Hillary’s remarks Upon Receipt of the Roosevelt Institutes’s Four Freedoms Award
at the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Medals Gala Dinner
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
New York City
September 11, 2009
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so very much. Oh, what an evening and what inspiration I certainly have derived from the stories and the words of our four honorees. I am deeply grateful for that very kind introduction, Dick. I thank everyone associated with the Institute, particularly Anne Roosevelt, who has been a friend for a number of years. I am also pleased that my successor and friend, Senator Gillibrand is here somewhere in the ballroom, along with another wonderful friend and colleague, Representative Jerry Nadler. And it is only fitting that we would be graced by the presence not only of their Royal Highnesses, but also of my colleague, the foreign minister, and so many friends and supporters of the Institute and the work that it has done during this special week where we celebrate 400 years of our relationship with the Netherlands.
So this is, by all accounts, an extraordinary moment, and especially for this event to be held at the end of a long and emotional day for our city, our state, and our country. But I often believe that it is moments like this that are not only, as Dick said, about yesterdays, but about tomorrows. And Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were all about tomorrows. They embodied American leadership at its best. The exemplified the true partnership that they brought to our nation’s challenges. They, in effect, demonstrated the real power of principle being a driving force for change and challenge. They mobilized the might of our nation at a time when their leadership and understanding was especially needed. And it is a great honor, and I am deeply touched to receive this Four Freedoms Medal.
I am an admirer, I think as we all are, of both of these great Americans. As some of you might remember, I used to have imaginary conversations with Eleanor. (Laughter.) And she gave me a lot of really good advice. (Laughter.) I often remarked about how there was nothing I did as First Lady that Eleanor had not already done. I would go to a place in New York or a place in India, and be greeted by some excited person saying, “Oh, we haven’t had a First Lady here since Eleanor Roosevelt.” I discovered that she had blazed trails that were not only unique for her time, but really stood the test of time. But when she visited, it was not just a simple drop-in. She would listen, she would learn, she would bring that information back to her husband, and she would continue to push for the kinds of changes that were absolutely necessary.
And of course, President Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms speech and the declaration, the real call to action that what he said still resonates through the years, shaped much of the work that Eleanor did on her own as she chaired the drafting committee for the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that enshrines the Four Freedoms in its preamble. So when leaders from around the world gather for the UN’s General Assembly in about ten days, we will do so in part as inheritors of her work and wisdom.
I think that so much that President Roosevelt said and did during another challenging time in American history stands very large today. Looking at what was done with economic and other difficulties here at home, the rallying of a nation to continue to believe in itself, the optimism that marked everything he did, and the vision that he articulated that helped Americans transcend their personal problems and the troubles of a nation provided a lodestar for every succeeding generation as to how to move forward in the face of adversity.
We bear that responsibility today. And we are called to respond as courageously, as he and his generation did. We therefore should ask ourselves now, as you’ve heard from our four honorees, just what the Four Freedoms mean. Times have changed. Circumstances have certainly altered. But the fundamental truth of the Four Freedoms stands as a stark reminder of what is expected of us. So that even though the circumstances may be different, our response and how we are guided in acting remains the same.
Freedom of expression, for example, is no longer just defined by whether citizens can go to the town square, or the town hall, and criticize their government without fear of retribution. Advances in technology, from email and blogs to Twitter and text messaging, have opened up new forums for exercising free speech, and created new targets for those who would suppress the open exchange of knowledge and ideas.
Often, as we deal with these problems in the State Department now, we see that human rights defenders, civil society advocates, bloggers, and journalists are now being targeted for harassment and prosecution, even murder.
We see the continuing imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient in absentia of the Freedom from Fear Award in 2006. We see the murders of journalists in Russia who are trying to expose the truth of criminal activity and governmental misconduct. We see Iran using arbitrary arrests to detain nearly 4,000 people for voicing or reporting complaints about the conduct of recent elections. And then we see the consequences of what happens in Venezuela or China, or elsewhere, when people believe that they are just exercising the universal right to speak and be heard.
Just weeks ago, an award-winning journalist and human rights activist was abducted and shot to death while investigating human rights violations in Chechnya. And while I welcome Russian President Medvedev’s pledge to foster independent media, actions speak louder than words. Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia in the last decade. Most of the murders are unsolved. Those responsible for such crimes should be brought to justice. And we in the United States have to stand firmly on the side of those who speak out. (Applause.)
