Remarks of Senator Ted Kaufman at the 2010 Democracy Award

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Remarks of Senator Ted Kaufman

Honoring Iran’s Green Movement with the 2010 Democracy Award

It is an honor to address you today, as you examine prospects for a democratic transition in Iran.  I am pleased the National Endowment for Democracy has chosen to honor the democracy movement in Iran with the annual Democracy Award, and the timing is especially appropriate given the upcoming anniversary of the June 12 election.

Against incredible odds, the people of Iran have taken to the streets and Internet to call attention to their desire for human rights, freedom, and democracy.  They have demonstrated through both words and action that they will not be silenced despite ongoing threats posed by the Iranian government.  It is humbling to learn of young Iranians who are willing to risk so much for greater freedoms, and I join you in honoring them.

Today, I have been asked to say a few words about what Congress is doing to support the democracy movement in Iran.  I will start by noting that there are obvious limitations.  No government can force another to be responsible to its citizens, and that is disappointing to those of us who believe every human being is entitled to basic human rights and freedoms.

At the same time, I think it is important to highlight the ongoing repression and deprivation of rights in Iran, especially since the June 2009 election.  And to condemn the reprehensible actions of the Iranian government, and continue to support the rights of its citizens to a free press, free assembly, free speech, and free expression. 

And while the U.S. government has not expressed explicit support for any one political party or movement in Iran, we strongly support the right of the Iranian people to peacefully demonstrate and voice their political aspirations, which they have done with great resolve and incredible courage.

So what can Congress do and what has it done?  We have publically condemned the Government of Iran for its unconscionable behavior and reprehensible track record on human rights.  We have funded the development of Internet censorship circumvention technology, to empower the more than 25% of the Iranian population which is online.  And we have supported democracy promotion in the region, through funding and other means. 

To date, the Senate has passed five resolutions on Iran, highlighting human rights violations on restrictions on free press and free expression, two of which I initiated, and one of which was initiated by Senator McCain, who is also here today.  The Senate passed two resolutions one week after the June election, one in November as government crack-downs continued, one in the final days of 2009 as Iranian Internet censorship became more widespread, and one in mid-February. 

We have plans to pass a sixth resolution, which I have drafted with Senator Casey and others, marking one year since the election, honoring those who have lost their lives, supporting the people of Iran, and – once again – condemning the government for its abuse of human rights.  The resolution also reiterates support for basic freedoms in Iran, such as free speech, free expression, free assembly, and free press.

Putting Congress on record on this issue sends two strong messages.  First, it ensures that the Government of Iran knows the U.S. is watching.  Just as the situation as evolved over the past year, so too has our response, and we will not remain silent as the Iranian government tramples on international law protecting human rights.
Second, the steady stream of resolutions sends a message to the Iranian people that the U.S. government has not forgotten their plight, even as we also focus on the nuclear program.  This was echoed just yesterday when the U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council issued a strong condemnation of Iran’s poor human rights record as the General Assembly passed a fourth round of sanctions.  While they do not go as far as I would have liked, I welcome the passage of UN sanctions as an important step toward thwarting Iran’s continued illicit nuclear development.

In addition to passing resolutions, Congress can inform others about what is happening in Iran.  This was one of my goals in establishing the Senate Global Internet Freedom Caucus with Senators Brownback, McCain, Lieberman, Casey and others.  The Internet is an incredible tool for reaching people of all nationalities, faiths, and ethnicities in their own language, and promoting new channels for news, education, and communication. And it is an amazing tool for telling a story to the world, in real time, as the Iranian protestors did in the aftermath of the election.

The Caucus provides bipartisan leadership within the Congress, supporting robust engagement by the public and private sectors to secure digital freedoms.  Joining with our colleagues who have established a similar caucus in the House, the Senate will continue to advance global Internet freedom as an essential tool of communication.  And while we do not have a regional focus, there is no question that the two particular areas of interest are China and Iran. 

The third thing the Congress can do to support democracy in Iran is to authorize and appropriate funding.  One such vehicle initiated by Senators McCain, Lieberman, and myself was the Victims of Iranian Censorship, or VOICE Act, which unanimously passed in last year’s Defense Authorization Bill.  In fact, this was the only bill signed into law last year specifically regarding Iran.

The VOICE Act supports freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression in Iran, and authorizes funding for the Broadcasting Board of Governors to expand transmission capability and programming on Radio Farda and the Persian News Network.  The bill also supports the development of technology to counter ongoing Internet censorship, and promotes online educational and cultural exchanges with the people of Iran.  In addition, last year’s Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill included $30 million for promoting Internet freedom in closed societies, and at least one-third of this money will go to activities in Iran. 

These are all examples of tools that Congress has and will continue to provide to support the people of Iran.   And as active as we may have been in the past year, additional opportunities exist to broaden his support, and I will continue to advocate for the expansion of such funding.

In closing, let me reiterate my great respect and admiration for the people of Iran.  Iranian society represents a rich tapestry of history and culture which we deeply admire and respect.  Iranians have demonstrated great courage in the face of oppression, and the United States stands by their side. 

Survey data indicates that nearly one-third of the Iranian population is under the age of thirty, and that many in Iran have a pro-Western orientation.  As such, it is essential that we look toward the future, and find ways to effectively empower future generations. 

Unlike so many other issues before us in Congress, this is truly a bipartisan issue, and I am proud to join with my colleagues – especially Senator McCain – to continue to advocate for the defense of democracy, freedom, and human rights in Iran and globally.  Thank you.