Ambassador Johnson’s Remarks at the Closing of the OSCE Human Dimension Implemenation Meeting Plenary
(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Closing of the Plenary Session)
As we mark the close of this two-week session, we should reflect for a moment on what makes this annual encounter so special, and indeed so essential. There is inherent value in a focused discussion among participating States on the implementation of our shared Human Dimension commitments. But, more importantly, the HDIM exemplifies the critical role that the OSCE has always played in engaging and inspiring civil society, and the necessity—not the nicety—of these links.
As Secretary Clinton stated in Astana last year: “Strong democracies, thriving economies, and stable societies cannot be built by governments alone. There must be a partnership between governments, vibrant institutions and free societies that work together to solve the problems that we face in the 21st century.”
During this meeting, we have heard from members of civil society from across the OSCE space. In plenary sessions and in a wide range of side events they have shared compelling and eloquent testimony. We learned from a Belarusian journalist about the perils of speaking out in a country ruled by a repressive regime. We heard stark accounts from European Roma of growing anti-Roma sentiments and violence. A human rights defender told us about her visit to Kyrgyz activist Azimjan Askarov, serving a life sentence based on a confession coerced by torture. These sorts of exchanges, and the efforts that ensue as a result, are precisely what are needed if we are to grasp and solve 21st century challenges.
As has been the case in previous years, the level of participation in most sessions was so high that the time allotted for interventions and replies had to be curtailed multiple times. Attendance at the diverse array of nearly fifty side events was broad and engaged. These indicators suggest that we should maintain, or even expand, this event, and we should seek ways to increase attendance by non-governmental organizations. The United States believes the participation of NGOs is integral to this process and therefore has a longstanding practice of inviting U.S. NGOs to join our daily delegation meetings. Over the past two weeks, some of these NGOs highlighted areas of concern regarding United States implementation of our human dimension commitments. We welcomed these interventions and the opportunity to engage constructively with civil society, even when we might disagree.
The discussions over the past two weeks have helped shine a spotlight on issues of concern in the OSCE Human Dimension, and, in some cases, have highlighted differing perceptions among participating States regarding the proper role of the OSCE and how our shared commitments are best met.
The ongoing political repression in Belarus, which led to the invocation of the Moscow Mechanism in April, is one such example. This year’s HDIM served as a rallying point for Belarusian activists and a vibrant coalition of international NGOs committed to the support of democratic ideals and practices in Belarus. Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the newly-opened “Belarus House” here in Warsaw. It is run by a courageous group of young Belarusian activists who assist Belarusian refugees; unite, through culture and dialogue, the Belarusian diaspora; and support activists and political prisoners in Belarus. These young men and women made abundantly clear to us that united, firm support from the United States and Europe is essential and profoundly appreciated.
We’ve concentrated a great deal of our attention on Belarus at this year’s HDIM because the regime’s practices flout OSCE principles and commitments. Civil society, a bellwether of democracy in contemporary states, has drawn ample attention to the plight of Belarusian democratic leaders, human rights activists, and indeed regular citizens there. The Freedom House report on Belarus, issued at a side event this week, highlights the Lukashenka government’s clear intent to minimize political rights and civil liberties in Belarus.
There was a lively exchange between members of the United States and Russian Federation delegations about election observation. This is a timely subject, as ODIHR is engaged in preparations to observe historic elections in Kyrgyzstan in a few weeks time. As the U.S. delegation noted in its right of reply to the question “why do we need election observers?” the answers lie in the Copenhagen Document and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They both say that the authority of government derives from the will of the people expressed in democratic elections. So, citizens, in effect, own elections, because that is where sovereignty truly resides. Observers confirm whether or not their elections are free and fair and help identify areas to improve in future elections. That is what the ODIHR does, based on impartial criteria applied consistently throughout all states.
The United States was gratified to hear from Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Churov of his intent to issue an unrestricted invitation to ODIHR to observe the December 4 Duma elections. Looking forward, the United States will issue an unrestricted invitation for our 2012 Congressional and Presidential elections, and will work, through appropriate bodies, to facilitate effective election observation by the OSCE and other appropriate organizations, free from barriers.
Discussions at the HDIM are also informed by events transpiring in our midst. The past two weeks have seen violent anti-Roma protests and rhetoric in Bulgaria and violence against the international presence in Kosovo.
The recent events in Bulgaria echo similar unrest and targeting of Roma that have occurred in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, and remind us of the debates surrounding evictions and expulsions of Roma from throughout Europe. The HDIM’s focus on Roma and Sinti issues was thus extraordinarily timely. In numerous sessions, experts, NGOs and individual Roma discussed growing intolerance toward Roma and highlighted the potential for ethnic tensions to devolve into ethnic violence.
The bigotry exhibited against Roma can also be linked to a disturbing trend of growing radical racist ideologies across several countries in the OSCE space. In some countries, those receptive to extremist political ideologies may make up more than 20 percent of the populace; this is an alarming development. Responsible political leaders should publicly condemn intolerance and prejudice. They should avoid inflammatory language that once was the province of fringe parties. Unfortunately, this rhetoric is increasingly echoed by mainstream politicians, such as the admonition by one Western European leader that if a certain Mayoral candidate were elected in his country, a large city would turn into a “Gypsytown.”
Recent violence in Kosovo was a subject of several exchanges during the context of discussions on freedom of movement. On September 27, a group of up to 500 Serbs—with a heavy truck, firearms, pipe bombs, grenades, and rocks—attacked KFOR troops in northern Kosovo. They wounded nine KFOR soldiers, eight of whom were American. This attack heightened tensions and risked the lives of U.S. and Allied forces, as well as local civilians. In these halls, this attack gave rise to heated exchanges and unfounded accusations from Serbian and Russian representatives against KFOR, which is comprised of troops from 39 participating States. The fact that our Serbian and Russian colleagues, instead of condemning the violent attack, would call into question the legitimate authority of KFOR to carry out its mandate and to act in self-defense is troubling on many levels. This incident was an assault on an international institution, whose presence in Kosovo, like that of EULEX and the OSCE Mission, is to provide support and security for ALL of Kosovo’s citizens.
