(As prepared remarks)
Thank you, John, for that introduction. Before we begin, I want to recognize the important work that CAP is doing on a range of key national security issues. I want to specifically point out your recent report on U.S. multilateral engagement, which highlighted the importance of this Administration’s engagement at the UN and how it advances U.S. national interests.
And it is great to be joined today by Nancy and Rich, who I’m sure will share their valuable insight and perspectives as two people who have worked on these issues from both Washington and at our UN missions.
I would like to discuss today the tangible benefits that U.S. engagement with the UN provides Americans. I also want to make the case that if we are going to address 21st century challenges, in an effective and financially sound way, the United States must continue to embrace a global leadership role at the United Nations.
Glancing at the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly session, you can get a sense of the scope and diversity of those challenges, and the importance of sustained U.S. engagement.
Next week, during the high-level portion of the UNGA debate, the international community will formulate next steps for assistance to the transition in Libya. Governments will identify how to best address the mounting humanitarian crisis in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa. Senior government representatives, along with UN agencies, civil society, and the private sector, will collaborate on how to address to the urgent global public health challenges posed by non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, which kill more than 35 million people worldwide each year.
Indeed, this is an exciting time to be working on multilateral issues.
The seismic political transformation taking place across North Africa and the Middle East, though incomplete, holds great promise for a new era in which democratic impulses and human rights are embraced, not suppressed.
New centers of influence in the 21st century are deciding how to shape their foreign policies, and whether they will accept the expanded global responsibility that comes with a greater presence on the world stage.
Economic pressures are forcing many countries to reevaluate their own places in the world, and their roles in the international system.
And in the United States, there remain some here in Washington intent on forcing a U.S. retreat from global leadership, by hindering our participation in the UN system, seemingly unaware of the profoundly altered global landscape. These views stand in sharp contrast to the position held by a bipartisan majority here in Washington and by the vast majority of Americans, which supports U.S. leadership and engagement at the United Nations. These dismissive voices pretend that we just can turn back the clock to a simpler era, when the world was less interconnected and multilateral engagement less essential to core U.S. interests.
Yet today, our economy and security are intertwined with that of the rest of the globe. The benefits of U.S. multilateral engagement to our national security are well-known. In a 21st century world where threats do not stop at borders, the United States cannot tackle many of our most urgent problems alone.
Nuclear proliferation. Climate change. Attacks on freedom and human rights. Terrorism. Transnational crime. Pandemic disease. Armed conflict and instability that, left unchecked, can unleash these and other dangers.
But we know that to respond to these and other threats, U.S. engagement at the United Nations works.
It enhances U.S. national security.
It advances core American values, including human rights.
And it builds and maintains the global networks and systems worldwide, on which our 21st century economy depends.
It works, because as a tool for addressing these common challenges, multilateral engagement lets us share with other countries the financial and political burden of addressing global challenges.
I will be frank: important issues will be addressed at the United Nations whether or not the United States chooses to be actively engaged. So in reality, our choice is between maintaining global leadership at the UN, or ceding it to those who would not act in our interests.
So I would like to briefly walk through several of our most pressing foreign policy challenges, and highlight how multilateral engagement has been crucial to winning the strong cooperation we have needed to address each one.
In Libya, we and our partners worked across the UN system to marshal a robust international response. We won tough Security Council sanctions, an ICC referral of Qadhafi, and when the world’s warning was not heeded, an unprecedented Security Council mandate to intervene to protect civilians, and prevent atrocities. While U.S. diplomats in New York were pursuing that course, their counterparts in Geneva were achieving Human Rights Council condemnation of Qadhafi’s depredations. Libya was suspended from the HRC, and an international commission of inquiry was launched to investigate human rights violations and lay the groundwork for accountability. And next week, in New York the international community will come together to identify how we can best support the next phase of transition in Libya.
The UN also has been instrumental in combating nuclear proliferation. Security Council sanctions on Iran have hampered that regime’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Tough sanctions against North Korea allowed cargo vessels to be inspected and illegal arms shipments seized. To make these sanctions most effective, they need to be global in their scope and implementation, and only the Security Council can make that happen. And two years ago, President Obama chaired a Security Council session that reinvigorated global efforts to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons and the materials to make them.
On this subject, I want to make a broader point quickly about the value of investing in multilateral institutions. We have relied upon the monitoring and expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency as we have worked to develop coordinated international responses to cases of potential nuclear proliferation. The IAEA has been invaluable in sounding the alarm on illicit nuclear activities in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere, a reminder of the value of investment in these international institutions before we get to the crisis point.
The UN also is key to the international response after we have passed the crisis point, working to prevent further conflict and crisis. I am sure Nancy will talk more about UN peacekeeping missions, but it is important to note just briefly that with roughly 120,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers deployed in the field, we are calling upon them more than ever before, even as their roles have become more difficult and complex. Today, it is rare that we deploy unarmed observers to monitor an agreed ceasefire between two sovereign states. Instead, we increasingly are sending peacekeepers to some of the world’s most challenging security situations – Darfur, Congo, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire – with mandates that include protecting civilians, and bringing stability to parts of the world that for too long, have known too little of it.
UN peacekeepers also can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. forces. The bottom line is that UN peacekeepers provide another tool, so that when faced with a threat to civilians, or violent instability that risks engulfing an entire region, we do not have to choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing.
Now, tough sanctions and peacekeeping missions are perhaps the UN’s two best-known tools for addressing threats to international peace and security. But they are far from the only ways our engagement with the UN benefits U.S. national security.
UN political missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq have been crucial partners for the United States. In both countries, the UN – with real risk and danger, and tragic loss of life by UN personnel – has worked with the sovereign Afghan and Iraqi governments to strengthen democratic institutions, and contribute to political stability. They mediate local conflicts, and sometimes are asked to address, on behalf of the international community, issues that, for one reason or another, a single country might be hard-pressed to resolve. We work closely with the UN missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq; without them, U.S. efforts to responsibly draw down our military forces would be far more difficult.
Engagement at the UN is also an important part of our counterterrorism efforts. Security Council sanctions against al Qaeda have, through their universal application, isolated and frozen the assets of terrorists and their supporters. Working through UN bodies like the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, we and our partners are helping to prevent and combat terrorism by building national capacity, and sharing best practices. And at the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, we work to keep Americans safe when they take to the skies.
Beyond these tangible benefits to U.S. national security, our robust engagement across the UN system sends an important message to the world, namely that the United States remains a global leader. We have no intention of abdicating that role, or the responsibilities that come with it.
Global leadership means working in the Security Council to bring together representatives from all corners of the map, including emerging powers, to address the threats and challenges I have mentioned, as well as a host of others.
Global leadership means actively engaging other members of the Human Rights Council, to continue the transformation of that body into one that increasingly can respond effectively to pressing human rights situations, in real time, and with concrete action. I would be happy to discuss the HRC more during the question and answer period, but I will say now just that U.S. leadership has been key to that metamorphosis of the Human Rights Council into a body that can advance universal values that Americans hold dear, and validates this Administration’s decision to reverse course and win a seat on the Council.
It means defending our close ally, Israel, from any efforts to delegitimize or isolate it at the UN. We oppose all attempts to unilaterally use the UN as the venue for addressing final status issues, which must be decided in direct negotiations between the parties. And we have been very clear from the beginning that we think it is a mistake for the Palestinians to seek a unilateral path to statehood at the UN, rather than a negotiated peace, and that we oppose such a unilateral move.
Finally, U.S. leadership means paying our bills in full. President Obama’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full has given us greater influence with allies, partners, and others, and helped us achieve both our policy goals at the UN, as well as much-needed management reform and budget discipline. For too long, our failure to keep current on our UN dues hamstrung our diplomats and hurt our national interest. So we oppose calls to withhold U.S. dues, given the impact doing so would have on U.S. influence and leadership across the UN system.
Of course, the UN can be improved. As careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, this Administration works every day to achieve much-needed UN management reform and budget discipline. But withholding U.S. assessments would set back those efforts, not advance them. And it would undercut our influence at the UN, with long-term implications for our national security, our economy, and our efforts to promote human rights and universal values.
As I have highlighted today, too many U.S. interests require strong multilateral engagement across the UN system for us to simply walk away and cede U.S. leadership at the United Nations. Too many of our most pressing foreign policy challenges require shared multilateral solutions for us to undercut our global influence by withholding our UN dues.
The world has changed markedly since the United Nations was founded in 1945. But if to protect our security against transnational threats, advance our values as an alternative to extremism, and promote international stability to advance our economy, U.S. engagement in the United Nations is more essential than it has ever been. So this Administration remains committed to pursuing constructive multilateral engagement at the United Nations, and to continued U.S. global leadership across the UN system.
Dean Hudgins, thank you for that introduction. I greatly appreciate this opportunity and want to thank the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, its College of Liberal Arts and Department of Political Science who are the hosts of this event. I also want to thank Professor Dr. Joanne Goodwin for participating in this event, and for the important role she is playing here at UNLV and as the Director of the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada.
It is truly an honor for me to be in Las Vegas and to share the Obama Administration’s far-reaching efforts to support the empowerment of women and girls globally. It is also an honor to be with Representative Shelley Berkley who has been a tireless advocate for the advancement of women and girls internationally. Congresswoman: I want to thank you and your colleagues in Congress for supporting our bilateral and multilateral efforts to address critical issues that impact women, girls and families around the world.
As Secretary Clinton and officials across this Administration have stated repeatedly, the major security, governance, environmental, and economic challenges of the 21st Century cannot be solved without the participation of women and girls at all levels of society.
We know that empowering women globally – including farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, women de-miners in Sri Lanka, a legislator in Afghanistan or a recent college graduate protesting in Tahrir Square in Egypt – is one of the surest ways to create favorable outcomes in poverty alleviation, economic growth, and a country’s general prosperity. In fact, we know that as women progress, everyone in society benefits, including men and boys.
That is why the United States and our international partners are invested in an historic effort to empower women globally. It is clear that tapping into limitless potential of women and girls is not only the right thing to do but it is the smart thing.
As the Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs responsible for U.S. engagement across the United Nations system as well as with other multilateral institutions, I want to focus my remarks today on how the U.S. is working to lift up millions of women and girls across the world through robust engagement multilaterally.
But first, I want to touch briefly on the importance this Administration has placed on our engagement at the UN and other organizations.
As many of you know, our engagement at the UN and across the multilateral system has been a top priority for this Administration, particularly as we face increasingly difficult global challenges including, continued economic instability, famine in places such as the Horn of Africa, complex security challenges such as terrorism and non-proliferation, and breathtaking transformation in North Africa and Middle East. Time and again, we have found that multilateral tools at the UN and elsewhere have been essential for the United States in achieving our foreign policy goals, enhancing our security, and advancing our values.
The UN and multilateral organizations provide the means of cooperation and partnership to find common solutions to complex problems; they offer fora through which the international community can set global norms and standards; and they help states achieve them.
Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States has sought to strengthen the United Nations and other aspects of the international architecture to respond better to the challenges of our rapidly changing world. That includes leveraging multilateral tools and mobilizing the international community in a coordinated, focused, and concentrated way to empower women and girls globally.
We realize that in the 21st century, the weight and scope of these issues are too great for the U.S. to carry the water alone, and that is why we have strengthened old alliances and built new partnerships – locally, nationally and internationally – to address the challenges of our day.
When you look solely at the breadth of challenges facing women and girls globally – including the lack of education and basic literacy skills, sexual and gender-based violence, rampant discrimination, the lack of economic opportunities and political participation we can understand why institutions like the UN are essential. We can exchange ideas and best practices and rally support to address hard problems.
For example, the United States is working the specialized agencies such as United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to expand girls’ and women’s access to education.
Today, women, mainly in the world’s poorest communities, represent about two-thirds of the nearly 800 million illiterate adults around the world. Seeking to end this imbalance, Secretary Clinton spoke at to UNESCO in May to launch the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. In Paris, she joined UNESCO’s Executive Director Irina Bokova, world leaders, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, including American companies, in pledging to support education for women and girls.
As the Secretary pointed out at the Global Partnership launch, “No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity to achieve theirs.” We know that opening the door for women and girls to greater education leads to more choices, opportunities, and useful information in how to live their lives. Indeed, we also know that birth rates, HIV infections, incidents of domestic violence and female cutting all decline when education rises.
That is why we are deeply committed to the Partnership because it has the power to transform the lives of women. Together, we are working to ensure that money and resources are best used to promote basic literacy training and secondary education for girls around the globe. Working together with other governments, NGOs, and private partners also allows us to multiply our impact, reaching more women and girls in meaningful ways than if we acted alone. It is because of the power of these partnerships that we have been at the fore-front of bringing together diverse groups of governments, foundations, and corporations.
For example, the United States helped broker an agreement between Procter and Gamble and UNESCO to fund literacy training for girls in Senegal. Today only 33% of Senegalese women are literate. This modestly funded agreement will impact 40,000 women in Senegal enhancing their literacy and increasing their income and quality of their environment.
We also have partners, like Nokia, with whom we work in multiple venues. Nokia is a partner in the UNESCO Global Partnership, but they are also one of our partners in the mWomen program, an initiative led by the Cherie Blair Foundation and the mobile industry association GSMA which aims to reduce the gender gap in access to mobile technology of 300 million in the developing world, by 50 percent, in the next three years. By increasing women’s access to cell phones, the programs enables them to gain access to mobile education and mobile banking, which are critical tools for girls and women to strengthen their education and participate in developing markets.
The Obama Administration has also focused on the number of women holding leadership positions. We know there has been progress on this front; year after year we see more women entering government and taking on senior positions, including heads of state, yet the road forward has at times been rocky and the numbers disproportionate given that women make half of the global population. When women are not serving in governments, when their voice and experience are muted, when they are not at the negotiating table their absence has direct impact on society, on peace and security, on strengthening democracy in the communities, nations and world in which we live.
The Administration is implementing policies and programs to bolster women’s leadership capacity in all areas of political participation and decision-making. To that end, we have worked to strengthen the institutional arrangements and mechanisms at the UN for support of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Indeed, we were at the forefront in 2009 and 2010 in leading efforts at the UN to support the consolidation of the UN’s existing gender-related institutions into a single more effective women’s agency. It was our goal at the UN to elevate women’s issues to their rightful status.
I am pleased to report that our efforts were successful. UN Women formally began operations on January 1, 2011 with a comprehensive mandate to work on all issues related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Its Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, is an impressive leader, as you know she is the former President of Chile.
UN Women has several strategic priorities, one of which is expanding women’s leadership and participation. The events of the Arab Spring have focused international attention on the importance and fragility of women’s political participation. In some cases, gains previously made by women in the Middle East and North Africa are being challenged, and women who had taken part in democracy movements are now excluded from negotiations on future systems of government. These trends jeopardize political stability, economic security, and human rights in countries undergoing transition.
