|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Roundtable Discussion, Inter-American Institute of Human Rights
San Jose, Costa Rica, May 8, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 9, 1997
U.S. Department of State
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Good afternoon. My name is Juan Mendez and I am the executive director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this house. We recognize and appreciate the presence of the First Lady of Costa Rica, Madam Figueres; Vice President Rebeca Grynspan; Ambassador Sonia Picado, the Costa Rican Ambassador to the United States, who is also vice chair of the board of directors of this Institute and my predecessor as executive director of this institution. We are also very happy to have with us Ambassador Harriett Babbitt, the Ambassador of the United States Mission before the OAS, and Mark Schneider, our good friend, director for Latin America for USAID. We are also privileged to count with the presence of four dear friends and colleagues who have come to Costa Rica for this occasion: Madam Victoria Marina de Aviles, the Human Rights Ombudswoman for El Salvador; Sonia Cansino, also from El Salvador and a specialist on women and citizenship; Patricia Rios Herrera, coordinator of a Nicaraguan network of women and health rights; and Maria Eugenia Mijangos of Guatemala, a women's rights attorney at the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights.
Joining us in this colloquium also will be Ms. Gilda Pacheco, program officer at this Institute for gender-based rights. Madam First Lady, let me express my admiration and that of the whole staff and board of the Institute for your outstanding contributions to the rights of women and children and on universal availability of health care. Contributions with which we have long been familiar and have admired. Madam Secretary of State, we also wish to commend you for your leadership at the United Nations and beyond the United Nations in the effort to pursue peace and settle conflicts by recognizing a significant place for human rights, and particularly for establishing truth and justice in response to atrocities as an integral part to peace-making and peace-building.
This Institute was founded in 1980 as the research and educational arm of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In those years it took upon itself the task of promoting human rights and democracy at a time when most Latin American countries were governed by military dictatorship that also engaged in massive systematic violations of the most basic rights. In time, the Institute assisted our societies in dealing with the traumatic legacies of those abuses in the period that we have generally known as our transitions to democracy.
But right now our region is experiencing a well-deserved and welcome period of constitutional governments. Although the struggle for human rights in our region is far from over, this new context undoubtedly presents us with new challenges, but also offers us great opportunities for human rights work. In most of our countries we suffer from what we call "insufficient democracy", by which we mean that authoritarian attitudes often coexist with elected and representative government. For example, the independence of spontaneous organizations of civil society and their efforts to solve society's problems are not always valued and recognized. Freedom of expression is vigorously exercised, but not always respected for its key role in fostering informed debate in a democratic society, and much less encouraged.
Vast sectors of society are increasingly marginalized. Not only from the economy, but also from participation in the decisions that affect their lives and from obtaining redress from the courts when their rights are violated. Our Institute believes that the principal task confronting our region is the need to make our democracies not only more stable, but also more meaningful in content and inclusive of the underprivileged and the victims of invidious discrimination. We also feel very strongly that what makes a system democratic is that public officials are accountable to the rule of law and to their constituents. In that sense, we strive to make courts more accessible, but also more independent and impartial, so that acts of torture, murder and other abuse committed by members of the armed and security forces do not go unpunished.
The civil societies of our countries have produced some remarkable experiments in accountability as we moved from dictatorship to democracy. We are moving again towards policies that favor truth and justice as well as reconciliation, and that reject oblivion and impunity as the answer to those atrocities. Those Latin American lessons can also be used by the international community in tackling hard problems of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We pursue these objectives at the Institute by a combination of programs and advisory service. We make available to governmental institutions, as well as to independent organizations of civil society, those programs. For example, our Center for Educational Resources prepares materials to teach human rights and values of peace and democracy directed mainly to the elementary-school level. These materials have been incorporated into the official curriculum of some public schools in our region and widely disseminated in the hemisphere.
We think of this as our long-term strategy to foster a culture of tolerance and of peace, since we believe such a culture will ultimately replace our presently insufficient democracies with more meaningful, comprehensive, inclusive democracies. Some of those materials are included in the packages that we have prepared for you. There is a video game that teaches human rights values through high-tech play, a book of children's drawings commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a video that is now permanently in exhibition at the children's museum in San Jose, Costa Rica, and soon will be at a similar museum in Lima, Peru. There is also a CD ROM with international documents in two languages for human rights protection, and the latest issue of our scholarly publication, including articles by Latin American scholars on the promotion of an international criminal court.
