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In countries around the world, non-governmental organizations, or N-G-Os, and other activists strive to protect the rights of minorities, workers, and women. They also work to establish civil societies, free and fair elections, and law-based democracies.
But N-G-Os have been under attack in such places as Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. But this trend, says U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron, is global in scope.
Many N-G-Os and activists have helped bring about increased respect for human rights and democratic principles, but not without great sacrifice, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
"Whenever N-G-Os and other human rights defenders are under siege, freedom and democracy are undermined. The world's democracies must push back. We must defend the defenders."
To support N-G-Os, the United States has created the Human Rights Defenders Fund. The fund will allow the State Department to disburse grants to human rights activists facing extraordinary needs because government repression.
The U.S. has also created two human rights awards. The Freedom Defenders Award will be presented to a foreign individual or to an N-G-O that has shown exceptional courage in advocating human rights and democracy. The Diplomacy for Freedom Award will be given to a U.S. ambassador who has devoted his or her efforts to help end tyranny and promote democracy.
The United States remains committed to a foreign policy rooted in promoting individual freedom. A central component of that policy is defending the work of N-G-Os. "The work of freedom," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "cannot be completed overnight, but it is urgent work that cannot be delayed." The United States will continue to work with all free nations to defend those who fight for human dignity and democracy.