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Ambassador Robinson Addresses the UNHCR Executive Committee

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for your leadership of this Committee over the past year. And thank you, Mr. High Commissioner, for your remarks this morning. And Mr. High Commissioner, thank you for your extraordinary personal leadership over this past year. You have been a tireless advocate on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people and have been a strong and persuasive voice for reform and enhancement of the international system. Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, 2011 has witnessed new crises and new opportunities. The promise of democracy throughout the Arab world is encouraging – and UNHCR’s assistance to those seeking protection from the civil unrest throughout the region is to be commended.

It is the human tragedy in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa, however, which I will use today as a lens for my remarks – and for five basic observations.

First, protection must be the fundamental goal of the international community – and UNHCR’s leadership has never been more essential. Whether the threat is forced return of refugees, improper denial of asylum, gender-based violence, blockages of humanitarian access or restrictions on freedom of movement, UNHCR must be ready to act. Organizational pressures must never be allowed to outweigh or slow-down the response to protection concerns.

Second, no one government or agency can do it alone. Nurturing and valuing long-standing partnerships while developing new ones must be the operational foundation of UNHCR’s work. These partnerships are essential to UNHCR’s role in the UN cluster system, to implementation of its urban refugee policy and Transitional Solutions Initiative, to responding effectively in emergencies when UNHCR’s capacity is stretched across major and sometimes multiple crises at once, and to meeting so many more humanitarian assistance and protection needs. Organizational mandate must never stand in the way of timely and adequate assistance.

Third, UNHCR’s response to emergencies is the most visible element of its work. It is the one that makes the headlines. Scaling up quickly to new crises must be the operating norm, not simply a plan on paper. Organizational capacity must be strengthened by a human resources policy that delivers good performance in emergency situations.

Fourth, results-based management and the ability to measure performance is no longer a new concept. It has been a major part of UNHCR’s vocabulary for nearly a decade. However, the report of the Board of Auditors for 2010 is troubling in its examination of progress. Organizational inertia must not be allowed to stand in the way of a structured and digestible analysis of progress and impact that can steer senior leadership towards priorities for intervention.

Fifth, and finally, humanitarian diplomats and humanitarian implementers must work hand-in-hand. No longer is just physical and legal assistance enough. Solutions to long-standing refugee situations require sustained and strengthened involvement in policy advocacy. We must be relentless, formidable, and effective advocates for victims of persecution, violence, and human rights abuses. We must be emboldened by a very broad conception of our humanitarian and protection responsibilities. Organizational working methods must be supported by skillful and aggressive humanitarian diplomacy at every level, as the High Commissioner so eloquently demonstrated.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the United States remains a committed partner with UNHCR and the beneficiaries it serves. We are providing more than $680 million dollars this year to the organization to assist its work across all four pillars defining its populations of concern – refugee assistance, refugee returns and reintegration, the internally displaced, and stateless persons. We know the work is not always easy – nor the solutions fast enough. We continue to salute UNHCR’s staff for what they do in often very difficult and dangerous environments. And we are resolved to continue our work as a member of the international community represented in this room today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Representative Berman, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today on the implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act. The United States remains committed to a denuclearized North Korea that respects the rights of its citizens. Advancing human rights is a top U.S. priority in our North Korea policy and is among the primary factors that will determine if any long-term improvement between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be possible.

Congress has been a consistent supporter of efforts to ensure that U.S. policy toward North Korea promotes respect for the human rights of the North Korean people. The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and its reauthorization in 2008 demonstrates Congress’ commitment to ensuring that the well-being of the North Korean people remains an important foreign policy priority. This legislation created the position that I hold, the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, and the 2008 reauthorization made the position full-time with Ambassadorial rank. Since receiving Senate confirmation in November 2009, I have engaged with international organizations, our bilateral partners, and NGOs, to identify concrete ways to improve human rights conditions inside the DPRK and encourage the DPRK government to respect the rights of its citizens.

