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Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks on the Occasion of Receiving the International Rescue Committee Freedom Award
New York, New York, November 10, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you so much, John. Members of the Board, colleagues and friends, I am very glad to be with you this evening, and very honored to receive this award. Let me add to what others have said in praising Mrs. Ogata, whose work with UNHCR we all admire so much. Let me recognize your board member and my colleague Dick Holbrooke, whose work with both our organizations has shown why he is one of America's premier diplomats. And let me add that we are privileged as well to have Leo Cherne, one of IRC's founders, here tonight.

Coming from this organization, the Freedom Award has deep significance, for no one has a more profound understanding of the meaning and the costs of freedom than the International Rescue Committee.

For the majority of this century, you have provided safe haven, sustenance and shelter to the enemies of repression and the victims of intolerance, conflict and disaster. Whether opposing Fascists in the Thirties or the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in the Nineties, you have countered brute force with moral force. For every new need, you have found a new approach. Always, you have stayed true to your founding principles. And year after year, you have meant the difference between death and life for thousands of dissidents, displaced persons and refugees.

Freedom has no better friend than the International Rescue Committee.

When I addressed this dinner five years ago, I said that the IRC's core beliefs in liberty and human dignity were being tested by the turbulence of the post-Cold War world. Much has changed since, but that fundamental test remains -- whether we can develop an international system that brings nations closer together around basic principles of political and economic freedom, the rule of law and a commitment to peace.

Today, this test is being played out in every region on every continent. It is no coincidence that in the areas of greatest stress, the United States and the IRC are working side by side.

In Bosnia, the IRC saved countless lives during the war, and now is playing a vital role in securing the peace. Whenever I visit that country, I meet people who would not have survived without your help in the past, and who count on your aid now as they build for the future.

The IRC has also been on the frontlines in Kosovo, where your prompt response to the flight of hundreds of thousands saved many from death. That response sent a broader message as well. The international community will not stand by and allow Serb President Milosevic to terrorize his people with impunity. We cannot stop every outrage, but neither will we abandon innocent civilians who need our help.

Conditions in Kosovo are much-improved as a result of NATO's threat to use force to stop further repression. Most refugees have found their way to shelter or back home. But the security situation remains perilous.

Our goal is a negotiated settlement that will secure the legitimate rights of all the people of Kosovo. We are under no illusions about how difficult that task will be. But we must not stand aside -- and I am thankful that the IRC stands with us in representing America there.

Just about a year ago, I had another chance to see the IRC in action -- in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp near the Afghan border.

As a human being, I was profoundly moved by what I saw there. As a woman, I was outraged at how the people of Afghanistan, especially women and girls, have been victimized in their country's bitter civil war. And as an American, I was proud of the programs we sponsor, such as the IRC school I visited, that help Afghan women find their voices -- and expand their options.

Perhaps nowhere today is the IRC's work more necessary, or more difficult, than in Africa. You are meeting the most fundamental needs to keep hundreds of thousands of refugees alive, and doing what it takes to help them return home. But you have watched in dismay this year as countries which had made progress towards stability slipped back into conflict.

Humanitarian programs, though vital, are no substitute for the political will to build peace. That is the responsibility of the region's leaders. The United States is encouraging those leaders to make the right choices; and we will support those who choose to put the needs of their people first -- by seeking an honorable end to conflict and a new beginning based on democracy and human rights.

In Africa, as elsewhere, diplomacy and humanitarian operations must reinforce each other. We work to prevent emergencies from arising in the first place, to help refugees survive, and to speed their return.

But, when dangers are great and other options are few, America must also be willing to keep its door open to refugees, as it did in the past for many of us. Refugee admissions are not a numbers game, or a contest. They are part of maintaining America's global leadership. And they are an affirmation of what is best about our nation.

I am proud that the Clinton Administration has substantially increased the number of refugees from the most desperate places around the world that we admit each year. We have maintained our commitments to refugees from the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia, but they now comprise less than 40 percent of the total number of refugees we admit, allowing us to look elsewhere for those in the greatest need. And this year, for the first time ever, we were able to stretch our funding to admit 2,000 more refugees than the 75,000 for which we had originally been funded by Congress.

That could not happen without the work of the IRC and other organizations to resettle refugees in this country -- and to make sure that new arrivals are greeted with open arms and an open heart. For that, every American owes you a debt of gratitude.

Each of the IRC projects I have mentioned deserves a speech of its own. This audience, however, does not deserve to have to listen to all of them. So I will focus my remarks on a single challenge that fuels the larger problem of conflict -- which in turn transforms so many people into refugees.

That challenge is posed by the uncontrolled flow of arms, ammunition and explosives into tense areas of the world. It is a tragic truth of our times that in many places where it is impossible to find a wholesome meal or a warm bed, it is easy to find a gun or a grenade. In many countries, children come to believe that the road to respect comes not through the schoolbook, but the sidearm; not through responsible behavior, but through a rifle slung over the shoulder.

The world is awash in cheap and deadly arms. The result of this is greater risk that minor incidents will produce not only bloody noses, but dead bodies, and that regional arms races will feed cycles of escalating conflict.

For example, in Albania, chaos resulted when armory doors were thrown open last year and weapons spread like a rampaging disease throughout the country. The surge in crime, vigilante justice and outright warfare brought Albania to the brink of collapse. A year later, those weapons are still making their presence felt.

