Remarks of the President at Kennedy Center (9/19/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release             September 19, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                            Eisenhower Theater
                              Kennedy Center
                                       Washington. D.C.

8:28 p.m. EDT

          THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  President Arias, first let
me thank you for your presence here tonight and your remarkable leadership.

          And, Kerry, I want to join this great throng in telling you how
grateful we are that you have undertaken this project with such passion and
commitment.  I know that in spite of the fact that half the seats tonight
are filled by your family -- (laughter) -- there are a lot of people here
who feel just as strongly about you as Andrew and Ethel, and your
mother-in-law, Matilda, and Senator Kennedy and the others who are here.
You are an astonishing person, and we thank you for amplifying the voices
of the human rights defenders who have honored us by their presence here

          These men and women have carried on against unimaginable
obstacles, knowing the truth once spoken can never be completely erased;
that hope once sparked, can never be fully extinguished.  They have seen
injustice aided by apathy.  In spite of all the nice things you said about
me tonight, a full half dozen of them were prodding me along tonight before
I came out here to do even better, and I like that a lot.  They have
carried on knowing that even a single act of courage can be contagious, and
their courage, and that of so many others around the world, has indeed
proved contagious.

          More people live in freedom today than at any time in human
history, and in 1999 more people around the world won the right to vote and
choose their leaders than was in even the case in 1989, the year the Berlin
Wall fell.  From Bosnia to Croatia to Kosovo, we are no longer struggling
to stop crimes against humanity, but instead, working steadily to bring
perpetrators to justice and to create the conditions of humane living.
From South Africa to Chile, people are confronting the injustices of the
past so that their children will not have to relive them.  And all over the
world, people finally are recognizing, as Hillary said in Beijing, that
women's rights are human rights.  (Applause.)

          Yet for all the brave work that is captured in this magnificent
book and that will be honored tonight, freedom's struggle is far from over.
And I think it is appropriate tonight that we all ask ourselves at this
magic moment of prosperity and peace for our country, what are our
responsibilities to advance the struggle?  How can we use this global age
to serve human rights, not to undermine them?

          Globalization is not just about economics.  It has given us a
global human rights movement, as well.  Whether activists are fighting for
press freedom in Ivory Coast, or the rights of children in America, they
can talk to each other, learn from each other, and know they are not alone.
Indeed, maybe the most important lesson of this evening is to say to all of
them, whom we honor, you are not alone.

          Global economic integration can, if done right, make it harder
for governments to control people's lives in the wrong way.  Information
technology can be one of the most liberating forces humanity has ever

          Twenty years ago it was a great victory if we could smuggle a
handful of mimeograph machines to dissidents in Poland or Russia.  When I
went to the Soviet Union 30 years ago, young people would come up to me on
the street and try to figure out if there was some way I could smuggle a
book back in to them.  Now, hardly a government on Earth, in spite of all
their best efforts, can stop their much more technologically wise young
people from using the Internet to get knowledge from halfway around the

          But for freedom to prevail, we need to do more than open markets,
hook up the world to CNN, and hope dictators are driven out by .coms.  Real
change still depends upon real people, on brave men and women willing to
fight for good causes when the chance of success is low, and the danger of
persecution is great -- men and women like those we honor tonight.
Globalization on the whole, I think, will prove to be a very good thing,
but it is not a human rights policy.  To advance freedom and justice, we
have to support and defend their champion.

          Today, the defenders of human rights need our support in Serbia,
where the democratic opposition is stronger than ever, heading into
critical elections this weekend.  Mr. Milosevic has stepped up his
repression.  Surely, he is capable of stealing the election.  But if he
does, we must make sure, all of us -- not just the Americans, and certainly
not just the American government -- that he loses what legitimacy he has
left in the world, and the forces of change will grow even stronger.  We
must keep going until the people of Serbia can live normal lives and their
country can come back home to Europe.

          The defenders of human rights need our support in Burma, as well.
Their only weapons are words, reason, and the brave example of Aung San Suu
Kyi.  But these are fearful weapons to the ruling regime.  (Applause.)  So
last week they confined her again, hoping the world would not hear or speak
out.  But voices were raised, and her struggle continues.

          Those who rule Burma should know, from this place tonight, with
all these people we honor, all of us will watch carefully what happens, and
you can only regain your place in the world when you regain the trust of
your people and respect their chosen leaders.

          In these and so many other places, those who fight for human
rights deserve our support and our absolute conviction that their efforts
will not be in vain.  All human rights defenders are told in the beginning
they are naive, they are not making a difference, they are wasting their
time.  Some have even been cruelly told they are advancing some sort of
Western cultural notions of freedom that have no place in their country.
They are all laughed at, until one day their causes triumph and everyone
calls them heroes.

          The same has been said of almost every human rights policy our
nation has pursued in the past.  Kerry talked about East Timor.  A few
years ago, how many people would have predicted it could become
independent?  A dozen years ago, how many people believed the Baltic states
would be free?  But all those people who came out for Captive Nations Week,
year in and year out, and were literally ridiculed in the '60s and '70s,
would be right, and all the hard-headed realists would be wrong.

          The men and women we honor never gave in to repression, fatigue,
to cynicism, or to realism which justifies the unacceptable.  And neither
should America.  (Applause.)

          Hina Jilani, who has worked for women and human rights in
Pakistan, and is with us tonight, said, "I never have a sense of futility
because what we do is worth doing."  If you believe that every person
matters, that every person has a story, and a voice that deserves to be
heard, then you must believe that what all human rights defenders do
everywhere, is worth doing.

          Let us never develop a sense of futility, for the people we honor
tonight have proved the wisdom of Martin Luther King's timeless adage, that
the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

          Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

                             END      8:40 P.M. EDT

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