Madam First Lady, let me turn the floor to you, and then, after your presentation, we will engage in a discussion. Thank you very much.
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much, Director Mendez. Thank you very much for arranging this opportunity for the Secretary of State and others in our party to meet with you to discuss issues pertaining to human rights. We are obviously at a point in history, particularly in this region, where we can be thankful that the massive human rights violations of the past are at least behind us. That does not mean that we can let up on our vigilance about the importance of human rights or the need to make insufficient democracies sufficient democracies.
Secretary Albright and I particularly wanted to come here to honor the role that the Institute has played in defending human rights at times when that took enormous courage. We know that many of your colleagues put themselves in harm's way when they spoke out against human rights abuses, but we also know that their courage has saved countless lives and hastened the end of repressive regimes. We want to hear about the work you are doing now and particularly how we can make human rights the centerpiece of both domestic and foreign policy in our countries and around the world.
I personally am very much in favor of your initiative to have a permanent war crimes tribunal. I visited the tribunal in Arusha (Tanzania) and received a briefing about the work they are doing there. Much of what they have had to contend with is the necessary start-up problems that you will always confront when you are beginning an enterprise with such importance, trying to get it staffed and putting into place the necessary steps.
We are also interested in hearing about the remaining human rights problems in this region, particularly those that affect women and children. I appreciate your having expertise represented here from around the region on those particular issues. We also would like to know what is being done to address these challenges. I am particularly concerned about any limits that are placed -- either by law or by practice or by repression -- on women's political participation.
Today I think it is fair to say that this Institute remains a leader in defending basic human rights. I appreciate greatly the way in which you are expanding the definition of your work to include the commitment that many of us made in Beijing to the proposition that women's rights are human rights as well. We know that democracy, insufficient or otherwise, is not sustained by free and fair elections alone. It depends on the internalization of values, on the change of attitudes, on the commitment of people to live a democratic life. The questions and concerns that we bring to this table are not unique to Central America, but you have led the way in addressing those concerns and we hope that you will share the lessons that you have learned with us.
Finally, I want to close by just recognizing what may be obvious to all of you, and that is that the presence of the United States Secretary of State at a meeting such as this sends, I hope, a very strong statement, as it is intended to send. Secretary Albright is here in two capacities; as an individual who cares deeply about human rights and who has spent a great part of her career advocating and articulating that concern, and as a representative of the United States Government, where we are working to make human rights and, in particular, women's rights more of a central piece of our foreign policy. I am delighted to be here and look forward to hearing from all of you. Thank you.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Thank you very much, Madame First Lady, for those kind words. We'll open up the discussion and I will try and make sure that everybody has a chance to participate. I will also reserve the last part for a presentation by Madame Secretary of State, if that is OK with you. Let me start with Gilda Pacheco.
MS. GILDA PACHECO (IIHR): Thank you and welcome to all of you. In January of 1991 the Gender and Human Rights Program was established, thanks to the support and vision of Dr. Sonia Picado, who at the time was executive director of the Institute. Currently it provides advising, technical assistance, and training to organizations of civil society and to other human rights groups that work to eliminate gender inequalities in the theory and practice of human rights. This program coordinates with other branches of the institution to include this perspective in their work.
To achieve this it has been necessary to create new concepts and methods that provide the basis for a broader interpretation of human rights that incorporates the specific experiences and needs of women. Although there have been significant advances in this regard, it is still necessary to define a typology of violations to women's rights that are attributable to their being women, and being a women in Latin America, as you know, can have dangers all its own.
One of the main goals of our program is to get more groups of civil society involved in the protection of human rights. That is a task for specialists in the legal field, but women's groups, non-governmental human rights organizations, organizations for the advancement of women's rights, and national and international networks should also be engaged. As examples of how we tackle these challenges, we mention the award of 50 scholarships to women's organizations from 26 Latin American countries that were very active in the conference in which you participated, the recent Workshop on International Protection of the Rights of Women, that was attended by 30 woman lawyers from 20 Latin America and Caribbean countries, as well as the dissemination of articles about this subject in Latin America.
