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Southcom Chief Marks 20th Year of Human Rights Initiative

Dec. 14, 2017 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News
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Countries where human rights are promoted are stable and secure, and militaries that respect and uphold human rights and the rule of law are welcomed, not feared, the commander of U.S. Southern Command said here Dec. 12.

U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Guyana Perry Holloway.
Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Guyana Perry Holloway, and Ambassador Liliana Ayalde, Southcom civilian deputy to the commander, prior to the 2017 Caribbean Nations Security Conference Dec. 6 in Georgetown, Guyana. DoD photo by Jose Ruiz
U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Guyana Perry Holloway.
Tidd Speaks
Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, speaks with U.S. Ambassador to Guyana Perry Holloway, and Ambassador Liliana Ayalde, Southcom civilian deputy to the commander, prior to the 2017 Caribbean Nations Security Conference Dec. 6 in Georgetown, Guyana. DoD photo by Jose Ruiz
Photo By: Jose Ruiz
VIRIN: 171206-A-BQ509-002

Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd opened the Human Rights Initiative Conference here charting the progress of the initiative on its 20th anniversary.

“The success of Southcom's Human Rights Initiative is measured by the success of the remarkable work our partners have led, with the support of many in the room, to integrate respect and accountability for the protection of human rights into our defense and security efforts,” Tidd said in prepared remarks. “We have much to be proud of, and much still to do.”

Human Rights Don’t Come From the Barrel of a Weapon

The initiative codified a well-known truth: That human rights don’t come from the barrel of a weapon or are conferred by political leaders. Human rights are also woven into the moral and ethical fabric of the military and security professions. “It is the bedrock of the trust our citizens and civilian leaders place in our military and security forces, and on which our legitimacy is built,” he said.

The initiative grew out of dark days in the 1980s and into the 1990s when rebel groups and narco-terrorists fought government forces in Central and South America and all trampled on human rights. Citizens of the region saw no difference between the rival forces.

Human rights cannot be an afterthought, Tidd said, they must be central to the military mission of protecting citizens.

Military officers throughout the Western Hemisphere recognized, and began work on the Human Rights Initiative. Some 34 democracies in the region participated in drafting and finalizing the Consensus Document. Nongovernmental and international organizations advised throughout the process.

That document “was a promise to our hemisphere’s citizens, and a solemn pledge to one another, that we would do better,” the admiral said.

Now there is a network in the region devoted to this concept, the admiral said, and every security decision considers the implications of that decision on human rights. “Across the hemisphere, human rights is now embedded in military doctrine, training, education, and above all, in our collective moral code,” he said.

The results speak for themselves, Tidd said, but they haven’t been easy.

Human Rights Initiative’s Success

The key is for regional militaries to engage in open, frank dialogue with their closest partners and fiercest critics. “As we prepare to make additional progress over the next 20 years, leaderships, political will, commitment and dialogue will remain critically important,” the admiral said.

The initiative recognizes the past even as the nations of the region push forward. “Mistakes will happen,” he said, “and when they do, how we respond as institutions and leaders will continue to be the cornerstone to retaining the trust of our citizens and our legitimacy in their eyes.”

Parts of the hemisphere are experiencing high levels of violence. “Today, many military forces are confronting nonstate actors, including transnational terrorist and criminal networks, that ruthlessly attack civilians, fuel corruption and sow fear and suffering everywhere they operate,” Tidd said. “The capabilities and tactics of some of these organizations can and do challenge military and security forces to uphold standards and rules of engagement.

“What is different today, is that when human rights issues arise in our forces, they usually reflect poor decisions by individuals and not institutionalized policies,” the admiral continued.

Continuing -- or redoubling -- the emphasis on human rights is an answer, the admiral said. “Respect and accountability for human rights requires constant work and vigilance,” Tidd said. “If we don’t keep moving forward, we surely will slide backward.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)