through your speech and, as often is the case was impressed by the vision and how closely it meets my own hopes, especially your points on human rights where they come into conflict with security concerns, but also saddened by the distance between that vision and reality.
So, in that vein, how do you feel the credibility of the US can be restored internationally after the various fairly shocking revelations (Abu-Ghraib, Guantanamo, Rendition, Surveillance - Snowden) and obviously the actions of certain US allies, we have seen in the last decade and a half?
As a follow up, do you think that the current lack of credibility that the US has in these areas makes it harder generally to deal with human rights abuses by other states? I realise you mention that the US is seen as a focal point for many who are suffering human rights abuses, but obviously the amount the US is willing, able or seen to do varies greatly!
In any case, thank you for your time and your efforts, even with recent setbacks I think the direction the world is heading in, the progress we have seen over the last few decades are all indications that the future is far brighter than even the recent past!
In another answer, I described how I respond to folks who raise legitimate questions about problems inside the United States. In short, our domestic policies matter to our moral authority around the world. But even as we acknowledge shortcomings, we can be proud of how our democratic system allows us to correct them; that is what we promote around the world.
I would add that I've been to a lot of tough places in the last few years, places like Syria and Libya and Burma and Burundi, where people are experiencing tremendous distress. And I've never met anyone who told me: "America could help us, but we don't want you to because you don't have enough moral authority." People know we're not perfect; they want us always to strive to be better; but we are still the country to which everyone turns when they need help.
Here's a speech where I spoke about this whole theme: http://m.state.gov/md225685.htm
Countries such as Burundi and Egypt were supposed to receive human rights training through IMET in 2015 but did not. Recently, security forces in these countries have carried out numerous human rights abuses. Do you think this could have been prevented if forces had received U.S. training?
The most important influence on security forces -- the most essential factor in ensuring that they act lawfully and honorably -- is their own leadership. Their leaders must set the right example and send the right message down to the rank and file, a message that civilians should be protected and that their mission can best be achieved when they win the trust of the people among whom they serve. And when there are serious violations, they need to hold those responsible accountable. When that commitment is there, human rights training from the US can play a very important role in reinforcing the message, and showing security forces concrete ways to achieve their mission while protecting human rights. When the commitment is not there, I'm skeptical that training from the outside can do much good.
Now that Saudi Arabia are a part of the UN Human Rights Council, has the term 'human rights' changed and can draconian dictatorships really be custodians of human rights?
View HistoryShare Link