The mission of the Gender and Human Rights Program over the next few years will be the national, regional, and international protection of women's rights. One of the main objectives is to increase protection by means of technical training and assistance to community groups, legal firms, non-governmental organizations, and defense offices on the use of national and international laws that address the protection of women's rights -- and here we want to stress our interest in training women lawyers and paralegals in this struggle -- also, support to organizations that work to advance human rights education and protection at the adolescent level by producing educational materials and designing methodologies. In addition, we are advising that all Latin American and Caribbean governments approve the Protocol for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Like you, we feel this is not an easy path, but it is encouraging to see how much more social awareness there is about the importance of securing women's rights. This is a necessary task that involves both men and women if our goal is to attain peace in all aspects of human life. Thank you.
VICTORIA de AVILES (Human Rights Ombudswoman for El Salvador): Distinguished government representatives, let me start this very short address speaking to one of our special guests, Mrs. Hillary Clinton. You have said on numerous occasions that democracy, liberty and justice must be addressed jointly and that government action should be effective as well as ethical. I subscribe completely to this approach, and, bearing it in mind, I would like to express to you some ideas from the human rights perspective.
I believe that Central American nations must address human rights in their bilateral relationships, not as an isolated subject but as an integral part of the central political themes, alongside trade, immigration, drugs, etc. In Central America and in all of Latin America, human rights must be understood as a subject that is beyond individual relationships with other nations. Let me explain: the possibility of democracy for Latin America is not just a matter of achieving political rights, fundamental liberties, economic rights, cultural rights and a respect for the democratic state of law. I believe it is essential to have open economies, but it is also indispensable to fight poverty and maintain national social welfare policies.
In other words, I think that the development of democracy and open market economies in Latin America should be accompanied by human rights concerns, where the government respects the citizen, the judicial system is independent, and the state and society maintain a minimum commitment to the poor. To that end, it behooves the United States to maintain respect for human rights as a mainstay of its policy in the region.
Along the same line, the institution of ombudsman represents a state institution that defends the public interest. This institution must take on the difficult task, especially when it comes to women, of investigating violations to human rights by the government, of prosecuting those responsible and ensuring the victim's rights. We confront the arbitrary use of power and this, in Latin America, has meant big trouble for us, even a threat to our lives. As a watchdog entity, we must emphasize particularly the protection and promotion of women's rights, as we fight to eliminate all forms of discrimination. We want to bring to life the resolutions of Beijing, so that they may become behavioral norms for all of us, whether male or female. And, regarding children -- who are a vulnerable population in our societies -- their rights must be protected to ensure the future of our people.
Finally, I wish to convey to you, as ombudsman, my deep concern regarding Central American immigrants in the United States. I recognize that your government has the right to take the necessary legal measures -- which I am convinced must reflect the principles of respect for human dignity -- to protect sovereignty. I further recognize your dedication to democracy on behalf of a population that today faces times of agony, uncertainty and distress. But I ask you to seek flexibility in those laws and I ask that respect for human rights be guaranteed, considering the social, economic and political realities that our countries face today. Thank you.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Let us now go on to Sonia Cansino.
SONIA CANSINO (El Salvador, a specialist on women and citizenship): Good afternoon to all. In post-war El Salvador, scarred by extreme poverty and by political authoritarianism, the women's movement has been a leader with its proposals. During the 1994 elections, the first elections following the war, the women's movement got together to prepare a political platform, characterized by an independence from political parties. In the post-Beijing era we have been able to put on the national agenda those themes important to us. Due to time restrictions, I will mention only a few achievements. Among the achievements: the recognition of violence against women as a crime; the dedication of 30 percent of the ex-husband's Christmas bonus to women receiving child-support payments; and, recently, for the March election, a decree that requires successful congressional candidates to pay any unpaid child support payments prior to being accredited to their elected seats. Also, it is important to highlight that in the most recent election, women, despite opposition from their fellow male party members, increased their representation in the legislature from 10.7 percent to 16.6 percent of the members.
The postBeijing environment has forced the government to create the Institute for the Development of Women, a step toward obtaining female representation and participation in the formulation of the National Women's Policy, which, to date, has not yet been approved by our President.