While all states have the obligation to protect their citizens from violent extremism and other threats, our delegation has noted that several OSCE states interpret that obligation in ways that restrict the rights of their populations. In the past year, Tajikistan has adopted a new “Law on Parental Responsibility” which restricts participation in religious activities by children under the age of 18. This is in addition to restrictive registration requirements for religious groups already in place. Other OSCE states, such as Russia, define extremism so broadly that its laws are used to ban peaceful religious groups and literature. We are also concerned by the growing number of participating States that have adopted or are considering bans on religious expression, including attire.
The HDIM, like the OSCE writ large, has always been a venue for frank debate and for the open airing of concerns among the governments and citizens of participating States. That is its strength and its enduring value. We look forward to discussions of ways in which we might further enhance the effectiveness of this forum, including by exploring new avenues for expanding the opportunities for access by members of civil society, many of whom may not be able to afford to make the trip to Warsaw. We would be particularly interested in exploring ways to use new technologies such as streaming video or social media, to broaden access to our discussions.
Looking ahead to Vilnius and beyond, we believe that it is essential that OSCE participating States confirm in a Ministerial-level decision the application of longstanding commitments on fundamental freedoms to new media. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized: “The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs—these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.”
It is no coincidence that authorities, who try to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms by their people, impede the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, control the press and obstruct the flow of information, tend to be the same authorities who try to restrict, impede, control and obstruct their citizens’ peaceful use of new digital technologies. In her remarks to this gathering, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, voiced concern about Internet regulation policies proposed by several participating States.
Equally important, we believe is a renewed commitment at the Ministerial level to the protection of journalists. On October 5, the Representative on Freedom of the Media issued a new report detailing the threats and responses to attacks against journalists in the OSCE region. “The right of journalists to carry out their work in safety, without fear of being harassed, attacked, beaten or killed is fundamental to the protection of all other human rights. As long as journalists are afraid for their lives and the lives of their families while doing their job, we do not live in a free society.” One of the shocking statistics in this report is the fact that in the last five years only three out of almost thirty cases of murdered journalists in the OSCE region have been successfully prosecuted.
We must do better.
We also must continue to make progress in the fight against human trafficking, and look forward to working with other participating States toward a Ministerial Declaration in Vilnius that will help us build on the good work of the OSCE and participating States in fighting this scourge.
Finally, I would like to recall an extraordinary scene from the opening plenary. The keynote speaker, Khadija Cherif, the International Federation for Human Rights Secretary General, spoke about the revolution in her native Tunisia, and then offered heartfelt expressions of support for political prisoners in Belarus. It is time that we consider additional ways in which the OSCE can support not only the aspirations of democrats in the heart of Europe, but also those of our Mediterranean Partners. A Ministerial Declaration along these lines would send an important signal and is a good first step.
Statement on the Imprisonment of Natalya Sokolova, the Blocking of Websites and the Transfer of Prison Authority in Kazakhstan
The United States wishes to register its concern regarding several events that occurred in Kazakhstan during the OSCE Summer Recess. The first is the August 8 conviction and sentencing to six years imprisonment of Natalya Sokolova, the lawyer for a trade union formed by employees of an oil company in western Kazakhstan. Sokolova’s trial appears to have been marred by violations of procedural due process that call the verdict into question. The six-year sentence Sokolova received for inciting social discord and organizing illegal gatherings is particularly harsh. Credible reports indicate that the presiding judge refused to admit into evidence video recordings in support of Sokolova’s defense and denied her motions to summon witnesses. We urge the government of Kazakhstan to review the case and to take appropriate steps to remedy the procedural inadequacies.
Secondly, Mr. Chairman, the United States is concerned by new reports of numerous web sites being blocked in Kazakhstan, including the popular LiveJournal and LiveInternet blogging communities. A court in Kazakhstan said the sites – widely used by the Russian language community – were propagating terrorism and inciting hatred, although it failed to provide details or request that they remove any offending material. Wholesale blocking of websites raises serious questions, and we appreciate Prime Minister Karim Masimov’s promise to review these recent incidents. We urge Kazakhstan to ensure that any such steps limiting the free flow of information online are in full compliance with OSCE commitments.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, we take this opportunity also to note the August 4 announcement that responsibility for the Kazakhstani prison system has been transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of the Interior. We hope that the Ministry of Interior will work closely with Kazakhstan’s civil society to ensure humane conditions and treatment for prisoners. We note that progress has been made in improving conditions for prisoners in Kazakhstan during the last several years and today express our firm expectation and sincere hope that, in keeping with Kazakhstan’s OSCE commitments, the pace of such improvements will not only continue under the authority of the Interior Ministry, but accelerate as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We are concerned by the Government of Vietnam’s decision to return long-time human rights defender Father Nguyen Van Ly to prison on July 25. We urge the Government of Vietnam to release him immediately. We welcomed the government’s decision last year to grant Father Ly humanitarian parole following a series of strokes while in solitary confinement. Father Ly suffers from a brain tumor and should continue to be allowed to seek medical treatment.
No individual should be imprisoned for expressing the right to free speech. In September 2010, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention held that Father Ly was denied a fair trial and ruled his detention was arbitrary, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and called for his immediate release.
Father Ly is a co-founder of Bloc 8406 and the Vietnam Progression Party. He has spent over 16 years in prison.
I am deeply troubled that the Syrian Government chooses to continue to use force and intimidation against the Syrian people. The United States condemns in the strongest terms the Syrian Government’s actions over the past five weeks and calls on it to immediately cease the killing, arrest, and harassment of protestors, activists, and journalists. I am particularly troubled by ongoing reports of deaths of citizens at the hands of the Syrian Government, including accounts today that at least 30 people were killed when Syrian security forces again opened fire on peaceful protestors throughout the country. On behalf of the United States, I extend our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.
The Syrian people, like people everywhere, have the inherent right to exercise their universal freedoms, including peaceful assembly, expression, and speech. The Syrian Government must respond to the Syrian people’s call for change. It must realize that violence and intimidation will not answer their call.
