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Vaclav Havel: Don't Treat Human Rights as an "Afterthought"

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel at new RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, 27Mar2009
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel at new RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, 27Mar2009
(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) Nearly fifteen years after inviting RFE/RL to relocate from Munich to Prague, former Czech President Vaclav Havel presided over RFE/RL's first editorial meeting at its new, state-of-the-art broadcast center today. Havel praised RFE/RL's mission and warned democratic countries against viewing human rights issues as an "afterthought" when dealing with authoritarian regimes.

"Western democracies have mastered the art of not talking about human rights with dictatorships," he said. "They focus on economics, energy, and agriculture and only mention human rights somewhere at the end as some kind of afterthought."

Havel echoed Belarusian dissident Alyaksandr Kazulin's recent comments to RFE/RL that pro-democracy and human rights leaders should be included in the EU's upcoming meeting with Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin said "Havel's life and work are intimately connected to the values and ideals that lie at the heart of RFE/RL's mission."

"Although this new building will be officially opened in May by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), today's gathering is a kind of intellectual and moral christening," said Gedmin. "It is an honor to have President Havel join RFE/RL Executive Editor John O'Sullivan as co-chair of this first editorial meeting in our new home." [see a photogallery of RFE/RL's new headquarters]

Several world leaders sent messages of support to RFE/RL and President Havel on the occasion, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and a bipartisan group of U.S. congressional leaders.

RFE/RL is moving from the former Czechoslovak communist parliament building in Prague, which is being turned over to the National Museum.

About RFE/RL
RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 20 countries where a free press is either banned by the government or not fully established. Each week, more than 25 million people in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Belarus, and elsewhere rely on RFE/RL for objective news and information.