Thank you, Anne. First obviously, I want to thank very much Refugees International and the Open Society Foundations for hosting this event abut shining a spotlight for many years on the issue of statelessness and challenges faced by the Rohingya. You have helped focus the world’s attention on these serious issues. We also commend the dedicated Greg Constantine for his moving photographs that successfully tell the stories of stateless people living on the margins of society.
But before talking about the Rohingya – and I am going to use that pronunciation, I realize that in Bangladesh one says Rohing-GA and in Burma one says Rohing-ZHA, but because my experience is deeper in Bangladesh, I will stay with that one. Let’s review why the lack of citizenship is at the root of solving the vexing problem of statelessness that affects 12 million people worldwide.
Citizenship is a core concept that defines the relationship between a state and an individual – each has obligations to the other. Citizenship is often the gateway to a person’s ability to realize a range of human rights and basic services, including freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to vote, access to education, and property ownership. The former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Earl Warren, described citizenship as “the right to have rights.”
Stateless persons are not recognized as citizens by any state, and as a result, stateless persons lack identity basic protections that come with this status. They typically do not have identity documentation, and cannot register births, marriages, or deaths. Without such documentation, they often cannot work legally or travel freely. They cannot vote, open a bank account, or own property, and they often lack access to health care and other public services. Without birth registration or citizenship documents, children are often barred from attending school. For these reasons, stateless persons are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
Combating statelessness requires first that governments, civil society groups, and international, regional, and local organizations recognize the problem, its causes, and the suffering and indignities it inflicts on millions of people around the world. This is an under-recognized problem. But recognition is not enough – governments around the world must take strong action to address this eminently solvable problem for millions of disenfranchised and vulnerable people.
The U.S. Government understands the need to take strong action to combat statelessness and we are doing so both through our diplomatic policy engagement and our financial support to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the international organization mandated to prevent and reduce statelessness. The United States is the single largest donor to UNHCR, as many of you know. This year, the United States contributed over $775 million to UNHCR’s work on protection, assistance, and statelessness.
But let’s return to the topic of our efforts on behalf of the Rohingya, rendered stateless as a result of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law. The Rohingya’s ethnic identity and origin are highly disputed. While some historical accounts note that they are indigenous to the kingdom of Arakan since the 9th century, which at times, also occupied southern parts of modern Bangladesh; others claim that Rohingya migrated to the region during British colonialism. This latter claim has consistently fueled anti-Rohingya sentiment, leading to periodic tension and violence against the Rohingya by the former military regime after Burma gained independence.
It’s fair to say that the Rohingya are the reason I remain a public servant with the Department of State for over 22 years. Back in 1992 as a quarter of a million Rohingya were fleeing to Bangladesh, I was seconded to UNHCR and served as a protection officer in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, hearing first hand many of their stories. It was a transformative experience for me, as the government of Bangladesh –with strong support from the international community, including UNHCR — worked feverishly to protect this disenfranchised group.
But it’s now 20 years later, and Bangladesh remains host to some 30,000 registered Rohingya from that wave of displacement. In addition, some 200,000-plus Rohingya have since sought safety and protection in Bangladesh, but remain undocumented. We have urged the government of Bangladesh to register this population and improve their living conditions, as well as those of the Bangladeshi community that hosts them. The needs continue to be great in the Cox’s Bazar district, one of the poorest in the country. Bangladesh is not alone in addressing these needs. The United States has remained steadfast supporters of continued assistance to Bangladesh through international and non-governmental humanitarian organizations and development partners, especially in the areas of health, water and sanitation, food security, and education. We have long advocated for protection for vulnerable Rohingya and will continue to do so.
But we have not had a singular focus on Bangladesh. Over the years, the U.S. Government has also supported UNHCR’s activities in Burma. UNHCR has worked with the Burmese government to provide identification documents to the Rohingya and improve their legal status and access to services. UNHCR programs have helped improve community participation, especially, but not exclusively, of Muslim women and girls, in decisions on education and reproductive health services. We have been vocal advocates on status and documentation issues. And additionally, our policy has aimed to ensure that the Rohingya benefit from improvements in services for healthcare, education, water, sanitation, and agriculture.
I am proud of the fact that we have and will continue to support humanitarian protection and assistance to the Rohingya in Burma, Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere in the region by working closely with the international community and countries affected by Rohingya displacement to reach a comprehensive, sustainable, and just solution to their plight.
