Obama Promises Expanded U.S. Support for Rights Groups

President Barack Obama said the U.S. will make a priority of supporting human rights groups in countries with repressive governments and vowed to challenge restrictions on civil society across the globe.

Speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Obama said he’s expanding the U.S. efforts beyond the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, making it the duty of every federal department to assist.

The U.S. will do more to match rights groups with donors, make it easier for foundations to make grants overseas and increase legal and technical assistance for rights groups.

“The most important title is not president or prime minister, the most important title is citizen,” Obama told an audience of philanthropists, government officials and celebrities. When governments enact repressive laws or restrict speech “it’s our job to shine a spotlight on that abuse.”

Obama, in town to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, spoke at CGI hours after announcing U.S.- and Arab-led airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic state and an al-Qaeda affiliated group. He also spoke earlier today at a UN summit on climate change.

CGI, where Obama has previously spoken, was started in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton to bring together CEOs, philanthropists, world leaders and celebrities to focus attention and money on addressing global challenges.

Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state and 2008 presidential primary opponent, has played a leading role at this year’s CGI summit as she weighs a 2016 presidential bid.

Obama praised her work as a key member of his cabinet.

“One of my best decisions as president was asking Hillary Clinton to serve as secretary of state,” he said.

Other participants include Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors Co.; John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems Inc.; and Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

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