In my recent trip to Pyongyang, I engaged directly on human rights issues with Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other high-level officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Engaging with DPRK officials is a key requirement of the position of the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights, which, until last week, the DPRK refused to accept outside of the UN context. This was the first time the United States’ Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues was granted entry to the DPRK and the first time we were able to engage in a direct dialogue about ways in which North Korea can improve its human rights record. This is a significant first step and I believe we can build up on this foundation with our partners who share our deep concerns about the North Korean people. The DPRK continues to deny the entry requests made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK, Mr. Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, just as they denied his predecessor, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand.

Under the Obama Administration, the Special Envoy position is situated in the Office of North Korea Policy within the State Department to ensure that human rights remains an integral part of our North Korea policy. I work directly with Secretary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Steinberg and cooperate closely with the other members of the North Korea policy team, Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, and Special Envoy for Six Party Talks, Ambassador Sung Kim, and participate in all relevant policy discussions, in accordance with Congressional intent. In close consultation with the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP), particularly the Office of Korean Affairs, as well as the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), including the Office of International Religious Freedom, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the independent Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the State Department works diligently to implement the North Korean Human Rights Act.

In support of international efforts to promote human rights and political freedoms in North Korea, my office and the Department coordinate regularly with the United Nations, the European Union, and with countries that share our concerns for the North Korean people. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York, I represented the United States, including delivering our intervention during the Universal Periodic Review of the DPRK in December 2009 when the international community presented North Korea with 167 recommendations to improve its human rights record. Since I took office, three strong resolutions have been adopted in UN bodies by large margins:

· UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/8 “The Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” was adopted on March 24, 2011 by a vote of 30 in favor, 3 against, and 11 abstentions.

· UN General Assembly resolution 65/225 “The Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” was adopted on December 21, 2010, in the General Assembly by a vote of 106 in favor, 20 against, and 57 abstentions.

· UN Human Rights Council resolution 13/14 “The Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” was adopted on March 25, 2010 by a vote of 28 in favor, 5 against, and 13 abstentions.

We have also encouraged our partners to include human rights in their North Korea policy. I have engaged with our ally the Republic of Korea (ROK), meeting with officials at high levels in the President’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Ministry of National Unification. In visits to North Korean resettlement and assistance centers in the ROK, including Hanawon, I have seen the extent to which the ROK has invested in providing opportunities to the 21,000 North Koreans they have resettled. I have learned from North Korean refugees themselves, about the grim conditions inside the DPRK and their often perilous journey in seeking a better life in the ROK.

In Japan, I have met with senior Japanese government officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dealing with Northeast Asia issues and human rights. I have also engaged with Japanese Cabinet officials responsible for the issue of Japanese abductees taken by the DPRK and met with family members of abductees in Geneva, Tokyo, and Washington. We have assured them the United States will never forget the suffering of the abductees or their families.

In addition to consulting with other governments, I have met with over 90 organizations that deal with North Korea human rights issues – think tanks and academic institutions that analyze human rights issues; advocacy organizations that call attention to human right abuses; humanitarian assistance organizations that provide food, medical aid, and other assistance to the DPRK; educational, cultural, and scientific organizations that seek to engage the DPRK; churches and religious organizations; and Korean-American organizations that are interested in family reunions with relatives living in the DPRK.

My position exists because North Korea remains one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The Department of State assesses that the human rights situation in the DPRK remains deplorable.

· The U.S. Department of State’s 2010 annual Human Rights Report documents NGO reports of a number of serious problems with the DPRK’s human rights record. State security forces reportedly commit severe human rights abuses and subject political prisoners to brutality and torture. Elections are not free or fair; the judiciary is not independent; and citizens are denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. In addition, the DPRK imposes severe restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of movement. Finally, we hear continuing and widespread reports of severe punishment of repatriated asylum seekers and of trafficking of women and girls across the border into China.

· The U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report documents the denial of religious liberty. Under the terms of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the DPRK is designated a “Country of Particular Concern.”

· The U.S. Department of State’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report states that the North Korean regime continues to use forced labor as part of an established system of political repression.