Despite our accomplishments and our undisputed political skill, conservative ideals have been made law in El Salvador. Last April 25, outgoing male and female legislators legitimized the inequality of women when they amended Article 137 of our penal code to make abortion a crime, even in cases of rape, fetal defects and situations in which the life of the mother is at risk. Abortion has now been absolutely penalized. This act makes it clear that female citizens are considered good citizens only in their role as mothers, and it ignores the violence and discrimination which is implicit in this kind of legislation. Salvadoran women, in this case, need women like you who take stands against these acts which legitimize our subordination. If this is not stopped, Beijing will have been an unnecessary effort, and women cannot afford this.
Thank you very much.
MARIA EUGENIA MIJANGOS (Guatemalan Center for Legal Action on Human Rights): Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to express some ideas about women and the Guatemalan legal system. Our legal system, based on western law, written and formalistic in the law as well as in the judicial practice, makes us "invisible," protects and subordinates us, condemning us to minority status and supporting the prevailing culture very effectively. Fortunately, our participation in the Fourth International Conference on Women facilitated, as we will see later, the development of the women's movement in Guatemala.
Regarding the current situation: we see it as promising but complex. The fulfillment of the peace agreements -- which include achievements for women's organizations -- is complicated by the combination of different factors: citizen insecurity, which has prompted the government to adopt strong positions, including back-pedaling in the field of human rights; economic policies that cut state services; and a lack of dialogue between the government and civil society. These factors, and the delay in the fulfillment of the peace accords, have made us women participate very actively in this post-war period. For us, peace is synonymous with full social participation.
The Guatemalan women's movement at this moment proposes creative and diverse alternatives. In the legal field, it makes evident the discrimination of the law, challenging the constitutionality of Articles 232 through 235 of the penal code, which dealt with the crimes of adultery and which -- as in most Latin American law -- severely penalized a woman's infidelity while going easy on a man's infidelity. It was a way to legalize the society's hypocrisy. A constitutional court decision abolished these articles and opened the door to activism and participation of women's organizations, envisioning us women as citizens. For the first time in our country, a court decision favored international law, human rights for women, over the internal law, serving as a base for future development.
Now we have the satisfaction of having two legal groups that are recognized and consulted. We work on legal reforms, court cases and new laws. We were able to promulgate a new Family Violence Law this year and we are now pushing an overall women's rights law that combines concepts from the peace agreements with the action plans of Cairo and Beijing. The initiative has been presented to the Congress and was co-sponsored by all the women legislators. This law is the fruit of many years of demands.
Now, on the principal deficiencies and urgent necessities that we women see at the legal level: First of all, the majority of women have great difficulty getting access to justice, not only because of their low educational and socio-economic level, but because the judicial system is riddled with corruption, ritualism and, on top of everything, an unreal, sexist view of the world.
Second, many women fail to get legal assistance with their family violence problems because they are unable to exercise their basic rights. There are also great problems resulting from paternal irresponsibility. Finally, we see a great need for training for women in basic citizen rights so that we can keep building on this new citizen participation.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: I'd like to tell you that I think we have a little time for some additional questions and comments aside from the ones prepared earlier. Please ask me the question, and, with great pleasure, I will give you the floor.
PATRICIA ROJAS (Coordinator of a Nicaraguan network of women's and health rights): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for letting me participate so I can talk a little bit about what is going on in Nicaragua. The Maria Cavallieri Network of Women for Health was founded in the year 1992, and there are now 48 groups working on women's health issues. We have defined health for women as a dynamic process in which emotional, social, political, psychological, spiritual and environmental aspects interact. The aim is for women to be in harmony with ourselves and with the world surrounding us. It is having work, education, land and housing. Having daughters and sons when each one of us wishes, and being able to share the responsibility. It is having female and male friends, having free time and enjoying our sexuality. Having access to information. Being respected and not being objects of violence. Wishing for a world of equal rights and opportunities.