As you know, the Department of State has been a very strong advocate for national reconciliation as Burma undertakes democratic and political reform. And just to outline briefly: in an effort to address one of the most intractable and difficult ethnic minority issues, made all the more challenging following the June 2012 eruption of violence between Rohingya and Rakhine communities in Rakhine State, Secretary Clinton dispatched a delegation of senior U.S. Government officials to visit Burma and Bangladesh. We assessed conditions and made initial recommendations after speaking with government officials, local communities, civil society, and international and non-governmental organizations. The trip included field visits to both sides of the border.
Throughout the trip, each of us brought his or her expertise to bear on the situation. And I’ll review who was on the delegation in a little bit more detail than Anne described in her opening: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joe Yun from EAP. He offered perspective on Burma’s attempts to balance domestic priorities with its broader reform efforts, while DAS Alyssa Ayres from the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau offered neighboring Bangladesh’s perspective. DAS Dan Baer from the Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Bureau emphasized the human rights perspective and importance of reconciliation. And I addressed the broader displacement and protection perspectives, along with the relationship with international and non-governmental humanitarian organizations. In both countries, we benefited from the expertise of very strong ambassadors and USAID teams.
Approximately 800,000 stateless Rohingya live in a region that has experienced significant displacement and periodic violence over recent decades. During the Burma portion of our trip, we focused specifically on the challenges resulting from the aftermath of the June violence. Much needs to be done: to reduce tensions, to improve the humanitarian situation, and to work towards a sustainable and just solution for all those who have suffered from the conflict and longer-term deprivation of rights. Some of the tough issues to be addressed include lasting security and stability, freedom of movement for Rakhine and Rohingya, protection (and when I say protection, including the provision of physical security and basic rights), and unimpeded humanitarian access and assistance to meet basic immediate needs. We explored how the international community can assist the Burmese government in long-term recovery efforts and the development of a path to citizenship for those Rohingya with claims. Peace is possible in Rakhine State only through economic development, poverty alleviation and ensuring basic rights for residents.
At the same time as the Burmese government works to address the underlying causes of ethnic conflict, we believe a regional approach is necessary to address mixed flows of refugees and migrants by land and sea and ensure that those fleeing are treated humanely. In this regard, we traveled to Bangladesh, where we met with senior government officials and the diplomatic community in Dhaka and traveled to Cox’s Bazar to meet with local authorities, host communities, Rohingya, UNHCR, and international NGOs.
Sadly, solutions to this protracted displacement appear increasingly elusive. I noticed a definite increase in tension and desperation since my last trip in 2011, and an escalation in humanitarian need. School enrollment is down as parents pull children from classes to become income earners, and malnutrition rates exceed emergency levels and continue to rise. Unfortunately, at the same time, organizations are facing greater obstacles to help ameliorate the situation. In our field visits to the official camps, refugees demonstrated for the right to nationality, highlighted human rights violations, and advocated for more services and education for their children. Outside the camps, the undocumented Rohingya population suffers even more without access to school, health care or decent shelter.
Fortunately, fantastic partners are committed to bettering the lives of this disenfranchised group, and humanitarian assistance provided by the U.S. Government and the international community is making a life-saving difference. Thanks to advocates such as RI, OSF, Human Rights Watch, and photographers like Greg Constantine, the Rohingya are no longer invisible and their stories are being told.
While raising international awareness is important to improving the lives of the Rohingya, we will continue to work closely with the Governments of Burma and Bangladesh and the international community to deepen the commitment to national and regional dialogues. Our commitment to resolving this intractable problem is clear. Personally, I just hope that it doesn’t take another 20 years to find that comprehensive, sustainable, and just solution.
Thank you, Madame Chairman.
Protection is hard work. As the Assistant High Commissioner noted, it is not becoming easier. Populations of concern to UNHCR are near all-time highs. There is – and must be – a constant effort on the part of us all to better fulfill our collective responsibility to protect the world’s refugees, internally displaced persons, recent returnees, and stateless persons and to assist those who are vulnerable.
UNHCR staff deserves our gratitude for the efforts they make, from the High Commissioner to the field staff, to keep pace with the ever-growing demands placed upon their organization by world events and by our international system of humanitarian response. UNHCR performance is sometimes imperfect. But the United States does not doubt the commitment and the conviction that UNHCR staff bring to their important work. In return, UNHCR personnel worldwide can be confident of the United States’ commitment to do our share, in collaboration with other states, to support UNHCR’s protection mandate.
