Archive for December 1, 2010

What Hillary Clinton said in Astana, Kazakhstan yesterday

I’m thankful for one blogger who put the script of a town hall meeting with Hillary Clinton in her blog. That way I could read about what is happening a mile from where I live in Astana, Kazakhstan.  We are in the middle of a HUGE summit meeting drawing more than 55 representatives of many countries. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, happens to be one of those people representing the U.S.  Most of my friends and family know that I have never been a fan of Hillary’s. However, after reading this text, Hillary said many things that were obviously diplomatic, measured and informed about Kazakhstan.  I was particularly interested in how she answered the questions to a crowd of about 600 in the audience about human trafficking and also about blogging freedom.  (Naturally the latter would be on my mind because I’ve been a blogger inside of Kazakhstan since fall of 2007.)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started out with general remarks but she highlighted about human trafficking which I had expected her to do.  She had said something about this very difficult issue in Thailand several weeks ago. If you want to read just a portion of the script, here is what she said:

I also would like to commend the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law for its work toward developing the National Human Rights Action Plan and recognize the role that that Evgenyi Zhovtis, a leading human rights activist, played in drafting this important document.

And I would like to salute Galina Morozova, who has devoted herself in the past 12 years to fight against human trafficking. She has sheltered hundreds of women. She has made herself vulnerable, because in the face of death threats she has fought for tougher sentences for traffickers. And she has worked with the government and with law enforcement agencies to change their attitudes and to help them understand that human trafficking is the modern form of human slavery.

There are so many people who have worked hand in hand to advance democracy and human rights. And I particularly was pleased to see some of the women who are on the front lines of change in Kazakhstan, some of whom I met in 1997, some of whom I have seen in other settings, but all of whom I greatly respect.

But I also want to commend the Government of Kazakhstan, because this government has made more progress than any other in the region and has committed itself to continuing that progress. Civil society groups help hold governments accountable, but governments have to be responsive. So I’d like to thank Adil Soz, the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, for its vital role as a media watchdog, because the OSCE commitments include the right of all citizens to know and act upon their rights. And it takes both brave journalists and independent local monitors to fight violations of press freedom.

Then Hillary answered the question of a woman whose husband was a journalist and is in prison in Kazakhstan (I presume). Read the text for yourself of how Hillary answered that woman’s query. But the following is how Hillary felt about blogging freedom specifically, but also the freedom of the press generally with this answer:

“So it’s a question we’re all going to have to deal with going forward, because it’s a wonderful means of communication. I mean, we can sit here in Astana and have a conversation with somebody in New York, and we can punch a button or move your mouse and get information about anything that you’re interested in. So it’s a great gift to human knowledge and communications. But just as we found in the past, where what you said could be harmful, we have to come up with the right kind of framework.

But we also have to be very careful that governments don’t overreact. Governments could say, “Well, now it’s even worse if you say something bad about us because it’s not just talking to a small group in an auditorium. You can tell everybody in the country, so we’re going to have to throw you in jail.” A lot of governments are throwing bloggers in jail because they get on the internet and they say, “Our leaders are corrupt, or our leaders are dishonest, or our leaders did this, that or the other thing,” and for expressing that opinion they go to jail. So that’s an overreaction, and we cannot permit that.

So somewhere, we’ve got to support that freedom of expression, whether it’s from an individual or from a journalist, but there also have to be some rules of – or some sense of responsibility that has to be inculcated. So that’s what we’re all struggling with, because this is a new phenomenon. This is something that, 10 years ago, we didn’t deal with even. So I think your question is a very important one, and human rights activists, as well as governments, are going to have to come together to understand how best to deal with this. “(Applause.)

The moderator of this event wanted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give a stamp of approval on the progress Kazakhstan has made and if you read to the very end, you will see Hillary clearly dances around giving a huge endorsement.  She admitted there is much work for Kazakhstan to do in the next 10-20 years but there has been remarkable achievements made in the last 20 years.  So it was an upbeat, hopeful message and I can only imagine that the crowd responded favorably to her. [Now, if only Hillary would care more about all those U.S. babies whose lives have been snuffed out even before they freely breathed American air, then I might be a Hillary supporter. But that’s a whole ‘nother “human rights issue.”]

For now, Hillary was careful to say what she can honestly report to her foreign audience in Astana, Kazakhstan and others who were in the group.  I hope at this two day conference more will be dialogued about how to free up those men and women who are slaves right now in Central Asia, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Kyrgyz, even Kazakhs themselves from the rural areas.  Both women abused and used in sex trafficking and men hired as “slaves” to build all the grand buildings need protection. These vulnerable people need aid and shelter for the crimes committed against them.  Hillary mentioned that she admired Nelson Mandela greatly.  He had three men who were white, over the course of his 27 years of imprisonment, who had treated him with dignity and respect as a human though they were his jailers.  That is what needs to be given to the women who are trapped in the sex trade and men working for their families back home in other Central Asian countries and paid next to nothing on the construction sites in Kazakhstan.

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