From our initiative, we have participated in the Guatemala Conference for Risk-Free Pregnancy, the International Conference on Population and Development, and in the Fourth World Women's Conference in Beijing. We have made valuable contributions to the country of Nicaragua with proposals for the defense of human rights, particularly to improve the health of women and their quality of life. Though these contributions have been in the area of public policy, our participation did not come easily. It became a reality with great difficulty during the previous government, and there is little hope that our measures will be adopted by the new government. By not looking at the health situation in an integral way, by ignoring the socio-economic and cultural aspects, the government says "the woman died of an hemorrhage" and never explores the socio-economic aspects that brought that woman to her death.
Another fact that we can mention in Nicaragua is that of a doctor from PROVIDA who accused the Pan-American Health Organization of distributing tetanus vaccine with a dangerous virus. According to a bad rumor, this virus sterilizes women. As a consequence of this irresponsible rumor, the Ministry of Health of Nicaragua stopped the vaccine campaign after an order from the Catholic Church. With scientific arguments, and as a result of the insistence of the Women's Health Movement, we were able to restart the vaccine campaign.
What do we seek? We seek respect for women's right to holistic health and the recognition of the sexual and reproductive rights in all stages of a woman's life. We seek fulfillment of international agreements signed in Cairo and Beijing. We seek to participate jointly with the government in developing policies for health, education, population and development.
We want women to live, but to live healthy and happy and for many years.
Thank you very much Mrs. Clinton for your genuine interest.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Mrs. First Lady of Costa Rica, would please give us your words?
COSTA RICAN FIRST LADY JOSETTE FIGUERES: Friends, I would briefly like to review the actions we have taken over the three years of our administration regarding human rights and women. The Figueres administration began one year prior to the Beijing World Conference on Women. We began by making an exhaustive study of the human rights situation for women in our country. This study indicated that although legal protections of the rights of women are in place, there remains work to be done. One main area for concern is the way in which processes are carried out. It doesn't do much good to have extensive legal protections if people are not aware of their rights or if there are problems in the administration of justice.
To this end, we set out to define the conceptual framework in which we would work. We set out to define the list of human rights and freedoms that citizens should enjoy. They are: civil rights to liberty and equality; social rights to health, education, housing and recreation; economic rights to work, property and productive resources; a right to a life without violence; political rights to freedom of thought, expression and association, to elect and be elected; as well as the right to participate in decision-making regarding national development. All of these are human rights, which, together, define the condition of an active citizen. That is to say, for us citizenship is the right to have rights.
To put these goals in practice, the government developed three national plans, whereby for the first time in Costa Rican history we have strategic public policies to promote the human rights of women. They are strategic plans because they are directed at all women, not just women's groups, and because they call on the civil society to work together with the government. These plans are: the National Plan for Equal Opportunity, which has resulted in 190 actions over three years taken by 34 presidential institutions in eight areas; legislation, health, education, labor, environment, culture and media, family and in decision-making.
We have the National Plan for the Prevention of Family Violence. This is a multi-sector plan to stop and prevent family violence by combining governmental responsibility and participation of NGOs that work in this area. The work is based on annual plans and is coordinated between the legislature and the court system. We have been able to adopt two laws dealing with family violence, and we have organized training courses for judicial officials.
And, finally, we have the National Anti-Poverty Plan in the Area of Women. This has two principal targets: women head of households and teenage pregnancies. For both, there are national programs in progress. We have launched information campaigns and have trained more than 20,000 women. And we have programs for young mothers in the Women's and Family Center.
In the area of human rights and legislation, we have four major achievements. The executive branch, working with the legislature, has proposed judicial reforms aimed at eliminating discriminatory practices. To eliminate discrimination, we have made a review of criminal, civil, family, labor and election laws, as well as the constitution itself. Also, to improve the administration of justice, we have worked extensively with the court system, especially on the topic of violence against women. We have supported research and training. We have also sponsored ample public education campaigns regarding the rights of women.
