Thank you, Madame President.
The United States thanks Special Rapporteur Kiai for his work and for his first report on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential components of democracy and pillars of a thriving society. As President Obama said, “The arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble and by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change.”
Since the creation of this mandate, we have witnessed citizens around the world, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, assemble peacefully and demand that their human rights be protected, forever changing their societies. Many governments, including ones that have experienced episodes of citizen insecurity, such as Guatemala and Mexico, generally respect this right and actively train law enforcement in the principles of international human rights law.
The right to freedom of assembly and peaceful association remains under constant threat. As the Special Rapporteur notes, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is routinely curtailed by a number of governments, like in Belarus and Iran. And in Syria, brave men, women and children who peacefully assemble daily to demonstrate against the oppressive Assad regime are met with mortars, bullets, and tanks.
While the Special Rapporteur notes Cuba has, in theory, taken some positive measures, the United States notes with concern that, in practice, the government has intensified efforts to prevent its citizens from exercising their rights – most notably by organizing mobs to interfere with and, at times, violently disperse public assemblies. Denying the right to freedom of peaceful assembly contributes to instability and thwarts social development; protecting this right is essential for strong, stable, and prosperous societies.
The right to freedom of association is also under growing threat. As Secretary Clinton has said, “…when governments crack down on the right of citizens to work together, as they have throughout history, societies fall into stagnation and decay.” The importance of strong, vibrant, and free civil society cannot be overstated in today’s world. Societies move forward when citizens are empowered to mobilize and take joint action; nations regress when human rights are suppressed.
Rather than embracing the central role civil society plays in identifying and eradicating injustices, a number of governments, including those of China, Egypt, and Ethiopia, have undercut the right to freedom of association by restricting NGO activities, including by placing limitations on funding. Trade unionists also continue to be targeted for attacks, particularly in Latin America. All of these actions pose a fundamental challenge to the advancement of human rights globally, and deserve the continued close attention of the Council. We have the following questions for the Special Rapporteur:
· What are the most pressing threats to the freedoms of assembly and association today?
· What are some lessons for civil society groups operating in restrictive environments?
The United States also thanks Special Rapporteur Emmerson for his first report to the Human Rights Council. We are committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in counterterrorism initiatives, and fully support implementation of the UN General Assembly’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy.
We appreciate the Special Rapporteur’s and the Strategy’s emphasis on the protection of human rights in counterterrorism, and the work of UN entities, including the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), in this regard. We are very pleased to participate in the upcoming conference devoted to victims of terrorism, which will be hosted by the Government of Spain and the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
The United States shares the belief that terrorist acts directed, organized, and committed by non-state actors without state involvement are heinous, despicable, and serious criminal offenses. However, we do not share the view these acts violate international human rights obligations and would be hesitant to endorse creating human rights protections that apply only to victims of terrorism. In the United States, in addition to avenues for criminal prosecution and civil proceedings, violent crime victims, including victims of acts of terrorism, may qualify for certain compensation. Every U.S. state has a compensation program for crimes that occur in that state. For federal cases, the Justice Department Office for Victims of Crime administers the Crime Victims Fund. This office also administers an International Terrorism Victim Expense Reimbursement Program, which reimburses eligible victims of acts of international terrorism that occur outside the United States for expenses associated with that victimization.
We wish to thank the Special Rapporteur once again for his dedicated work on these complex and important issues, and for his considered engagement with the United States. We look forward to an ongoing constructive dialogue with you in the coming years.
Thank you, Madame President.