Meeting with President Obama
I met with President Barack Obama today as a part of the 2010 Washington Human Rights Summit. The meeting was attended by about 20 more human rights activists from different countries as well as by the leadership of the National Security Council (James Jones and senior advisors to the President).
Mr Obama said that he had started his own career as an organizer in poor communities and so he believes that the best change always comes from below. He outlined his view of the US policy in regard of promotion of human rights. He mentioned three points about it:
- US government tries to follow their words and values in their domestic policy including the end of torture, closing Guantanamo base etc.
- US government tries to engage not only with the governments but also with civil societies. When American officials visit other counties, especially the ones with authoritarian governments, they always meet human rights activists, and so do their diplomats;
- they understand human rights more broadly than only freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom of assembly, free and fair elections, and rule of law. They also include economical rights in their scope because if you are starving, you are unprotected.
What I liked about Obama’s way of speaking is his honesty and absolute lack of demagogy. He bluntly stated that human rights is not the only issue that he has to take into account. Security and trade are also important and he can’t help but try to engage the governments in order to achieve result in these spheres. “We make mistakes and we will never achieve the perfect ideal,” he admitted. But he added that the US government needs criticism from human rights defenders so that they get closer that ideal.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect too much practical result from such meetings. You can’t convey much to the President in 20 to 30 minutes. But the very fact of this meeting bears a message that the US government pays attention to the issues of human rights in the world. How their words correspond to their deeds is something that we still have to see.