In the area of citizen participation for women, we have launched a program that we call FORCAM, which is the Strengthening of Women's Citizen Participation, which aims to increase the participation of women in their communities, in social movements, in political parties, in public administration, and in government. The objective is to strengthen women leadership in the public and private life of the country, at the local, national and international levels. I think that in this sense, the work that I have as First Lady is as a facilitator, because, speaking with Mrs. Clinton, we agreed that the fact that the institution of First Lady does not exist in constitutions, at times, weakens the effectiveness of our efforts. We have to act as facilitator to institutionalize our programs via public policies and government institutions.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Thank you First Lady. We now have time for a few minutes for a discussion before we ask the Secretary of State to speak to us. I'd like to interrupt at this time to ask her to sign our "Visitor's Book" and continue with the discussion. Obviously, the nonexistence of the First Lady in our constitutions is an obstacle and, at times, a fault, especially when these roles are filled by people who are so ready to assume leadership positions in areas that are so important to society. In this sentiment we are very happy to have two First Ladies here who are the best example of this. Thank you. A few minutes more?
MRS. CLINTON: I would like to hear from several of the people who have not yet spoken. Our Second Vice President, our very accomplished Ambassador to the United States, because I know that both of them have been very active in these issues and related concerns, and I would like to have a sense of what they see as the overall condition of human rights in Costa Rica, but also in the region generally.
COSTA RICAN SECOND VICE PRESIDENT REBECA GRYNSPAN: Thank you. Thank you, Mrs. Clinton, and thank you Madame Secretary of State and those who are with us today. I was thinking while listening to you that, though Central America is no long divided by war and authoritarianism and has become a society of peace and democracy, perhaps the most important challenge facing us in the future is poverty and discrimination, and, in the case of gender, become societies integrated by opportunities. And I was thinking about the time in Latin America when there was this great debate about what the state should do and what private society should do, and this debate was largely carried out regarding property rights: the debate over government and social responsibilities was one over property. When we talk about the rights of women and children, we go in the opposite direction. We talk of taking the debate from private and placing it into the public. Many of the problems have been hidden, kept in secret, kept in private. When we talk about violence against women or against children, we talk of bringing it out into the open from private.
It made me think of Mrs. Clinton's book, "It Takes a Village." We need a community, an organized society, in favor of women's and children's rights, to gain victory over the obstacles that women have suffered for a long time. I think that all the women who have spoken today have taught us to realize that seeing a single robin does not mean the spring has arrived. That really, working together, women, and men -- we shouldn't forget men -- that we can really go beyond the discrimination, not only for ethical reasons, but for important social development reasons.
Briefly, I remember when, with a straight face, researchers had to visit agricultural ministers in Central America to inform them that they were ignoring an important labor force by leaving women outside. It was as if a manager completely ignored 25 percent of his employees, and this is what they were doing. This is what happens in our societies. The ethical problem of discrimination against women is also an economic problem. There is no way our societies can develop strongly if 50 percent of the population does not receive the same opportunities that the other 50 percent receives, integrating them into the mainstream of development.
It has been good to hear about the experiences taking place in Central America, and, on behalf of Costa Rica, I'd like to say that we have made great progress in the law, but as the First Lady said, the programs that she and the Women's and Family Center have developed allow the realities to go beyond the words of the law. And that is the battle that we all face today. Thank you.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Do you have another question?
MS. CANSINO: I would like to comment. Laws and legislation are somewhat complicated when they produce a paradox when public laws intervene in this private area, especially dealing with the woman's body. For instance, in the case of rape, where the product of the crime is a human being, and the state intervenes, like in the case of El Salvador, to say, watch out,' citizenship for you, woman, has its limit, and this limit is determined by us so that we can continue controlling your body. So, the current legislation legitimizes hypocrisy, because it is not true, in the case of my country, that the quality of life for these babies is really a priority for the government of El Salvador. You see the children begging in the street; it is simply not enough to speak out for conception and for life. You have to guarantee a quality of life for those who come into the world and guarantee that the woman's citizenship is not negated by this hypocrisy.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary of State, can we give the floor to you?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, thank you very much, I must say this has been a tremendous discussion, and I know that I speak on behalf of Mrs. Clinton when I say how much we have enjoyed hearing from all of you. Let me say that I really commend Mr. Mendez for your direction of this institute and for everything that you have done for the cause of human rights, and I thank you very much for getting together this remarkable group of women so that we could have this kind of discussion. I would very much also like to thank the First Lady of Costa Rica for being here for us and taking such a part, such an active part in issues that are so important. I know how important it is to Americans to have a first lady that is so active, because were it not for Hillary Clinton, many of us would not be able to exercise the kind of rights that we want to exercise and for her leadership in Beijing and throughout the world, I can tell you she is our very best Ambassador. When she speaks out for women's rights and human rights it makes a difference, so I know Mrs. Figueres also in your case it must be very important to the people of Costa Rica.