The Syrian Government’s actions are neither those of a responsible government nor a credible member of the international community. We will continue to hold to account senior Syrian officials and others responsible for the reprehensible human rights abuses against the Syrian people. We welcome the European Union’s decision to join us in these efforts with similar steps. We will also continue to work both unilaterally and with our international partners to determine the most effective next steps if the Syrian Government chooses not to abandon its current path.
The United States is deeply concerned by the April 4 conviction and sentencing to seven years imprisonment of activist Cu Huy Ha Vu on charges of “propagandizing against the government.” We are also troubled by the apparent lack of due process in the conduct of the trial, and the continued detention of several individuals who were peacefully seeking to observe the proceedings.
Vu’s conviction runs counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and raises serious questions about Vietnam’s commitment to rule of law and reform. No individual should be imprisoned for exercising the right to free speech.
We urge the Government of Vietnam to immediately release Cu Huy Ha Vu and all other prisoners of conscience.
We welcome the release of the last of the 75 peaceful Cuban activists who were unjustly arrested for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during the 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown.
The release of political prisoners is a step in the right direction. However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly.
We urge the Cuban government to release all remaining political prisoners and allow them to choose whether to remain in Cuba. Those who choose to leave Cuba should be free to return if they so desire. We also urge the Government of Cuba to allow access to the U.N. Special Rapporteur and the International Red Cross to its jails so that a fuller accounting of remaining political prisoners can be possible.
President Obama, through his policy framework announced in April 2009 and also through recent regulatory changes, has focused our policy toward Cuba on increased engagement with the Cuban people in an effort to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island. As he said in his recent speech in Chile, “Cuban authorities must take some meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of their own people – not because the United States insists upon it, but because the people of Cuba deserve it.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good afternoon. It’s been a very busy and productive day here in Geneva, so let me give you a brief rundown.
I have been holding intensive consultations with friends and allies on developments in Libya, and these have been action-oriented discussions focused on determining the international community’s next steps to hold Colonel Qadhafi and his regime accountable for its human rights abuses and violence against its own people, to determine the best way forward after the Security Council resolution to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to support the Libyan people as they pursue a transition to democracy.
It has been a remarkable international response, where the international community has been speaking with one voice, saying very clearly that Colonel Qadhafi’s brutal attacks on his own people are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Qadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay.
Saturday’s unanimous UN Security Council resolution was a significant beginning. It will impose an arms embargo on Libya, freeze the assets of key human rights violators and other members of the Qadhafi family, and refer the Libyan case to the International Criminal Court. The United States has imposed additional sanctions of our own, and today I discussed with our European allies the specific measures that they will pursue to keep increasing the pressure in further isolating Qadhafi and his regime.
As the violence in Libya continues, we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation, so we are working with the United Nations, partner nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, and other NGOs to launch an effective, robust response. To start, USAID, our American development agency, has set aside an additional $10 million in emergency assistance to support the efforts of organizations on the ground already to meet the most urgent needs of Libyans and of others who are guest workers or migrants who’ve been caught up in the violence and dislocation. We are also immediately dispatching two expert humanitarian teams to Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt to assist with the displaced people who are fleeing the violence.
Our immediate attention is focused on the need to keep medical supplies in the pipelines well-stocked and intact. We are also concerned that the ongoing violence may disrupt distribution networks and led to food shortages, so we have conducted an inventory of all American food aid resources in the region and are prepared to divert or dispatch other food stocks to Libya as the need arises. Now, as we move forward on these fronts, we will continue to explore all possible options for additional actions. As we have said, nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan Government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens.
I want to add that today I also had important discussions on a wide range of other key issues, including the progress of democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt. In Tunisia, we welcome the interim leadership’s efforts to form an inclusive broad-based government and its pledge to hold free and open elections within six months, but we remain concerned about new violence. We were heartened to hear from Tunisia’s state secretary for foreign affairs, whom I had a chance to meet with as well, that Tunisia will welcome the opening of a UN Human Rights office and open its doors to all UN special rapporteurs.
In Egypt, we are heartened also by the efforts that are undertaken in order to meet the commitments that have been made. We hope that the military leaders will reach out to broad array of opposition voices and representatives from civil society to ensure that the reform process is transparent and inclusive, that it leads to free and fair elections, and that it respects the rights of women and minorities. Egyptians are asking for concrete steps in the run up to elections, including enacting constitutional reform, releasing political detainees, and lifting the state of emergency. And the United States stands ready to support the Egyptian people in this process as appropriate, including through economic assistance that does help promote jobs and create more opportunities.
We also discussed Iran. I conferred with our P-5+1 colleagues about our concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and at the Human Rights Council I worked to support Sweden’s efforts to pass a resolution establishing a special rapporteur on Iran to investigate and report on Tehran’s human rights abuses. The Iranian Government should allow freedom of speech and freedom of assembly without fear and should immediately end its organized intimidation campaign.
And finally, I took the opportunity to address the conference on disarmament on the need to end the dedicated production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons and to start negotiations on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty without further delay.
So there is a lot that we have been working on here in Geneva today, and I’d be happy to take some of your questions.
MODERATOR: First question is from Viola Gienger of Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary — can you hear on this microphone? — wanted to ask you what kind of discussions you had with your counterparts today related to a no-fly zone and the potential for that? And also, what sort of next steps, in terms of sanctions, are you considering? For example, any kind of restrictions on oil and gas imports from Libya, exports from Libya?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as we’ve said, a no-fly zone is an option we are actively considering. I discussed it today with allies and partners, and we will proceed with this active consideration. When I said in my remarks that all options are on the table, or another way of saying it, no option is off the table, that, of course, includes a no-fly zone.
With respect to additional measures, the discussions that I had today focused on how we can keep the pressure on the Qadhafi regime without harming the Libyan people. And we believe there are steps we can take that will do that. We are very aware of the need to block access to resources and assets that the Libyan Government, particularly Qadhafi and his family, could get a hold of to continue his reign of violence against the Libyan people. At the same time, we are well aware of the need to keep resources flowing into Libya so that the people themselves can use them to meet their specific needs, to be able to organize themselves.
So we explored a number of potential actions, many of which are more in the European theater than actions that we could take. But I think in the coming days you will see the EU take additional steps to try to prevent the Qadhafi regime from having access to resources going forward.
MODERATOR: Our next question is from Hadat al-Denabi from Al-Ahram.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, may I start by thanking President Obama on behalf of the Egyptian people for his stand and your pronouncements today on Libya and Tunisia. My question is is that there is a deploying – redeployment of naval forces, American U.S. forces, close to the Libyan shores. Is this a sign of an imminent military response?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. No. First of all, we have, as you know, naval assets in the Mediterranean. We have bases that are NATO bases and that are host country bases that we have used on an ongoing basis over the course of many years. We do believe that there will be the need for support for humanitarian intervention. We also know that there will probably, unfortunately, be the need for rescue missions, because, as I’m sure you’re aware, thousands of Tunisians have already left Tunisia heading for Europe. We expect to see Libyans and others who are trapped in Libya, which presents a great danger on the high seas. But there is not any pending military action involving U.S. Naval vessels.
MODERATOR: And our final question is from Brad Klapper, Associated Press.
QUESTION: Yes, Madam Secretary. I’m over here. Are you considering giving aid to the eastern Libyans defending themselves?
SECRETARY CLINTON: You know what, I cannot hear you.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I will speak louder.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Sorry.
QUESTION: Are you considering giving aid to east – to the eastern Libyans defending themselves against the Qadhafi regime, whether this be military aid or some sort of civilian assistance? And lastly, would you welcome any of Qadhafi’s few remaining friends to offer him asylum? Would the U.S. react – would it welcome, let’s say, an offer from Mugabe, for example, to offer him a soft landing to end the crisis?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, as you know, there is a considerable amount of instability at the moment in Libya, and we are just at the beginning of knowing what will follow from the regime in eastern Libya and in other parts of the country. Our focus is on ending the abuses by the Qadhafi regime and supporting, in a humanitarian effort, those who are suffering because of the violence. And I think it’s important to recognize that, just as in Egypt and in Tunisia before, what is happening in Libya is coming from the people of Libya themselves. And we deeply respect that. I appreciate the Egyptian journalist’s kind words for President Obama, which I will certainly convey.
We understand how challenging this transition is, even in a country as strong in institutions as Egypt is. So imagine how difficult it will be in a country like Libya, which has been denuded of institutions. Qadhafi ruled for 42 years by basically destroying all institutions and never even creating an army, so that it could not be used against him. So the situation in Libya is so much more challenging than what’s happening in Egypt. So our goal is to get the humanitarian relief in on the borders with Egypt and Tunisia, because both the Egyptian and the Tunisian efforts to assist in the humanitarian flow of refugees is very commendable, but they need some help. They can’t be expected to manage all of this on their own. And then we will be reaching out to recognized voices in the opposition who are assuming responsibility and doing what we can appropriately to assist them. So we will definitely be following up on that.
With respect to your question about Colonel Qadhafi finding refuge somewhere – and, I mean, I was almost rendered speechless with the idea of he and Mugabe together. (Laughter.) I think that – we want the violence to end. And if the violence could be ended by his leaving and ending the killing of so many people who are trying to assert their rights, that might be a good step. But, of course, we believe accountability has to be obtained for what he has done. And certainly, I don’t think that the international community, given the unanimity with the Security Council resolution, would just drop all of its concerns were he to leave, although leaving would be a positive in terms of ending the violence, which we would like to see.
MODERATOR: Thank you all.
SECRETARY CLINTON: What?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re going to wait to see how things develop, but we are looking at many different kinds of actions.
QUESTION: One question –
MODERATOR: Thank you all. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, two state solution, soon as possible. That’s what we’re for
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you, Secretary Clinton, and welcome. I want to just, if I may, say a few introductory words about the report and something about the trends we see, and then open it up for questions. The report covers 194 countries. It’s the work of probably close to a thousand people in reporting, writing, and editing. It’s a massive document. It’s over 2 million words. We can’t figure out how many pages that is, but if you try to print it, it’ll take reams of paper. It’s the single-most exhaustive, comprehensive compilation of information about human rights produced anywhere in the world.
I want to thank everybody in the State Department who worked on it, especially Steve Eisenbraun, who’s, for the last four years, been leading the effort in the DRL team, but really people all over the world who work on this report in many – in very risky and stressful places.
The original purpose of this report was to inform Congress. In the 1970s, Congressman Fraser and then Congressman Harkin introduced legislation linking human rights to aid policy, and they needed information about how do you make those decisions. It’s now much more than that. It’s used throughout the Executive Branch, throughout this building, but also other agencies of government. It’s used by journalists like yourselves. And importantly, it’s now a great source of information for people living in countries around the world who are often learning about things in their own countries by reading the report.
We’re doing much more to translate the reports, to disseminate them throughout the world. There is a huge international readership of these reports.
The reports are predicated on three broad assumptions which Secretary Clinton and the President have repeated in assessing or in promoting our human rights policy. One, as she just said, we believe in a principled engagement. Part of that engagement requires us to be informed and have an understanding of the world. That’s what this report is seeking to do.
Secondly, we hold every government, including our own, to a single universal standard.
And third, we have a commitment of fidelity to the truth. And this report – the production of this report and publication – tests that assumption probably more than anything we do in government.
As the Secretary said, the report is not a policymaking document, it’s a predicate, it’s a foundation upon which policies are shaped and guided. It’s the starting point. It’s not the end.
In terms of trends, there are three things, and some of this is spelled out in the introduction. We live in a world of conflict. More than 30 wars and internal conflicts fueled by ethnic/racial/religious tensions and differences. These conflicts disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, often women, children, people with disabilities, refugees, in places like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, the Congo, Sudan. It’s often these vulnerable groups that are on the receiving end.
We also see these vulnerable groups in other contexts. The LGBT community, for example, in Uganda, where government seeks to impose further criminal sanctions against their private conduct and even contemplates the death penalty; the Roma in a range of European countries, including Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic; discrimination against Muslims, including hate crimes, in Europe. We have the Swiss minarets, the vote of the Swiss population, 57 percent, banning further minarets being built. And anti-Semitism in a range of places in Europe and throughout the Middle East.
We need to pay, in our opinion, greater diplomatic attention to promoting tolerance and addressing these underlying conflicts. The President’s speech in Cairo is an example of that, as is the work we’re doing at the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 1820 condemning sexual violence as a weapon of war.