We appreciate the arduous steps UNHCR is taking to strengthen its approach to an imposing range of protection challenges. It is striking to note the ambitious number of new or updated policies, strategies, initiatives, and guidelines that UNHCR has launched in the past few years in an effort to equip its staff and partners with better skills and tools to make their protection work more effective. This lengthy list of protection-related initiatives is worth citing. There is a new child protection framework; an updated strategy on sexual and gender-based violence; a new field manual to help address threats to the physical security of UNHCR’s persons of concern; a new education strategy with protection implications; improved guidance on how to conduct protection interviews; enhanced tools for stronger leadership of protection clusters; clearer guidelines for profiling displaced persons; updated guidance and staff training on statelessness issues; new analysis of the protection problems facing displaced persons living in host communities; an updated ten-point plan on protection in mixed migrations; and a new initiative to combat racism and xenophobia.
UNHCR is pursuing an ambitious campaign of institutional self-improvement that the United States welcomes. We are watching closely to be sure that these many good intentions at the policy level are absorbed and effectively implemented at the operational level in the field, where the genuinely hard work of protection must be done. We must remind ourselves that ultimately protection is not achieved merely by our good intentions or words of policy on paper – it is achieved by what we do. In that same spirit of working to improve existing practices, the U.S. Government welcomes UNHCR’s recent release of new guidelines that promote alternatives to the detention of asylum seekers. We will review these guidelines with a view toward how they may positively impact our own asylum system.
Madame Chairman, even while UNHCR works to develop and implement innovative new protection tools, we should also remain committed to utilizing the tools and basic protection principles that have stood the test of time. Preserving the civilian nature of humanitarian sites and resisting militarization of refugee camps is a fundamental rule of protection. We all know this. Yet we currently are witnessing in several refugee situations around the globe a direct and often brazen violation of this core protection tenet, at times with the consent of host governments. We collectively must push back against these violations that pose a grave protection threat to refugees and place UNHCR and other organizations that seek to assist refuguees in an untenable position. UNHCR and all of us who are serious about refugee protection must think very hard about the wisdom – and the questionable ethics – of expanding humanitarian operations at refugee sites that are demonstrably dangerous or repressive, if safer alternative sites exist nearby within the same asylum country.
Lastly, Madame Chairman, protection efforts are not immune to budget realities. My Government recognizes that UNHCR frequently faces difficult and even painful decisions about the allocation of its resources in increasingly tight budgetary times. UNHCR’s commitment to all of its protection and assistance responsibilities, including those for internally displaced persons under the cluster system, must be resolute and steadfast.
I’m very pleased to be in Geneva leading the United States delegation to the 63rd Session of the Executive Committee of UNHCR. As this is the first time I have represented the United States in this forum, I would like to focus my remarks on a few issues that drive – in large part – our engagement in the international humanitarian response to forced displacement.
First, we must ensure that those displaced as a result of conflict are included in whatever peace negotiations, discussions and decisions follow conflict. To this end, we must ensure that women are included as full and equal partners in bringing conflict to an end and building lasting security. Our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has convinced world leaders that paying attention to the voices of women is a smart thing to do – and that the concerns of women are legitimate issues for international security discussions. At the 2011 Ministerial here in Geneva,Secretary Clinton announced our government’s pledges. These included promoting women’s equal right to nationality. Knowing we can do better – that we have to do better – the United States adopted in December our first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security – a comprehensive roadmap for accelerating and institutionalizing efforts across the United States Government to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. Our work with refugees and the forcibly displaced, the pledges we made in December were a signal of our commitment to improve protection and assistance for refugees and stateless persons. In day-to-day humanitarian efforts, we continue to provide financial and political support to UNHCR to assist the most vulnerable, as well as addressing the specific protection needs of women and girls, promoting women’s equal access to resources, and participation of women in managing those resources.
We are pleased to report that we have made progress in implementing our other pledges as well, and there is an update in the back of the room. We look forward to hearing reports from other governments. It is through the full implementation of Member States’ collective pledges that we will collectively enable UNHCR to better serve its beneficiaries for generations to come.