To ameliorate these conditions, the North Korea Human Rights Act authorized funding to support programs which promote human rights, democracy and rule of law in the DPRK. Between FY 2008-2011, the Department received $9.5 million in ESF funds within the Governing Justly and Democratically objective to promote rule of law and human rights, increase media freedom, and build civil society in North Korea. These funds also support efforts to build the capacity of the defector and NGO community in the ROK to better advocate for improved conditions inside the DPRK.

Since 2004, the United States has resettled 120 North Korean refugees and their families. We remain actively committed to ensuring that each North Korean refugee who is interested and eligible gains access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. We continue to coordinate closely with host governments in the region to pursue every possible viable avenue to facilitate the admission of refugees from North Korea. For many individuals from North Korea, where to resettle is one of the first meaningful choices they are able to make, and the United States respects their decision on resettlement.

The United States remains deeply concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers. Reports of the involuntary return of North Koreans from China to the DPRK, including victims of human trafficking, remain deeply disturbing, as these returnees often face serious consequences, including the possibility of imprisonment, torture, and even execution. We continue to urge China to adhere to its obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, including by not expelling or forcibly returning North Koreans who should be protected under those treaties. The United States is further troubled by the lack of access afforded to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to North Koreans, particularly in Northeast China, and we continue to urge the Chinese to cooperate with UNHCR in exercising its functions, including allowing access to North Korean asylum seekers. We regularly engage with other governments, NGOs and private groups who share our concerns.

Given the closed nature of North Korean society, broadcasting is one of the more effective means of sharing information about the outside world with residents of the country. To increase the flow of independent information into, out of, and within the country, the U.S. government funds Korean-language broadcasting into North Korea by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and supports independent and defector-run broadcasts through the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor . In FY 2010, the BBG expended $8.5 million for a ten-hour-daily schedule of Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts, transmitted via shortwave and medium wave during peak listening hours. RFA broadcasts 3.5 hours of original programming and 1.5 hours of repeat programming; VOA broadcasts four hours of original and one hour of repeat programming with daily news updates. With the FY 2009 ESF appropriation, the Department of State provided approximately $1 million from the Human Rights and Democracy Fund to support independent broadcasts into North Korea. These broadcasts are produced by North Korean defectors, now living in South Korea, and provide news and information with a more authentically North Korean voice. The BBG continues to explore avenues to expand broadcast capability into North Korea, and the Department of State is exploring opportunities using new media to reach North Koreans. Reports indicate that North Koreans are listening to foreign broadcasts in increasing numbers, even at serious risks to their personal safety.

Pursuant to our goal of promoting increased monitoring, access, and transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance inside North Korea, I traveled to North Korea last week to assess the food situation and need. I candidly discussed the monitoring terms that would be necessary for the United States to provide food assistance to the DPRK. Our delegation met with DPRK officials in Pyongyang and the food security specialists that accompanied me on the trip traveled throughout the country, visiting schools, clinics, orphanages, and hospitals to evaluate firsthand the food security situation.

Although we have made no decision on whether we will provide food aid to North Korea, obtaining a better understanding of the true food situation in the DPRK is a necessary first step towards making this decision. We are carefully reviewing our findings and coordinating closely with our partners and the donor community in advance of a decision. If the team determines there is a legitimate humanitarian need, the DPRK must first address our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food aid program, which North Korea abruptly suspended in March 2009 and our humanitarian personnel were ordered to leave the country and forced to leave behind approximately 20,000 metric tons of U.S. food items, before any decision can be considered.

The U.S. government’s policy on the provision of food assistance is based on three factors: 1) the level of need in a given country; 2) competing needs in other countries; and 3) our ability to ensure that aid is reliably reaching the people in need. This policy is consistent with our long-standing goal of providing emergency humanitarian assistance to the people of countries around the world where there are legitimate humanitarian needs. However, consistent with our practices worldwide, the United States will not provide food aid without a needs assessment and adequate program management, monitoring, and access provisions in place to ensure that food reaches the intended beneficiaries.

