News Archives


Ambassador Donahoe: U.S. Continues to Engage with Bahrain on Human Rights Issues

The United States continues to engage in candid bilateral discussions with the Government of Bahrain and a cross-section of Bahrainis, and these discussions include human rights. We believe that this process is the most productive way for us to engage on human rights issues, and so we did not join the recent Item 4 joint statement in the Human Rights Council (HRC).

Bahrain has hosted a delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, plans to host an HRC mandate holder, and has continued to engage with the High Commissioner’s office. They also established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which produced a comprehensive report on the domestic unrest in Bahrain, along with recommendations that the Government of Bahrain has committed to implement. As part of our bilateral engagement, we continue to encourage Bahrain’s cooperation with the High Commissioner’s office and with the HRC. Most recently, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner visited Bahrain for the fifth time in the last year and a half in support of this dialogue, and we remain committed to this process with Bahrain.

As we noted in our intervention during Bahrain’s session in the Universal Periodic Review on May 21, the Government of Bahrain has taken some important first steps in laying the foundation for dialogue and for reconciliation in Bahrain, but more remains to be done on the full range of BICI recommendations. That includes prosecuting those responsible for the violations identified in the BICI report, dropping charges against all persons accused of offenses involving nonviolent political expression including freedom of assembly, and ensuring fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases. It also means continuing work to professionalize and diversify Bahrain’s security forces to reflect the communities in which they serve, and to work to implement the recommendations of the BICI in an inclusive way.

We continue to call on all parties in Bahrain to help each other move toward a comprehensive political dialogue that includes the diverse views of Bahraini society in a genuine negotiation. And we continue to stand ready to support Bahrain in this process.

Cross posted from U.S. Mission to Geneva website


U.S. Lists Countries of Grave Concern on Human Rights

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States remains deeply disturbed by ongoing human rights violations around the world. As we engage in these discussions in Geneva, people continue to be tortured, killed, arbitrarily arrested, and denied their fundamental rights. The United States will discuss the human rights situations in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cambodia, and Somalia later in this session. Today I will focus on other countries of grave concern.

-In Iran, we remain concerned by repeated instances of torture, the house arrest of opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Houssein Moussavi, restrictions on the freedom of religious minorities and suppression of all forms of dissent against the state. Authorities recently arrested peaceful protesters and continue to detain, harass and imprison human rights lawyers. We look forward to the first report by Special Rapporteur Shaheed at the next Council session.

-In Burma, the government denies its citizens basic rights, including freedom of speech, movement and association. There are roughly 2,000 political prisoners, and ongoing attacks against ethnic minority populations have resulted in the displacement of millions of people, both internally and in the region, over the past five decades. The newly formed National Human Rights Commission should work closely with the HRC and other bodies to investigate human rights abuses and take concrete steps to begin a national reconciliation process. The United States urges the Burmese government to follow its words and commitments with concrete actions that lead to genuine reform, national reconciliation and respect for human rights.

-The DPRK maintains draconian controls over almost all aspects of citizens’ lives. It denies fundamental freedoms including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, religion, and movement and fails to respect worker’s rights. The government must immediately take significant steps to end the egregious violations of its people’s human rights.

-China arrests and detains lawyers, activists, and writers for exercising freedom of expression and for defending their internationally recognized rights, and uses extralegal measures to silence even peaceful dissent. The government places tight restrictions on civil society and significantly limits the rights of religious believers to practice their faiths. The government limits freedom of association and imposes forced labor on prisoners. China maintains policies that threaten the Tibetan and Uighur languages, religions, and cultures, and presses other governments to forcibly return Chinese citizens seeking asylum in third countries.

-Cuba uses short-term detention and arbitrary arrests to prevent groups from meeting and disrupt peaceful protests. It deploys increasingly violent government-orchestrated mobs to suppress dissent, most notably against the Damas de Blanco. Media remains under state control, internet access is monitored or blocked, and police routinely intimidate and harass journalists limiting public access to independent sources of information. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned for over 22 months.

-The Venezuelan government has placed severe restrictions on civil society and actively persecutes political opposition, thereby undermining freedom of association and expression, and weakening democratic institutions. Executive interference erodes judicial independence, as the imprisonment of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni demonstrates.

-In Zimbabwe, politically motivated violence and bias of the police, state prosecutor, and military in favor of ZANU-PF and against other political parties remains an obstacle to citizens’ free and equal participation in elections. Without concerted attention to creating the conditions for free, fair, and peaceful elections, the rights of Zimbabweans will continue to be threatened.

The United States stands by the victims of human right abuses around the world and calls on all countries to uphold their human rights obligations.

Thank you, Madame President.


U.S. Welcomes Rapid Appointment of HRC Team to Investigate the Situation in Syria

The United States welcomes the rapid action by the President of the Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Syria as called for August 23 by HRC member states. The membership of the three-member Commission was announced yesterday on the opening day of the 18th Session of the Human Rights Council. It is now essential that this team be permitted to enter Syria to begin their investigation.

The death toll from the brutal crackdown in Syria continues to rise. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the slaughter, arrest and torture of peaceful protesters by the Assad regime, which clearly has no intention of ending its violent attacks against the Syrian people.

The establishment of this COI is part of a growing consensus in the international community that the appalling behavior of the Assad regime must be brought to an end now.


Strengthening Health Systems to Respond to Needs of Women and Girls Must be a Political Priority

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council Special Session on Syria, August 22, 2011. State Dept. photo by Eric Bridiers.

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council. State Dept. photo by Eric Bridiers.

Remarks delivered during a side event at the 18th Session of the Human Rights Council:
“Applying a Human Rights Based Approach to Efforts to Eliminate Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity”

Thank you to all of the esteemed speakers here today.  The United States is proud to be one of the co-sponsors of this side event on eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.  More than a decade after the UN established Millennium Development Goals concerning maternal and child health, global maternal and child mortality rates remain too high.

The means exist to save the lives of women and children.  Strengthening health systems to better respond to the needs of women and girls must be a political priority.

The Human Rights Council is one of several UN bodies which has demonstrated the political will to address this issue.  We thank Colombia and New Zealand for their leadership on initiating that resolution. In June 2009, HRC member states adopted by consensus a resolution on “Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Human Rights.”  As a member of the HRC coalition supporting this initiative, let me mention some key examples of U.S. actions to combat maternal mortality domestically and globally.  Within the U.S., new health care reform legislation expanded coverage and improved access to preventative care.  Programs such as “Healthy Start” provide primary and preventative care to high-risk pregnant women.

On our international efforts, the United States has been working to provide technical leadership in this area of family planning.  In FY 2010, a total of $648.5 million was appropriated for U.S. assistance for family planning and reproductive health programs.  The FY 2011 budget included $615 million in funding for family planning and reproductive health, including $40 million designated for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Through the Global Health Initiative, the U.S. commits billions of dollars to improving global health, including efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality; prevent millions of unintended pregnancies; and thwart millions of new HIV infections.  Through the Global Health Initiative, we provide a range of integrated, essential services for women and their children:  skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-partum period; family planning; prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; and child health interventions.

During the 2010 Commission on the Status of Women session, 15 years after the Beijing Women’s Conference, the U.S. was part of a cross-regional group of co-sponsors who introduced a resolution on “Eliminating maternal mortality and morbidity through the empowerment of women.”  While progress has been made on the Beijing agenda, much more remains to be done.

The U.S. looks forward to continued partnerships to improve maternal and child health and contributing to progress in this area where we can.


Making Right to Development a Uniting, Rather than Divisive, Issue on the Human Rights Agenda

Remarks delivered during a panel on the Realization of the Right to Development

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We thank the panelists for their thoughtful presentations.

The United States has some well-known concerns about the “right to development.” To move forward, we would like to consider ways we can work together constructively and make the right to development a uniting, rather than divisive, issue on the international human rights agenda.

Fostering development continues to be a cornerstone of U.S. international engagement, and we are the largest bilateral donor of overseas development assistance. President Obama, in his speech at the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Review last September, reaffirmed the United States’ strong support for achievement of the MDGs and announced a new U.S. Global Development Policy that guides our overall development efforts.

The United States is committed to development, but we continue to have concerns about the direction discussions on the right to development have taken over the years.

We are willing to work with the proponents of the right to development to expand the consensus on this topic in a way that will be mutually beneficial, if we take into account the following five points:

First, discussions and resolutions on the right to development should not include unrelated material on controversial topics, particularly topics that are being addressed elsewhere. For example, the most recent version of the annual UNGA Third Committee resolution on the right to development contains 41 operative paragraphs, as opposed to four operative paragraphs in the most recent Human Rights Council resolution on the same topic.

Second, we are not prepared to join consensus on the possibility of negotiating a binding international agreement on this topic. At the very least, we would need more of a shared consensus on the definition and nature of the right to development before considering whether such a time- and resource-intensive course of action would be necessary and beneficial.

Third, theoretical work is needed to define the right to development and in particular to explain how it is a human right, i.e., a universal right that every individual possesses and may demand from his or her own government. This fundamental concern has not been adequately addressed.

Fourth, the recent efforts to come up with numeric or concrete indicators of development and its progress are interesting and warrant serious further consideration, though these efforts should leverage, not duplicate, the statistics of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, regional UN statistical agencies, and the work done to monitor the Millennium Development Goals.

Finally, discussion of this topic needs to focus on aspects of development that relate to human rights, i.e., those of individuals. Of course, that includes all human rights, civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

While we are strong supporters of international development, we have long expressed significant concerns about some understandings and interpretations of the right to development. We are willing to work to address those concerns in order to move forward on this important topic.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


More Must Be Done to Protect Children in Armed Conflict

Remarks delivered during an interactive Dialogue with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States thanks Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her excellent report and for her efforts to protect children around the world from the trauma of armed conflict. The United States is deeply committed to protecting children from abuse, exploitation, and the terrible suffering they endure as a result of armed conflict.

UNESCO’s 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report estimates that two million children were killed and six million disabled in armed conflicts between 1998 and 2008. Approximately 300,000 children are reportedly being exploited as unlawful child soldiers. We are appalled. Children continue to be forcibly recruited into armed forces, killed and maimed in violation of applicable international law, abducted, subjected to sexual violence, denied humanitarian aid, and deprived of education, health care and access to justice in the context of armed conflict. This is unacceptable.

The United States is deeply disturbed by information the Special Representative has presented regarding attacks on schools and hospitals in areas of armed conflict, including in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Schools, teachers and students, especially girls, have been regularly targeted by anti-government elements. In response to these vicious attacks on innocent students, Afghanistan and the United States, together with 40 other co-sponsors, adopted a joint resolution by consensus at the HRC in 2010. We welcome such efforts by the international community to advocate for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

The United States would like to ask Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her opinion on what can be done to improve the situation of children in armed conflict, especially children at particular risk such as girls and children with disabilities. We would like to inquire if she can suggest specific actions to be taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United States recognizes that some progress has been made since the entry into force of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We note in particular the Special Representative’s report that some parties in Nepal, Philippines, Chad, South Sudan, and Afghanistan have committed to action plans to stop unlawful recruitment of child soldiers and to release those already unlawfully in their armed forces. We are also pleased to learn that the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia has committed to work towards an action plan to release girls and boys now in government forces and allied militias.

More can and needs to be done to protect children in armed conflict. We commend the Special Representative for her tireless efforts to mobilize Member States to support and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The United States calls upon all nations to increase their efforts to protect children in armed conflict. Children are innocent and unable to protect themselves. Failing these children is NOT an option.

Thank you, Madame President.


U.S. Deeply Concerned about Use of Force Against Peaceful Protestors

Remarks delivered during a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States is deeply concerned about violent repression of peaceful protests in a number of countries around the world. The fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The violent repression of peaceful protests is a clear violation of those human rights, and those responsible for such violations must be held accountable.

Over the past several months, as we have seen hundreds of thousands of people protest peacefully in various countries – particularly across the Middle East and North Africa – the United States has consistently opposed the use of violence against peaceful protesters and supported the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and the right to participate in the affairs of the state. We have strongly condemned the killing, torture, arbitrary detention, and abuse of peaceful protestors. And we have made clear our view that people’s legitimate demands and aspirations must be met by positive engagement from governments in the form of meaningful political and economic reforms.

In Syria, we are witnessing a brutal and sustained onslaught against the Syrian people, who have bravely demanded reforms by protesting peacefully in the face of tanks and gunfire. Their courageous exercise of their universal rights has exposed the Asad regime’s flagrant violations of human rights and disregard for the dignity of Syrians. Though this Council has mandated a fact finding mission and an independent commission of inquiry, the Asad regime continues to grossly violate the universal rights of its citizens. We must ensure that this Council’s mandates are fully implemented and supported, and that all means of leverage are applied to help ensure that governments like the Asad regime cease their acts of repression and are held to account for their human rights violations.

In addition to Syria, a number of other states, including Iran, Belarus, China, and Burma, regularly repress peaceful protests. Such cases of systematic repression of peaceful protests must also be addressed.

We encourage the Special Rapporteurs to focus on urgent situations, like Syria, as well as persistent violators of the rights of peaceful protesters. We urge this Council to take decisive and principled action to promote and protect the rights of peaceful protesters and call on all countries to respect the human rights of their citizens.

Thank you, Madame President.


Civil Society Provides the Critical Foundation for Promoting All Human Rights

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council Special Session on Syria, August 22, 2011. State Dept. photo by Eric Bridiers.

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council. Photo by Eric Bridiers.

Remarks delivered under Item 3, General Debate

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States is glad to have to the opportunity to affirm our unwavering commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.

People around the world continue to demonstrate their desire for democratic government. We are inspired by the strength, courage, and innovation shown by peaceful demonstrators across the Middle East, and we support transitions to genuine democracies that reflect the aspirations of people across the region.

Against the backdrop of dramatic developments from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus, we would like to emphasize in particular the essential role that civil society plays in the protection and promotion of human rights, and in the transition to genuine, vibrant democracies.

Civil society provides a critical foundation for holding governments accountable, ensuring good governance, and promoting all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Citizens, activists, organizations, congregations, writers, journalists and reporters each play a vital role in encouraging governments to respect human rights. The mandate of this Council acknowledges the importance of these groups in creating and maintaining a healthy, vibrant society. Our commitment to civil society is renewed every time NGOs and national human rights institutions are given a voice in this chamber.

We call upon emerging democracies to recognize and publicly defend the vital role civil society plays in the transition to healthy and vibrant democracies. New governments must recognize this important role through their laws and their actions. To allow civil society to develop and flourish, governments must respect the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In this light, we especially appreciated the timely and informative panel on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests earlier this week.

Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated the importance of peaceful assembly, the time-honored right to come together in public to demonstrate demands, as a vital tool for civil society. This Council has acknowledged its importance in the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Peaceful Assembly and Freedom of Association.

Likewise, civil society members must be able to express themselves in person, in the media, and over the internet. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our bedrock document, showed great wisdom when they emphasized that freedom of expression applies equally “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

States using the excuses of security, order, or stability as a justification to unduly restrict these rights do so at their peril. The permissible scope of restrictions under international human rights law is very narrow and should only be used when absolutely necessary. The former governments of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt used these arguments to justify restricting basic rights and freedoms. But they had to answer to their people in the end. In Syria, we are again seeing what happens when a government tries to silence its people for too long.

Civil society must be able to make its voice heard in government and have a meaningful role in the conduct of public affairs. In many parts of the world we have seen civil society work effectively to demand transparency, protect the environment, battle corruption, promote charity and relief work, and defend the rights of the poor and disenfranchised elements of societies. We strongly support these efforts. As Secretary Clinton recently stated, “We have to protect civil society…They are the ones going to prison, they are the ones being beaten up, they are the ones on the front lines of democracy.”

We call upon this Council to continue its work with vigor and purpose, paying special attention to the important role that civil society plays in political transition. We have been heartened to see how this Council has responded to repression and widespread human rights violations in the Middle East. We urge the Council to continue to address human rights violations as they occur in other parts of the world. We look forward to working collaboratively to achieve these goals.

Thank you, Madame President.


Ambassador Donahoe’s Response to the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States welcomes the High Commissioner’s opening statement. At this moment, when the world is witnessing many societies in political upheaval and transition, we appreciate and applaud her central point that accountable, transparent institutions that respect human rights are essential for successful political transitions to strong stable governance. As she notes, the Human Rights Council has led global calls for accountability for gross violations of human rights through its creation and dispatch of international commissions of inquiry to Libya, Syria, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Yet, the Secretary General’s report on “Cooperation with United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights” illustrates that some governments persist in refusing to grant access to international mandate holders, hamper independent assessments, and continue to subject human rights defenders who collaborate with mandate holders to intimidation and reprisals. We concur with the High Commissioner’s assessment that the Human Rights Council must make it a priority to solve the problem of lack of cooperation with UN mechanisms in the field of human rights. As she underscored, the “protection of civilians in situations of violence must be the focus of our collective efforts,” and we agree that gaps between initiatives by the HRC and needs on the ground must be kept in sharp focus so that we live up to our shared responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.

In this session, we look forward to interactive dialogues on Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Belarus, Somalia, and Cambodia.

In the case of Syria, we look forward to hearing the preliminary facts that have emerged about atrocities committed by Syrian authorities. Unfortunately, Syrian authorities prohibited the OHCHR fact finding mission from entering Syria to conduct their investigation, but the FFM will report on credible evidence they have uncovered through other means. The HRC held an urgent session in August to institute an international commission of inquiry to investigate the extremely alarming allegations emerging from Syria and will report later this year as well. The United States commends this body for its sustained efforts in this case.

Close attention by the international community provides hope to the people subject to government brutality, and helps highlight the Syrian regime’s gross human rights abuses. We call on the Syrian government to expeditiously allow the commission of inquiry into the country and allow an unfettered, objective and independent investigation. We also reiterate the Council’s demand for the Syrian government to immediately stop killing, imprisoning, and torturing its people.

The commission of inquiry for Libya has overseen an extremely volatile human rights crisis, and received alarming reports of brutality, mass summary execution, and disappearances. We look forward to learning how we can further support accountability for human rights in Libya.

The High Commissioner has highlighted the serious human rights situation in Sudan and has published a report which describes a wide range of alleged human rights violations in South Kordofan since June of this year. The flare up of violence in the state of South Kordofan is of grave concern to all, and is now spreading to the neighboring border state of Blue Nile. The United States believes that the International Expert mandate for Sudan must be renewed so that monitoring and reporting on this urgent situation can continue.

We join the High Commissioner in welcoming South Sudan as the newest member of the United Nations. We agree that with the assistance of the international community, South Sudan has the opportunity to build a democratic and prosperous country based on the rule of law, good governance and human rights.

We share in the High Commissioner’s concern about inter-communal violence that has killed scores of civilians and put the lives of human rights defenders and UN staff at risk, and will look for ways to support the South Sudanese government as it works to stop the violence.

The High Commissioner also focused on the dire food emergency in the Horn of Africa, where the United States and our partners are racing to save as many lives as possible. The United States is the largest single-country contributor of food and humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. U.S. humanitarian assistance to the region exceeded $600 million this year, reaching more than 4.6 million people. However, a hunger crisis is not solely an act of God. It is a complex problem of conflict, infrastructure, governance, markets, and education.

In the long term, good governance, human rights, and the rule of law are key to creating the sustainability that can mitigate or even prevent future food crises.

The United States thanks the High Commissioner for her remembrance of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington ten years ago. We condemn all acts of terrorism, and extend our sincere condolences to the victims and their families of the vicious attack on the UN facility in Abuja last month.

Thank you, Madame President.


Ambassador Donahoe Says HRC Vote Shows Growing Consensus that Assad has Lost Legitimacy to Govern

The passage today of the Human Rights Council resolution on the Human Rights Situation in Syria sends several important messages:

Ambassador Donahoe speaks with journatlists after Adoption of HRC Resolution on Syria. Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva.

Ambassador Donahoe speaks with journatlists after Adoption of HRC Resolution on Syria. Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva.

First, there is a very strong and growing consensus in the international community that Assad has lost legitimacy to govern and must step down.

The outcome manifests the extent to which he is now isolated.

Second, through this resolution, the international community sent a clear message to the Syrian people: We will not stand by silently as innocent civilians and peaceful protesters are slaughtered by security forces. We are working to ramp up pressure on the Syrian authorities to help ensure that the violence ends.

We have not been fooled by empty promises of reform and engagement.

Actions speak louder than words: the continuing atrocities have sent a loud and clear message to us all that Assad’s promises cannot be trusted.

The Commission of Inquiry established by the resolution will ensure that evidence of atrocities will be uncovered and those responsible will be identified and held accountable.

Today’s outcome is a victory for the Syrian people.


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