We will continue to form partnerships with those who share our values, like the Government of the Netherlands. On Monday, the United States will take its place as a returning member of the UN Human Rights Council. When I made the decision that we would rejoin the Human Rights Council – (applause) – there were those who questioned that. How can you be part of something that is so contrary to the values that we espouse, that we wish to uphold, not only here at home but around the world? Well, we are going in to the arena. One of our priorities will be upholding universal standards for freedom of expression as we combat intolerance and discrimination everywhere it rears it head. (Applause.)
And we are reinvigorating the Global Internet Freedom Task Force as a forum for addressing challenges to internet freedom around the world, and we are urging United States media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance of their citizens. (Applause.)
President Obama and I are committed to defending the Freedom of Expression on the new terrain of the 21st century so that, someday, people everywhere will have unencumbered access to the flow of information and the tools of expression – tools which are more abundant and more powerful today than at any time in history.
Similarly, we wish to stand firmly on the side of the freedom of religion. As President Obama noted in his historic speech in Cairo, faith should bring us together. That’s why we have welcomed international efforts such as Turkey and Spain’s leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. It’s one of the reasons that on my first trip as Secretary of State I visited Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim country and a secular democracy. It’s why we are encouraging people of different religions to come together not only in dialogue, but in service. In projects ranging from Malaria prevention in Africa to disaster assistance in South Asia, we are laying a foundation for good works – and good relations – among the world’s religious communities.
Learning to respect the faith of our neighbors should be the price of admission into the 21st century. Now, in some cases, threats to religious freedom come from authoritarian regimes. Some Eritreans have been imprisoned in shipping containers for seeking to practice their non-violent beliefs. In others cases, bias and discrimination by majorities toward minority faiths or hateful ideologies can threaten the freedom of belief. So we must speak out forcefully against these wrongs wherever they exist.
Now, some claim that the United Nations can best protect the freedom of religion by adopting what is called an “anti-defamation” policy that would restrict the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. I, obviously, strongly disagree. An individual’s ability to practice their religion should have no bearing on others individuals’ freedom of speech. The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. And these differences should be met with tolerance, not suppression of discourse. And the United States will stand against the idea of defamation of religion in the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. (Applause.)
Even in a century of unprecedented plenty, Roosevelt’s third freedom – the freedom from want – is elusive for millions of families in our own country, and tens and tens of millions around the world. This freedom must be central to our foreign policy. We advance our own security, prosperity, and values when we work to improve the material conditions of people everywhere. Our development efforts provide a platform for collaboration with new partners, not only with other governments but with the private sector, the not-for-profit sector, with citizen groups and civil society. And we have a lot of work to do to address hunger, climate change, and disease.
President Obama and I are committed to elevating and integrating development as a core component of our global agenda. We have to produce results for people. People have to believe that moving away from extremism, moving toward democracy, moving toward more openness in their societies, will put food on the table, and will provide education for their children and healthcare in their time of need.
Because many people suffer in unspeakable conditions without the basic necessities of life, the President asked me to lead a whole-of-government effort to tackle hunger, poverty and under-nutrition by encouraging agricultural-led growth. We are working toward new solutions that can improve agricultural productivity, expand markets, and deliver millions from hunger and undernourishment that stalk the world’s poor.
Central to this challenge, like so many others, will be our campaign to achieve equal opportunities for women, who are the key drivers of economic growth and social stability in every successful country in the world. Societies where women are accorded their rights and provided with opportunities for basic services – education, health, gainful employment – make progress and expand prosperity. (Applause.) In nations where these rights are denied, stagnation, decay, and corruption are often the rule.
Now, in order to address the challenges, we are focusing on women, as you heard Dick say. It has been, of course, a longstanding passion and commitment of mine, but it is also the smart approach for our foreign policy. So we are training women entrepreneurs through an initiative in Latin America, and we’re supporting micro-credit lending in Africa and Asia, and we’re helping women gain access to global financial and trade networks.
Freedom from want has to be a particular commitment that really engages our citizens. There are so many ways each and every one of us can make a contribution.