The second broad context-setter for me is the greater access to connective technologies is both an opportunity to promote rights, but also has given governments greater energy in curtailing freedom of expression. The Secretary outlined this at a speech in January, and I met with many of you to discuss it after that.
We see that as part of a broader debate or a tension also where governments are trying to find ways to curtail local advocacy. No less than 25 governments in the last couple of years have imposed new restrictions on nongovernmental, human rights, and other organizations – the right to organize, the right to assemble, the right to gather and collect funds from abroad.
A third broad category we see is the use and misuse of national security legislation and emergency legislation to apply broad curtailments on basic civil liberties. We see that in Egypt, we see that in Russia, we see that in Sri Lanka. And I’m glad to say more about that.
I want to just mention a couple of other places specifically. One is China, where the government’s human rights record remain poor and worsening in some areas, including increased cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities. In Xinjiang, an increased attention, harassment of activists and public interest lawyers who are increasingly under surveillance and who are being repressed. There’s continuing repression in the Tibetan areas, limits on free expression, and control of the internet.
Iran, an already poor human rights situation, rapidly deteriorated after the June elections. At least 45 people were killed in clashes, thousands were arrested, another thousand were arrested in demonstrations in December. It is a place where we are continuing to see severe repression of dissent and are continuing to pay great attention.
I want to mention also the situation of prisoners in Cuba. Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in February after 11 weeks on a hunger strike. Several others, we believe, are now on hunger strike in solidarity with him. Their plight reflects the broader problem of the range of problems and the deplorable prison conditions in Cuba.
And finally, we continue to monitor – and this is not in 2008 but recent weeks – the violence last weekend in Nigeria and call on all parties and all communities there to work together and to prevent an escalation of that violence.
Last point, there’s some positive trends. I want to end with that. We are working – continuing to work closely with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, and she and her government undertook and completed in 2009 a major Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, held hearings, 700 hearings, 18,000 statements. They released a report that really is – ought to be a model. And also, the prosecution of Charles Taylor.
In Georgia, there was new criminal procedure legislation that provides greater protections in trials. The Ukraine established a commission on anticorruption and, again, recently had a successful election. Bhutan transitioned to a constitutional system, a parliamentary monarchy, following the king’s voluntary relinquishment of his authority. And the Maldives, where there was also the first multiparty parliamentary election.
The last bit on the positive side, and it, to me, is the most important: We continue to live in a world where the change in human rights is occurring within societies. It’s very hard to change societies from outside, and the resilience of people within countries around the world, their willingness to take risks, and their determination to form organizations fighting for women’s rights, for children’s rights, for human rights, for the environment – these are the future. And we see an increase in activity, an increase in creativity, and it really, to me, signals the great hope on human rights going forward.
Let me stop there and take questions. Yeah.
QUESTION: Elise Labott from CNN. Thank you. I’d like to ask about your area of conflict, and I have to read the specific section on Israel a little more carefully. But you talk about – I mean, obviously, the human rights of Israelis in the conflict being killed by rockets and things is disturbing. But I’m wondering how you see the situation in Gaza and the lack of humanitarian aid or shortage of humanitarian aid. I mean, isn’t access to clean water, shelter, food, electricity, those type of things also a human right that people, regardless of whether they’re in the middle of a conflict, deserve?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Let me answer that in two respects. The broader discussion of Gaza in the last year, and it’s very much in the report, focused on Operation Cast Lead at the beginning of the year and the Goldstone Report that followed at the UN.
And our assessment of that from the beginning has been that there was an inadequate attention in that report to the nature of the conflict. It’s an urban conflict, an asymmetrical conflict where there needs to be an evaluation by the Israelis, by us, by everybody who is involved in those sorts of conflicts, in the way in which you can preserve and protect noncombatant civilians, including the humanitarian issue you describe. This is a subject that I think has not gotten the attention it deserves, and it ought to be the way we look forward.
We’ve also said to the Israelis and all the parties they need to review everything that happened in Cast Lead, conduct serious review and investigation, and have accountability mechanisms.
QUESTION: If I could just quickly follow up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m not – I guess I’m not even asking – I mean, does it really matter what the nature of the conflict is? And I’m not even talking about Operation Cast Lead and how it was conducted, and obviously, rights on both sides were violated. I’m talking about the kind of day-to-day, you know, quality-of-life issues. Regardless of who was at fault or, you know, things like that, I mean, you know, you talk in other areas of the report and – about, you know, places where people are suffering in Sri Lanka because of the conflict.
I mean, does it really matter, you know, that Hamas is ruling Gaza and, you know, they’re committing human rights – I mean, the fact that there are so many roadblocks and the inability to get aid in, I mean, is that a violation of human rights by Israel?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, let me come back to your initial question and try to answer it both ways. The issues – humanitarian access, humanitarian concerns are definitely part of what we are paying attention to. And Senator Mitchell, others in the U.S. Government are constantly in these discussions. I had some when I was in Israel in January. And the kinds of things you’re describing there is some movement on, but hospital conditions, access to food and medicine, all of that is clearly something that’s – that we favor and that we are trying to be supportive of. We’re supportive financially to UNRWA, which is feeding probably 70 percent of the population of Gaza.
It is more complicated, to be sure, to deal with humanitarian questions in a place where the – where Hamas is largely in control. It makes the effort more difficult. It does not mean that there isn’t a responsibility. It does not mean that we’re not going to continue to do what we can to promote humanitarian assistance and support.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, Ali al-Ahmed from the Gulf Institute. I have two questions – a question about Hadi al-Mutif, the longest-held religious prisoner in Saudi Arabia. Has that received the State Department attention? Are they doing something substantial on it beside just including him in the report? He’s been there for 17, almost running on 18 years. And it hasn’t taken the attention of a lot of people around the world.
The second question is about Saudi schoolbooks. We have received it in our organization, this year’s, and it’s the same textbooks that has been since September 11th. Why hasn’t the United States been able to effect change to have these things – are you – have – do you have a plan or a dead timeline for effecting change? Because the textbooks still promote child marriage, promote the murder of Jews and Christians and other religions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: On your first question, we do continue to raise his case. We’re deeply concerned about it. It’s an ongoing subject of discussion between our Embassy and the Government of Saudi Arabia. The report, if you read it, is extremely frank about both prison conditions as well as a range of other issues.
On the issue of the textbooks, we – I did testify about this in the fall after we released the religious freedom report. I share the concern that the textbooks continue to have details and passages that I consider and I think we consider unacceptable. We are now – we’ve accelerated our efforts in our Bureau to review those books from a young age on. We want to – we are looking, I think, at several of them as representative and we’re now trying to look at the – across the board from fourth, fifth grade on.
It’s – these are – this is an important subject and it’s important to me because they’re not only used in Saudi Arabia, but they’re disseminated throughout the Arab-speaking – Arabic-speaking world. So this is a subject of interest. We’re going to continue to pursue it. And I can’t tell you we’ve made great progress, but we’re definitely committed to trying to keep this on the agenda.
QUESTION: May I follow up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: And I did talk to Ambassador Smith about it as well.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up, sir, please?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. Like you said, many kingdoms are changing to democracies. Why not Saudi Arabia and others are still no change there? And second, as far as this report is concerned, when you go or Secretary go to New York at the United Nations Human Rights Council, do you think because of this report the mood of those on the council who do not believe in human rights will change?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, the first answer to your first question: We can do what we can do to be clear about our commitment to democracy and human rights, to delineate what we mean by that. I think the Secretary did an excellent job in December in her speech at Georgetown. Democracy is a broad concept that – you practice it 365 days a year. It involves empowering civil society and rule of law and transparency and empowering women, free press, all of those things.
And we’re trying in various places to take countries where they are, to work with them, to begin to build those building blocks of democracy. Countries in the report – 194 countries – are all along a spectrum in terms of how far they are, but our commitment is, one, to be helpful where we can – a place like Liberia where you have a strong leader, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who deeply believes in this stuff – and at the same time, other countries that are more resistant. And so we have to – we have 194 different approaches to this, depending on where we are and what our relations are.
On how countries react to the report at the UN or how the Human Rights Council is going to change, we are determined to be at the Human Rights Council as a leader. We’re determined to change the way the Human Rights Council does business. It’s unacceptable. We’re determined to get our allies to be – work with us. We’re also determined to try to break the logjam where there are blocks of voters that are frozen in irreconcilable differences. But part of the process is just to get information out, and that’s what this report does. Everybody may not love this report, but they read it and they pay attention to it, including other governments, and that’s part of the value of it.
QUESTION: I guess I wanted to ask – the State Department keeps track of U.S. citizens who die abroad from non-natural causes. And according to the State Department reports, Mexico has the highest number of U.S. citizens who die from homicide. And I was just briefly – I didn’t have a lot of time to look through this report, but in the Mexico report, it speaks about kidnappings and murders, but it doesn’t address the U.S. citizens who have died there. Why is that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think the report is – we deal with those issues a range of ways, including through our Consular Affairs Bureau and people working in embassies on the ground. This report is intended to give a broad view. There is a lot of violence in Mexico, as you rightly point out. American citizens – because we’re neighbors, because it’s – there is so much violence related to drugs, crime, et cetera, American citizens are among those who are the victims. And we obviously pay greater attention – we have an obligation to pay attention to protecting American citizens. But it’s not – those cases are not necessarily highlighted first and foremost in the report.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up to that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Basically, Senator Pat Leahy has been very strong in, you know, for State to put more attention on the Mexican military abuses during the drug war. And I see the report contains lots of pages dealing with detailed information about abuses by the Mexican military. Can we interpret this report as attending some of the – sorry, replying to some concerns in Congress?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, again, I think you ought to review the report as our exercise in trying to get a clear, accurate picture of what’s going on. It is not a report that prescribes policy. But I can tell you, in the case of Mexico, Ambassador Pascual is very attentive to these things. He’s very eager, and we’re working with him closely to try to figure out the next steps we can take to advance the human rights agenda. And a lot of it has to do with this level of violence and also the institutional response, the sense of impunity and the sense that the courts and the judicial system isn’t as strong as it needs to be. He’s committed to that. He’s approached us to say he wants to work with us, which is a great sign. And we are, in fact, in the coming weeks going to expand those conversations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yes.
QUESTION: Howard LaFranchi with the Christian Science Monitor. The Secretary in her comments spoke of practical strategies for advancing human rights. And from some human rights organizations, there’s been criticism that the Administration’s human rights policies have been too realist or acknowledging of governments actions and not challenging them enough. And so I’m wondering what did she mean by “practical strategies”?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: This is a kind of narrative or a discussion that’s gone on over the last year, and I want to be clear in reaffirming what she said. That when we talk about practical or pragmatic engagement, it’s also a principle engagement based on a commitment to human rights. What we want to do is get results. It is not sufficient, although it’s often a piece, to be publicly critical and condemnatory. But words alone don’t change behavior.
And so when we talk about internet freedom – to give you one example – it is – it’s great that we have a clearly articulated speech, and I think her speech really hit the mark in terms of identifying the range of problems – but it’s also critical that we figure out how are we going to address the restrictions on the internet that many governments who are now imposing with greater energy and resources. And so we have an internet task force that Maria Otero and Bob Hormats chair. We brought in businesses last week, about 25 of them, to talk to them about what their responsibility is. We’re spending money to work on both the technical side of that, the circumvention technology, but also trying to figure out how do you help local activists figure out how to use that technology, how do you protect them when they get in trouble. Practical, result-oriented diplomacy is the name of the game for us.
And the public commentary may be a piece of that – it’s often an important piece – but it’s not – it doesn’t get you there alone.
QUESTION: Rosslyn Jordan with Al-Jazeera English. It seems every year when the report is released, those who are perhaps most significantly criticized for the treatment of their citizens will respond, “Well, the United States isn’t perfect.” I know that the Secretary alluded to the idea of a universal standard to which the U.S. should be held. How do you address the criticisms from countries which, I expect, are coming over the transom right now from China, from Iran, from Cuba that the U.S. does not have clean hands, particularly when it comes to the criminal justice system here?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We – our approach is that this is an open society. We say our piece. We are open to the notion that others are going to be critical of what we say. I doubt that other governments are going to say things that people in this society don’t say every day. And we are also committed, as the Secretary said, in this year, to doing the first-ever universal periodic review report to the UN Human Rights Council. We’re not doing that in a formulaic way; we’re doing these sessions – public sessions where we’re inviting in advocacy groups around the country. We had one in New Orleans. We had one in New York. We had one here in Washington. We’re going to spread out on the border areas. We’re going to go to Detroit. We’re going to talk to people in this society who are on the front line of criticizing, whether it’s the criminal justice system or immigration policies or national security policies – no holds barred. We’re going to hear them. We’re going to incorporate their thoughts and suggestions into a report to the UN. And then we’re going to show up at the end of year and present that report and get comments from other countries.
So our view is: Let’s have an open discussion. We’re leading in some ways with this report but, by all means, others should feel free to say what they want about us.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you could say a few words about the human rights situation in Germany, especially in light of the recent case where a German family was granted political asylum in the States because they wanted to homeschool their children and they couldn’t in Germany. And I think it struck a lot of German people as quite strange that people had to flee Germany and have political asylum in the States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going to take that question. I’m not familiar with that case. I will say we are – obviously have a strong relationship with Germany and there are lots of things in the German legal and constitutional system that are strong, but there are issues like the one you describe, like the issues of discrimination that I describe. But I’d want to come back to you on that particular case because I don’t know.
QUESTION: Any concern about Sudan in light of the upcoming of election?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Will everybody just identify yourselves, just so I know –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with BBC Arabic.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Okay.
QUESTION: In light of the upcoming election in Sudan, so many countries they have complained that their (inaudible) to launch their campaign. And do you have any concern about that and how that might affect the upcoming election to be free and opened?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: In Sudan?
QUESTION: Sudan, yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, as the report outlines, we have a range of very serious concerns about Sudan not only in Darfur, but also the South. And it’s a very restrictive political environment, very restrictive environment in a range of ways in terms of openness of media, ability of people to organize. So those are the things we’re going to watch closely. But it’s a place – it’s a country that’s been in crisis for a long time, and we continue to pay a great deal of attention. General Gration is there now, I think. But there’s a great deal of attention to that election and making sure, to the extent possible, people are able to speak freely and organize and participate in a way that will make it meaningful.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. (Inaudible) Spanish Public Radio station. How would you characterize the situation over there? Have you detected any change in the last year in the Spanish government using different ways of dealing with the separatist people up in the Basque country or any other problem that you can mention?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would just refer you to the report. I don’t really have anything to add on that.
QUESTION: None – everything – anything on the situation in Spain in general?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Nothing to add to what’s in the report, really.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Warren Strobel with McClatchy newspapers. The Afghan has apparently just enacted a law that would provide retroactive immunity for all members of parliament for human rights abuses that took place before December of 2001. Of course, some of these members of parliaments are warlords. Human Rights Watch is calling for the repeal of this law. Do you see this as a setback for human rights in Afghanistan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: There are a number of developments in Afghanistan that are of concern, some of which are reflected in the report that occurred in 2009 and other things that are ongoing. We’re certainly watching – we’re certainly studying that law that you describe, but also the fact that the new electoral law raises questions about the September election, the fact that the Electoral Commissioner – Complaints Commission has now been skewed in favor of people that are close to President Karzai. There are real subjects here for ongoing concern.
Look, Afghanistan’s in the middle of a violent conflict. It creates all sorts of tensions, but it is this report and our ongoing advocacy and diplomacy in Afghanistan is very much focused on making sure that the country begins to move in the direction of more democratic rights, respecting policies and actions.
QUESTION: Yes. (Inaudible) from (inaudible) Egyptian newspaper. You mention Egypt as – criticizes Egypt in the record of human rights. I actually want to ask you what the Obama’s Administration have has done towards addressing this issue with Egypt as Bush Administration have a lot of pressure on Mubarak’s regime to address democracy and human rights? And as a result of this pressure, Egypt done so many positive steps like the election – the presidential election, the human rights constitution. And there is nothing done between Obama’s Administration and Egypt till now.
And one other issue is eliminating the budget to the human rights organization in Egypt. Why is that? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I – a couple of things. On the situation in Egypt, as the report outlines in quite a bit of detail, we’re concerned about a range of problems: treatment of prisoners, restrictions on nongovernmental organizations, organizations aren’t allowed to register – as you described, the government has put constraints on foreign funding, including from our own AID programs – grave restrictions on the political process.
I was in Egypt in January and met Ayman Nour. I talked to opposition political leaders and they have a range of constraints. We’re also very concerned about the Nag Hammadi killings on Christmas Eve. Seven people, as you know, Coptic Christians were killed in front of a church. The government has arrested three people, but they’re being tried in an emergency – using the emergency law. We have real concerns about the emergency law and the continued use of that. There’s – a government representative said to me, “We’re thinking of repealing it.” If they’re now using it in new cases, I worry that they’re not going to repeal it, it’s going to continue.
When I was there, I met with a number of government officials as well as NGOs, a range of people on the outside, I held a press conference. We are pushing. I think it’s fair to say that it is a country of – where there is a great concern about a range of human rights issues, and we’re going to continue to raise those issues publicly and privately. So I think there’s maybe more going on than you’re seeing.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Turkish service. The report talks about they are going to continue investigation and the arrests of military and journalists in Turkey. Recently, I think, 250 people were arrested. Are you – let me ask you this way, is it a concern with regards to human rights in Turkey, according to you? And what are you going to say about the government officials and state bureaucrats affecting the independent judiciary system in Turkey, because the report talks about that as well?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, we are, obviously, concerned that judicial institutions remain independent and strong, and that’s the starting point for us. There are internal issues in Turkey of how to deal with what are perceived to be threats to the government. But we’re – our main concern and our main diplomatic efforts are making sure that there’s a proper process used in dealing with those cases.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from VOA. And could you elaborate the U.S. Government’s concern on the human rights in North Korea and also on the North Korean refugees in China and other countries. And secondly I also want to ask you, last year North Korea conducted nuclear test and missile test and they also discouraged reform but failed. So I also want to ask you, all these political situations brought many setback in the human rights situation, too? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah. One of the important things in this report is that we focus on the human rights situation. There are a range of concerns the U.S. Government has respecting North Korea and the nuclear capability and all that. But we are, in this report, focused on North Korea as a country that has a very poor human rights record, has for a long time. It’s an incredibly closed society, total intolerance of dissent, lots of prisoners in very poor conditions, very little room for people to even get information. It’s probably one of the most closed societies in the world. So across the board, I would say it’s – the conditions are poor, they’re not getting better, and we continue to be very mindful of the plight of the North Korean people in – living in that circumstance.