I think that what I have seen here, and, knowing of your work previously, you are really a beacon of justice in law and I commend you for all the work that you have done, not only in terms of women's issues, but in terms of fair elections and human rights training for police. I think those are very important issues as we move forward with eras of democracy throughout the world. I think the work that all of you have done and that you have been talking about is also very courageous and innovative and I applaud all of you for the roles that you have taken in your own countries. I must say, and I think I am sure that I speak on behalf of Mrs. Clinton, that whenever we travel abroad and meet with other women I think we are struck by the fact that in various degrees the situation is the same. There are various levels of things that the discussion, you could come in from Mars to any country in the world and I think you have women's groups where the issues are exactly the same. Also, I must say as Ambassador Babbitt and the Second Vice President and I got up from our lunch with all those men and came here, they wondered what we were doing.
But I am gratified by the fact that we can have this kind of discussion wherever we go and feel as if we are working on a common goal. But I must say, the greatest pleasure at the moment is that we are at this moment facing a new challenge that is changed from protecting citizens against the violations of human rights perpetrated by government agencies to now working with elected governments to protect against violations committed by individuals. That is a big difference. And I think one that is really showing the great advances that have been made and yet how much work there still is to do. It really is important to end impunity for those who abuse women. I think an issue that I have spoken out against whether I was Ambassador at the United Nations or other places, some people say that such abuse is cultural. I think we all know that it is criminal, and therefore it is important for us to speak out together on those subjects.
I must say I am also very gratified that the United States Agency for International Development has been supportive and, barring a crisis, the support will continue as long as I am Secretary of State, and the United States will continue to belong on the side of those striving for justice, human rights, and dignity. We, too, are carrying out Beijing within the United States government following up in all kind of ways to make sure that the standards we set out in Beijing will continue. And as Mrs. Clinton said, we have made women's rights a part of our overall foreign policy. I have made it a point as I travel abroad to always meet with women's groups. I think it is very important. It is very important for what we learn from each other, but I think also a signal of where the United States stands on women's rights and human rights.
I also do believe that as countries go through their second wave of democratization there is a great euphoria in the first wave. In the second wave you come upon the issues that all of you have discussed: social issues, economic issues, the kind of issues that really are the basis of society and require a great deal of work. I can just assure you that the United States will continue to be very interested in making sure that there is an integration of democratic principals and human rights. It will be a part of our foreign policy because it is what we stand for as a country.
I must take a minute on this immigration issue. I know that it is one of great concern. It was discussed at the presidents' conference. I am an immigrant myself. I came to the United States when I was 10-years-old. So I know about the opportunities that the United States offers. It is the most open country in the world, with the greatest opportunities for immigrants. But every country does have a right to protect its borders and needs to have legal immigrants, not illegal immigrants. Therefore our new legislation is trying very hard to make it possible for there to be more legal immigrants so the problems that are created by many illegal immigrants are dealt with so that there is a law, and I think all of you have talked about the importance of the rule of law.
President Clinton has just finished a conference with his colleagues, his fellow presidents, and has made it clear that he will do everything he can to mitigate some of the harsher aspects of some of the legislation; there will be no mass deportations, and I hope that is passed back through all of you.
Let me just tell you how much I admire all the work that you are doing. I hope very much that we can all continue to work together, because I believe that the kinds of issues that all of you have discussed are the basis of society, and, as you have said, we are the resource of our societies. And, while there are many divisions in societies, it is up to the women to knit the societies back together. Thank you.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MENDEZ: Madame Secretary, I thank you very much for your substantive statement of policy of the United States, which we appreciate. And we appreciate your pledge, your commitment, to maintaining human rights as a centerpiece of foreign policy of the United States. I, too, have lived in the United States, and I appreciate the generosity of the United States people in welcoming among themselves people from other lands, especially those fleeing persecution. I think, in fact, the concern expressed here about policies on immigration is a concern for treatment with dignity, and I think you have really reassured us that that is the commitment of the Clinton Administration.
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