To address these concerns, UN Women, in conjunction with the United States and other partners, will hold a high-level roundtable discussion during the upcoming UN General Assembly in September to examine the role of women during periods of political transition, like in the Middle East and North Africa. There will be senior-level participation from UN Women, the United States, Brazil, the European Union, and other member states.
Additionally, the Administration supports UN Women efforts to advance women’s political participation through technical assistance, research, and training, with a focus on countries in transition, including countries in the Middle East. We hope to complement ongoing UN Women projects aimed at greater political participation for women in Latin America and in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
Another UN Women strategic priority is enhancing women’s economic empowerment. Executive Director Bachelet has often said that women’s economic security is a precondition for further improvements in their lives.
Every day, women are starting their own businesses. Between 1997 and 2008, women-owned businesses in the U.S. grew at twice the national average for all other business types. An estimated 10.1 million companies, 40% of all privately-owned firms, were owned by women as of 2008.
What we know is that women-run small and medium sized businesses in the U.S. and internationally accelerate economic growth, and many countries have made progress on laws and regulations concerning inheritance and property ownership, working hours, and retirement ages. Yet women face barriers in the U.S. and globally starting these businesses, including challenges connected with access to training, mentors, finance, technology, and markets. These challenges need to be addressed in order for women to fulfill their potential to increase their livelihoods and contribute to the broader economy.
To study these barriers and identify solutions, the U.S. supported the launch of the OECD’s Gender Initiative earlier this year. This initiative will create indicators for measuring women’s economic empowerment, and offer a toolbox of policy options by which member states can unleash the potential of millions of women through education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The OECD is piloting this approach with its Women’s Business Network for the Middle East and North Africa, which is co-chaired by the United States and Jordan.
The United States is also playing a leading role, along with international partners, in supporting empowerment of women, within the UN system, through our participation in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The theme of the spring 2011 UN Commission on the Status of Women session was “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science, and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”
At that Commission meeting, the U.S. pointed out that the emerging green economy is shaping employment opportunities, and women can gain a stronger position in the workforce through green jobs. The Department of Labor is leading efforts domestically along with policy-makers, employers, workforce professionals, educators, and trainers to focus their efforts on having women participate in and benefit from the new green economy. Women have made great strides in some male-dominated occupations, but still make up only a small portion of the workers in these jobs.
At the Spring session, and with the goal of further advancing the capacity of women in addressing climate change policy, our delegation led by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, announced a new international exchange program, which will target women climate leaders from the developing world and the critical role they play in developing climate-related policies.
Participants will travel to the United States for three weeks to learn about the development of new policies related to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as information about cutting edge small scale clean technologies and how to promote women’s entrepreneurship opportunities and markets for them in their countries.
Building on the Administrations’ strong commitment to expand educational exchanges and new opportunities in entrepreneurship and science, the U.S. established the TechWomen Program in 2010 to promote professional development and sustainable relationships for women technology leaders from the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the most prominent U.S. technology companies are committed to participating in the program. This summer we saw the first graduates from this program, thirty-seven women from places such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza. Building on the success of the TechWomen program Secretary Clinton recently announced a similar initiative called TechGirls that will bring teenage girls from the Middle East and North Africa for educational programming in the United States.
Before concluding, I want to highlight the Administration’s continued effort to work multilaterally including through the UN to address some of the most vexing challenges facing women and girls, including the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women, the role of women in peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building and combating sexual and gender-based violence.
This Administration is deeply committed to increasing women’s representation at all levels of conflict resolution, including in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. It is a priority for the U.S. in areas of post-conflict and transition, to ensure that participate in peace processes, political transitions, new constitutions, and the electoral process. Thus, we have been blunt in urging others join us in implementing the series of UN Security Council resolutions on these topics, including those we have taken leadership on, such as Resolutions 1325, 1888 and more recently 1960.
Resolution 1888 was a major achievement for the Administration because it established a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict as well as a team of experts to support accountability mechanisms targeting impunity for rape as a weapon of war. The Special Representative position is currently held by Margot Wallstrom.
Resolution 1960, passed at U.S. urging last December, further empowered the UN to address sexual violence in armed conflict by establish monitoring, analysis, and reporting arrangements.
Today we are continuing to work hand in hand with Special Representative Margot Wallstrom to lead and coordinate efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence against women and children.
Additionally, as the Secretary of State promised during the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 last October, the U.S. is developing a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security that will guide our approach to this issue in the coming years. While making this promise, the Secretary also committed nearly $44 million in U.S. funding to a set of initiatives designed to empower women, with a large share of the funding to support civil society groups that focus on women in Afghanistan. The U.S. has been adamant that rights of Afghan women will not be sacrificed.
President Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy recognized that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind.”
That’s why the Obama Administration is firmly committed to working with the United Nations and with international partners, including non-governmental organizations, the private sector, to advance women’s rights, freedoms, and opportunities. We know our goal to empower women and girls is an historic effort that will not be achieved overnight. It will require persistence and a long-term commitment of the United States and international community to realize the lasting change we seek for women and girls on a global scale.
I will end there. I look forward to your questions and comments.
Thank you, Dr. Tuman, for that introduction. Thanks also to the School of Liberal Arts, for putting together this event, and to all of you for coming out today. As the lead State Department official overseeing U.S. interaction with the UN system – including UN bodies in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Rome, Nairobi, Paris, and Montreal – it is my privilege to hear from Americans about the challenges you see facing the United States, and to share with you the good work your diplomats are doing every day to advance U.S. foreign policy at the United Nations. With global attention soon turning to New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly, it is a natural time to discuss these issues.
Even after the presidents and prime ministers have left New York later this month, your diplomats there – and at the UN bodies in the cities I just mentioned – will continue their work on a broad range of issues that benefit Americans. Robust U.S. engagement with the United Nations stems from a simple fact: in a 21st century world where threats do not stop at borders, even the United States cannot tackle many of our most urgent problems alone.
We have known for a long time that what happens beyond our borders affects our security and our economy, and that we ignore turmoil abroad at our own peril. Nuclear proliferation threatens the security of us all, regardless of nationality. If not checked, the impact of climate change will be truly global, albeit felt in different ways. Threats to freedom and universal human rights anywhere stain our collective conscience. Terrorism and transnational crime pay no heed to national borders; pandemic disease requires no passport to move quickly from one country to the next. We know that conflict and instability, even when it is half a world away, can unleash these and other dangers.
Americans benefit immensely from globalization and the interconnections it brings with peoples around the globe. Here, in one of the tourism and commerce capitals of the world, you instinctively understand that more than most. Our security and prosperity are inextricably hardwired to the rest of the world but it does not mean that the United States should take on the world’s problems by ourselves. American troops should not police every conflict, and American generosity alone cannot solve every humanitarian crisis or bring relief after every natural disaster. Because these common global challenges call for shared global solutions, we find ourselves more than ever working through the UN to achieve many of our most important foreign policy goals.
On matters of international peace and security, the UN’s role has been central to several top U.S. foreign policy priorities. UN peacekeepers help prevent conflict and protect civilians around the globe, at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. troops. Security Council sanctions on Iran have had a significant effect on that regime, including by hampering its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. UN counterterrorism sanctions have isolated terrorists and frozen their assets and those of their supporters. UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq work to strengthen democracy and mediate local conflicts, meaning that we can draw down our military forces there on schedule.
The UN’s humanitarian agencies also deliver lifesaving aid in many of the world’s worst crises. From Haiti to Somalia, Pakistan to the Congo, the World Food Program and UNICEF are preempting starvation, the World Health Organization is preventing outbreaks of disease through vaccination programs, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is providing comfort to those displaced from their homes. These agencies are only a few of the important UN organizations that are saving lives, providing critical humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations, and contributing to the overall human security on which lasting peace must be built.
The United States also works through the UN system to promote global respect for human rights and universal values. I will discuss in a moment our work at the Human Rights Council, and the advances that body has made as a result of U.S. engagement. We see the UN as an increasingly important forum for bringing the countries of the world together to promote human rights and call out abuses and violations of liberty, equality, and basic human dignity, no matter where they occur.
And UN technical and specialized agencies support the architecture of globalization we have all come to take for granted. From international civil aviation to worldwide postal service, from cross-border telecommunications to global shipping, it is through the long list of UN agencies, many of which you may never have heard of, that the world builds and maintains the links that bring us all together.
Working through the United Nations means we do not have to choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing. Instead, we can show global leadership, to bring together allies and partners to achieve our goals. This was true recently in the international response to Libya, where both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council served to channel the international community’s collective response. In this case, these two UN bodies worked to reinforce each other’s actions and maximize international pressure on the Qadhafi regime.
So as the members of the Security Council met to determine that body’s initial response, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was called into special session, where it launched an international commission of inquiry to investigate the reality on the ground, and recommended suspending Libya’s membership. This helped catalyze a unanimous Security Council resolution the next day that imposed tough sanctions against the Qadhafi regime, referred his depredations to the International Criminal Court, and warned him that the world would not stand by as his forces attacked Libyan civilians whose only wrongdoing was their desire for freedom.
When the Qadhafi regime failed to heed this warning, we went back to the Security Council and worked to shape a mandate to protect civilians in Libya. An unprecedented coalition, included the United States, our NATO allies, and Arab nations, launched a military operation to save civilian lives and stop Qadhafi’s forces. And in the course of the past few months, the Transitional National Council has established itself as a credible representative of the Libyan people, such that the United States has recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. We support the TNC’s work with the international community to prepare for a post-Qadhafi Libya.
Although we have come to expect the UN Security Council to act decisively with regard to threats to international peace and security, the Human Rights Council has not always acted as deftly as it did in Libya. Some critics had asked whether it was much better than the old Commission on Human Rights that it replaced. They argued that too many of the members had dubious human rights records, that the Council spent far too much time unfairly focused on Israel, and that it failed to show it could act quickly and to concretely address pressing human rights situations around the world.
Given these criticisms, it was not without controversy that the Obama Administration announced in 2009 that the United States would run for a seat on the Human Rights Council. Although the previous Administration had kept the Council at arm’s length since its creation, we believed that if the United States wanted the HRC to live up to its mandate to protect and promote the human rights of all mankind, we could not leave it to be dominated by others.
I am pleased to report that the Human Rights Council has fundamentally changed over the past two years as a result of U.S. engagement. Both Iran and Syria backed out of campaigns to get elected after tough diplomacy by the United States and our partners made clear they would lose. Though the Human Rights Council held five special sessions on Israel in the three years before the United States took our seat, there have been none – none – in almost two years. And thanks to leadership by the United States and our partners, the Human Rights Council is showing an increased ability to respond quickly and constructively to serious human rights abuses. That includes launching the international commission of inquiry in Libya, as I mentioned before. It includes working with the interim Tunisian government to ensure respect for human rights during the transition there. And it includes tough resolutions on the human rights situation in Syria, along with an international commission of inquiry to investigate the Assad regime’s continued lethal attacks against peaceful protestors, and provide the foundation for international accountability.
There is far more that we have achieved since joining the Human Rights Council, from promoting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly worldwide, to reinforcing the principle that the rights of LGBT persons are, yes, human rights. I can go into further detail during the question-and-answer period if you would like. And yes, we remain disappointed that the Council continues its bias against Israel, even if it is reduced. But the change that has come over that body since the United States took our seat in 2009 is a testament to the benefits of U.S. engagement at the United Nations.
Our strong diplomatic engagement at the Human Rights Council was not the only path we could have taken. There are critics even today who call for drastic unilateral steps that would undermine the important work we are doing, in a time when our need for shared solutions is growing. These go-it-alone types think the United States pays too much in dues, or allege that the UN is incorrigibly corrupt, or point to instances where the United States disagrees with some symbolic vote or conference held in the UN General Assembly. From that, they argue that the United States would be better off without the United Nations, that we should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, or that we somehow can force the UN to correct some shortcoming by refusing to pay the dues we owe pursuant to treaty obligations.
They could not be more wrong.
For too long, the United States played games with our UN assessments, paying them when we wanted to and withholding them whenever we felt doing so was somehow justified. So sometimes the UN peacekeepers sent out into harm’s way got paid, and sometimes they did not. Not only did this practice wreak havoc on UN budgeting – imagine trying to run a corporation never knowing if your largest investor will up and pull out its stake – it also undermined U.S. credibility, and hurt our ability to get things done at the UN.
But all this has changed since 2009. President Obama’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full has given us more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations. Both in pursuing foreign policy goals and in pressing for UN management reform and budget discipline, our failure to keep current on our UN dues hamstrung our diplomats and hurt our national interest. For too long, our adversaries could change the subject to our arrears when we pressed them on an important policy matter; they no longer can do so.
And what, you ask, is the price for all this? What does this investment in shared security, universal values, and global systems cost the American taxpayer? About one-tenth of one percent of federal spending.
That is because U.S. global leadership at the UN means we pay our fair share of the burden. Not more, not less. Our UN dues amount to roughly twenty-five cents on the dollar. That is right: every dollar we put into the UN system leverages roughly three dollars from the rest of the world toward solutions to our shared challenges. And as careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, this Administration is proud of the management and budget reform initiatives we have worked with the United Nations to create and implement. The United States is second to none in pursuing a more efficient, effective, and transparent UN. These accomplishments may not grab headlines, but they get results. Not only do these efforts save money, they also help ensure that the United Nations is strong enough to bear the burdens we must place upon it in the decades to come.
As I have discussed tonight, U.S. engagement at the United Nations is an essential means of achieving our foreign policy goals and advancing our values. It is an important forum for burden-sharing in tough financial times. And it clearly benefits Americans.
I want to thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today, and I look forward to any questions you may have.
Assistant Secretary Brimmer: Multilateral Cooperation Between The United States and Israel: Fighting Delegitimization, Moving Forward Together
(As prepared remarks)
Good afternoon. I want to thank Rob Satloff and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for this invitation. It is truly a privilege to have this opportunity at this distinguished institution and to exchange ideas and views on topics that the Institute has been so deeply engaged in since 1985.
As the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, my bureau serves as the primary U.S. interlocutor with the United Nations and a host of international agencies and organizations.
We are also charged with implementing the President’s vision of robust multilateral engagement as a crucial tool in advancing U.S. national interests.
This effort is particularly important for the United States as we face a rapidly changing global landscape and a myriad of difficult challenges including, continued economic instability, complex security challenges such as terrorism and nonproliferation, and a transforming North Africa and Middle East. Time and again, we have found that multilateral tools and levers at the UN and elsewhere have been essential for the United States in achieving our foreign policy goals, enhancing our security, and advancing our values.
Today I am going to focus on the Administration’s far-reaching efforts to normalize Israel’s status in and across the UN and broader multilateral system, and to counter head-on efforts of delegitimization and continued structural bias.
As you can imagine, we spend a considerable amount of time in my bureau, in the seven U.S Missions to the UN, the State Department and across the Administration on these very issues. In particular, our Missions to the UN have close cooperation with their Israeli counterparts in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Nairobi and Montreal and across the full range of UN and multilateral fora. In fact, there are only a handful of other countries where our level of cooperation at the UN is so deep.
