In the context of the recently released Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 and the Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 by the United States Department of State, the Brookings Doha Center, a Project of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, organized a policy discussion with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Erica Barks-Ruggles, to speak on the subject of human rights in the Gulf. Titled “The Future of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Rights in the Gulf”, the discussion took place on June 11, 2008 on the premises of the Brookings Doha Center and was moderated by Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Center and fellow at the Saban Center.
Barks-Ruggles, a former Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution, addressed a packed audience which included diplomats, media delegates, scholars and students. She emphasized the U.S. support for the worldwide advancement of human rights and democratic freedoms. She explained that the U.S. commitment to the promotion of Human Rights reflects the core values of the American people and continues to enjoy broad bipartisan support in Congress and by successive Administrations. Barks-Ruggles underscored that these principles help to shape the U.S. government’s bilateral relationships and its foreign assistance.
Speaking on the need to advance democratic principles and practices, the Deputy Assistant Secretary said, “We do not think that there is a single formula for advancing human rights and political reform. Each country ultimately must find its own solutions.” Despite agreeing to various manifestations of democracy, Barks-Ruggles considered that there were three essential and mutually reinforcing elements of a truly free country: free and fair electoral processes, accountable institutions under the rule of law, and a robust civil society, including non-governmental organizations and independent media.
Barks-Ruggles lauded the active role that women are playing in Qatar when it comes to participating and engaging in the public life of the country, especially in education. “The partnership between the Qatar Foundation and U.S. universities makes us especially proud,” she said.
Barkes-Ruggles finally addressed the issue of exploitive labor practices and human trafficking in the Gulf. “This is a worldwide problem and it is one that is especially difficult to tackle in our increasingly globalized world,” she said. “It requires a concerted response at all levels of government and society within countries and among countries.”
The discussion concluded with a comprehensive question and answer session.