Since the late 1990s, as the world became increasingly aware of the terrible conditions inside the DPRK, the State Department has actively worked to promote respect for and protection of fundamental human rights in North Korea, durable humanitarian solutions to the plight of North Korean refugees, the free flow of balanced information into, out of, and within North Korea, increased monitoring, access and transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance to North Korea, and progress towards the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula under a democratic system of government, in accordance with the wishes of the Korean people.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I welcome any questions you may have.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Roundtable on Asylum-Seekers and Refugees Seeking Protection on Account of Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Thank you. It’s an honor to be here, participating in such a dynamic discussion on this critical issue. I also want to recognize the leadership of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for hosting this roundtable and commend the Agency’s ongoing efforts to enhance protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees and asylum seekers.

The Obama Administration has made clear that our comprehensive human rights agenda includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The U.S. recently joined the United Nations General Assembly core group on LGBT issues, and earlier this month the U.S. co-sponsored the high-level LGBT panel at the UN Human Rights Council. We’re very fortunate to have Secretary Clinton leading the Department of State in elevating our human rights dialogues with foreign governments and advancing public diplomacy to protect the rights of LGBT individuals. We are also leading by example, extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, making it easier for transgender Americans to amend their passports, and including gender identity along with sexual orientation in the State Department Equal Employee Opportunity Statement.

So what role do those of us who work in the refugee field play within this much broader effort to protect and empower LGBT persons worldwide? The answer is that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and the people who work to protect and assist them are on the frontlines of this battle. We’ve all talked about what’s at stake. We know that in some countries, people are threatened, tortured and even killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for not conforming to social and cultural norms about how men and women should behave, dress, or speak. LGBT individuals who have fled their own countries may continue to face serious threats in countries of asylum, where they may be isolated and reluctant to seek help. For our Bureau, ensuring LGBT refugees receive the protection and assistance to which all refugees are entitled is a priority. And it is part of our mandate.

To integrate and elevate this issue within our Bureau, we’ve established a working group on LGBT protection that includes NGO representatives, PRM staff, and other U.S. government offices involved in refugee protection and assistance. And, in collaboration with our partners, we will continue to identify areas where improvements can be made to our system of expedited resettlement for all highly vulnerable refugees.

We are also consistently and publicly articulating our position on these issues in order to set the standards for our own staff and partners; to encourage other states to meet their protection obligations; and above all, to keep faith with the victims of this type of persecution. The U.S. Delegation will be raising LGBT protection concerns in the U.S. statement on protection at the 61st session of the UNHCR Executive Committee next week, and we continue to look for ways to raise this in public forums.

This roundtable is an important start in bringing together experts on not only refugee and asylum issues more broadly, but also colleagues who can speak to a range of challenging LGBT issues that we all need to think about – including protection for transgender and intersex persons and the different risks faced by lesbian women, gay men, or bisexuals.

Though we’ve made a lot of progress in my government, we still need to institutionalize regular training on gender concepts that include LGBT issues. On the issue of gender based violence, including sexual violence, we plan to enhance our Bureau’s work on prevention and response. And we will make clear to new and current staff and partners that gender-based violence includes violence directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As we’ve discussed, this violence is often rooted in destructive notions of how men and women should behave and interact, and we cannot make progress towards achieving gender equality and stopping the persecution of LGBT persons without acknowledging and addressing these fundamental problems.

To that end, we are very committed to supporting UNHCR’s efforts to effectively integrate LGBT issues into the Agency’s groundbreaking age, gender, and diversity mainstreaming (AGDM) strategy. It is very encouraging to see how seriously and thoughtfully UNHCR has been approaching this, actively seeking feedback from partners as they revise the AGD strategy. As part of that process, we are very interested in obtaining better data about the challenges for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and learning how we might develop indicators to track our progress as part of these broader efforts at accountability. What kind of metrics can we use to see whether we are addressing the needs of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and communicating effectively with an often invisible population? What data do we have already, and what information are we missing? As many colleagues have noted already, we also need to improve coordination within the UN system, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different agencies involved in human rights reporting and efforts to prevent persecution of LGBT persons in their countries of origin.

As we move forward, we should aim to be both strategic and opportunistic, integrating these issues within existing policy and programming initiatives, and public engagement opportunities, even as we develop a comprehensive strategy that will inform future efforts.

We look forward to continued collaboration in this area with all of you.

Thank you.


Protecting LGBT Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Thank you Bob, for that kind introduction. It is an honor to be here today with all of you to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, and to reflect on the challenges and opportunities ahead. I’d like to thank Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) and the Office of Civil Rights for organizing this important event, and for inviting me to participate.

I know you all join me in recognizing Secretary Clinton for her inspiring words, and for her unparalleled leadership and principled advocacy on behalf of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) individuals throughout the world, starting here at the Department of State. And we could not have a better ally at USAID than Administrator Raj Shah.

Let me just echo what you’ve already heard this morning: protecting the rights of LGBT persons around the world is a priority for the Obama administration. We will continue to stand against persecution and other violations of human rights against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, anywhere in the world.

For the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), this means identifying and addressing protection challenges for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. We know that in some countries, people are threatened, tortured and even killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for not conforming to social and cultural norms about how men and women should behave, dress, or speak. LGBT individuals who have fled their own countries may continue to face serious threats in countries of asylum, where they may be isolated and reluctant to seek help.

This is a problem that demands a response. Our Bureau will continue to engage with both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organization partners to strengthen our collaboration on behalf of vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

We have raised this issue with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at both senior and working levels and will continue to do so. UNHCR’s 2008 Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is an important foundation for enhancing protection for those facing persecution or threats based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. UNHCR must ensure that the Guidance Note is thoroughly understood and implemented by UNHCR personnel worldwide.

This Administration has a strong interest in UNHCR leadership taking effective actions to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. And with our encouragement and support, UNHCR is planning a number of new internal initiatives linked to refugee status determination and resettlement procedures that will focus on identifying protection concerns related to sexual orientation or gender identity. UNHCR will continue training of their staff on these issues, and work with NGOs to clarify the roles and responsibilities for everyone involved through all stages of a refugee situation.

UNHCR is also drafting a revised version of its resettlement handbook that will address these issues. We will remain engaged with UNHCR on these and related efforts, including an upcoming UNHCR-hosted workshop on LGBT refugees.

We have also worked to improve the speed with which we process all highly vulnerable refugee resettlement cases, and the Department will continue to coordinate with our U.S. government, international organization, and NGO partners to ensure these cases are processed as quickly as possible, and that vulnerable individuals, including LGBT persons, are afforded necessary protections.

Earlier this month, PRM hosted a meeting with NGO representatives to exchange information and ideas for enhancing protection for vulnerable LGBT refugees. We will establish a working group to further develop recommendations from that meeting, including on issues related to expedited resettlement to the U.S. and protection challenges overseas. The working group will include NGO representatives, PRM staff, and other U.S. government offices involved in refugee protection and assistance. We look forward to continuing our positive collaboration with members of the NGO community, many of whom I see here today.

We will also continue our efforts to mainstream broader gender issues into our programming in humanitarian settings and in our institutional relationships with international organization and NGO partners. This means assessing the impact of programs we fund on women and girls, and men and boys, and promoting inclusion. It also means enhancing our work to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including violence directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This violence is often rooted in destructive notions of how men and women should behave and interact, and we cannot make progress towards achieving gender equality without addressing these fundamental problems.

As Secretary Clinton noted this morning, this is a battle not yet won, but one well worth fighting. Today, we acknowledge those who risk their lives to speak out, and those who advocate tirelessly at home and abroad, for basic principles of equality, justice, and tolerance.

I look forward to working on these challenges with my colleagues in the Administration, and with many of you here, in the coming months.

And I hope that by next June, we have even more to celebrate. Thank you.


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