Second, violence against women impedes economic development, threatens peace and prosperity, and inhibits full participation in civil life. There is strong evidence that gender-based violence is exacerbated in times of crisis. Under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, the United States has put gender equality and advancement of women and girls at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy – launching in August my government’s first ever global strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. Stopping such violence is a cornerstone of my government’s commitment to advancing gender equality.
Over the past four years, we have provided more than $60 million towards combating gender-based violence in such places as the DRC, Kenya, Thailand, Haiti, and Colombia. And to better address the pernicious problem of women being sexually abused while collecting firewood, we are supporting the establishment and use of improved to standards to better address fuel and firewood needs in humanitarian settings. Our support contributed to the creation of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Task Force on Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy in humanitarian settings – and accompanying guidelines for addressing fuel needs in emergencies and during long-term displacement.
Third, my government currently requires all of the organizations that are our partners have in place guiding doctrine consistent with the IASC’s six core principles to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse. The Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) has recently adopted new, internal standard operating procedures to increase our own awareness of staff responsibilities, reporting and investigation mechanisms, and program management procedures to prevent and respond to this problem.
And finally, our vision of responsible humanitarian response also includes supporting UN agencies and the international humanitarian architecture they collectively represent. We are providing nearly $2 billion this year to assist refugees and the internally displaced. We invest in UNHCR, in UNICEF, in WFP, and in NGOs – to make certain that they have the capacity to respond on day one of an emergency. No single government should have to feel alone, overwhelmed or overburdened in assisting those fleeing violence. And no government should fear this assistance or work against the best efforts of this international response when vulnerable people need to be helped.
In closing, allow me to express my government’s deep appreciation to the staff of UNHCR, for the contributions to the cause we all serve: the protection of refugees and the displaced – and the promotion of the solutions that allow them to lead their lives in freedom and with dignity.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Cross posted from: http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/remarks/2012/198693.htm
2012 has been a remarkable year for Burma. Under President Thein Sein’s leadership, we have seen electoral reforms, the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the formalizing of diplomatic relations between our two countries, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s historic visit to the United States, all of which have brought immense hope and a sense of possibility to the people of Burma and all of us who care deeply about their future. Earlier this year, with colleagues from the State Department and private sector foundation leaders, we visited Burma to shine a spotlight on issues relating to women and girls at this crucial moment in history.
We have no illusions about the future. From a dearth of basic infrastructure, to the many political prisoners still languishing in jail, to the ongoing ethnic violence and continuing human rights violations against women, the road toward freedom and prosperity for Burma is still far from certain.
But, at each stop we made, from Rangoon, to Naypyidaw, to the Shan state, we were struck and inspired by the spirit and energy of the women of Burma. We met with women of all ages across all sectors of society — from the iconic and courageous Aung San Suu Kyi, to small business owners and health clinic workers, to those teaching civics to young children. We came to realize that even after years of isolation and repression, Burma’s women had built a strong and resilient civil society and had found resourceful ways to meet critical needs in local communities.
The older generation of women with whom we met, who came of age before Burma’s isolation from the world, were clearly the most educated. Many spoke fluent English. Many were retired civil servants or professionals and had found ways to provide some of the critical health, education, and other services to the people that the government had failed to provide. Over the years, these women had been able to operate within limited space and their activities were tolerated, to a certain extent, by the former military regime. Although very realistic, they uniformly expressed a cautious sense of hopefulness about the future.
The younger generation — those in their teens and 20′s — appeared most optimistic and energized about Burma’s future. Many are engaged in social entrepreneurship and have started or are participating in NGOs. They’ve become increasingly empowered to embrace their rights, whether in the home, in the workplace, in community and political activities or at the university.
While Burma has the experienced older generation to anchor society and the young generation to break new ground, the “missing middle” generation poses a challenge to Burma’s transition because for years, they had been deprived of any opportunity to receive education and contribute to society. Most of the identified “missing middle” women leaders are former political prisoners and victims of the collapse of Burma’s education and university systems. These courageous women paid a severe price for their political activism in labor rights, land rights, HIV/AIDS, and democracy promotion. Many of them left the country during the most oppressive years, but some have chosen to return. While it would be easy for these women to retreat into bitterness, they are moving forward, taking advantage of the recent opening to test the progress by creating NGOs, building women’s networks, supporting women workers to negotiate for better conditions and higher pay, and advocating for women in ethnic communities. Recently released from prison, many have already returned to the political arena. One former prisoner was elected to the parliament during the latest by-election. Their resilience might just be the most powerful force moving the country forward.
