"The most widespread and dramatic violations in 2015 were those in the Middle East, where the confluence of terrorism and the Syrian conflict caused enormous suffering," Kerry said.
"Given the horrors of these past five years, I cannot imagine a more powerful blow for human rights than putting a decisive end to this war, to the terror, to the repression and especially to the torture, to the indiscriminate bombing, and therefore make possible a new beginning for the people of Syria."Kerry also pointed out and rebutted statements made by some candidates in the Republican presidential primaries that suggested if they were elected, they would consider bringing back waterboarding and other forms of torture to combat terrorism.
"I want to remove even a scintilla of doubt or confusion caused by statements others have made in recent weeks and months," Kerry said in his speech.
"The United States is opposed to the use of torture in any form, at any time, by any government or non-state actor. America's commitment to the humane treatment of persons in captivity began as far back as General George Washington in the Revolutionary War....Ultimately, upholding core values is what makes a nation strong."Kerry also said in his speech that every government, including the United States, has the ability to improve in the arena of human rights.
"The point that we make over and over again is that respecting human rights isn't just a moral obligation, it's an opportunity to harness the full energy of a country's population in building a cohesive and prosperous society."Kerry went on to say that "a government that fails to respect human rights, no matter how lofty its pretensions, has very little to boast about, to teach, and very little indeed in the way of reaching its full potential." Kerry said that he had traveled to several countries where the U.S.' backing for human rights and democratic principles was a focus of the U.S.' diplomacy. Those countries included Central Asia, where civil society is "heavily embattled," and Egypt, where Kerry emphasized "the importance of distinguishing between violent and nonviolent dissent." He said it also included Cuba, where he and President Obama had urged authorities to "allow more political openness and online access." Kerry also pointed out important gains in some countries such as Tunisia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Burma, but that each country still had some challenges to overcome.
Kerry also mentioned that although Vietnam is a single-party state, Hanoi, which is a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has pledged to allow the formation of independent trade unions for the first time, which is a "potential significant advance for freedom of association for workers."
Kerry said that the U.S. is "deeply committed to the search for a political solution to the conflict in Syria." Full access to humanitarian supplies, an end to hostilities, release of the most vulnerable prisoners, and a Syrian-led political transition in accordance to the Geneva treaty are just a few things the U.S. wants to happen in the Middle East.
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[Photo by AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana]