Despite assurances from the Government of Kazakhstan that the new law on religion would be in keeping with its OSCE commitments and its international obligations and commitments regarding freedom of religion, the United States wishes to express its serious concern that the new law appears to fall short of those measures.
The new law, passed by the Kazakhstani Parliament on September 29, requires that existing religious organizations submit re-registration documents within one year via a procedure that subjects them to an examination of their religious literature. The United States is concerned that this process could be used to restrict the activities of religious groups thereby negatively impacting religious freedom in Kazakhstan.
The new tiered registration system appears to prohibit the registration of religious groups with fewer than 50 members in each location. Other provisions appear to allow strict oversight of missionary activity, government reviews of religious literature and texts, and restrictions on the location of places of worship.
When governments unduly restrict religious freedom and freedom of expression, or when societies fail to take steps to promote tolerance and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they risk alienating religious believers and emboldening extremists.
We urge the government of Kazakhstan to work with ODIHR to address these concerns in order to ensure that this law does not improperly restrict freedom of religion or belief in any way that is inconsistent with the country’s OSCE commitments and its international obligations and commitments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
(Remarks as prepared)
Thank you for that warm introduction, and thank you, Reverend Ogle and Bishop Christopher, for inviting me to speak today and for putting me in such good company on such an important set of topics. Bishop Christopher, the assembled crowd here today, and the people you’ve met with all across the United States, clearly recognize the importance of your work at home in Uganda. So thanks especially to you.
I want to begin today by sharing a bit about how I see protecting the human rights of LGBT people as fitting into a broader foreign policy context, and telling you a bit about what we’ve been working on at the State Department, and where we’re headed. And then I want to take a little time to zero in on some of the key challenges and opportunities that lie at the intersection of promoting human rights for LGBT people and engaging with religious leaders and communities of faith.
The Obama administration has forged a strong record of vocal and active support for the human rights of LGBT people as part of our overall foreign policy approach of principled engagement. In this and other areas we start from a commitment to universal standards that apply to everyone, including ourselves, and we are motivated by the belief that, as President Obama put it in his Nobel lecture, the only lasting peace will be one founded on respect for the inherent dignity of each person.
About 80 countries still criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Hate crimes against LGBT people continue to plague many more countries than that, including our own. Hatred of, discrimination against and marginalization of LGBT people hampers economic development, public health, and social cohesion wherever it occurs. And, like all forms of intolerance, the desire to stamp out or subjugate or ostracize certain individuals because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love stands as an obstacle for all members of society. Intolerance prevents the achievement of a rights respecting society that preserves the dignity of each person—and it is that sort of society in which both reason and morality dictate that we ought to want to live. The burden of intolerance is surely borne most severely by the victims, but like all forms of hatred, the active perpetrators and passive bystanders—who are by no means moral bystanders—also pay a price.
Intolerance is a moral, a political, and a social ill. But it is also a solvable one. It is not an immutable phenomenon. Unlike the aspects of identity for which people are hated, hatred itself can be left behind. And for that reason, the scourge of intolerance demands not only our analysis and attention, it demands our action. It’s not easy work, but it is urgent work.
Looking back over American history, the story of our nation’s progress toward a “more perfect union” is at its most inspiring when it is told through the series of chapters in which we have confronted intolerance and hate, both domestically and in our engagement with the world. At the same time, the most regretful chapters are those when we have failed to act. And as we look to the future, we know that the story is not over, the work continues. Our future progress will continue to be defined in part by our success at continuing to address false assertions of inequality and remove their manifestations in our laws and practice. And our progress in building the kind of peaceful, stable, and prosperous world in which we want to live will depend on our encouraging and promoting those around the world who are simultaneously working to make their own societies more inclusive and rights-respecting.
It is against this backdrop that this administration sees the work to protect the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It is part of a broader effort, and it follows from our commitment to universal standards and our interest in being a positive force behind the efforts of many around the world to, as Secretary Clinton has put it, “make human rights a human reality.”
At the State Department we’re working hard every day to put that principled policy commitment into action, and we’re making real progress because we have strong support from the White House and steadfast leadership from the Secretary of State. The problems facing LGBT people are not new, but never before in American foreign policy have the human rights of LGBT people been an open, unambiguous, and clear policy priority. From her first days in office, and building on a lifetime of advocacy on behalf of those who have been left out or pushed aside, Secretary Clinton has made clear that, as she said in June 2010, echoing her famous words in Beijing fifteen years earlier, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
And Secretary Clinton’s leadership is changing the way that our diplomats and development professionals do business around the world. The Secretary has sent instructions to every single ambassador directing them to engage in support of the human rights of LGBT people with foreign governments and civil society actors as part of our comprehensive human rights policy. And in foreign ministries around the world, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with partners to collaborate on enhancing rights protections for all people, including LGBT people.
Here in New York and also at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the United States has been leading within the UN system to make clear that human rights apply to everyone, without exception. About this time last year, a semi-annual resolution on extra-judicial killings at the UN General Assembly came up and an amendment was offered and passed that removed sexual orientation from the list of examples of reasons why people ought not be killed. Working with our partners, and by reaching out in capitals around the world, we built a coalition to reverse that amendment and successfully reinstated the deleted language. A few words in a resolution can seem like a small matter, especially to those who don’t follow the nitty gritty of the UN system, but reinstating that language sent a clear message that no, the international community would not countenance a spiteful step backward in the fight against violations of human rights. Earlier this year in Geneva, we were part of a cross regional group of countries that gathered 85 country signatories to a joint statement rejecting violence against LGBT people and criminalization of LGBT status or behavior.
And then—in a step that even the most hopeful among us thought unlikely even months earlier, on June 17 history was made when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing support for equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I was on the floor of the Council that day, and there was an electrifying buzz in the room as the winning vote tally came in. It was a close vote—23 to 19—but everyone in the room recognized that it was a watershed moment.
We’re not just working with governments. Because we know that sustainable change is most likely to come from within societies, we’re redoubling our efforts to engage with local civil society groups who are working to defend LGBT people from human rights abuses, and who advocate for legal protections and accountability for abuses. As you might expect, these groups are often themselves marginalized and left out, even by other human rights NGOs, so our engagement can be a lifeline of moral support. We’re also working to help them build their own capacity and skills, and to connect them to each other so that they can become more effective advocates. And because we know that like all human rights defenders, those who call out wrongs and push for change often find themselves targets for intimidation or worse, we have created a special fund that can offer emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people so that when there’s no one else to turn to, we can help them stay safe and continue their work.
We have human rights officers in every embassy around the world, and while the United States has a long history of advocating for human rights abroad, we recognize that ramping up engagement on the human rights of LGBT people entails making contact with new actors and organizations at our posts. It entails knowing how to broach what is often a “sensitive” topic and being able to prioritize among a menu of options for action in a way that enhances the chances of our making a difference on the ground. For these reasons, in the coming months, we’ll be road-testing and rolling out a toolkit that can be used by our embassies to help guide their work.
And because effective advocacy depends on facts that make the case for change, we’ve beefed up our reporting in the human rights reports that my bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor publishes every year. We’re also supporting local civil society groups in this fact-finding and reporting effort, providing state-of-the art software and training that will help them document incidents in their communities, so that they can direct their own efforts and focus the attention of others on the realities that people are confronting day-by-day.
For my own part, I feel immensely grateful and fortunate to be a part of a team of professionals at the State Department and at posts around the world that has taken Secretary Clinton’s encouragement and leadership and translated it into action, and that is working every day to make a difference. Having a President and Secretary who are committed to defending the human rights of all people has put American leadership and hard work on the side of vulnerable people around the world.
My portfolio includes Africa and Asia, and as I travel the world, one of the sets of questions that I hear most often revolves around the role of the religious community in securing human rights for all people, how the religious community can help, and how it can, whether intentionally or not, undermine efforts to build a more humane and rights respecting world that includes protections for the rights that each person deserves by virtue of her or his humanity.
I am sure you can guess the kinds of questions I hear: “Aren’t we exporting hate?” people ask about the alleged role of American religious leaders in encouraging the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda, for example. “What are you doing to stop missionaries from pushing for criminalization?” Or “isn’t it true that the Islamic world will never accept the human rights of gay people?”
Conversations about the human rights of LGBT people are still difficult and awkward in many contexts—the legacy of stigma still burdens even well-intentioned actors. And throw religion into the mix and the conversations certainly don’t get any easier. But these conversations—conversations like the ones that this conference is fostering and making space for—are important. Misunderstandings and differences of opinion or belief don’t solve or resolve themselves. We’re talking about the intersection of some of the most important, and therefore justifiably sensitive, aspects of individual fulfillment and meaning in life. And when the subject matter is deep, skating on the surface doesn’t suffice—the only way to make progress is to wade right in. So I want to try to do that in the time that remains for me today. I guess I should stop here and say “pray for me.”
I won’t pretend I have answers, but I want to say three things about my own approach, and about why I don’t just see the effort to find common ground as imperative, but am also optimistic about the possibility of doing so.
The first point is that there are as many religious actors as there are religious people. Religious people are not a monolithic group, and there is diversity in views within religious communities as well as across them. So while, yes, there are examples of religious leaders preaching intolerance, not just of gays but of people of other religious groups or nationalities or of women, there are of course also numerous examples of those for whom religious values are the foundation for a commitment to compassion, tolerance, and human dignity. We should not forget the role of religious people and religious leaders in our own national struggles for social justice—many abolitionists understood their cause as God’s work, a number of northern Jews went south to participate in the Civil Rights Movement, and Reverend King was a man of cloth as well as of change. Last year, I spoke at an event in Geneva where Desmond Tutu delivered a message of tolerance. It’s worth pausing to quote his message briefly. “Sexual orientation, like skin color,” he said, “is a feature of our diversity. How sad it is that when God’s children are facing such massive problems – poverty, disease, corruption, conflict—we are so often obsessed with human sexuality. Is there not already too much hate in this world, without seeking to persecute those who love?”
Religious leaders have a positive role to play in fostering tolerance and respect for the dignity of all. If we start by assuming that there are only challenges, we lose perspective at the outset, and we aren’t poised to seize opportunities.
The second point has three layers—bear with me—philosophical, moral, and practical. So we’re going to have 2A, 2B, and 2C. (I know, that’s cheating.) But the overall point 2 is simple: that we can and should seek to engage those whose religious beliefs and teachings seem to be at odds with advancing human rights for all people. We can have the conversation, we should have the conversation, and we must have the conversation if we’re to make progress at all.
The philosophical part of this point—2A— is essentially to reject the contention put forward by some that religious thought and human rights doctrine are divided by an impenetrable epistemological barrier. The argument here is something along the lines that those who are concerned with understanding and obeying God’s law are necessarily operating, essentially, in a different conceptual universe from “secular” human rights standards. In other words, we can’t talk to each other because we’re using a different language. But such arguments are as thin philosophically as they are easy to disprove empirically. For in fact we can talk to each other, and we can use the ideas of religious thought to make sense of the moral demands of human rights, and vice versa. As I have already noted, in many cases religious and human rights leaders aren’t from separate epistemic communities at all; in fact some people are both religious leaders and human rights leaders, and they use the lexicon of each sphere of thought without any apparent philosophical dissonance. Religious people played a part in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And our country’s own Declaration of Independence—in which the constituent concepts of human rights are salient—also grounds these rights in the idea that we are each endowed with them by our Creator. There is no legitimate philosophical excuse for not engaging.
The moral part of the point—2B— is that engaging those with whom we disagree in dialogue and debate, holding them responsible—in the literal sense of answering for their claims—is part of treating them with respect. The act of engaging and holding responsible is properly respectful, it indicates a preliminary assumption that that person is worthy of taking seriously; and similarly dismissing out of hand and refusing to engage someone who disagrees demonstrates a lack of respect. Engaging is the right thing, the respectful thing to do.
And the practical part of this point—2C—is that neither ignoring nor suppressing ideas has ever solved the problem of resolving apparent gaps or disagreements on how to build good lives or good societies. There are many who believe that we should limit speech that is offensive or hateful. But our position has been to avoid censorship, which is almost never perfectly executed, and which is in a sense, denying the problem instead of dealing with it. When people say hateful things we shouldn’t hide the hate, we should confront it, reject the premises on which it is founded, and attempt to refute it through force of argument. If we’re to make progress at identifying a common ground and forging a way forward, we have to engage. We don’t make progress by attempting to shut down or do battle, we make progress when both sides come together—shall we say “in good faith?”—and attempt to identify and correct misunderstandings and make the case.
So we need to take the tough conversations on. Obviously there are some people on both sides who aren’t prepared to come to the table—I know that—but there are plenty of others who are. And we need to make arguments that are aimed at finding common ground and forging a way forward. It may be that I will never find agreement with those who make religiously based moral arguments that homosexuality is wrong—though I certainly don’t start from the premise that that is impossible. But, even if we ultimately disagree about what constitutes a life well lived in the fullest sense, we might nevertheless agree that we ought to be unambiguously committed to defending the potential that is bound up with each human life. We might agree that in order to get to the conversation about what a good life looks like, one must start with protecting that life. And further that concern for life might lead us to be particularly careful to avoid unintended consequences of things we say or write into law.
And this leads me to my third point, which is that as difficult as the intersection of faith and sexuality is, I am hopeful and optimistic about the road ahead. This is partly because I don’t think we really have a choice: No serious person can think plausible a world without human spirituality or a world without human sexuality. Finding a way to transcend intolerance is not just what a commitment to human dignity dictates, it’s what any appreciation for the realities of human experience suggests as the only real lasting option for building a peaceful future together.
But I’m also hopeful because I think there is common ground to be found and that concepts that are familiar in nearly every religious tradition and in secular moral thought can help us get there—a sincere embrace of dignity, of generosity, of compassion, of patience can help us to uncover and appreciate what we have in common.
For many many people, religious belief and practice is a source of meaning, fundamental to their own flourishing and to making sense of the world around them and their relationships with others. Universal standards of human rights protect the freedom of each person to choose and practice her or his religion, and those protections create a space in which individuals around the world seek and find fulfillment.
Similarly, for most people, the bonds we share and the commitments we make to others, and particularly to those whom we consider family, are both crucial to our own identities and understanding of our place in the world as well as expressions of a uniquely human capacity. To deprive someone of a loving relationship entered freely is to deprive him or her of a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human, and to cut off a source of meaning and fulfillment.
The use of religion to advocate for limitations on the lives, rights, and freedoms of others, whether those of other faiths, as it often is, or those whose lives reflect other aspects of human diversity, is a manipulation of faith that tragically disregards the same goodness that religion itself can bring to human existence. There is no true love of God that can justify hatred of man.
I am optimistic because I believe that even if it is not apparent at the outset, a common purpose will reveal itself. And I am confident that a commitment to the universal human rights of all people, grounded in a respect for human dignity and made real through equal and real protections for all, will underpin the world in which each person can flourish.
I want to close with a final thought and personal reflection.
One of the virtues that is central to many religious traditions and to the aspirations of many religious people is that of forgiveness. And that virtue, in particular, is I think important for all participants in difficult discussions to keep in mind. 9 years ago I was visiting my father in the hospital as he was dying, and a young man, a nurse’s aide, was working around his hospital bed, checking the machines and such. He had gotten to know my dad during his long hospital visit, and my dad, enjoying the visit with one of his own sons, asked the guy about his father. The young man said that his dad had left his mom and siblings when he was young, and had offered neither financial nor emotional support throughout his growing up. “I used to really hate the guy,” he said “but in the last few years, he reached out, he’s made an effort, and we’ve actually become really close.” My father—who was a deeply religious man—immediately remarked “how kind of you to be able to forgive him, to give him permission to change.”
It’s a lesson that still rings true to me years later, and something I had never thought of before that moment, the empowering effect of forgiveness. As we engage in tough conversations about right and wrong, about the societies we want to make, and the beliefs we hold most dear, it’s something that I keep close at hand. We’re in this together, and we need to be prepared to forgive each other, we need to be prepared to give each other permission to change, in order to build together a stronger, more humane and holy world.
Thank you very much again for having me.
Remarks delivered under Item 9: Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
Thank you Madame President.
The United States expresses its appreciation to the Special Rapporteur on Racism and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent for drawing attention to the continued vigilance that is needed in order to combat racism and to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. We condemn racism of any kind for any purpose by any person or group against any person or group. We have worked hard at every level to combat racism, including:
Domestically, we take seriously our obligations as a State Party to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The United States implements these obligations through the operation of the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and local laws, together with the federal and state machinery charged with protecting human rights. Our laws prohibit discrimination based on race in all areas of life, from education to housing to employment. We work to ensure that hate crimes are prosecuted, that law enforcement misconduct is investigated and remedied, and that our laws and programs ensure fair housing, fair lending, equal educational opportunity, equal employment opportunity and the right to vote are enjoyed by all, without regard to race.
Bilaterally, we have co-funded and cooperated in anti-racism programs around the world, such as the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality and the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan to Promote Racial and Ethnic Equality; and
Multilaterally, we have pledged $650,000 to UNESCO to develop an anti-racism curriculum; provided resources to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-descendants and against Racial Discrimination; and joined other countries in the Western Hemisphere to focus on the International Year for People of African Descent.
But the United States believes that even the best-intentioned efforts to combat racism must also preserve robust freedom of expression. We are concerned that the Special Rapporteur, for example, recommends that States prohibit advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence; dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred; and incitement to racial discrimination. He also invokes the limitations in Articles 19-22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, apparently to suggest that States should control the Internet or other new technologies to prevent extremists from spreading material that is deemed racist. In its recommendations, the Working Group invokes Article 4 of the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to underline the need to criminalize racism.
We remain deeply concerned about speech that advocates national, racial, or religious hatred, particularly when it seeks to incite imminent violence, discrimination, or hostility. But based on our own experience, the United States remains convinced that the best antidote to offensive speech is not bans and punishments but a combination of three key elements: robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to racial and religious groups, and the vigorous speech that challenges the premises and conclusions of hateful speech.
Thank you very much Madame President.
For more information on the human rights situation in countries around the world, check out the human rights reports.
To create your own maps, or to find out more about mapping data, stop by DevelopmentSeed.org.
Thank you very much, Katie, and indeed it is a pleasure for me to be here with so many friends and colleagues and to be sitting on a panel between my great friend Michelle Bachelet, a former president, and a woman I admire so much, Dilma Rousseff, a current president, in addition to a prime minister and a high representative and a deputy UN secretary general, and to see out in this audience women who are heads of state and heads of government as well as ministers, and other excellencies both male and female who have come here today on behalf of the important issue of women’s political participation. And I particularly thank the prime minister and the president for their remarks and their example, because clearly, as someone who tried to be a president, it is very encouraging to see those who actually end up as a president. (Applause.)
The work that brings us together today is, I think, one of the great pieces of unfinished business in the 21st century. If you look back historically – and it’s always somewhat suspect to do this – but certainly the 19th century, which was a great movement against slavery and the enshrinement of the rights of people, followed by the 20th century with a great struggle against totalitarianism in favor of freedom and democracy; well, here we are in the 21st century, and if we want a safe, secure, prosperous, peaceful future, women must be equal partners and free to realize their own God-given potential.
And what that means is that it’s not only enough for those of us gathered here today to continue the work that many of us are committed to, but it’s also important that we reach out to the new emerging democracies and societies, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where women have marched and demonstrated, blogged, and put their lives on the line for a future that includes them, their families, their communities, and their countries.
In Libya, women hid fighters, ran guns, contacted journalists, and even fought for freedom. One woman was so inspired she said, “Maybe I can be the new president or the mayor,” – a thought that had never crossed her mind anytime before.
And in many cases, progress is being made. I want to commend Tunisia. I don’t know – is there a representative from Tunisia? Minister. Thank you, Minister. Because in April, the commission responsible for drafting Tunisia’s new electoral code ruled that there must be full gender parity on election candidate lists from the top down. I think we should give Tunisia a round of applause. (Applause.)
Many of us are working closely with our friends in Egypt to ensure that women who played a decisive role in carrying out Egypt’s revolution are not left out of the democratic transformation, because, in effect then, it will not be a true democracy. Women have to be part of the future. And it’s imperative that as constitutions are created, as political parties are organized, as elections are waged and won, nobody can claim a democratic future if half the population is marginalized or even prevented from participating.
We are in an age of participation. Social networking and connective technology has made that a fact. And every party in any democracy should recognize the rights of women and make room for women to play roles in the political process. As the Arab Awakening enters a new chapter, we all have a stake in ensuring that the potential of all citizens – men and women, boys and girls – have a chance to be realized.
That’s why the United States is supporting efforts like the Charter of Egyptian Women. Nearly 300,000 women and men and 500 NGOs signed on to a set of demands for the political, social, and economic rights of the women of Egypt. And we will support Egyptian women in their efforts to serve as community leaders, as business owners, as citizens, as elected officials.
We have tried to put women’s lives and women’s progress at the center of our foreign policy, in everything from our diplomatic efforts to our investments in developing countries. And we will work through multilateral forums—including UN Women under Michelle’s great leadership—to to integrate women’s issues throughout the work of the United Nations.
This Participation Age is a reality, and it will not realize its full potential if women are not viewed legitimately as participants. Now, Persad, when your uncle said, “No, that young girl shouldn’t go to school,” and you said, “Thank goodness for your mother,” that’s a very familiar story. So parents need to recognize the values of their girls, invest in their futures, their education. And then families, communities, societies, need to do the same.
You cannot have the kind of broad-based economic growth that is so necessary in our world’s economy today if women are not able to play their economic roles outside the home as well as inside the home. When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations, and the world.
And I think as we meet on political participation and as we sign the declaration that I was very pleased to sign before coming in, we recognize that these values that what led to President Rousseff becoming a president, the hard years, the sacrifice, what led to Persad becoming a prime minister, or Cathy Ashton now the first high representative of the European Union, or Michelle Bachelet becoming first the president of her country and then the head of an organization, that we mean to make clear women are involved in every level of the international community.
There are stories like that that are percolating everywhere in the world, and we have to do all we can to value the girl child, to provide support for families so that they recognize and then fulfill the promise of that young girl, and then make sure that the doors are open. And I think these values do not belong to any one culture or any one country; they are universal. One of my predecessors as a first lady of my country was Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was one of the people from around the world who met after World War II to decide on what were universal rights. They came from everywhere.
And the Declaration of Universal Rights that they wrote should still be our guide. And it is not out of fashion, it has not been overtaken by events, it cannot be stopped by ideology or extremism of any kind. And the United Nations must stand firmly behind the rights of all – the rights of women, the rights of men, but in particular for women to sit at every table where decisions are made.
So it’s a great pleasure to be part of this important event. Thank you. (Applause.)
Several months ago, the United States announced that we would not participate in the 10-year commemoration of the 2001 Durban Conference. Consistent with that decision, we are not attending today’s high level event in New York.
Since its inception at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, the Durban process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism. In 2009, after working to try to achieve a positive, constructive outcome in the Durban Review Conference that would get past the deep flaws of the Durban process to date to focus on the critical issues of racism, the United States withdrew from participating because the review conference’s outcome document reaffirmed, in its entirety, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) from 2001, which unfairly and unacceptably singled out Israel. The DDPA also endorsed overbroad restrictions on freedom of expression that run counter to the U.S. commitment to robust free speech.
Last December, the United States voted against the resolution establishing the commemoration because we did not want to see the hateful and anti-Semitic displays of the 2001 Durban Conference commemorated.
Over the last few months, we did not participate in negotiations on the Commemoration’s Political Declaration document and, like many other countries, we were not present when the Declaration was adopted. We are also deeply disappointed that the rules established for credentialing non-governmental organizations to participate were used by some delegations to silence voices critical of the Durban process.
The United States is profoundly committed to ending racism and racial discrimination. We remain fully and firmly committed to upholding the human rights of all people and to combating racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, anti-Semitism and bigotry, including through enhanced implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This commitment is rooted in the saddest chapters of our history and reflected in the most cherished values of our union. We will continue to work in partnership with all nations of goodwill to uphold human rights and combat racism, bigotry, and racial discrimination in all forms and all places.
“This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.”
–President Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 21, 2011
President Obama has made empowering the world’s women and girls a guiding principle of his Administration. At home and abroad, the President understands that the world can no longer afford to do without the full contributions of half of its population: women and girls. When social order breaks down, when natural and man-made disasters hit, when the world’s economy slows, it is women and girls who suffer most. At the same time, evidence shows that women’s empowerment is necessary to maintain international peace and security, to build stable, democratic societies, to grow vibrant market economies, and to address pressing health and education challenges.
That’s why the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps at home to empower women and girls to realize their full potential, and steps abroad to put women front and center in our diplomatic and development assistance initiatives.