Now many of you are already familiar with our extensive military cooperation and assistance to Israel, which helps maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over potential threats. That cooperation is one pillar in the Administration’s unparalleled strategic partnership with Israel, which covers the full depth and breadth of our shared interests, as well as our diplomatic engagement with a special focus on core UN and multilateral issues at the highest levels.
Our diplomatic engagement with Israel in multilateral affairs is rooted in a core commitment by President Obama. As the President articulated recently, “The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable — and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.”
These commitments are enduring, and go well beyond our strong bilateral ties. President Obama and this Administration have worked tirelessly, in both word and deed, across the UN system, to ensure that Israel’s legitimacy is beyond dispute and that Israel has the opportunity to contribute fully to all institutions to which it belongs.
That’s why we vehemently reject attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As the President stated at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”
With those words in mind, I want to talk briefly about the possibility that the Palestinians will pursue membership at the UN in September. The President has been clear that he supports “two states for two peoples,” and that it would be a mistake for the Palestinians to pursue a path for statehood at the UN rather than at the negotiating table with Israel. We have been frank that we reject counterproductive attempts to resolve permanent status issues at the UN.
As the President said on May 19, “For Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. “That’s why we are focused on a negotiated outcome that will lead to the establishment of an independent, viable State of Palestine alongside a secure State of Israel.
As I said earlier, we have been steadfast in our determination to ensure that Israel is treated fairly, that its security is never in doubt, and that Israel has the same rights and responsibilities as all UN member states.
We have opposed unbalanced, one-sided resolutions, at the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and elsewhere. We have opposed the deeply flawed and biased Goldstone Report, and voted against multiple resolutions on last year’s flotilla incident at the Human Rights Council. On the Goldstone Report, we have been clear that we want to see UN action end in relation to the report. Regarding the flotilla issue, we have joined the Secretary-General in his call on Governments to use their respective influence to discourage future flotillas, and avoid unnecessary and unhelpful provocative actions that seek to bypass the effective mechanisms that exist to deliver goods and services to Gaza.
Our human rights efforts across the UN System have focused on defending the oppressed against oppressive governments. We have led an informal coalition of democracies from around the globe in criticizing those who violate human rights, including those who and seek to divert attention from their own human rights violations through biased or spurious challenges to Israel’s legitimacy in multilateral venues.
We have also tirelessly defended our principles by opposing the candidacies of human rights violators who seek places on various UN bodies. Last year, we worked hard on multinational efforts that led to the exclusion of Iran from membership on the UN Human Rights Council and the Executive Board of UN Women. We worked similarly hard in efforts to suspend Libya’s membership on the Human Rights Council in March, and last month we prevented Syria from gaining a seat at the Council.
Over the last several months at the Human Rights Council, we led unprecedented resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Libya, Iran and then Syria and putting in place mechanisms to document abuses and hold those governments to account.
We are continuing these efforts at the current session of the Council by working with a broad variety of states on joint statements on Syria and Yemen, and a resolution on Belarus. Much work still needs to be done at the Human Rights Council. We continue to protest the egregious permanent agenda item on Israel. But we have managed to use every opportunity to shift the focus of the debate at the Council addressing the most serious human rights abusers, rather than unfairly singling out Israel.
Last September we joined international partners to defeat a resolution at the IAEA that singled out Israel’s nuclear program for rebuke. Just last week, the IAEA Board of Governors, which includes the U.S., adopted a resolution finding Syria in noncompliance with its international nuclear obligations and referred the matter to the UN Security Council. Syria blatantly violated its nonproliferation safeguards obligations and has hindered the IAEA’s efforts to investigate the matter. Syria must fully cooperate with the IAEA and resolve all outstanding issues related to its noncompliance.
We have also worked to isolate Iran at the UN Security Council, imposing tough sanctions that have set back its nuclear programs. We have been steadfast in calling on Iran to live up to its own commitments and its obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, the NPT, and its IAEA Safeguards Agreement.
At the Security Council and throughout the UN System, in the face of high diplomatic hurdles, we have mobilized countries from every region to take principled stands on these pressing issues.
All these efforts demonstrate that our commitment to defend Israel throughout the UN system, both in countering biased anti-Israeli actions and in opposing those who seek platforms to expand anti-Israel efforts at the UN, remains strong. Our efforts go beyond such defensive steps, however. Let me turn now to how Israel and the United States are working together to move forward in the UN and elsewhere.
Despite the difficulties that Israel faces at the UN, one thing has remained constant in my discussions with my counterparts in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They continue to express and implement their strong desire to expand Israel’s positive global agenda across the UN and multilateral system.
Let me review four conversations I had with Israeli officials when I was in Israel in March.
When I met with Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor he emphasized that Israel was looking for ways to draw on its expertise in a wide range of technical areas; highlighting Science, Technology, and Holocaust Education at UNESCO; Food Security and Desertification at the UN’s Food Agriculture Organization; and Emergency response efforts to Haiti and elsewhere, to further enhance its multilateral engagement.
Israel’s Minister for Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch affirmed his government’s interest in working with the UN to find opportunities for Israel to contribute to international peacekeeping operations, building on its successful deployment of a police contingent to Haiti last fall.
I was hosted by Israeli Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel at the Knesset where she focused on Israel’s long-standing commitment to empower women in Israel and globally. She reemphasized Israel’s desire to join UN WOMEN, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. At the event, I expressed our strong support for Israel’s involvement on Gender Issues in the UN General Assembly and at Commission on the Status of Women, UN Women, and across the UN system.
I also met with Haim Divon, head of Mashav, which is Israel’s equivalent to USAID. He emphasized MASHAV’s potential to contribute to the international community’s efforts in these areas. Like us, Minister Divon and his colleagues understand that the combination of effective diplomacy and development can reinforce our mutual interests in achieving better futures for peoples around the world. He spoke about MASHAV’s agreements with the UN, including a recent agreement with the World Food Program.
Why are all of these conversations important? They highlight something that may not be obvious. Israel wants to play a larger role globally, multilaterally and at the UN. It does not want to be viewed solely through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis understand that they not only have rights within the international system; they also have responsibilities, and they want to meet them. To that end, the United States is working with Israel to advance its positive multilateral engagement agenda, and move beyond the focus on contentious political and security issues, with the aim of addressing the issue of delegitimization and Israel’s treatment at the United Nations.
Here are some examples of this collaborative effort.
We have worked with Israel to support the appointment of Israelis to UN positions, like Frances Raday who was recently chosen as an Expert Member of the Human Rights Council’s Special Working Group to eliminate discrimination against women.
In 2009, we helped to secure the passage of Israeli-sponsored technical resolutions on Agricultural technology, a similar resolution with our assistance also passed in 2007.
Progress has also been made normalizing Israel’s status in multilateral bodies, including joining the OECD and removing some of the discriminatory barriers to Israel’s participation in UN voting and consultative blocs.
In fact, in a two year period from 2009-2010, Israel was admitted to the JUSCANZ Group in Geneva and in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee in New York. JUSCANZ is comprised of Japan, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and several others with variable memberships in different UN fora. While these are small steps forward for Israel — JUSCANZ consultation groups are important given they allow members to exchange information in advance of committee meetings and debates across the UN. Israel’s inclusion in JUSCANZ membership helps to reduce the impact of its exclusion from other negotiating and regional blocks.
Israel and its people also have a tremendous amount of expertise and know-how to share multilaterally and throughout the UN system. UNESCO’s Director General Irina Bokova in her recent visit to Israel highlighted her organization’s “excellent cooperation” with Israel in a variety of fields including education, culture, science, and communications. Given Israel’s contributions at UNESCO you can understand why, like the United States, they are candidates for the UNESCO’s Executive Board.
Certainly, Israel and the United States will continue to face difficult challenges in the UN system. We are not so naïve to think that a positive agenda alone will immediately change the status quo for Israel. However you can see a path over the past decade where there has been some success for Israel’s engagement at the UN. We plan to build on these successful efforts.
One constant we hear from Israeli counterparts is how much they appreciate the Administration’s efforts and U.S.-Israeli cooperation at the UN and multilaterally. In order to sustain these efforts, the United States must maintain the strongest position it can at the UN, and that means paying our bills on time and in full. We are more credible politically when we fulfill our treaty obligations and contribute to work that advances our interests. When we are delinquent, it impairs our ability to advance U.S. interests and effective cooperation on key security threats at the UN.
We want to see the gains of the past 2 ½ years continue, where the Administration has worked day in and day out at the UN and multilaterally on critical peace and security issues, including counter-terrorism and non-proliferation, issues which greatly concern the United States and Israel, and where we have been successful in achieving American objectives, mobilizing international partners and leveraging the full range of multilateral institutions.
Today, the UN is playing an indispensible role in two countries of enormous importance to the United States: Afghanistan and Iraq. Both this Administration and the previous Administration strongly supported this UN involvement, understanding it to be complementary to our own efforts. Without the UN’s work in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. efforts to responsibly draw down our military forces from both countries as the President has committed to doing would be all the more difficult. If the United States doesn’t pay our dues, why would others continue to support their dues going to missions that are great importance to the United States?
Think about it. How could we have won tough Security Council sanctions on Iran or North Korea if we were continuing to incur arrears? As the President pointed out, “At the United Nations, under our leadership, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the Iranian regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world.”
How would our failure to pay our bills impact the success of Security Council sanctions regimes — that have placed global asset freezes and travel bans on terrorists and their supporters?
How would it impact the International Atomic Energy Agency which has been invaluable in focusing on Iran and Syria’s nuclear activities?
How would it impact the President’s commitment to a shared security with Israel?
These are risks we cannot afford to take. The United States cannot afford failed short-term tactics that have long-term implications for our security, and we must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills.
Another danger on the horizon is efforts by some to limit U.S. participation at the UN and in UN bodies. This would have negative repercussions for the U.S. given that our multilateral accomplishments would not have happened without an American voice at the table. UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council, have improved as the result of direct U.S. engagement. If we cede ground, if our engagement in the UN system is restricted — these bodies likely would be dominated by our adversaries. A scenario where power vacuums are filled by adversaries is not a good for the United States and certainly not for Israel.
We saw such a scenario at the Human Rights Council prior to the U.S. joining in 2009. Israel was singled out for six special sessions, far too many unbalanced resolutions focused on Israel; and far too few resolutions, special procedures, or other attention were directed to the world’s most troubling and urgent human rights situations. As I said, the challenges continue at the Council, but the Council’s improvement through U.S. engagement is undeniable.
Looking ahead, we are committed to building on our efforts with Israel at the UN, including working with Israel to advance its positive global agenda, and continuing to oppose attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.
President Obama has repeatedly backed up that commitment, including last month when he spoke at AIPAC’s annual conference. With that said, Israel, like the United States, must continue to adjust to a global landscape that has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and one where more of today’s solutions to 21st century challenges are found at the UN and in multilateral fora.
As President Obama stated, “The United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.” The UN and multilateral fora are critical to meeting this challenge, and are more relevant than ever as we seek to influence and encourage lasting reform and democratic change in Israel’s neighborhood and as we respond to the shared threats and challenges of our time.
I will end there. Again, thank you this opportunity.
Esther Brimmer: Remarks on Revitalizing the United Nations and Multilateral Cooperation: The Obama Administration’s Progress
Thank you, Ted, for that introduction and for the opportunity to speak here today. Before I begin, I want to recognize the contributions you and your colleagues at Brookings have made on the wide range of multilateral issues across the UN system that we work on every day.
Two years into President Obama’s first term, we see an ever-growing need for effective multilateralism, and recognize its impact on achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. We see it as we work to protect human rights in places like Iran. We see it as we work to ensure that elections in Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sudan are free and fair. We see it as we work to halt nuclear proliferation in Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
Yet despite important progress, we once again are hearing criticisms from a bygone era, which ignore our successes at the UN as well as changes to the global landscape that make effective multilateral engagement more important than ever.
So our discussion today is a perfect opportunity to review the Obama Administration’s multilateral efforts and progress, and look ahead at the challenges we face in the coming year. Today, I’ll highlight how the Administration’s engagement across the UN system has benefited the United States, and how our work to revitalize the United Nations is at the core of our multilateral priorities.
The rationale for heightened U.S. engagement at the UN is clear. In a 21st century world where threats don’t stop at borders, we tackle many of our most urgent problems with cooperation and partnership, and need shared solutions to common problems. But as any veteran of multilateral diplomacy will tell you, the importance of a global response is often matched by the challenge in getting there. It’s not always easy; it’s not always smooth. But U.S. interests benefit from our patient, dogged efforts across the UN system.
This Administration’s engagement at the UN is at the core of our efforts to build a global architecture to address the challenges of the 21st century. We’ve elevated the G-20, to successfully promote economic coordination in response to the world economic crisis. We are renewing U.S. leadership at the OECD, multilateral development banks, and the IMF. And we’re working with important regional organizations in East Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.
Yet the United Nations continues to be the most important global institution, and our robust engagement across the UN system remains essential to achieving U.S. foreign policy goals.
First and foremost, a capable and strong United Nations system advances U.S. national security. Indeed, President Obama’s National Security Strategy prioritizes multilateral engagement precisely because we cannot divorce core national security interests from robust and sustained multilateral engagement. Dangerous nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. International terrorism. Afghanistan. Iraq. Addressing these national security challenges requires cooperation, and our work in the UN system is key to that common response.
So in the Security Council, Ambassador Rice and her team in New York, working with our colleagues at the Department, negotiated the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government, as part of our dual-track strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. By engaging multilaterally within the UN and with its members, we crafted a tough set of sanctions that all states must implement – even those Security Council members that voted against them. Secretary Clinton noted recently that we already are seeing the effect of those sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency, too, has been invaluable in sounding the alarm on Iran’s nuclear activities, and the IAEA’s performance is a reminder of the value of investment in international institutions.
The UN also plays an indispensible role in two countries of enormous importance to the United States: Afghanistan and Iraq. In both, the UN has established important political missions – with real risk and danger, and tragic loss of life by UN personnel – missions that work with the sovereign Afghan and Iraqi governments to strengthen democratic institutions and promote constructive political dialogue. We have close and active partnerships with the UN in both these countries. And without the UN’s work in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. efforts to responsibly draw down our military forces – as the President has committed to doing – would be all the more difficult.
As both this Administration and our predecessors recognized, the United Nations is also an important forum for counterterrorism efforts. Through Security Council sanctions regimes, we have put in place global asset freezes and travel bans on terrorists and their supporters. Such universality is needed for sanctions to be effective, and the UN Security Council uniquely offers that capability. But our broader multilateral engagement on counterterrorism –through the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, or on aviation security at the International Civil Aviation Organization – helps us get there.
Let me turn for a moment to peacekeeping, one of the UN’s most important roles and another area where U.S. engagement directly benefits our national interests. As we all know, UN peace operations no longer only are deployed to separate warring parties. These missions address some of our hardest and most challenging security situations, including Sudan, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Congo, Liberia, and others. They are charged with preventing and ending armed conflicts, protecting civilians, supporting the rule of law, and helping administer elections. To do so, UN personnel are regularly sent into dangerous situations, where states cannot ensure basic security, civilians live under threat of violence, and there is little peace to keep.
But UN peacekeeping missions can mean the difference between stability and violence, and can help transform a fragile ceasefire into lasting peace. And the stability these peacekeeping missions bring directly impacts U.S. national interests. We have learned all too well that an unstable country far away can pose a direct threat to U.S. national security. By working through the United Nations, we help bring security to countries where U.S. military operations aren’t feasible or desirable – at far lower cost to the United States – and where U.S. leadership can leverage important contributions by other states.
These are all areas where we have worked within the UN system on important peace and security issues. But our multilateral engagement has succeeded in part because it has been deep as well as broad. To achieve American objectives and bring to bear the full weight of our international partners, we must mobilize and use our leverage across the entire range of multilateral institutions.
In short, engagement cannot be à la carte.
So we have expanded the number of UN and other multilateral entities where we’re actively and seriously involved, working across the broader United Nations system to support U.S. interests and universal values.
That’s why we work at the IAEA to ensure that a nuclear lab half a world away is secure. That’s why we work at ICAO to build reliable global passenger screening mechanisms. That’s why we fight at the World Intellectual Property Organization to strengthen global copyright protection for innovative U.S. companies that are creating jobs at home. That’s why we’re ensuring that at the World Health Organization, public health officials can work together to respond to the next global pandemic.
We seek cooperation from others on issues of importance to us, so we must remain engaged when those states raise issues of importance to them.
Now, some condemn our broad multilateral engagement because some UN member states are, to borrow terms used recently, “bullies, thugs, and dictators.”
But a key part of our work every day is standing up to adversaries across the UN system. If we can’t persuade them to change their behavior, we out-maneuver them, and we achieve results. We’re tireless, because we have to be. We know the consequences of disengaging. If we cede leadership at the United Nations, other states will rush in to fill that vacuum – and they will not act in our interest.
But engagement across the UN system is more than cooperating with our traditional allies and partners, or standing up to our adversaries. It’s also an important element of our efforts to work with important emerging powers that are expanding their own international influence. Indeed, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa are among many countries that see multilateral diplomacy as key to their foreign policy. These countries send their best and brightest diplomats to postings in New York, Geneva, and other UN cities, where they are formulating their outlook on the world. So to engage these states effectively, we must be able to understand and address their multilateral priorities.
Now, global respect for universal values is an enduring American interest, and one we have long championed at the United Nations.
An important setting for these efforts is the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This Administration, reversing the policy of the previous one, chose to run for – and won – a seat on the HRC in 2009. And since joining, we’ve become the most active delegation on the Council, bolstering our engagement with a dedicated human rights ambassador in Geneva and a strengthened team working on the HRC within the State Department.
But our expanded engagement does not mean we have dived in with our eyes closed. Are we frustrated with the Council’s ongoing substantive shortcomings? Deeply. Could the HRC do more to address pressing human rights issues? Far more. And does it continue an unfair and imbalanced focus on Israel? It does. Will the session in March be tough? It will. But these criticisms, like many we face, tell only part of the story.
They fail to recognize how the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies have improved as a result of U.S. engagement, and how these bodies do advance U.S. foreign policy goals. And they ignore the reality that without U.S. engagement, these bodies likely would have been dominated even more by our adversaries.
Let’s look a little deeper at the Human Rights Council, and what took place prior to the U.S. joining the Council. Five special sessions on Israel in three years. A decidedly mixed set of special rapporteurs, including Richard Falk. Flawed mandates, including the Goldstone report on Gaza. Far too many unbalanced resolutions singling out Israel, and far too few resolutions, special procedures, and other attention to the world’s most troubling and urgent human rights situations.
And since the United States joined in 2009? The challenges continue, but the Council’s improvement – through U.S. engagement – is undeniable. Timely action in 2010 on human rights crises, from Kyrgyzstan to Cote d’Ivoire. New UN special procedures on countries with serious human rights situations, for core rights like freedom of assembly, and, for the first time, on discrimination against women. A strong statement in the Council by 56 countries on human rights in Iran. We defeated an attempt by Cuba to politicize the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a proposal by Pakistan that would have restricted free speech.
And in 2010, the Human Rights Council did not hold a single special session on Israel – but did call special sessions to address pressing human rights situations in Haiti and Cote d’Ivoire.
In short, the United States took seriously our engagement on the HRC, and we already have achieved concrete results. We have more to do. But these accomplishments would not have happened without an American voice at the table.
Of course, the Human Rights Council is far from perfect, and so our hard work continues, session by session, as we knew it would when we joined. The upcoming March session will be a challenge, because Middle East issues will be raised. But at the end of the day, issues important to the United States will be debated and responses decided at the HRC with or without us. We’ve engaged with the Human Rights Council because this Administration cares deeply about international human rights – because we believe that the protection of human rights is far too important to be left to the human rights abusers.
I was proud to be the first American official to address the Human Rights Council as a member, and I remain proud of our continued engagement. The more I look at the HRC’s record – its resolutions, actions, and outcomes – the more I am convinced that U.S. membership on the Council marked a watershed moment. And even critics who disagreed with this Administration’s decision to join are admitting that U.S. membership has had a positive impact.
You actually can see some similarities between our strategy at the Human Rights Council and our approach to UN management issues.
Our policy toward UN management and reform issues has been to work in collaboration and cooperation with the United Nations toward renewal and increased effectiveness. All member states have a stake in a more effective UN, but as the largest single contributor to the UN system, the United States is particularly interested in ensuring that our taxpayer funds are effectively and efficiently used.
Our management and reform accomplishments over the past two years can be roughly divided into three categories.
First, we’re working to improve the UN’s day-to-day administration, supporting initiatives that are having a measurable impact. We won new standards that hold UN officials accountable for achieving real results. We led the charge to institutionalize the UN Ethics Office, with an American at the helm. And we worked to protect the full mission of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, to carry out audits, inspections, evaluations, and, where necessary, investigations of UN activities.
Second, we are further increasing UN accountability and transparency. We led the establishment of new oversight bodies at UNDP, UNFPA, and the International Telecommunication Union. And we fought back attempts to impose restrictions on oversight reporting.
And third, we are continuing to reinforce the UN’s effectiveness in key policy areas. We have led efforts to put into place the Global Field Support Strategy, to improve the UN’s capacity to maintain complex peacekeeping missions. And we were instrumental in establishing UN Women, merging four disparate UN bodies into a single new entity to effectively and efficiently advance women’s issues worldwide.
These accomplishments may not grab headlines, but they get results. Naming and shaming, loud and brash calls for tearing down the United Nations rather than building it up – these don’t get us closer to our goal of improving the UN’s effectiveness. Instead, we work cooperatively to further embed and strengthen within the UN a culture of responsibility and transparency.
Now, there has been some talk in recent weeks about UN funding, calls in some quarters for reducing our dues and withholding a portion of our assessments – despite our legal treaty obligations under the UN Charter. As someone who worked on multilateral issues in the Clinton Administration, I feel a little bit of déjà vu. These same calls were made fifteen years ago, and then as now, they were supposedly called “UN reform.”
Now, let me be clear: this Administration takes seriously our obligation to guard taxpayer dollars. We are second to none in pushing for a more efficient and effective UN. But gutting our assessments isn’t “UN reform.” It’s just paying less. And trying to avoid paying our bills hurts our ability to deliver results at the UN that the American people want, and that the United States needs. The United States must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills and working for real renewal at the UN.
How could we have won tough Security Council sanctions on North Korea and Iran if we were continuing to incur arrears? How could we have championed any of our management and reform achievements just over the past two years if we had failed to keep current on our assessments? How can we work with other leading contributors to maintain UN budget discipline and hold down costs if we do not meet our own obligations?
No longer can our adversaries at the UN change the subject to our arrears when we press them on an important policy matter, as they did for so long. The President’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full means that we have had more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations.
So given all this, our multilateral work in 2011 will consolidate innovation and the advances we’ve made in revitalizing the United Nations.
On peace and security issues, we’re continuing to work to close gaps that too often plague peacekeeping missions – gaps between ambitious mandates and the UN’s capacity to carry them out, between political support needed and that provided, and between material needs of the missions and the resources provided to them.
We also will continue our work to ensure that Security Council sanctions are respected and enforced, by bolstering the capacity of key states and drawing attention to sanctions-busters and peace spoilers.
But as the first QDDR made clear, we must continue to prevent conflicts and atrocities before they arise. This includes further enhancing the UN’s capacity to anticipate and address crises before violence erupts, through mediation, election assistance, political missions, and crisis response. And we’re increasingly looking at peacebuilding as a complement to UN peacekeeping missions.
But conflict prevention also means addressing human rights situations as they arise. I pointed earlier to some of our victories in pushing the Human Rights Council to play this role, and we’re working to expand the Council’s timely action on pressing human rights concerns. The ongoing 2011 HRC review is an important opportunity to move the Council closer to its envisioned role in defending universal human rights.
We’re also working multilaterally on global development. We give more official assistance than any other country, but cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goals unilaterally. Although the first responsibility lies with people themselves, international support can help.
So from our $3.5 billion “Feed the Future” food security initiative, to our $63 billion Global Health Initiative, U.S. development strategy recognizes that by working multilaterally, American leadership and resources can leverage a greater global effort to address the root causes of poverty advanced through country-led plans.
Ladies and gentlemen, I began today by noting that we live in a changed world. It has changed from just ten years ago, and certainly changed from when the UN was founded in 1945.
As Secretary Clinton said early in her tenure, “if we didn’t have the United Nations, we would have to invent one.” Given the many areas I’ve outlined where the United Nations system is critical to U.S. national security and foreign policy, it’s a good thing we don’t need to invent it today.
But just as we cannot hide inside our borders and disengage, nor can we address 21st century threats and challenges with 20th century tools. As the President has said, our international architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats, and new challenges. So the United Nations does need to reinvent itself – and it is doing so – to better meet the demands of our time. And in that effort, the United Nations will have no better partner than the United States.
Our work in this area is ongoing. But this Administration is proud of our achievements to date across the UN system.
Faced with tough challenges, we have chosen to lead, not retreat.
And given the continued need to develop cooperative responses to the shared threats and challenges of our time, we see no choice but to continue to work multilaterally, to ensure that the United Nations is strong enough to bear the burdens we must place upon it in the decades to come.
Assistant Secretaries Esther Brimmer and Michael Posner: Remarks at “Defending Press Freedom in the 21st Century” as Part of World Press Freedom Day
GERSHMAN: Thanks very much. My name is Carl Gershman. I’m the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, which sponsors the Center for International Media Assistance, and it’s a great pleasure for me to welcome all of you here this morning.
It was four years ago on World Press Freedom Day that the Center for International Media Assistance — welcome the director-general. Please, take your time. It’s your show, not mine — but the Center for International Media Assistance was launched here on Capitol Hill.
As I mentioned in my remarks the other evening, we took this initiative to create a center at the urging of Senator Richard Lugar. Senator Lugar is one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Freedom of the Press.
His other Senate co-chair was just with us a moment ago. He retired, Senator Chris Dodd, but who has been just a great friend of the NED. I learned this morning, a close friend of Mariane Pearl. And in the House, of course, it’s Adam Schiff and Michael Healey Pence.
And it’s always been bipartisan and it’s been very, very active. And as we all know, today is the first anniversary of an initiative by this caucus and by the Congress, which is to create the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act.
It’s been my pleasure in the last two days to get to know David Killion, the U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, and of course, Irina Bokova, the director-general. And I can understand why there has been so much enthusiasm for the U.S. being part of UNESCO and working with UNESCO.
The purpose of the Center for International Media Assistance has been to strengthen not only to be an advocate for free media and media assistance but also to strengthen its place in democracy assistance. The NED of course works across the board with parties, unions, business association, civil society and so forth, but media has always been very, very essential to this.
I mentioned the other night in my remarks that we are honored by the presence for women at this conference, whose husbands were journalists and were killed in the line of duty.
Of course, we are honored by the presence of Anna Maria Busquets Cano, whose husband; Guillermo Cano was murdered by mafia, drug traffickers in 1986, in Columbia.
My dear friend, Myroslava Gongadze, whose husband, Georgiy, the editor of Ukrainska Pravda was murdered in 2000. I always say that the demonstrations that took place in Ukraine following his murder were the beginning of the Orange Revolution that took place four years later.
And Mariane Pearl of course is with us.
And also Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunga, whose husband, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was murdered in Sri Lanka in 2008, and received the Cano Prize posthumously in 2009.
Yesterday, I learned that somebody that we at the NED have worked with, or at least his now widow, we have worked with, Siamak Pourzand, from Iran, a journalist from Iran, committed suicide just this week and he had been in prison.
His widow, Mehrangiz Kar is an Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and associate when she was in Iran of Shohreh Badi. And she came to the United States in 2001, and with Myroslava was a member of the first class of Reagan-Fascell Fellows at the NED.
And she came with her daughter, her young daughter Azadei (ph) and her husband remained in Iran and was in prison. And he, in despair and in protest against what happened in Iran, he committed suicide just this week. As you know, the Cano Prize is going to be given this afternoon to an imprisoned Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi.
I got a statement from the daughter, Azadei (ph). Azadei (ph) stands for liberty. And in Iran, when freedom was denied to women, a lot of the daughters were named Axadei (ph), liberty.
And she published absolutely a beautiful eulogy to her father. And I want to read just one sentence in conclusion, which I think speaks for all the women, the widows who are here, whose husbands died serving the cause of press freedom. And she wrote in this eulogy, “I love you dad. You will never die. You are a part of me. They were able finally to kill you but I will keep your legacy alive in this world. It is the most important promise I have every made in my life. You will live. You will live more than ever.”
And I think it’s fair to say that what we’re trying to do here on World Press Freedom Day and in everything that we do to promote freedom of the press is keeping alive the memory of Guillermo Cano, Lasantha Wickrematunga, Georgiy Gongadze, Daniel Pearl, to keep alive that memory, which I think stands for the courage the journalists have who go into the almost (ph) difficult situations in the world, to report the truth about what’s happening to inform the world and to defend the principles of freedom.
It’s now my great pleasure to introduce David, Ambassador Killion, who’s a — I learned yesterday, this is his home, I mean, the Congress. This is where he started. He’s a Congressional staffer, somebody who is a great friend of the NED when he was up here on the Hill working for Tom Lantos and David Skaggs. And now he’s our very distinguished representative in Paris to UNESCO. David.
KILLION: Thanks so much Carl. I think I’m going to stay seated because I’m serving as a moderator of this panel and we want it to be a roundtable format. And Carl’s right, I’m very happy to be back here. I spent almost 15 years on Capitol Hill. And I have so many friends here today from the Foreign Affairs Committee and some other places and it’s really wonderful to be home.
I’d like to start by thanking the Center for International Media Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy, for helping to organize this roundtable, and for inviting me and other representatives of the U.S. State Department to be here.
The State Department is deeply devoted to press freedom and one proof is that the United States is holding World Press Freedom for the first time in its 20-year history. This event is just one among a number of activities surrounding World Press Freedom Day, and we’re very glad that you could join us for what I hope will be a frank and thoughtful discussion.
It’s my pleasure to introduce our two state department representatives, my colleagues, Dr. Esther Brimmer, the assistant secretary of state for International Organizational Affairs and Mike Posner, our assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Prior to joining the State Department, Assistant Secretary Posner was the founding executive director and then president of Human Rights First, a leading organization that works to protect the rights of refugees and supports those who defend human rights.
Assistant Secretary Posner was involved in the development of the global network initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at promoting free expression and privacy rights on the internet. I’d like to ask the assistant secretary to say a very few, brief words about the State Departments current efforts to protect the media.
Please join me in welcoming Assistant Secretary Mike Healey Posner.
POSNER: Thank you, David, and let me first say it’s a pleasure to be here and I want to commend the Center for International Media Assistance and my good friend, Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy. This is an important subject and a wonderful venue.
I want to start by saying that Obama administration is proud to work on in regards to state priority, the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world. We believe, as Secretary Clinton has said on numerous occasions that sustainable democracies are our best allies and their stable prosperous societies that meet the needs of their own people.
As we’ve seen in the Arab Spring, people in that region and in fact everywhere in the world are seeking to live in dignity. What people say on the streets of Cairo or Tunis is that they want to live in dignity. They want fairness. They want justice. They want economic opportunity and a chance to have a job and they want a stake in their own society’s political future.
I was in China last week and I heard much the same thing from Chinese activists who were very much desiring the same opportunity in democracy. An essential element of sustainable democracy is media freedom.
And as these few days, we stop and reflect on the state of the media and the world and the opportunity to expand press freedom, I think we also need to remind ourselves, and I’m sure it’s been discussed in some detail over the last couple of days that part of — when we talk about media and we talk about journalism today, part of it relates to the new media and the internet.
Secretary Clinton has given two major speeches on internet freedom. She said that “The internet and the new electronic media are really the town square of the 21st century, a place for people to communicate with each other within a society freely and openly and to communicate across borders,” and were determined both through our diplomacy and our support, technical and otherwise, to help promote that kind of an open internet.
Secondly, I want to say very briefly is that part of what I do, part of what our bureau does in the State Department is to monitor what goes on in the world. And what’s happening to journalists is a cause for great concern.
Already in this year, 2011, 16 journalists have been killed. In the committee to protect journalists, which spends a lot of time and does excellent work in monitoring the treatment of journalists has reported that in the last 20 years since 1992, 545 journalists had been killed doing their job. And this is in addition to journalists who were killed, say in war situations (inaudible) targeted killings of journalist for doing their job, conveying information.
This year alone, in the Middle East, 450 journalists have been assaulted. At the end of last year, there were 145 journalists in prison and there are more than 4,000 journalists in the last several years who’ve had lawsuits brought against them by governments who don’t like the fact that they’re telling the truth.
Groups like Freedom House and the Committee to Protect Journalist monitor that and we’re indebted to them. We’re also indebted to the Congress for passing the Daniel Pearl Act, which has given us the impetus to report now in a more comp0rehensive way as part of our annual human rights report on the state of journalist and the restrictions on their ability to operate.
We believe that every — and we did a report about a month ago. I urge you to take a look at it on our new website, which is humanrights.gov. We looked at 194 countries in the world. We will continue to vigorously monitor the state of press freedom in the world journalist and a free media are an essential piece in our efforts to help build democracy.
So thank you very much for having me here.
KILLION: Thanks very much.
Our dear friend, Adam Schiff, the congressman, who is the author of the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act, a former colleague of mine from the Foreign Affairs Committee is here and we’re going to turn the floor over to him.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Ambassador. It’s great to join you at the forum today as we honor World Press Freedom Day.
First, I want to thank the Center for International Media Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy for organizing this event. Thank you, not only for organizing the conference but also for your commitment and dedication to an important issue that brings us together today.
While we address the topic of press freedom, I hope that we’ll keep in mind the importance also of aiding grassroots advocates and their efforts to foster an independent media. The National Endowment for Democracy has been supporting this efforts now for 25 years or more and the Center for International Media Assistance has done an outstanding job of increasing awareness about the indispensable role, a free and independent media play in democratic societies.
Censorship, intimidation, imprisonments or murder of journalists violates not only the personal liberty of the journalists but also the rights of broader society, which is denied access to ideas and information.
While an independent for holistic and free media is essential guarantor of human rights, it also plays a critical role in democratic economic development by stimulating innovation, exposing corruption and spurring reform.
It provides citizens with information necessary to make informed political and economic choices and give voice to women, youth and minorities along with dissident political opinions. They also protect communities by helping citizens prevent and respond to disasters.
Today, as we observe for World Press Freedom Day, we pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of media domestically and around the world who strive every day, many of them in the faith of extreme violence and repression to report the news that we Americans understand in our bones to be the lifeblood of democracy.
Five years ago, on World Press Freedom Day, I co-founded the congressional caucus for Freedom of the Press along with my colleague, Mike Pence, as well as Senator Dick Lugar and former Senator Chris Dodd, and I understand I just missed him today.
The caucus works to advance press freedom around the world by creating a forum to combat and condemn media censorship, as well as the persecution of journalists around the world. It’s a very important task and as a caucus and as Americans, we definitely have our work cut out for us.
According to a Freedom House study released yesterday, the number of people worldwide with access to a free and independent media declined to its lowest level in more than a decade. In fact, currently, only one in six people live in countries with the press that is designated as free.
In recent years, authoritarian regimes are increasingly using licensing and regulatory frameworks so to significantly limit independent broadcasting. In addition to censoring traditional media, repressive governments around the world have intensified efforts to exert control over new means of communication, including satellite television, the internet and mobile telephones, as well as the news outlets that employ them.
Iin the past months, we have seen an unprecedented wave of protests and demonstrations sweep the Arab world. Two governments in Tunisia and Egypt have fallen to the demands of pro-democracy protestors, while others have come under intense pressure.
These uprisings have highlighted a level of violence and physical harassment directed at the press. We’ve seen journalists threatened, arrested, beaten, assaulted, in some cases killed while working on the frontlines on a fight for democracy and greater opportunity.
After two months of silence, Lara Logan, the CBS reporter, who was sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the night that President Mubarak stepped down in February, opened up about the brutal attack in an emotional interview on “60 Minutes.”
Logan who’s attack shined a the light on the dangers that female journalists face while working abroad. She said she is proud to have broken the silence on what some female journalists have experienced but never talked about for fear they will be taken off the story.
ABC’s Christiane Amanpour and Fox News Channel’s Greg Palkot and Olaf Wiig, also faced physical assault and intimidation during the protest that swept Mubarak from his post, noble examples out of as many as a hundred journalists who were assaulted, threatened or detained during the uprising in Egypt alone.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, (inaudible) times, reporters were taken captive by the living government, soldiers outside of Benghazi in March. After enduring harassment and abuse, they were thankfully released.
Less fortunate were award-winning photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, two of the most seasoned photojournalists who were killed while covering a battle between rebels and Libyan government forces in the city of Misurata.
Theirs is not only a loss to their family and friends but a great loss to the profession. Freedom of expression cannot exist where journalists are not safe from prosecution and attack, which have an unnerving effect on the profession. Alarmingly, the failure to punish or even seriously investigate crimes against journalists has now reached polling proportions, as reported by the State Department, as borne out by major 2010 reports of the Organization of American States, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and many others.
We have seen disturbing examples in our own hemisphere of what Miss June Erlick, a former correspondent, now at David Rockefeller Center for Latin American studies at Harvard called a much more insidious form of press oppression.
Quoted by the committee to protect journalists, attacks on the press 2010 report, Miss Erlick elaborated that you’ll never know where the censorship is coming from, through threats, attacks on the streets, new laws or lack of access. The threats are always there and sometimes lead to self censorship even before the censorship begins.
Congress must remain vigilant and vocal in defense of freedom of expression everywhere, not just on this day, Freedom Press Day but every day of the year. As co-chair of the caucus, I was proud to witness the signing of the law, the Daniel Press Freedom Act last year, which spotlights governments that silence media opposition.
Congressman Pence and I introduced this bill in 2009, along with Senator Dodd in the Senate, because we believe that our government must promote freedom of the press by putting at center stage those countries in which journalists are killed, imprisoned, kidnapped, threatened or censored.
This morning, we’re here to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Daniel Press Freedom Act. This Act gives prominence to freedom of the press projects within the State Department and ensures a long-term holistic approach to journalist and media development.
It also commemorates the life and work of Daniel Pearl, and Mariane, it’s so wonderful to see you here, the Wall Street Journal reporter who is so tragically kidnapped and murdered in 2002.
I’m pleased to be part of the discussion here today. Thank you all for your commitment to fostering independent media and developing and democratizing countries around the world, and I’m proud to turn the microphone back over to David Killion and David, it’s great to be with you again.
KILLION: Thanks so much, Congressman Schiff. It’s really truly wonderful to have both you and Mariane here today on the one-year anniversary of the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act.
Now, I’d like to introduce to you the State Department’s assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Organizational Affairs, Dr. Ester Brimmer. Dr. Brimmer is a professor of foreign policy and has had a distinguished career, both as a diplomat at the State Department and as an academic.
She’s an expert on transatlantic relations and was a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. I’d like to invite her to say a few words on how we are working to advance a free press on a multilateral basis in the state department. Thank you.
BRIMMER: Thank you very much Ambassador. It’s good to see you and I’d like to also greet the congressmen and all of our distinguished guests and particularly those people from around the world who came to Washington to be a part of the World Press Freedom event.
I work on the relations between the United Nations and the United States, who are particularly honored that the United States is hosting this event with UNESCO, as part of our strong commitment to multilateral diplomacy and the values of press freedom.
We are gathered here at the U.S. Capitol on World Press Freedom Day to celebrate the work of journalists globally and to reflect upon the United States core values of freedom of expression. We are also here on the one-year anniversary of the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act.
This important legislation, signed into law by President Obama, highlights the invaluable role that the U.S. Congress plays in support of press freedom and as a vanguard for freedom of expression globally.
I want to join my colleague, Assistant Secretary Posner, and others here today and thanking the members of Congress and all those who are instrumental in enacting this important bipartisan measure.
As President Obama has said, our foreign policy and multilateral engagement aims in part, quote, “To see that all principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.” Indeed, our work in the United Nations and other multilateral bodies does more than just contribute to U.S. National Security or help generate shared responses to common threats and challenges.
It is also a critical avenue for promoting global respect for universal values, which is an enduring American interest and one we pursues across the United Nations system including at UNESCO. So the United States host UNESCO World Press Freedom Day for the first time.
We are raising the profile of press freedom and commemorating the importance and too often dangerous work that journalists do worldwide, to provide us with invaluable information and insights. But our work on this important issue does not begin and end with today’s event.
We collaborate closely with UNESCO all year on press freedom and the development of independent media, including through support for its international program for the development of communication, which expands opportunities for free, independent and pluralistic media in developing countries worldwide.
And UNESCOs programs to promote press freedom and freedom of expression, including for members of the press are not our only multilateral efforts to protect this human rights. When the United States won (ph) election to the human rights Council in 2009, our first priority was to transform what had been a poisonous and divisive debate on speech and expression into a concrete action to promote this freedom.
We have shown our commitment to do so in our consistent support for the U.N. international repertoire responsible for monitoring threats to that right. Most recently, we have successfully reframed the decade long attempts to legitimize restrictions on a census speech, in a manner which would have had an impact on journalist, instead on the basis to protecting religion into a concept that was completely contrary to human rights.
In contrast in March 2011, we were able to fashion a consensus around the principle that speech should be promoted as a solution, rather than penalized as a problem. And the consensus in Geneva on the universal desire for freedom of expression is born our on the ground.
I was recently in Kenya meeting with a United Nations officer there (inaudible) in presence in Nairobi. While on that trip, I visited the Dadaab refugee camps, which are house displaced people from Somalia. And despite the many basic necessities and services that went short (ph) supply, the camp residents have put together a newsletter and I’m happy to receive a copy.
This newsletter organized by the refugee youth is a shining example that wherever in the world you are, there’s a story to be told. Journalists and citizen reporters bring light to these stories and share them with the rest of the world.
From refugees in Dadaab camps, to journalist and citizen activists facing arbitrary arrest, detention and torture in Syria and other countries, I would like to acknowledge those individuals who work tirelessly and courageously at times putting their own lives at risk, to inform the public about the issues of events that shape our world.
We all benefit from the sacrifice journalists and citizen reporters make in the name of freedom of expression and today, we honor that commitment. Thank you.
KILLION: Now, I’d like to introduce our main speakers. I have the great honor of introducing my friend, Mariane Pearl. This isn’t the first time our paths have crossed. We’ve worked together in Paris from time to time on matters related to journalist safety.
Mariane wrote a powerful memoir about the resilience of women in the faith of her husband’s kidnapping and murder. Daniel Pearl was a journalist with a Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped and killed by Al-Qaida. A journalist in her own right, Mariane has received numerous awards.
Today, she’ll speak about the daily threats journalists confront across the globe and discuss the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act, which turns 1-year-old this week. Mariane is also my friend. My wife, Kristin, and I were introduced to her in Paris by UNESCOs Global Ambassador for Literacy, First Lady Laura Bush, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Next on our panel, we have Wael Abbas, an internationally renounced Egyptian journalist, blogger and human rights activist. Mr. Abbas is a pioneer in the age of digital journalism, using his blog and YouTube to account the reports, incidents of mobs harassing women and broadcasting videos of police brutality.
Mr. Abbas’ investigative journalism has garnered awards from the International Center for Journalist and from Human Rights Watch. Mr. Abbas will speak today about the state of journalism in the Middle East and describe the role traditional and social media has played in the Egyptian revolution.
Finally, I have the pleasure of introducing my dear friend and colleague, Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. Many people may not realize that UNESCO is the only U.N. agency with a specific mandate to promote freedom of expression.
Director-General Bokova consistently speaks out against the killing and persecution of journalists. UNESCO regularly raises awareness of the importance of independent media worldwide. The organization also supports hundreds of community-based media programs around the world, providing an essential counterweight to governments who attempt to suppress or control media.
After distinguished career in Bulgaria, Irina Bokova was elected UNESCOs director-general in 2009. Miss Bokova has been a relentless force and outstanding leader for UNESCO. Today, she will recognize Ahmad Zeidabadi, the 2011 Cano World Press Freedom prize winner for his courageous work in Iran.
She’ll also explain how UNESCO is working to promote press freedom and what challenges the organization is facing in those efforts.
Before I turn this over to our panel, I’d like to make sure we all acknowledge our very special guests today. Can I first ask Mrs. Anna Maria Busquets Cano to standup please?
Mrs. Cano is the widow of Guillermo Cano and the founder of the Cano World Press Freedom prize. Mrs. Cano, your hard work has ensured greater recognition of the sacrifices journalist make in the name of press freedom.
Next, could Mrs. Myroslava Gongadze please rise?
Miss Gongadze is a journalist and political activist and was married to Ukrainian journalist, Georgiy Gongadze. Mr. Gongadze was kidnapped and murdered in 2000. Mrs. Gongadze has never stopped her fight to bring her husband’s killers to justice and thus raised the curtain on impunity for those who commit violence against journalists.
I’d also like to introduce Mrs. Sonali Wickrematunga to stand.
Mrs. Wickrematunga’s husband, journalist and human rights activist, Lasantha Wickrematunga was assassinated in 2009, following a wave of journalist murders in Sri Lanka. At present, his killing remains unsolved. He was awarded the 2009 Guillermo Cano prize posthumously.
Please join me all in a moment of silence to honor those journalists and their families who sacrificed their lives and wellbeing in pursuit of bringing the truth to the public.
Now, each of our panelists will make a brief presentation.
Mariane, you have the floor.
PEARL: Hello everybody. I’m very happy and honored to be here. Obviously, for me, it’s a very significant day, and it’s also an opportunity to thank Congressman Schiff and Senator Dodd that was here earlier but is (inaudible) in the room. (Inaudible) Jackie is here, Jackie Dodd.
And because obviously, for me, it has great personal significance but also for the world to show that United States understand and commits to defend and to thank the work of those who really act on values that define us as a nation.
I wonder, you know, we’ve heard a lot about journalism. We’ve heard a lot about killing and torturing and kidnapping of people. One may wonder why are journalists doing what they do, you know, since the (inaudible) are so grim. And certainly, it’s not a job that, you know, will bring you money or bring you fame or glory.
The only thing it really kind of bring you is the certainty that you (inaudible) satisfaction that you will live according to your own belief. And if you think about it, you know, in the course of our lives (ph), you might lose a lot. You can easily lose fame. You can easily lose your money, but you can’t lose your belief if you decide not to.
And I think that, you know, in our introduction, we heard about the journalist who just died this week; he took his own life and what his daughter said. And his daughter said, “You will live on through me because I will pick it up.” And this is happening all over the world.
People are saying, you know, journalists are killed and others pick up their work. And they say, “You killed a journalist but you won’t kill the story.” And this is really what is happening all over the world, you know? And I think it is worth it for us that, you know, everyone here is on a different capacity helping freedom of the press in the world.
But is this the thing for ourselves? What are the values that make these people risk their life? These people, I know a lot of friends are investigative reporters in emerging markets and here in the United States. I can tell you, none of them has any will to lose his life or to hurt the people who love them. So what is it?
And I think that, you know, everybody have their own answer for that but in a way, when you’re a journalist, you put yourself in a position where you just cannot give up. And the good news is that the value that most of these people are fighting for, you know, accountability, justice, freedom, or values that are non-negotiable.
And they will, you know, a lot of people are going to die for them but mostly, we cannot live without them. And that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing. So, I think that, you know, it’s easy to say (inaudible), you know, it’s a lot of numbers. All these journalists killed, (inaudible) in prison but each time it’s an individual and I’m very humbled by what I hear all the time.
And I understand very intimately the position that these people are in. and I can tell you that in a way, they represented best our democracy and they are the forefront of democracy.
So, I want to say something about — this winter, I spent some time with Oxford University, looking at what’s going on in global journalism in emerging markets. So obviously, you know the word is going very fast, I mean, going together very fast and I think it’s growing direct portion to our need to better understand what’s going on.
And, you know, when there’s no freedom of the press, the stories are not being told. And today, there’s a lot of stories that not being told just because all these journalists are working alone. They’re very isolated and they’re very vulnerable. And in a lot of cases, the only hope is that they kind of get international attention.
That’s the only hope for survival because it’s harder to attend to the life a journalist, you know, who’s protected by the city jail or by Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act or any other global effort to value the value of his work.
So, the good news is that in the emerging market, there’s a lot of things going on and people are being trained in very, very serious manner, to practice the highest standard, you know, of journalism from the developing world. So I think that the world of journalism is going to change a lot and the sources of news are going to change a lot.
There’s a lot of places at Western (ph) journalist today that has no access to and a lot of the people that we used to have that have access are now bona fide journalists. So they’re going to bring the news. They’re going to sell the story to the New York Times, to the television. They’re going to, you know, they’re going to be the next in the forefront, which is in my opinion is good news because why not.
But this is when the global effort is essential. So I think for me, this law is more than a reaction. It is a pioneering law because of everything that is to come. And so, I think that by supporting those individuals, we’re doing more than just being, you know, being good. We’re also being smart, because I think that we need this information. We need to support this people. We need this information. It is (inaudible) good which is OK too, you know.
And for me, it’s time I work on these issues and I need people, I grow. And I think that, you know, as I say, what doesn’t show you make you stronger. I think that, you know, we all share that commitment. And, you know, a lot of us and then most of us are never going to be recognized for it and it’s OK. And the (inaudible) is shown (ph) for so many people is OK. It tells you the strength that, you know, is behind all this commitment in journalism.
That’s all that I have to say.
KILLION: Thanks, Mariane.
We’ll turn this over to Wael Abbas.
ABBAS: Good morning. Freedom of the media in the Middle East is such a huge thing to talk about briefly. But I’ll use Egypt as an example that represents in my opinion all of the Middle East and maybe all the countries of the third world.
Imagine yourself a journalist that has no syndicate or union to protect you. A union that is controlled by the government and you practice journalism in the street and you face dangers for like 10 or 20 years, and yet you’re syndicate won’t accept you inside because you are not — you didn’t sign a contract with a newspaper or a TV station or something like that.
And you can easily go to jail if the police arrest you while you are interviewing somebody on the street and they can accuse you of impersonating a journalist. And then nobody will defend you, unfortunately, although you have all this stories published in archives.
Street security was very big in Egypt before the revolution. It was able even to interfere in what the ministers do. They can force them to do stuff or to ignore other stuff. It was the main body that censors media in Egypt. It tells newspapers what to publish, what not to publish. It has the ability to prevent a newspaper from being issued at all.
In Egypt, we have this law that doesn’t allow you to publish a newspaper unless you have a proper permission from a committee (inaudible) council and it is of course headed by a member of the National Democratic Party, the ruling party. Unless you have this permission, you cannot publish your newspaper.
But even if you publish the newspaper, and you get this permission, you still have to play by the rules. You have to tell them exactly your editorial policy and you have to know that there are certain topics that are taboo, you are not allowed to talk about, especially the army, and of course, religion and sexuality and freedom of religion and freedom for minorities in Egypt.
The tradition is not different than that. We have something called the radio and TV union in Egypt and it claims that it owns the airwaves. So there are no terrestrial TV or radio stations allowed in Egypt by law. And if you violate that, you are violating the state security and you can go straight to jail.
We need to get rid of that because these laws are still available in Egypt. You can only have satellite stations via mobile sat or (inaudible) any of these satellites that have a footprint over the Middle East. But still, if you have offices in Cairo, you are subject to harassment by security.
They can harass your cameraman in the street, smash his camera, arrest him, or confiscate the tapes. They can even visit the headquarters of the station in Cairo and confiscate the tapes that they want. They call the talk show hosts and tell them who to host and who will not to host, and what topics to cover and what topics not to cover.
So, as you can see, it’s a very dangerous environment for journalists and media people in Egypt. The social media and the bloggers came in handy because they don’t follow these restrictions and the security doesn’t know their headquarters to send them or to call them. And whenever they call them, they don’t listen. They do whatever they want to do. They publish whatever they want to publish.
So they use this margin of freedom to push the envelope off the media in Egypt. They were trying to embarrass the traditional media in order to make them cover the stories they always avoid covering, in order not to get into trouble with the authorities, including the foreign media.
I personally was working for an international news agency and I was kicked out because I published a very controversial story about the explanation (ph) of a murder (inaudible) the late Egyptian president.
So, even the foreign media can be under the influence of security because if they did not follow these rules, they can close down their headquarters in Cairo like they closed down Al Jazeera and they closed down some Iranian other TV stations in Cairo. And they cannot give you access to officials if you want to interview an official about a certain story or go to the presidential palace to cover somebody who is visiting.
The bloggers defied all these rules because they take journalism as some form of activism. It’s not a business or a career for them. They’re not making money or advertisements out of it. And they are trying to free the media in order to do the rule that is supposed to play, which in my opinion is to represent the people, solve their problems through exposure, make their voices heard by the people responsible.
Until we reached this point and when we had the revolution, we had people who have acquired skills and experience in blogging and media, to the extent that they were able to publish live video footage from Tahrir Square during the revolution and compete with big networks that needs lot of equipment to show the people live footage from the Square.
But this battle for freedom is far from over. Yes, we had the revolution and it was successful, but still, the media is a big obstacle. We still have state media, which is not dissolved yet. We haven’t changed the law that governs issuing newspapers and starting TV stations or terrestrial radio.
There is great challenge for bloggers now. A blogger has been sentenced to three years in jail after the revolution by the army in a military tribunal, which is a very bad precedent after the revolution, for publishing a story about the torture and human rights violation that the army has done to protestors in Tahrir Square who refused to go home after the revolution.
And the army is still sending papers to newspapers and TV stations telling them that you cannot publish anything about the army without consulting a department in the army called the Morale Affairs. So, we need to get rid of that. We need to be able to form unions for journalists. We need to change the laws governing the work of the media in Egypt. Thank you.
KILLION: Thank you very much.
And now, I’m turning the floor over to our UNESCO Director- General Irina Bokova.
BOKOVA: Thank you very much, David and Congressman Schiff. Dear friends, I am very honored to be here with you today within this Congressional caucus for Freedom of the Press and the National Endowment for Democracy. Thank you very much, Carl, for hosting also this event. We have been together yesterday also for the conference that UNESCO organized in (inaudible) to celebrate the 3rd of May, the World Press Freedom Day.
Let me just say that UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with the specific mandate. I know there are other agencies also who promote human rights and some freedom but we do have it in our constitution that we have to defend the freedom of expression and that we have to work among the (inaudible) to promote as an important ingredient for democracy for development and for human rights.
And I’m extremely happy that this year, we are here in Washington celebrating for the first time the World Press Freedom Day. Let me say that for the whole of United Nations, it’s an important event.
We did send some message signed jointly by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Mrs. Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and myself, a very strong message to define the freedom of expression and I would just like to quote one on the (ph) paragraph, because I believe it’s also very pertinent to our event that we are having now, which is the conference, which is under the title of “21st Century Media New Frontiers New Barriers.”
And let me say that the message is that new threats are arising as to the freedom of expression in the conflict of rapid change these combined with all forms of restrictions to pause formidable challenges to freedom of expression. New measures to block, filter and censor information emerge every day.
Challenges take different features that they share the same faith as violations of a fundamental human right. And then our declaration goes on to state that United Nations is dedicated to ensuring that the internet becomes a truly global public resource to which all have access and where all voices are heard.
This underlines the importance of quality content. This calls for action to defend the integrity and safety of online reporters. All principles of freedom of expression must be brought to the online world.
Thought it’s important that we mention this because we enter a new phase of defending this fundamental human right and I hope the conference that is currently ongoing and possibly the declaration tentatively, I know that it’s still under negotiations. I have a draft of this declaration, Washington declaration. We’ll put a very strong emphasis and we’ll trace the main orientations and directions to where we go from that day on.
And of course, tomorrow, in the United Nations headquarters in New York, (inaudible) once again with the Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon. We will have once again an important event with all the — more than 190 member states of the United Nations to celebrate this important day.
But let me say that we at UNESCO, we consider important not only to make an advocacy. Of course it’s important to continue promoting this fundamental human right. We defend every single killed journalist. We make an important event all over the world.
Right now, we have more than hundred of events at this very moment all over the world to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day in 100 countries. And then we consider also important that we start by some fundamentals. We work through the international program for the development of communication for which we have the strong support of the United Nations and the Department of States and I’m very grateful for this support.
We have to (ph) complete projects in putting major legislation in countries where such legislation (inaudible) and I think what Wael Abbas just said, it’s important and it’s like this was one of the first initiative we took after the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, to make an assessment of the state of the media freedom, freedom of expression in these countries.
And then to help to start at least our initiative, our proposal is to help these two countries while they begin drafting their new constitution and new legislation that they be very confident and secure in putting the right legislation in terms of freedom of expression.
And then of course, it’s the activity that we make every year. Only this year, we have 67 projects in 67 countries in terms of training of journalists, promoting, helping them establish their own professional associations and going into the community media, the community radios and working with the local authorities also and outreach to centers of excellence and universities.
I believe this is our (inaudible) responsibility to not only as we say to declare the importance of this and to make the advocacy. But our responsibility also is to anchor it, to anchor it so deeply into different societies and to different political systems and into different countries.
And finally, I’m very, very happy and very grateful to Madame Cano that once again, she is with us and her family. Thank you very much for coming once again to celebrate with us World Press Freedom Day.
And this afternoon, the prize, the 2011 year’s prize, Guillermo Cano prize, which is one of our most important, I would say dramatic UNESCO prizes that we will be giving to the jailed Iranian journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi. I think we also in the audience some of the members of the (inaudible) also in town and this will be once again a very important event to speak out very strongly in favor of freedom of expression.
So thank you once again for inviting and thank you for hosting this important event.
KILLION: Thanks so much, Irina.
And now, it’s time for us to take questions from the audience. If you can identify yourself and tell us who you’re directing your question to, that would be very helpful.
Who’s going to be first?
Don’t all jump at once?
QUESTION: Firstly, I want to thank the U.S. for its support of media freedom, especially in Sri Lanka and for its support of individual journalists who are no in exile here. I want to ask you what is the commitment of the U.S. to bring to book it’s naturalized U.S. citizens, who in their own countries like Sri Lanka are the perpetrators of media suppression have been involved in the killing of journalists and who in a new U.N. panel report released just a week ago have also been accused of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity and these are U.S. naturalized citizens. And I’d like to know what your commitment is to bring them to book because they’re still in government in Sri Lanka, for instance? Thank you.
BRIMMER: First, thank you very much for your question also for being here. And indeed, the United States is (inaudible) in the issues of accountability and strongly supports issues of accountability. We are reading the report that was recently released from the secretary-general’s panel that was investigating the situation and Sri Lanka we think is a very important report we’re looking at very closely and try to understand both the best ways to raise these issues of accountability, both in our bilateral conversations and in our multilateral areas (inaudible) important are to look at for the best ways to bring forward, long-term accountability we’re looking particularly at that stage. Thank you.
QUESTION: I would like comments on the significant role, a highly significant role of multinational corporations in owning media. And the effects sometimes subtle, sometimes not subtle on some censorship on the fear of antagonizing sponsors as we find greater and greater concentration economically, there are implications for peoples sense some degrees of freedom and how can we enable people to transcend those fears and what kind of structures can be setup to be helpful?
