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Activists encourage President Obama to take a stand for free expression

U.S. policy must support free expression, say activists.
U.S. policy must support free expression, say activists.

via Freedom House

Frontline human rights activists from around the world met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on 18 February to talk about what the U.S. can do to address threats to freedom of association and expression. The meeting was arranged as part of a human rights summit organised by Freedom House and Human Rights First, which included dozens of activists from 27 countries.

The "2010 Washington Human Rights Summit: Affirming Fundamental Freedoms" brought together dissidents, human rights and freedom of expression activists, U.S. policy makers, and others from universities, NGOs and think tanks.

During their meeting with President Obama, about 20 participants shared first-hand accounts of the struggles human rights defenders face and highlighted how U.S. policy has affected their work, reports Freedom House. They offered ideas to improve these policies in order to protect fundamental freedoms. Activists described the increasing repression worldwide and encouraged the President to lead by example in defending fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression.

At the meeting, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS) and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) brought attention to freedom of expression violations in the Arab world. CIHRS described examples of the imprisonment of bloggers and human rights defenders. Activists welcomed the administration's attempts at reaching out to the Muslim world, but noted that this engagement has not significantly improved the human rights situation on the ground, reports Freedom House.

The group urged the President to close down Guantanamo and end the practice of indefinite detention, and emphasised that terrorist suspects be given justice in civilian trials, says ARTICLE 19. "Obama agreed with our comments and highlighted the importance of realigning counter-terrorism efforts with human rights standards and the rule of law. But he also commented that this was a difficult task and a messy process." Members of the President's National Security Council were also present at the meeting.

Days after the meeting, participants released a Plan of Action calling on the U.S. administration to "prioritise support for human rights defenders and independent media through the protection of freedom of expression and association in U.S. foreign policy," reports Freedom House. Recommendations also called for the U.S. to create a strategy to make Internet freedom an international focus, to engage with other countries to counter state efforts to curb freedom of association and expression, and to directly help human rights defenders participate in multilateral and regional human rights mechanisms.


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