Since the day he took office, President Obama has fought for American women and girls, achieving historic victories that give them the support they need to succeed, while ending the discrimination that holds them back. President Obama understands that supporting women translates into stronger families and a stronger economy. From creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, to appointing a strong team of women leaders to his Cabinet and White House staff, to nominating two women to the Supreme Court, the Obama Administration has ushered in a new era of gender equality. And in March of 2011, the Council on Women and Girls published “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” the first comprehensive Federal report on the status of American women in almost 50 years. Over the past two and a half years, additional examples of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments in support of women and girls have included:
-Ensuring Equal Pay for America’s Women: The first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored basic protections against pay discrimination, including giving women who have been discriminated against in their salaries their day in court to make it right. And President Obama has convened an Equal Pay Task Force to ensure that existing equal pay laws are fully enforced. The President also continues to advocate for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that gives women the tools they need to fight pay discrimination.
-Securing Affordable and Accessible Health Care for America’s Women: For the first time, the Institute of Medicine has set forth guidelines for women’s preventive health care, and, as part of the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must cover these services, including: mammograms, STD/HIV testing and counseling, domestic violence counseling, contraception, gestational diabetes, with no deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance. Additionally, starting in 2014 all health plans will be required to cover the cost of a pregnancy, and it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition.
-Creating Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women: President Obama has taken a number of vital steps to ensure that women in America have true economic security. Just most recently he sent the American Jobs Act to Congress – a bill that would save 280,000 teacher jobs, modernize 35,000 public schools, extend unemployment insurance for more than 2.6 million women, support 900,000 women who own small businesses by cutting their payroll taxes in half, give companies incentives to hire the long-term unemployed including 2.8 million women, and create new job-training opportunities for women who want to break into traditionally male-dominated fields like construction.
-Preventing Violence Against Women: In July 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, bringing new tools and resources to tribal communities to address the high rates of violence committed against Native American women. In April 2011, Vice President Biden announced historic new guidelines for schools and universities about their responsibilities under federal civil rights law to respond to and prevent sexual assault.
-Integrating Women into U.S. Foreign Policy: The State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review prioritized the empowerment of women as a key element of U.S. foreign policy, and its implementation will institutionalize the integration of U.S. support to women across the Department and USAID.
-Promoting Women as Central to U.S. Development Efforts: Through the creation of a new Agency-wide policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment, USAID is ensuring better development results through enhanced attention to gender globally; and through the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, State, USAID, MCC and the Peace Corps are investing in women, families, communities, and nations.
-Advancing Women’s Economic Participation: As evidenced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s September 2011 Women and the Economy Summit, the first-ever high-level ministerial on women and the economy held in the United States and Chaired by Secretary of State Clinton, the United States is building consensus among regional partners to maximize women’s contributions towards economic growth.
-Advancing Efforts on Women’s Political Participation: From the Declaration on Women’s Political Participation signed by Secretary Clinton and other women leaders at the UN this week, to its actions in support of women as critical actors in conflict prevention and peacemaking, the United States continues to support efforts to elevate women’s leadership, to build the capacity of women legislators, to expand access to technology and the technology industry, and to increase the role of women in peace processes and democratic transitions.
Building on this knowledge and these efforts, in his Address today, the President challenged the assembled heads of state to announce, with him and in a year’s time, new steps that their governments will take to break down barriers and ensure women participate fully and equally in their countries’ economic and political spheres. Over the coming year, the Obama Administration stands ready to work with its partners in the international community, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with the UN and other international organizations, to broaden and deepen efforts to increase equal economic and political opportunity for women around the world. The President expects that this effort will take different forms in different countries, but may include commitments aimed at:
-Investing in women’s and girls’ health and education;
-Eliminating barriers that hinder women’s access to property, inheritance, capital and markets, while supporting women farmers, business owners and entrepreneurs;
-Implementing policies to ensure women are paid equal wages for equal work;
-Working to ensure that both men and women can contribute fully in the workplace while attending to family needs;
-Examining and amending discriminatory laws and practices;
-Reflecting on and revisiting attitudinal biases;
-Taking steps to increase women’s participation in elections and governance bodies;
-Enhancing the international community’s ability to respond effectively to the needs of women and girls in disaster and conflict-affected countries;
-Implementing steps to increase women’s participation in decision-making affecting peace and international security;
-Preventing sexual and gender-based violence; and
-Supporting UN Women and other national and international actors focused on women’s rights, protection, and empowerment.
In keeping with the President’s challenge, over the coming year, the White House Council on Women and Girls and National Security Staff will coordinate the Federal Government’s ongoing efforts to support women’s political and economic empowerment at home and with partners abroad. President Obama looks forward to joining his fellow heads of state in jointly announcing progress made on these worthy efforts in the year to come.
