They were reading textbooks intently in the stairwell of Gaston Hall before the event, and proofreading their essays as they waited to be let out of the Hall afterwards, but despite being in the heat of finals season, Georgetown students had packed Gaston Hall by 11:15 a.m. to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak about the Obama Administration’s Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century at noon.
“[It's] one of those quasi-legitimate reasons for taking a break,” Clinton told the audience of students, faculty, administrators, and press.
Before she began her remarks, Clinton praised Georgetown for the thought and research its members contribute to the subjects of human rights, interreligious dialogue, and international relations.
“Thank you for training the next generation of civil rights advocates,” she said, adding that she was grateful that all students, even those who were not focused on these issues, “leave this university with [an appreciation for them] imbued in their hearts and minds.”
Above her, the IHS symbol for Jesus, which caused a stir among some Catholics when University officials covered it up when President Barack Obama spoke in April, was uncovered. (“The State Department agreed to use our standard backdrop for this address,” Director of Media Relations Andy Pino wrote in an e-mail).
Clinton was introduced by the International Relations Club’s Jasdeep Singh (SFS ’10) (or “Jas,” if you’re the Secretary) and University President John DeGioia, who called Clinton “a champion of human dignity and human worth both here and abroad … especially of women and children.”
And she spoke with an emphasis on the rights of women throughout the speech.
Clinton said that President Barack Obama’s plan of action for human rights going forward consisted of four strategies: accountability, principled pragmatism, partnering with organizations working to achieve the same goals, and focusing on countries experiencing a wide range of human rights challenges.
She noted that her address would not be a “checklist or scorecard” of human rights violators.
Under the first element of the agenda, Clinton said the United States would be working to hold everyone accountable for human rights in their countries. In order to “reinforce our moral authority,” she said, the U.S. will lead by example by way of reporting figures for human trafficking that occur within its borders for the first time.
Clinton said that while holding other accountable could entail public denunciations of a country’s leaders, “other times our negotiations would take place behind closed doors,” such as with China and Russia.
The second element, “principled pragmatism,” also applies to China and Russia especially, she said. The administration can deplore the murders of Russian journalists and violation of minority rights in China, but “the assumption that we must either pursue democratic rights or [national strategy] is wrong.”
The third element involved partnering with and supporting groups like NGOs which share U.S. goals, and the fourth involved highlighting success stories and rejecting the notion that some situations cannot be remedied.
Clinton closed by saying that basic needs and political and other rights are highly intertwined.
“When a person is too hungry to work or vote or worship, she is denied the life she deserves … Freedom doesn’t come in half-measures,” she said.
She encouraged Georgetown students to produce ideas and analysis on how to expand human rights.
“It is the work America signed up to do,” she said.
Carol Lancaster, the Interim Dean of the School of Foreign Service, invited three questions from students “because so many of you have abandoned your final papers” to hear Clinton speak.
Students asked about how the U.S. can protect LGBT rights in Uganda, where there is pending legislation to make homosexuality an offense punishable by death, and to balance support for Iranian protesters while pursuing a security strategy.
Clinton said the U.S. had expressed its concerns about the anti-LGBT legislation directly and indirectly, and that Iran was “a good example of a hard call.”
In that case, they “didn’t want attention to be shifted from the legitimate concerns to the United States” by speaking out too vehemently she said.
Finally, a student asked about the role of artists in the campaign for human rights, to which Clinton said, “artists are one of the most effective tools we have” for promoting human rights.
Photo by Helen Burton