GERSHMAN: That’s a very tough question on self censorship. You know, one of the reasons the NED does not have offices abroad is because our freedom cannot be limited in that way and there are obviously companies when they go abroad, they have to make arrangements.
I was, you know, very pleased that Google in China defended its principles and did not allow the Chinese government to interfere with what it could, you know, what it could put on at searchable database. And, you know, I just think that there has to be pressure on companies, you know, to defend these principles so that it’s going to compromise those principles, especially the companies that are internet companies that involve information and then whose instruments can be used by governments to track people to repress freedom.
They have to subject to public pressure and public embarrassment. In a way, you know, free media becomes the instrument for doing this, people write about it and that this is not something which is a secret, but which is exposed to public opinion.
PENCE: One of the things that are interesting in this area is that a group of non-governmental organizations, academics and several companies have formed a multi-stakeholder initiative called the global network initiative, looking at free expression and privacy on the internet.
And three companies have stepped up, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. But that means the whole range of others have not. And our view is that the companies, especially in the electronic new media need to be working together. Government can do a piece of this but the private sector also has a role. And so we’ve been kind to encourage other companies to step up to the plate and take responsibility and establish really best practices, both with respect to free expression and privacy.
QUESTION: We (inaudible) a lot about murder of journalists, harassment, intimidation around the world. And the fact that the level and the number of journalists who were harassed in last 10 years is rising every single day.
The problem I see here is the fact that the human feeling of impunity of local government of internal government who would never investigate the killing or murder of journalists if they are basically involved in that killing. I’m fighting against impunity for 10 years and I was successful to bring four government officials to justice. They are serving term in prison in Ukraine. And now a president of the country who ordered the killing of my husband is under investigation.
But I think that it’s very important to understand that promotion of work of journalism is very important, but defending this journalist, I mean, hone (ph) with the finding, have a mechanism to defend them. That’s important to establish.
And I would like to ask you, what is your stand of the need of such inter-governmental mechanism to investigate harassment and murder of journalists in the countries and something that can work — because in internal justice doesn’t work and we see it clearly. Thank you.
KILLION: Thank you very much.
Irina, would you like to try to take us out of that question?
BOKOVA: I would say that the question of impunity of course it’s very important and it’s not only suggested condemnation but sometimes of course we try to accept pressure in government — I recently — for example, I was in the Philippines and we know there was a case of Filipino journalists killed and I spoke with the president and by the way, even before I spoke, he knew that I was going to speak and he told me that let have started with internal investigation there (inaudible) until the importance of the fact.
So I think that if you look at the allover tendency of the world, because we monitor the situation, I would say that there are some positive signs. I’m talking about the global picture. Overall, there is a high recognition of this the fact that we cannot tolerate impunity. In more and more countries, there are investigations which has started, in more and more countries, there are already some sentences (ph) but I’m speaking the overall picture.
As to the others, it is difficult to say. I believe it’s important to strengthen the national mechanisms. I think it’s very important to strengthen and to speak about real system of justice of independence of this system of prosecution of having been – (inaudible) the legislation in place because in some cases, there is (inaudible) of special legislation and you can’t, when we speak to some government, they are not even (inaudible) legal procedures in order to (inaudible) this happen.
I believe first and foremost, we have to work so that (inaudible) internal. But of course, I guess, through the different mechanisms of the high commission for human rights, because they have the specific mandate also to work in such cases, maybe the situation might be improved.
KILLION: Thank you very much.
Esther Brimmer, do we need new international mechanisms or do we need to do more of the ones we already have?
BRIMMER: I would think that we actually have some very important international mechanisms that the director-general just mentioned, which in particular are the special repertoires that come out of the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations system.
I think we also have a very important role to play. We think that these often called special procedures but they are called the special repertoires and others who are part of actually able to have investigations are actually able to explore situations in specific countries. We think this is also a very important mechanism for trying to actually also highlight accountability.
Thank you. And plus, I need to go back to the (inaudible). Thank you.
KILLION: I think we’ll wrap up and break into a more informal session.
Thanks everybody so much for your participation.
Harold Koh, Esther Brimmer, Michael Posner, Eileen Donahoe: Press Conference by the U.S. Delegation to the UPR (Transcript)
A/S Brimmer: Thank you, and thank you for joining us this afternoon.
We have just completed a serious interactive discussion with delegations from around the world on the human rights in the United States. We have just witnessed a useful demonstration of freedom of speech. The overall tone was respectful, with many delegations noting our country’s many contributions to the promotion of human rights and values worldwide. There were critical comments and sharp questions as well, but we took opportunities all morning to explain our system, our laws and our policies, and to reflect on ongoing challenges. We have a lot to be proud of, not least President Obama’s commitment to strengthen and deepen human rights protections and expand the role of the American people and civil society in that effort.
We hope our pride, our effort, and our candor will come across today as part of a constructive session, and we hope this adds to the international debate on these issues.
Indeed, the Universal Periodic Review is just that. It is universal. The Human Rights Council provides the venue but every country, every member state of the United Nations has or will participate in this process.
We also note the importance of engaging with civil society. In a sense, here in Geneva we are expanding the space for that conversation with civil society. And indeed, we’ll continue that conversation this afternoon with a Town Hall session.
Again, we were honored to participate and to present the Universal Periodic Review for the United States of America. We welcome your questions.
Press: Good afternoon. Almost all countries with whom you have friendly relations and your allies have asked you to abolish the death penalty or at least to come up with a moratorium. What is your response to it? How realistic is it that the U.S. might impose a moratorium on the death penalty in the foreseeable future? Thank you.
Mr. Koh: I think what you heard was a policy difference, not a difference about what the law requires. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights very explicitly says that the death penalty can be administered in accordance with exacting procedures. Now it turns out there is a group of nations that have moved to a different policy, particularly in Europe, but that has not changed the international standard.
Many in America, and myself included, are opposed to the death penalty as a personal matter and we have urged in our advocacy roles that the death penalty be limited in a number of respects. And in the United States, the Supreme Court has struck down the death penalty against persons with intellectual disabilities, against children, it’s limited the means for carrying out executions, it’s demanded higher procedures. But I think what you’re talking about at the moment is a cultural difference of policy opinion that is continuing after some period of time.
Press: Good afternoon. In the review, some of the U.S. civil society groups were highly critical of the track record of the United States on the right to health in the U.S. Especially with ethnic minorities, life expectancy they stressed of African Americans of about 15 percent less than Whites. And the gender issue, reproductive health, higher disease rates for minorities in Alaska, Indian Americans. How are you confronting these challenges? And how are you going about to reduce the discrimination and the under-insurance of the poorest in the U.S.? Thank you.
A/S Brimmer: First off I will note that the health care of Americans is one of the highest priorities of this administration, and indeed, that the President led the effort to advance and spread the coverage of health care in the United States. It’s one of the hallmarks of his work to date.
Press: I’m sorry, I didn’t get an answer to my other question. How are you going about to reduce these discriminatory trends in health throughout the United States? What is being done constructively to reduce these problems?
A/S Brimmer: Indeed, as I would say further, indeed improving the access for a wide number of groups is an important part of health care, and indeed addressing, as we did this morning, precisely the disparities of health care for minorities, for women and so forth, is actually a very important aspect of our domestic policy and hence part of our work as an administration. That will be a continued effort both for our national authorities, the Department of Health and Human Services, and others, as we try to eliminate the disparities which we actually highlighted this morning. It’s one of the areas where we will need to do continuing work.
Press: This administration’s engagement of the Council is quite a turn-about from the way that the previous administration dealt with it. How do you sell this change in policy vis-à-vis the Council back home and explain to Americans why it’s important that you appear here and take all this criticism, particularly from countries like Iran and Cuba?
And you spoke about civil society groups and wanting to engage them as well. There’s one that’s going to be speaking around the same time as your session, this WikiLeaks group. Are you going to be speaking to them here?
A/S Posner: Let me answer the broader question first.
President Obama has said, and Secretary Clinton, that we are going to engage in the world, principled engagement. This is an example. This is what principled engagement looks like. We’re here to present our record as every government is doing. We’re presenting it with pride in what we’ve been able to accomplish, but also with openness in responding to and discussing areas where we still have progress to be made. We are also committed, as Secretary Clinton has said over and over again, to a universal set of standards that apply to every country, including ourselves. We are, she said, and we are trying to lead by example. So there are critics in the United States who didn’t want us to join the Human Rights Council. There is still a lot of work to be done in our judgment to make the Council stronger. But I think it benefits by our participation and by our leadership.
So we’re proud to be here. We think this is a positive experience, and we will go back and tell our people in our country that we’ve come here and presented America’s dynamic and strong record on human rights in a way that we can hold our heads up high.
On the WikiLeaks, as Esther said, it’s open to the public. We will have a discussion with whoever shows up.
Mr. Koh: I think it’s worth adding that we’d be here at the Universal Periodic Review whether we were members of the Human Rights Council or not. Every UN member comes before the Council. It’s very much in everyone’s interest for the U.S. to take that very seriously and to set a very high standard for the state under review because then others will have to do the same.
Ambassador Donahoe: I’m just going to add that I think there is evidence already that just by virtue of being here and engaging with others we’ve had some positive effect on the dynamics in the Council, and I think we will be evaluated back home by our results. I think each session we’re going to be working away at putting our priorities on the table and working cross-regionally with other countries. We’ve found that our priorities tend to be the priorities of others in many cases. There’s a lot to be accomplished with partners from around the world.
A/S Brimmer: I’ll just add that human rights are one of the main pillars of the United Nations system and we think that part of making the entire UN system effective is to try to make the human rights body particularly effective as well. And as my colleague, Harold Koh, has noted, all members of the UN system participate in the Universal Periodic Review, which in a sense is one of the most useful tools we have in the human rights tool kit to talk about the human rights of every country that’s a member of the United Nations.
Press: Does the American Constitution protect WikiLeaks in terms of freedom of opinion and expression from the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI assaults on it? Or it does not? Thank you.
Mr. Koh: Some of the material, in fact a large portion of the material is classified information and I think virtually every country in the world has laws against the release of classified information without authorization. But I think the more important point is that the claim that’s being made from the documents is that there were detainee abuses that have not been investigated or punished. And as I said today, that assertion is simply false. There have been hundreds of cases that have been investigated and hundreds which have been punished, and well over a hundred have led to court martials that led to federal convictions or federal imprisonment.
Press: I have a question for clarification. Does the death penalty against people mentally disabled and against minors still exist in the U.S. or not? Or is it abolished? Thank you.
Mr. Koh: The Supreme Court struck down the death penalty against juveniles in a case called Roper v. Simmons a number of years ago and it struck down the death penalty against persons with intellectual disabilities in a case called Atkins v. Virginia in 2003.
Press: I just want to ask if you are going to accept Mexico’s recommendations in issues such as forbid the racial profiling, to forbid and punish the use of lethal force in migration control, and if the government will accept the recommendation on the Avena case.
Mr. Koh: I actually spoke to those issues in my remarks this morning. The United States policy is opposed to racial profiling in our law enforcement investigative activities. We’re obviously opposed to the use of illegal force. And with regard to the Avena judgment, two successive administrations have made intensive efforts to enforce that judgment. The Bush administration tried to do it by executive action which was declared ineffective by the United States Supreme Court; and there is now pending federal legislation that would solve the problem for those foreign nationals who are subject to the Avena judgment.
Press: I have a question about a report in the Washington Post yesterday which said that former President George W. Bush in his memoirs acknowledged that he had accepted explicitly the practice of waterboarding. He had approved it. I was wondering how you would explain to countries abroad that the President of the United States, a country which you rightly expose as a country with a fine tradition on human rights, the Bill of Rights, and progress over the 20th Century, how a President of the United States could approve such a practice which some regard as torture?
Mr. Koh: As an academic I was highly critical of that policy, and as we announced, President Obama changed that policy on the second day of his administration. Waterboarding is forbidden. It’s not one of the permitted tactics under the Army Field Manual. And this President of the United States said that torture and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment will not be used going forward with regard to interrogation practices. So there has been a clear turning of the page.
A/S Posner: If I can just add, I came into government about 14 months ago and I came from a human rights organization, Human Rights First, which devoted a lot of attention to these issues. We recruited 50 retired military officers — admirals and generals — who were equally concerned about practices of coercive interrogations. The reason I’m in this administration, a key reason, is because of President Obama’s clear commitment from literally day two in office when he brought some of those retired military leaders into the White House and announced the three Executive Orders.
There is a clear policy going forward. There will be no torture, no cruel treatment. We’re not mincing words. We’re not winking and nodding. There is a clear policy that there is to be no mistreatment of detainees.
Press: A very brief follow-up. Does that mean that the United States would consider, are you still considering the possibility of legal investigations and federal prosecution of those who might have ordered such a practice in the past?
Mr. Koh: As I think is well known, the Attorney General has referred this very issue to a Special Prosecutor, John Durham of Connecticut. Those investigations are ongoing. The question is not whether they would consider it, those discusions are going on right now.
Press: Two questions, if I may. First, do you think you have been fairly treated by the Human Rights Council? Or do you continue to feel that you’re discriminated against by people who just have it in for the United States?
Secondly, in your report you say that the administration remains committed to closure of the Guantanamo detention facility. Is it possible to put any timeframe to that? Thank you.
A/S Brimmer: Let me take the first question, and Harold you should take the second.
We had a good session today. It was largely constructive, respectful in tone, substantive. There are certainly some countries there who didn’t fit all those attributes, but I would say overwhelmingly the mood in the room was very affirmative and constructive and professional. So we feel we got a fair hearing and I think we’re pleased that we were able to bring a strong delegation here, representing ten or eleven federal agencies. This is part of an ongoing process to engage with the Council and with the UN.
Mr. Koh: As the President made clear in his speech at the National Archives last May, closing Guantanamo is a process. There are three groups of people on Guantanamo. There are those who have been designated for prosecution. As I said this morning, prosecutions are happening both in civilian courts and military commissions.
There is a second group of people who are scheduled for transfer, and those transfers are being negotiated case by case with various countries. And many countries in Europe have taken them. But there is a group of individuals, 57 in all, from Yemen, who pose a particularly difficult problem. Only last week packages from Yemen were part of a well-known plan which happily was thwarted.
Then there is a third group of persons who are in a situation of what is known as Law of War Detention. What I think the President made clear was that he would proceed with that process of bringing the numbers down by pursuing each of these three exit strategies, but he cannot finish it alone. He needs the help of our allies, he needs the help of Congress, and Congress has actually passed legislation that points in the other direction. And a lot of these cases are being litigated at the courts.
So the process continues, and it’s a challenging one.
