Diplomacy and development have been major administration priorities as illustrated by the State Department’s first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) intended to provide the short-, medium-, and long-term blueprint for our diplomatic and development efforts.

On December 14, 2009, Secretary Clinton gave democracy its due in a lecture at Georgetown University which stressed the parallels between democracy promotion and human rights:

Our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a realist, and the first step is to see human rights in a broad context…people must be free from oppression or tyranny, from torture, from discrimination, from the fear of leaders who will imprison…them. But they must also be free from the oppression of want – want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact…That is why supporting democracy and fostering development are cornerstones of our 21st century human rights agenda.

When reading this speech, however, a fundamental question comes to mind: Now that the administration acknowledges that “democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality” when will the administration ante up and actually promote democracy and human rights?

So far the administration’s record has been one of inaction:

  1. During the United States’ reset phase with Russia, Hillary Clinton failed to acknowledge Russia’s lack freedom in the media including murders of prominent journalists, the fact that there are still Russian troops stationed in Georgia, and the countless atrocities committed against civilians Chechnya.
  2. When it comes to Darfur, President Obama’s tune has flattened from when he was candidate Obama. Out on the campaign trail he stood side by side human rights activists pledging tougher sanctions and a possible no-fly zone if a Sudanese regime infamous for genocide didn’t shape up. As president, Obama appointed a Scott Gration as special envoy to Darfur, who has suggested that “cookies” and “gold stars” be used to persuade the genocide prone government.
  3. Last February, when Secretary Clinton visit Asia and was asked about human rights abuses in China, she responded, human rights issues “cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.”
  4. In June, Obama was unnervingly slow to officially question the results of the fraudulent Iranian elections or even condemn the brutal suppression of opposition protestors.
  5. Despite finding time to meet with Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Vladimir Putin Obama snubbed the Dalai Lama during his visit in October (who was awarded a human rights prize at the U.S. Capitol). Apparently he did not want to offend China, one of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers.

President Obama won plaudits during the campaign from human rights advocates for his strong positions on a variety of human rights issues. Since he has been in office, his actions have failed to live up to his campaign rhetoric. It’s time for the administration to put up or shut up on human rights.