Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
At the World Conference on Human Rights, the international community re-affirmed its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Principles of the UN Charter, and adopted the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA). The United States takes this opportunity to again convey our support and admiration for people around the world who are struggling to make those aspirations a reality. Notably, in the Middle East and North Africa, we continue to see on-going demands for peaceful, credible, and genuine democratic change so that the rights laid out in the Vienna Declaration become a reality for all.
In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, we have seen changes in government brought about by citizens demanding democracy, greater economic opportunities, and human dignity. We applaud reforms underway in Jordan and Morocco to respond to the peaceful demands of their citizens. We know from experience that democratic reform rarely takes place without setbacks and challenges along the way. Yet we are encouraged by a number of steps that have been taken so far, including the establishment of OHCHR country offices in both Tunisia and Yemen.
We are also encouraged by Egypt’s free presidential election, a significant milestone in its transition to democracy. The Egyptian people have made clear that they expect an authentic civilian-led democracy, including an elected parliament and a constitutional order that reflects their will, respects the human rights of all Egyptians, and advances the aspirations that brought them to Tahrir Square over a year ago. This includes releasing peaceful protesters and all others held for simply exercising their universal rights. We support the Egyptian people as they pursue their aspirations for authentic democracy, and call on the Egyptian government to work proactively with OHCHR in this crucial time to protect human rights.
The Government of Bahrain has taken steps to implement the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), but it must fully implement the remaining important recommendations. For example, it needs to hold accountable officials responsible for human rights violations, including deaths in custody resulting from torture, to drop charges against all persons accused of crimes based on their political expression, and to ensure fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases, such as those of the medical professionals. The Government of Bahrain also needs to prevent the use of excessive force by the police and to diversify police forces to reflect the communities in which they serve. We also urge the Government to respect its citizens’ rights to free expression, free association and free assembly, and to facilitate access to Bahrain for journalists and civil society organizations.
Across the Middle East, and around the world, governments are being called on to ensure the human rights and aspirations of their citizens, to follow through on their promises to uphold those rights, and to hold accountable those who have committed serious human rights violations – including by effectively prosecuting officials responsible for those violations. The international community stands ready to assist those who seek our help.
Today as we bear witness to the tides of change and progress currently underway in the Middle East and North Africa, we urge governments to recommit themselves to their most imperative responsibility: the protection and promotion of human rights for each and every citizen.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President.