And finally, freedom from fear, which was the most immediate concern to President Roosevelt’s audience in 1941. As the war ravaging Europe edged closer to the United States, fear returned as a tangible feature and led to such regrettable decisions as the internment of Japanese in our country.
Today, of all days, we are reminded that our citizenship and residence on this continent do not grant us immunity from the vagaries of history. But rather than becoming prisoners of fear, we know that we can rise to the challenge if we stay true to ourselves. We can think about how President Roosevelt would have summoned us to really follow our better selves as we took on an enemy that showed no respect, no conscience, no humanity.
Even as FDR exhorted the American people in his time to escalate weapons production, he envisioned a post-war world of greatly reduced armaments where international peace would rest on a foundation of freedom. And President Obama shares that vision. We are committed to working with concerned nations throughout the international community to reverse the spread of nuclear weapons and to do much more to prevent their use. (Applause.) We are acting in concert with countries to isolate and defeat violent extremists. And we are working within the international community for the resolution of deadly conflicts that hold millions in fear and misery. And I want especially to thank the Government of the Netherlands for their stalwart partnership and for their alliance with us in Afghanistan, where American and Dutch soldiers fight side-by-side and even die side-by-side.
Violence and conflicts often exact a disproportionate toll on women and children. I saw that recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’ve seen it in my travels across the world. But meeting with survivors of rape, which is now used increasingly as a tool of war, was shattering. The atrocities described to me distill evil to its basest form. And the United States and our partners throughout the world will not just condemn these attacks and all those who commit them and abet them, but work harder to try to find ways to prevent them. It’s why I thank the foreign minister and the Government of the Netherlands for coming up with the idea of having a forum about how to prevent violence against girls and women that we will be co-sponsoring during the UN General Assembly. (Applause.)
These are crimes against humanity. They don’t just harm a single individual, or a single family, or village or group. They shred the fabric that weaves us together as human beings. This criminal outrage against women must be stopped. And we are going to – your government is going to be providing more funding for medical care and counseling and security and legal support to prevent and respond to the Congo’s epidemic of gender-based violence. (Applause.)
But we also must condemn violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Applause.) In country after country after country, young men and women are persecuted, are singled out, even murdered in cold blood, because of who they love or just based on claims that they are gay. We are starting to track violence against the LGBT community, because where it happens anywhere in the world, the United States must speak out against it and work for its end. (Applause.) Through our annual human rights report, we are documenting human rights abuses against LGBT communities worldwide. And we are seeking out partners at the United Nations such as Brazil, France, Sweden and the Netherlands to help us address these human rights abuses.
We will be pushing for passage of a Security Council resolution on sexual and gender violence at the UN General Assembly, and we hoping many other nations will join this cause.
So these four freedoms are not just a celebration of the past. They are a reminder and a challenge of what is expected of us. Now, after President Roosevelt’s speech, another son of New York, Norman Rockwell, created those four iconic paintings that you have seen on the screen. It took seven months of non-stop work during which he lost 15 pounds. If I had any artistic talent, I would try to follow that model. (Laughter.) And when Rockwell was finished, the Treasury Department sent his paintings on a tour around the country in a successful effort to encourage the purchase of war bonds. And the paintings were accompanied by essays on each of the four freedoms. And one of them sought to remind Americans what they were fighting for. And here’s what it said:
“When we yield our sons,” and we would add today ‘and daughters’ “to war, it is in the trust that their sacrifice will bring to us and our allies no inch of alien soil, no selfish monopoly of the world’s resources or trade, but only the privilege of winning for all peoples the most precious gifts in the orbit of life—freedom of body and soul, of movement and enterprise, of thought and utterance, of faith and worship, of hope and charity, of a humane fellowship with all [humankind].”
Our adversaries and our battles today may be different, but our objectives have not changed. These rights are no less relevant and these freedoms are no less precious. The principles put forward by President Roosevelt are no less deserving of our defense.
In response to President Roosevelt’s call to action, the citizens of the United States went to work. In response to the attacks of 9/11, the citizens of the United States went to serve.
In the future, we will be called to make sacrifices of our own. We may not be able now to foresee what they will be. But let us resolve to summon up that vision that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt provided for their times which still is as important to our times. Let us forge again our commitment to carry on in service of these four universal and uniquely American freedoms.
Thank you very much.