Following is a joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the September 19, 2011 United Nations Women event on Women’s Political Participation.
We, the undersigned Heads of State and Government, Foreign Ministers, and High Representatives, affirm that women’s political participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace.
We reaffirm the human right of women to take part in the Governments of their countries, directly or through freely chosen representatives, on an equal basis with men, and that all States should take affirmative steps to respect and promote women’s equal right to participate in all areas and at all levels of political life.
We stress the critical importance of women’s political participation in all contexts, including in times of peace, conflict and in all stages of political transition.
We recognize the essential contributions women around the world continue to make to the achievement and maintenance of international peace and security and to the full realization of human rights; to the promotion of sustainable development; and to the eradication of poverty, hunger, and disease. Even so, we are concerned that women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from decision-making, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, and attitudes, and due to poverty disproportionately affecting women.
We reaffirm our commitment to the equal rights and inherent human dignity of women enshrined in the United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant international human rights instruments. We call upon all States to ratify and fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to implement fully Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women and Peace and Security and other relevant UN resolutions.
We call upon all States, including those emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions, to eliminate all discriminatory barriers faced by women, particularly marginalized women, and we encourage all States to take proactive measures to address the factors preventing women from participating in politics such as violence, poverty, lack of access to quality education and health care, the double burden of paid and unpaid work, and to actively promote women’s political participation including through affirmative measures, as appropriate.
We reaffirm and express full support for the important role of the United Nations system in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and we welcome UN Women and its mandate in this regard.
2011 Hours Against Hate is a campaign to stop bigotry and promote respect across lines of culture, religion, tradition, class, and gender. Launched by Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department is asking young people around the world to pledge their time to stop hate—to do something for someone who doesn’t look like you, pray like you, or live like you. We are asking the next generation to work together to build a stronger, more prosperous world. No one group can do it alone.
Special Representative Pandith and Special Envoy Rosenthal officially launched “2011 Hours Against Hate” at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, Austria on February 17, 2011.
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The United States welcomes the EU and NATO coordinated plan to reintroduce normal customs controls at Kosovo’s northern border crossing points with Serbia, which have remained interrupted since the attacks on the gates in early 2008. We strongly welcome steps being taken to restore a fully functioning customs regime throughout Kosovo under Kosovo law, which should be the goal of the international community and all member states here today.
Let us be clear, Kosovo is a sovereign country and even those participating States which have yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence must acknowledge that Kosovo is a separate and single customs territory under UNSCR 1244, recognized as such by the EU as well. The presence of Kosovo customs officers at the gates is fully in accordance with international law. Planning for these arrangements was carried out in full coordination with the international missions, EULEX and KFOR, which are acting completely in accord with their mandates. The reopening of the crossings and implementation of the customs stamp agreement reached through the EU-facilitated dialogue on September 2 is also being done in full coordination with the international community. It is misleading to assert than any steps being taken are “unilateral” in nature, or to draw false comparisons to the events of July 25. Kosovo customs officers will be present at the gates alongside EULEX, just as they were present alongside UNMIK in 2008 at the gates before they were burned.
The free movement of people and goods is in Kosovo’s and Serbia’s interests – and in keeping with each country’s EU aspirations. The arrangements offer strong opportunities to both sides to benefit from two-way trade, which was interrupted by Serbia in 2008, and to combat smuggling across the border. It is in everyone’s interest to see the development of transparent, professional and effective border control mechanisms.
The United States has serious concerns about the inflammatory rhetoric coming from certain participating States, which could potentially incite violence in Kosovo, putting at risk civilians and international personnel on the ground. This is unacceptable. In this context, we underscore again the need to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of the Kosovo police officer in July and the arson attack at the border gate. The Permanent Council must be clear that threats of violence are counter-productive to peace and stability in the region. Again, we urge restraint and caution on the part of all parties and encourage all actors to use their influence to foster calm on the ground. The United States greatly appreciates the work of the EU, KFOR and OMIK. We call on all member states to support the work of these missions in Kosovo as they exercise their responsibilities.
We also encourage the Governments of Serbia and Kosovo to focus on utilizing the EU-facilitated dialogue to resolve issues of practical concern that impact the lives of people in the region, and to strive to continue building on the notable progress achieved in the dialogue to date.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.