MR. DUGUID: Let’s take one or two more and we’ll wrap up.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: If I can just add – if nobody has something, I just – I mentioned China, but I want to make a point of mentioning two cases that are important to us. They’re in the report but I want to highlight them.
One is the case of Liu Xiaobo, who was found guilty in December of subverting state power, sentenced to 11 years. His crime is that he helped write a petition, called Charter 08, which is basically a petition calling for an expansion of human rights and democracy. This is a case of particular concern to us.
The second is a case of a human rights lawyer called Gao Zhisheng, who was picked up by the police. He is thought to be in detention, though his family doesn’t know where he is. And again, I mentioned it earlier, but it is for us one of the trends that we see in China that we’re paying a lot of attention to. In the last several years, more public interest, human rights, environmental lawyers have been taking cases. Law clinics and elsewhere are springing up. There seems to be a real crackdown. And there are also greater restrictions on NGOs. And we learned today that there’s also a new press certification system in place which is going to give Chinese journalists training in Marxist news theories. So there is a sense that the space is actually closing for those, whether they’re journalists, lawyers, or NGO activists.
MR. DUGUID: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you all.
Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I find it hard to believe that a year has already passed since I assumed leadership of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Before another year rushes by, I wanted to take just a moment of your time to thank you for all the valuable insight, guidance, and feedback I have received over these months, and to offer you a quick update on some of the Bureau’s most recent activities.
Dominating that category in recent weeks has of course been the continuing international response to the tragedy in Haiti. At the end of March, Secretary Clinton co-hosted an International Donors’ Conference at UN Headquarters to focus attention on the resources needed for Haiti’s long-term recovery and reconstruction. The conference, which featured the participation of Haitian President René Préval and the UN Secretary-General, resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of global support, to the tune of nearly $10 billion in pledges.
I was profoundly affected by the scene in New York, where representatives from the widest spectrum of nations stood shoulder to shoulder with the Haitian people. Maintaining that degree of support in the coming years will be crucial, as will ensuring that pledged support is applied in the most effective, coordinated, and transparent manner possible.
The IO Bureau will play an important and ongoing role in the U.S. response to the crisis in Haiti by working closely with the United Nations and other international organizations engaged there, and I would of course welcome your thoughts as that effort unfolds.
You are also well aware that the IO Bureau plays a leading role in U.S. participation on the UN Human Rights Council. We’ve been a member of the Council for less than a year, but have nonetheless worked with great energy to promote a vision of the Council as a more credible and effective force on behalf of human rights. In assuming a seat on the Council, we understood that political and institutional dynamics would pose considerable challenges to realizing that vision.
I am pleased to report, however, that the most recent session of the Council, which ended just a few weeks ago, resulted in significant, though incremental, accomplishments toward that objective. Of particular note in that regard was our effort to steer the Council toward a more productive approach in combating issues of racial and religious intolerance.
As you are already well-aware, there has been a deeply troubling effort at the UN in recent years in support of banning speech that might prove offensive to religious groups. While we share concerns about racial and religious understanding, such an approach is unlikely to be effective and would impose unwarranted infringements on freedom of speech.
In an effort to begin redirecting this energy toward more constructive paths, the United States was vocal on this issue at the Council and in capitals around the world. The result of that effort was a significant shift of support away from the annual resolution on defamation – a trend we will strive to extend and strengthen in the coming months.
This and other successes were the product of a concerted effort by the United States, an effort immeasurably strengthened by the arrival in Geneva of our Chief of Mission, Ambassador Betty King, and U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe.
Finally, just a quick note on a recent event that I believe captures the true essence of the President’s “Era of Engagement.” A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to join the U.S. delegation to UN-Habitat’s 5th World Urban Forum (WUF). The U.S. and Brazil co-chaired the Forum, which focused on the urgent importance of addressing the impacts of rapid global urbanization.
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities, most of them in the developing world. This fact could have very real implications for U.S. national security, and certainly will have implications for the global economy and the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
As the United States addresses the domestic phenomenon of growing urbanization — with issues as varied as affordable housing, water and sanitation, and mass transportation — we must concurrently seek means of addressing similar phenomena across the globe.
Once again, my sincerest appreciation to all for your interest in and commitment to multilateral engagement and foreign affairs. I look forward to sending you occasional updates in this format as a means of keeping you abreast of the Bureau’s activities. I would also encourage you to register for our IO Summaries, which capture major IO activities, UN actions of note, public statements, and more.
As always, I welcome your comments and feedback to the IO Mailbox.
With Highest Regards,
On November 5, 2010, a senior U.S. delegation will make a formal presentation of the U.S. Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The delegation will be led by Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs; Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State; and Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
The delegation will also include representatives from the Department of Justice and other U.S. Government agencies.
The Universal Periodic Review was established by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as a process through which the human rights records of each of the UN’s 192 Member States are reviewed and assessed once every four years. All UN Member States are subject to this process. This is the first such review for the United States.
The U.S. report covers the nation’s human rights record on such important freedoms as the freedoms of speech, of association, and of belief. It also examines a range of challenges, including issues of discrimination and topics related to civil liberties in the context of national security. The U.S. report was developed in consultation with a host of U.S. civil society actors and organizations.
Subsequent to the formal presentation, the U.S. delegation will host a first-of-its-kind town hall meeting with U.S. and international civil society leaders to discuss further the U.S. report. This meeting will extend the U.S. effort to promote transparency, open dialogue, and inclusion.
To read the U.S. UPR report, or learn more about the process, please visit: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/upr/index.htm