Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some dismayed at Obama indecision on human rights

Posted on Tuesday, 02.10.09
Some dismayed at Obama indecision on human rights
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is refusing to participate in
United Nations reviews of the human rights records of several major
countries, angering activists and others who fear the president may be
backing down on campaign pledges to make the issue a priority.

U.S. diplomats in Geneva have remained silent in discussions now ongoing
at the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is reviewing the records of 16
nations, including Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Those four countries
have repeatedly been cited in the past by U.S. presidential
administrations for human rights abuses.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is preparing for a major trip
this weekend that will stop in two Asian nations - China and Indonesia -
that also have checkered pasts on human rights issues and are part of
the U.N. review.

The State Department said Tuesday that U.S. officials are sitting in on
the Geneva meetings and taking notes but made clear that they were not
participating in the discussions that began last week with a review of
Russia's record and continued this week with China.

Political leaders and activists say they are troubled that the Obama
administration is not participating in the U.N. human rights review.

"I was shocked and disappointed to learn that for the last week, the
U.S. delegation has been silent," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., one of
Capitol Hill's leading human rights advocates. "How can America be
saying nothing about four of the worst offenders of human rights and
religious freedom in the world?"

"This administration made a pledge to place human rights at the top of
its agenda," Wolf said, adding that he would write to Clinton to urge
her to take a strong stand on matter, particularly when she visits
Beijing next week. "The administration is off to the wrong start on
making human rights a priority."

State Department spokesman Robert Wood stressed that human rights
remains a top priority, but he noted that the administration is still
considering how to deal with the council, which was shunned by the U.S.
when President George W. Bush was in office. Bush officials said the
council coddled alleged rights abusers like Sudan while focusing on
criticism of Israel.

"We've been very concerned about the operation of the Human Rights
Council, and we want to take a look and see how we may engage with the
Human Rights Council," Wood told reporters. "But this is all part of the
review, and as soon as we have completed that review we will certainly
make clear what our policies are."

"Certainly, I can understand many people want to see us enunciate our
policies very early on," he added. "But it does take time."

Wolf and others pointed out that President Barack Obama and his foreign
policy team were aware of the meetings even before they took office last

Such indecision even in the administration's early days is troubling,
they say.

"We are deeply dismayed," said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch.
She added that American silence, "particularly after all the Obama
rhetoric in support of human rights, sends all the wrong messages."

Richardson's group, other advocacy organizations and Wolf are all
appealing to Clinton to take a strong stand on human rights on her Asia

"On this trip, human rights is going to be an important issue," Wood
said. "The secretary will raise the issue when appropriate, where she
thinks she can have the most effect. You can count on that."

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