Clinton vows civil society push on rights

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday vowed to press ahead with support for democracy promotion groups, saying that they play a critical role despite a crackdown in Egypt.

Clinton, addressing US ambassadors from around the world who are back in Washington for a group conference, said that civil society groups are vital to encouraging US goals such as advancing democracy and women’s participation.

“When people feel safe and empowered to pursue their legitimate aspirations, they are more likely to reject extremism and to invest in their own societies,” Clinton said.

Clinton noted that a number of governments, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, are curbing such groups and “challenging the propriety of American support for civil society organizations.”

“I need each of you — and especially those of you operating in restrictive environments — to communicate our commitment to working with and supporting individuals and groups that represent not only what we believe are our values, but universal values: freedoms and human rights,” she told the diplomats.

Egypt’s relations with Washington recently fell into crisis as the longtime US ally’s military-backed authorities charged staff of the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

The groups, which are funded largely by the US government, promote the development of democratic institutions around the world and say that they do not back any particular candidates.

After pressure from Washington, Egypt allowed 13 foreigners from the groups including six Americans to leave the country on March 1 as they prepared for trial.

Clinton recognized that “a lot of countries have legitimate questions” about US support for such groups, especially transitioning democracies.

“I don’t think we can assume anything. We need to be very humble in making our case and to do so effectively and consistently,” Clinton said.


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