There is no simple solution to the arms supply problem. The culprit is not the legitimate international trade in arms, nor the sale of individual weapons to sportsmen, collectors, businesspeople and homeowners.

The problem is the unregulated and illegitimate sale of large quantities of weapons, often via middlemen, to places unknown, for purposes unasked, to end-users whose identities are not investigated. It is a trade carried out by profiteers, abetted by corruption, creating a bottomless armory for rogue militias, criminal empires and bands of thugs.

This is a market that is bullish on death and bearish on the building blocks of a decent life. Consider that the warring parties in Afghanistan recently spent $200 million on weapons over a three year period. For the same money, they could have built 400 rural hospitals to give health care to families who have never had it; or educated 200,000 Afghan young people from kindergarten through high school.

In Angola over the past four years, enough money has been spent on bullets to kill every man, woman and child ten times. But somehow, no one can find the resources to provide food for the young or medicine for the ill.

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, fighting fueled by $90 million in small arms has not only diverted resources from developmental needs; it has created new demands for economic reconstruction and basic human subsistence that have already cost more than $2 billion.

Of course, small arms are not the root cause of conflict in these and other regions. We cannot ease every tension or prevent every fight. But we can help make bad situations better by doing more to ensure that arms do not fall into the wrong hands. We can help governments that want help to keep dangerous weapons off their streets. And we can make it harder for the forces of extremism and hate to get the weapons they need to carry out their destructive designs.

That is why the Clinton Administration has taken significant steps to strengthen controls over the export and re-export of small arms. I have directed the State Department to increase scrutiny of export licenses to make sure that the named end users are the real end users.

We have tightened our laws to prevent Americans from facilitating arms deals abroad that would be illegal at home. Our Customs Service has beefed up efforts to catch unlawful arms shipments. And Attorney General Reno has stepped up prosecutions of traffickers caught smuggling arms into Mexico.

The United States maintains one of the world's most stringent regimes to control the sale of small arms. But our record is far from perfect. And we cannot protect our own borders, or track our own sales, without partners.

In consequence, we are working with others to establish a set of "best practices" to regulate such transfers around the world. The first step requires making illegal the transactions we want to stop.

In too many countries today, it is legal to re-export arms. It is legal to sell arms without knowing who the end-user might be. And it is legal for arms brokers to promote third-country deals that are illegal under national law.

That is why last year we negotiated a convention at the Organization of American States that criminalizes the unregulated manufacture and sale of firearms and related materials.

The convention requires that every member nation establish a system to license and track firearms sales. And it requires that firearms be marked, so that they can be traced from one end of the hemisphere to the other.

We are working now to make those safeguards global, by negotiating a similar agreement at the UN Crime Commission. I believe we can accomplish that goal by the year 2000. But it will take a firm push -- and I hope that I can count on your support.

We are also pressing to conclude an agreement to control the export of shoulder-fired missiles, which too many terrorist groups, criminal syndicates and narco-trafficking organizations possess.

We have learned from bitter experience that these weapons, which will fit in a ski bag, are very difficult to control once sold. They turn civilian airliners and humanitarian relief flights into easy targets. In recent weeks, our negotiations have made good progress -- and there is reason to hope that, within the next year, we can achieve results that will make the skies safer for relief flights and the world safer for everyone.

We have also proposed specific steps to curb the flow of weapons to Central Africa, where the easy availability of small arms is fueling a tragedy of vast proportions. We have urged nations to share information on arms shipments and proposed a voluntary moratorium on all arms sales that could fuel conflicts in the region.

And in the coming year, we will be working with others to create an African center for technical assistance and training, with the goal of building stronger law enforcement networks to fight uncontrolled trafficking in small arms on that continent.

Taken together, these initiatives will give teeth to the international rules that already exist, and create new and stronger tools to address a problem that threatens us all.

We care about halting the unregulated flow of arms to troubled regions because it is right and because it is smart. We all benefit when conflicts are prevented, tensions are kept under control and people are allowed to live their lives in security and peace.

The United States is proud to back such efforts, to support the UNHCR and Mrs. Ogata in their work, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with an organization as dedicated and effective as the IRC.

Earlier today, I had an opportunity to participate in a ceremony, in which 86 people from 31 countries were sworn in as new citizens of the United States. Many of them were people who came to America because it was not possible to find freedom or security from repression in their own lands. The ceremony had special meaning for me, because tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of my own arrival here.

As I looked around the courtroom, at faces that were Albanian, Chinese, Cuban, Salvadoran, Ethiopian, Haitian, Iranian, Nigerian, Vietnamese and so many more, I thought about America's continued magnetism. I thought, as well, how remarkable a thing it is that, at ceremony's end, each of these faces, no matter what its origin, belonged to an American.

And I realized again how important it is that we meet our responsibility to maintain America's role as a beacon of hope and inspiration to the world. And that maintaining our own liberty is not enough. We have a responsibility, also, to assist the forces of freedom abroad, not passively but actively and concretely, so that more and more people will be able to enjoy the blessings of freedom and security in their own lands.

To this dual mission, I pledge my own best efforts and that of the Department of State. And I know that we will have strong, courageous and steadfast support from the IRC.

Thank you once again for honoring me tonight. And God bless you all.

[End of Document]

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