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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Nobel Spotlights Need for Obama to Act on Rights

October 13, 2009

Stand up for Persecuted Human Rights Activists; Shut Guantanamo
Human Rights Watch
October 9, 2009

New York, October 9 -- The award of the 2009
Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama
should encourage him to apply his stated
principles to both foreign and domestic human
rights policy, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Nobel committee awarded the prize for
"extraordinary efforts to strengthen
international diplomacy and cooperation between
peoples,” and Obama said he would accept it "as
an affirmation of American leadership on behalf
of aspirations held by people in all nations."
Human Rights Watch said Obama should now act
decisively to end abuses in US counterterrorism
policy, promote accountability for serious human
rights crimes wherever they occur, and push for
the protection of human rights defenders worldwide.

"As a Nobel laureate, President Obama has a
special responsibility to speak up for activists
jailed and persecuted for promoting human
rights,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of
Human Rights Watch. "The president will honor his
Nobel Prize when he puts a meaningful end to the
debacle at Guantanamo, by trying or releasing all of the prisoners held there.”

Human Rights Watch said Obama should use his
status and celebrity to protect human rights
activists under threat or marginalized, including
Nobel laureates Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama,
and Shirin Ebadi, and other reported candidates
for the prize such as the Chinese dissidents Hu
Jia, Liu Xiaobo, Gao Zhisheng and Chen
Guangcheng, the Egyptian opposition leader Ayman
Nour, and the Russian human rights group Memorial.

Obama, who said the prize "must be shared with
everyone who strives for justice and dignity,"
spoke of "the young woman who marches silently in
the streets on behalf of her right to be heard
even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the
leader imprisoned in her own home because she
refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy.”
The latter was a reference to Aung San Suu Kyi,
the Burmese leader who has been jailed or under
house arrest for almost two decades.

However, Human Rights Watch said Obama -- who was
recently unwilling to meet the Dalai Lama --
should push for a vigorous public discussion of
Tibet during his Beijing visit in November.

Obama should also institute real reforms on
counterterrorism issues, Human Rights Watch said.
The president signaled his clear intention to
repudiate the Bush administration’s abusive
legacy on his second full day in office by
announcing the shutdown of CIA "black sites" and
the planned closure of the military prison at
Guantanamo. But he later backtracked
significantly from his promise of reform by
resurrecting the failed system of military
commissions and suggesting that his
administration would continue to hold some prisoners in preventive detention.

Human Rights Watch said Obama should end the
practice of arbitrary detention by abolishing
Guantanamo. Simply moving the prisoners from Cuba
to the United States, as his administration has
signaled it may do, will not solve the problem, but rather give it a new name.

US counterterrorism abuses had been a boon to
terrorist recruiters and a key irritant in
relations between the United States and the
Muslim world, Human Rights Watch said. By
eliminating these abuses -- and bringing to
justice those responsible for such abuses --
Obama’s reforms would lessen the likelihood of future conflict.

The Obama administration has strongly defended
the principles of international justice as
applied to Congo, Kenya, and Sudan, but changed
its position when the UN Goldstone report urged
investigation of Israel and Hamas for possible
war crimes. Human Rights Watch urged Obama to
apply those principles to all parties, regardless
of whether they are US allies or not.

"Justice is a critical component for lasting
peace, because impunity for perpetrators of
serious crimes fuels further violence,” Roth
said. “President Obama should use his leadership
to press for justice for all victims of human
rights abuses, wherever they live."

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on US foreign policy, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/united-states/us-foreign-policy
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