- - Monday, March 3, 2014

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s record on human rights came under harsh criticism in Geneva, Switzerland, last week as political dissidents and pro-democracy activists gathered at a conference ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s annual session.

Clinton has been praised for her role in negotiating U.S. asylum for Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, and she received the Lantos Foundation Human Rights award for her proclamations on women’s rights and her “pioneering work on Internet freedom.”

However, activists at the Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy, hosted last week by United Nations watchdog group UN Watch, gave a very different assessment of the former secretary of state, telling the Washington Free Beacon that she was silent and passive on some of the most pressing human rights issues during her tenure at the State Department.

Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of an American Christian pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran since the summer of 2012, said the State Department under Clinton all but ignored her husband’s case, and did not take an active role until Secretary of State John Kerry took over last year.

“For Hillary Clinton to have been completely silent, and not have done anything when my husband was taken, and knowing … it was strictly on a human rights issue, really bothered me because I expected otherwise from my government,” Abedini said.

She said she first contacted the State Department in August 2012, days after her husband Saeed Abedini was detained in Tehran. The Christian pastor, who was in Iran to help build an orphanage, was later sentenced to eight years in prison on religion-related charges.

“It was just very cold,” Abedini said about her initial call to the State Department. “[One official] said ‘We’re not Hollywood—we can’t just fly in there and save people.’”

She said Clinton and State Department officials brushed off phone calls and letters from her attorneys and members of Congress for months.

“We received nothing, no movement, no comments, nothing until March [2013], and Kerry was the first to say something,” Abedini said.

“From the first phone call I expected movement,” she added. “I didn’t expect nothing. Somewhere along the line I felt like the message I was getting from them was, ‘We don’t want to ruffle feathers [with Iran], we want to focus on the nuclear [issue].’”

A senior State Department official defended Clinton’s record, saying agency officials spoke out in support of Saeed Abedini as soon as his wife asked them to do so.

“Once the family asked the U.S. government to speak publicly on the case, we publicly noted our concern about Mr. Abedini’s welfare, called on Iran to respect its own laws and provide him access to an attorney, requested consular access on behalf of Swiss officials, and called for his immediate release,” the official said.

“The Swiss government, in its role as our protecting power, has continued to raise these cases with Iran on our behalf, as have other countries whom we have asked to press Iran to cooperate on these cases.”

The State Department issued its first public statement on Abedini’s imprisonment on Jan. 27, 2013, six months after he was first detained. Clinton officially stepped down as secretary of state on Feb. 1, 2013.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf noted the agency’s actions on Iranian human rights issues under Clinton, including its lobbying for UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Iran’s human rights abuses.

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