If Burma is to meet its full potential, we’ve got to find ways to engage and empower all three generations of women. For the older generation, this calls for supporting those individuals and grassroots organizations already implementing successful community work. The younger generation, as a crucial part of the Burmese workforce, will need guidance and support to become effective advocates for women, and the future leaders of Burma’s social and economic transformation. For the “missing middle generation,” we need to provide critical capacity building services and advocate for their close involvement and advancement in Burmese society.
There are promising signs that the international community is listening, and implementing initiatives that empower women and broader civil society in the country. The U.S. Secretary of State’s International Fund for Women and Girls and the Abbott Fund recently announced a public-private partnership to help women in Burma. With U.S. $1 million from the Abbott Fund, over the next two years we will work with local grassroots organizations to advance health, education and economic opportunity across communities in Burma. The State Department, too, is boosting its exchange programs with Burma — from Fulbright scholarships to the International Visitors Leadership Program — so that more women can gain the team-building networking, education and capacity-building opportunities so crucial to their future success.
Burma, a country suffering from decades of internal ethnic conflicts, cannot secure peace and prosperity without the equal participation of its people of all ethnicities, religions, or gender. A recent Asian Development Bank report says Burma is poised to accelerate growth. This means businesswomen’s access to capital and market needs to improve so they can help create a new, inclusive and sustainable economy. As the international community considers the most effective ways to support the people of Burma, it must focus on empowerment of the people, including the most marginalized and women. Aung San Suu Kyi once said, “Development must be about individual empowerment” — the ability of the people to let go of fear and to take action on behalf of themselves, their communities and their country. For too long, Burmese women have been unable to realize their full potential; now we’ve got to listen to their needs and fully integrate them into the political, economic, and social processes to ensure Burma’s success.
Six-Year Anniversary of the Murder of Anna Politkovskaya
Six years ago on October 7, renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed in her apartment building. With her death, the Russian people lost a voice that courageously sought to report the truth. Today we remember Anna’s legacy both as a journalist and as a champion of human dignity. Justice will not be done until all involved in her murder have been identified and prosecuted.
We will continue to shine the spotlight on this case, and others, such as American Paul Klebnikov who was gunned down in Moscow eight years ago. Journalists across the globe who speak out against abuses and work to secure fundamental freedoms for their fellow citizens must be protected.
Statement by Secretary Clinton on the Finalization of the Philippines – Moro Islamic Liberation Front Framework Agreement
United States welcomes the announcement of the framework agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This agreement is a testament to the commitment of all sides for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the southern Philippines. The next steps will be to ensure that the framework agreement is fully implemented. We encourage all parties to work together to build peace, prosperity and greater opportunities for all the people of the Philippines.
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva just concluded its 21st session, which was the last regular session of the United States’ first term on the Council. Since we joined in 2009, working together with a broad range of cross regional partners, we made significant progress across a wide array of important human rights issues.
Early in the session, the United States along with the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Mexico, and Nigeria, presented a resolution on the rights of freedom of association and assembly. The resolution reaffirms the importance of respect for the rights of peaceful association and assembly as essential components of democracy. The resolution calls upon States to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, a mandate that was established two years ago through a U.S.-led resolution.
The Council also maintained its strong pressure on the Assad regime in Syria, adopting its fifth resolution on that country this year. The United States was proud to co-sponsor the resolution, which renewed the mandate of the Syria Commission of Inquiry (COI) and enables the COI to continue its important work documenting widespread and systematic crimes against the people of Syria.
I also want to note the African Group’s leadership on a resolution on the human rights situation in the Republic of Mali, the Council’s second resolution on Mali this year. Adopted by consensus, the resolution condemns human rights abuses and violations throughout the country and renews the Council’s call for an immediate end of all human rights violations and acts of violence and destruction of cultural and religious sites.
The Council, with the African Group’s leadership, also adopted a resolution that renewed and strengthened the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan. Sudan’s human rights record is one of persistent abuse, including recent attacks on civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces, and includes severe restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. I appreciate the attention this resolution will bring to these abuses as well as the threats facing demonstrators, civil society, and journalists.
So, another positive session but obviously a lot more remains to be done. Just as the HRC is already working on its next session, the United States is also seeking a second term at the Council.