A/S Posner: If I can just add on that. A few months ago I came to Brussels with Dan Fried who is a senior U.S. diplomat whose job it is to figure out how to close Guantanamo. We met with the European Commission and EU Ministers and so forth. Our objective was to try to get a number of the first category Harold talked about, people who were ready to transfer. They can’t go home. We went to a number of EU countries and said help us out. Some have helped, but there are a number still to be resettled, so we continue our efforts to try to encourage particularly our European allies to help us in that process.
Press: I think the question would be for Harold Koh. You gave a rather robust defense in some of your remarks today about the CIA program of drone strikes on perceived enemies. Could you tell us exactly where the U.S. is carrying these drone strikes out in addition to Afghanistan and Pakistan and I believe Yemen? Since you are saying this is compliant with international law and you’re confident of that, can you tell us where exactly, in what countries in addition to the ones I named these are being carried out?
Mr. Koh: Obviously I’m not going to talk about operations, but our legal position stands on its own, which is that the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida and its associated forces, and that there are high leaders in that conflict who are engaged in activities against which the United States can respond both under the laws of war and in self defense. It has long been lawful to target individuals who are belligerent leaders. It has been lawful to use modern technologies to do so, and indeed these are done in a rigorous way to minimize casualties. This does not constitute extrajudicial killing and it does not constitute political assassination.
Press: I just wanted to come back to the drone attacks. Yesterday the former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said that these ”push button assassinations” are a complete violation of human rights. President Barack Obama is now going to New Delhi. In India itself there is these counterterrorism operations which are ongoing.
By your answer just now, you are suggesting that countries like India can use this kind of strategy to target its enemies wherever they are.
Mr. Koh: I’m sorry. Who made the statement about –
Press: Mr. Ramsey Clark.
Mr. Koh: I don’t know if that’s a political statement or –
Press: This was — [off mike] — where he came down heavily on these ongoing drone attacks and how they are breaching human rights jurisprudence and that these amount to “push button assassinations.” He called it “push button assassinations” which should not be continued in the normal course.
Mr. Koh: I think it’s a label and not a legal tool. I’ve been a Professor of International Law for 30 years. My legal opinion, which I have stated, is that if a nation is engaged in an armed conflict with a non-state actor and leaders on the opposing side, and if those leaders are launching armed attacks against a country, the country is entitled to respond both in the course of the armed conflict and in self defense. And that an attack which targets such an individual in the course of the conflict is lawful.
For example, the Japanese military officer responsible for Pearl Harbor was in fact targeted in the course of that armed conflict, and that the strike on him was widely accepted as a lawful killing.
So I think the term that was used by the former Attorney General may be a label, but I don’t think it’s legal analysis.
Press: I have a technical question. I was wondering, what is the follow-up to today’s process? There were a lot of criticisms, lots of recommendations — some too fast for the translator. You probably have some issues that you think are most important with which to deal with. So what happens when you go home after the atmospherics wear off and you have to report back here and show that in fact you’ve been obedient and done good work?
A/S Posner: There are a couple of phases here. I guess over the weekend and on Monday there’s a three-government delegation which will do an interim report which will be presented on Tuesday morning. We’ll have an opportunity to talk with them I think on Monday to kind of have our input on that.
Then we go back and there’s a second phase which is between now and March. We’ll receive their recommendations and interim suggestions. We’ll come back and report back on how we’re doing.
A couple of things have to be said about this. One, it’s a healthy process. It’s very much in keeping with what we do anyway as a government. There’s a lot of self analysis and effort to continue to strive to be a more perfect union. We are constantly pushing ourselves to do better. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, we’re proud of our record, but we can always improve.
This is a tool for helping us do that. It’s not the only tool. We’re not going to do things because some other government tells us we’re going to do them. We’re going to do them because they’re the right thing to do.
Yesterday we had a meeting of the 10 or 11 U.S. departments and bureaus that are part of our delegation here, and one of the things I said to them is that we ought to be thinking between now and March about what are the things that we can and should be doing, things that we’ve learned, either by our own discussions among ourselves, by our discussions with our NGOs, civil society, and what we hear from governments.
So we view this as part of an ongoing process. We’ll be back again in March and we’ll be back again in four years for the second round of this exercise.
Press: I have a question about the ratification of international conventions about human rights. You gave us your methodology before the Human Rights Council this morning saying that you have a totally different methodology. Saying that you have to comply first with, you have to do some compliance work domestically and then maybe ratify international conventions. I don’t quite understand this. Human Rights Watch was saying that actually you’ve shown no signs of moving towards more compliance domestically. Thank you.
Mr.Posner: I guess I’d say two things about that. One is different countries have different approaches to these treaties. Our approach is and has always been that we will endeavor first to get ourselves into compliance. I don’t agree with the characterization that we’re not taking steps to be in compliance. We’re doing that all the time.
The second thing for us is that we have a tripartite government. And the President and Secretary Clinton have expressed strong support for ratification of CEDAW and the Convention on Disabilities, rights of disabled people. We have to go to the Congress. The Senate has to provide its assent to ratification. It’s in the Constitution. It requires 67 votes. We will endeavor to get those 67 votes but we can’t do it all by ourselves.
Press: One question. There is one NGO saying that Cuba successfully stuck the speaker’s list with some regimes and some very vehement critics against the United States. Do you agree with that?
If it is yes, do you think that America has nothing to say about all this? Yes, everything is fine in America.
Ambassador Donahoe: If your question was about the speaker’s list here for our process, yes.
There has been an informal practice in many cases of countries’ UPRs where various countries will start an informal list before the actual sign-up. That did happen in our case. It happened unusually early. It happened that the list was exceedingly long. However, on the actual day of the sign-up the process went forward, countries lined up, and the list that Cuba started in fact was not accepted as the starting place for the line. So we feel like we were treated fairly.
And I have to say, there is broad consensus to change the informal practice very soon as part of our 2011 review process, and perhaps even sooner, because there’s a lot of frustration brewing with these various informal practices and we intend to change them.
Press: My question is to Mr. Koh. I was wondering, sir, in your elaboration on the legitimacy of using drones to take out, to use the DoD terminology, “enemies of the United States,” is that legal under international law if you don’t have the permission of the country where that person or the enemy of the U.S. is a resident or at the place?
And I have a follow-up. With reference to what you said earlier about the no torture of any prisoners, does that guarantee apply to any prisoners that might have been transferred to friendly countries where there have been documentations of torture in the presence of medical practitioners? Thank you.
Mr. Koh: Taking the second part first, we do not transfer people to places where it’s more likely than not that they will be tortured, so yes, the guarantee does apply.
With regard to the first, you asked me two different things. You asked me about my defense, and then you talked about a situation where there was no consent. I never mentioned such a situation and I know of no such situation.
Press: Well there is the case where the Pakistani government in the first week of the Obama administration strongly protested to Dick Holbrooke not to go ahead with the drone attacks and the administration went ahead.
Mr. Koh: You’re talking about a situation whose facts I don’t know about. I’d be interested to learn more.
Press: I’d like to go back to the issue of waterboarding. You spoke of President Obama’s policy against waterboarding. By using the word policy, does this mean that torture is in the realm of political choice as opposed to human rights? And does this mean that future administrations should they so want to once again allow waterboarding?
Mr. Koh: I think the Obama administration defines waterboarding as torture as a matter of law under the Convention against Torture. It’s part of our legal obligation. So no, it’s not a policy choice.
A/S Brimmer: We used the phrase this morning in my opening statement that there are no law-free zones. What we mean by that is that the prohibition against torture and cruel treatment applies to every U.S. official, every agency, everywhere in the world. There is an absolute prohibition as a matter of law and policy.
Mr. Koh: As you well know, the definition of torture that permitted certain activities was drawn from a 2002 opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department that has now been withdrawn. That was the interpretation that was relied on. That has been withdrawn and also declared to be legally incorrect.
So I’m not saying there’s not a future administration that might try to come forward and reassert this legally incorrect view in the face of this history, but I think it would be very very difficult to do so, and I would certainly be among those challenging it at that time.
Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer
Thank you, Mr. President.
The United States is honored to present our first Universal Periodic Review report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It is my pleasure to introduce our delegation, which is comprised of senior officials from eleven U.S. departments and agencies, a representative of our local authorities, and two advisers from civil society groups. Their participation reflects the depth of our commitment to human rights at home, which spans the federal government as well as state, local, and tribal governments across our country, and which is complemented by the deep commitment from President Obama and Secretary Clinton to multilateral engagement, human rights, and the rule of law.
As President Obama has said, our country’s “Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in [our] country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.” We take our place in the UPR process with pride in our accomplishments, honesty in facing continued challenges, and a commitment to using the international system to elevate and advance the protection of human rights at home and abroad.
The Universal Periodic Review is comprised of three important ideas. The first, Universality, reflects the norm of full participation at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: in short, these rights must be for all. The UPR has examined countries that exemplify human rights leadership; those that uphold human rights in the face of devastating obstacles; and those that defy their international obligations and silence and punish any who would expose their abuses.
Equally important is the Review’s Periodic character, premised on the idea that advancement and enforcement of human rights must be pursued persistently over time, with accountability, follow through, continuing effort, and constant improvement. For the United States, our early years witnessed profound gaps between our ideals and practice, including slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, and limited franchise. Yet our own history has been one of progress, built on a strong foundation of fundamental freedoms of speech, association, and religion, this is the foundation for building a “more perfect Union.”
The third UPR premise is Review, the idea that governments’ records should be scrutinized, discussed, and debated by other governments, civil society, human rights defenders, a free press, and their own citizenry. In America, such dialogue is heard every day. Each morning we awake to a cacophony of opinions, from editorial boards, columnists, politicians, bloggers, and other commentators. Some are respectful and constructive; some less so. Some carry moral authority; some do not. But we protect it all. We bring that willingness to listen and engage to today’s discussion.
For the United States, the UPR is a conversation in Geneva, but also one at home with our own people, to whom we are ultimately accountable. We have made the participation of citizens and civil society a centerpiece of our UPR process. We held eleven consultations hosted by nongovernmental organizations across the United States – in New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, El Paso, the Navajo Nation reservation, and elsewhere. We heard from men and women of all races, ethnicities, religions, ages, and affiliations. These rich exchanges have informed our UPR report, shaped our thinking, and served as a potent impetus for progress. This morning’s presentation only continues a conversation that will resume this afternoon at a Town Hall meeting, here in Geneva and in Washington, with more than 100 civil society organizations. We commend to all governments a similar depth of engagement with civil society in the UPR process, to expand citizens’ voices in advancing human rights, here in Geneva and around the world. This morning’s presentation therefore is not the end, but only a milestone in our long-term engagement to promote our human rights aspirations. We have approached this process with a seriousness of purpose and a commitment to engage genuinely with comments and questions raised in good faith. While we cannot respond to every idea raised in hundreds of conversations or debated in the blogosphere, we welcome the opportunity today to talk with thoughtful interlocutors in a constructive dialogue.
I would now like to turn to Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner to introduce our interactive dialogue.
Assistant Secretary Michael Posner
Thank you, very much, Assistant Secretary Brimmer. It is an honor to be here today. Last fall, I became Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor after working for 30 years with Human Rights First, a non-governmental advocacy organization.
The United States is a country founded on the moral truths reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our Constitution has provided the legal framework and foundation for our progress toward a more perfect union over the last 221 years. Our Declaration of Independence reaffirmed the “inalienable rights” of all people. In the wake of our Civil War, its glaring original flaw of tolerating slavery was removed. Decades later, in1920, it was amended to provide women the right to vote. And in 1924, Federal law granted full citizenship for Native Americans.
Throughout our history as a nation, the Constitution has been our firm foundation: the sacred principles of equality and liberty for all persons have guided us and have been the measure of our earthly progress, beckoning us ever-closer to an ideal. And although our progress has not been linear, it has been undeniable. In the story of the United States, the arc of history has bent toward justice.
The story of our nation has been a struggle for a more perfect union. Our system of government reflects an apparent paradox: that the most perfect system of government is one that assumes its own imperfection. For any government or system of laws that pretends to be perfect cannot be so; it is only by admitting the possibility of imperfection that the creation of mechanisms for improvement can be justified, and that progress toward a more perfect union can occur. Our laws have never fully reflected the principles that underlie our Constitution: changes in the world around us and in our understanding of it always reveal new opportunities to improve. We acknowledge imperfection; we discuss and debate it; we welcome and encourage the involvement of our civil society; and we work through democratic legislatures and independent courts to remedy it – the ability to do this has been and continues to be a source of strength.
Our UPR report provides an account of laws created, and of measures established to ensure their fair implementation, in order to protect the rights of individuals in the United States. We respect freedom; we challenge obstacles to freedom, and we seek to ensure the pathways to freedom. The freedoms of speech and assembly, and of thought, conscience and religion remain vigorously protected. We have expansive legal protections against unfair discrimination and in the last half century have made significant progress in ensuring that the law protects equal opportunity for all Americans in areas such as education, employment, health, housing, and voting. And we have made changes in the laws and policies that govern our criminal justice system to see that it accords all people with due process of law and equal protection under the law.
In addition to protections of individuals’ fundamental freedoms and rights against discrimination and abuse, other laws and programs have helped lay the foundation for the enjoyment of rights. Recent legislation will improve access to quality healthcare, particularly for the vulnerable. And investments currently underway in our education system and our economy are paving the way for stronger schools that can provide a high quality education to all students and a strong economy that is ready to harness the skills students learn in school.
As our report acknowledges, though we are proud of our achievements, we are not satisfied with the status quo. We will continue to work to ensure that our laws are fair and justly implemented, and to foster a society in which people are empowered to enjoy their rights.
From their first moments in office, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made their own deep commitments to the rule of law, to multilateral engagement, and to bringing international human rights home. As you know, along with many allies, the United States is currently in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and with Al Qaeda and associated forces, and we have reported on the human rights obligations of the United States in the context of our international actions. The United States is committed to complying with the Constitution and all applicable domestic and international law, and to the idea that there are no “law-free zones.” On his second day in office, President Obama signed three Executive Orders—on detention, interrogation, and transfer policies—and these reflect our broader commitment to ensuring security consistent with our Constitution and with the international rule of law. We conduct our armed conflicts pursuant to, and limited by, the laws of war as they apply to this 21st century situation. Although the realities of the world we live in mean that the security of our people, and that of others around the world, will sometimes demand and justify the use of force, we recognize that, as the theologian Paul Ramsey put it, “that which justifies, also limits.”
A few weeks ago, the United States and the world lost a giant in the field of human rights. Louis Henkin, born in present-day Belarus, came to our country as an immigrant and went on to an historic legal and academic career as a gentle, wise, steadfast intellectual beacon for human rights. In 1990, Professor Henkin wrote that: “[T]here is now a working consensus that every man and woman, between birth and death, counts, and has a claim to an irreducible core of integrity and dignity. In that consensus, in the world we have and are shaping, the idea of human rights is the essential idea.” The United States is committed to human rights at home and abroad. We are committed to deepening the consensus that every man and woman, every girl and boy, counts, and to promoting its promise by doing our part to help shape a world that better reflects the essential idea of human rights.
We look forward to a productive and constructive conversation.