The Foreign Service Journal, September 2016

68 SEPTEMBER 2016 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA NEWS Transformational Diplomacy THE MARK PALMER AWARD FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF DEMOCRACY MICHAEL HONIGSTEIN As head of the political section at U.S. Embassy Colombo, which covers both Sri Lanka and Maldives, Michael Honigstein worked to assist Sri Lanka with reconciliation efforts following its 30-year civil war, supported work toward a democratic transi- tion in Maldives, and pro- moted human rights in both countries. In Sri Lanka, the govern- ment led by then-President Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa was becoming increasingly authoritarian—using the security forces to repress dissent and tightly control- ling free speech. It was widely accepted at that time that Rajapaksa would be president for life; indeed, he had already amended the constitution to remove term limits. Knowing that any Sri Lank- ans who spoke out against the regime in power were threatened, killed or simply “disappeared,”Mr. Honigstein worked closely with the other sections and agencies at the embassy to develop a strategy to promote and protect a dialogue on democracy and to support human rights advo- cates willing to speak out at great personal risk. Aware that the Sri Lankan authorities were hesitant to kill embassy contacts, Mr. Honigstein ensured that they knew that embassy staff were meeting with those under particular threat. He also used embassy statements to create space for discussion in the media. This approach was not without risk; Mr. Honigstein was directly warned by the Sri Lankan Secretary of Defense—himself a suspected war criminal—to cease his “regime-change” activities. AFSA/JOAQUINSOSA Michael Honigstein receives the Mark Palmer Award from Dr. Sushma Palmer. The award, which is named for Dr. Palmer’s late husband, is being given for the second time this year. COURTESYOFMICHAELHONIGSTEIN Michael Honigstein, second from right, attends a conference with the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka in Colombo. In January 2015, President Rajapaksa unexpectedly lost his bid for re-election. His opponent ran on a platform of good governance, promoting democracy and protecting human rights. AFSA applauds Mr. Honigstein for his actions in defending these values and enabling the free dialogue of the Sri Lankan people. Accepting the award, Mr. Honigstein said that Ameri- can diplomats should “shine a light” in countries where citizens cannot do so them- selves. The way to do that is by “sticking to our values—as we are always stronger when we stick by our values—and making statements, pushing U.N. resolutions and mak- ing clear what is right. The other way to put pressure on is to find brave people in that culture who are willing to stand up for what is right and support them.” In a subsequent assign- ment, as head of the human rights unit in the State Depart- ment’s Bureau of International Organizations, Mr. Honigstein helped transform the United Nations Human Rights Council into a body that more effectively supported human rights and democracy world- wide. He worked to promote democracy in Iran, North Korea and Côte d’Ivoire, and also ensured a special session on the Syrian crisis. Mr. Honigstein served earlier as the peace process officer in Israel, worked on the crisis in Darfur in both Washington and Khartoum, and helped open the consul- ate general—now embassy— in Juba, South Sudan. Other postings include Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, and the Bahamas. Currently he is developing and implementing strategies to reform the elec- toral process in Afghanistan at U.S. Embassy Kabul. n AFSA EXEMPLARY PERFORMANCE AWARDS