Statement by the U.S. Delegation at Informal Session on Article XI-Situations of Risk and Humanitarian Circumstances
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The United States is pleased that one of the sessions during this year’s Conference of States Parties is devoted to Article 11′s critical focus on the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies, and natural disasters. This Article in the Convention is particularly important because it addresses necessary measures that States Parties must take in unexpected, exigent, life-and-death situations to ensure that individuals with disabilities are safe and protected. Governments across the globe are uniquely situated and have a solemn responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of their citizens in situations of risk.
The United States has a strong commitment to preparing for and responding to these situations to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities. Just last month at a celebration at the White House of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Barack Obama specifically recognized the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal governmental efforts to transform the way the United States’ emergency management community thinks about, plans for, responds to, and ensures persons with disabilities are protected and safe in emergency situations.
Our Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties leads the effort for the United States’ inter-agency cooperation and coordination to ensure that the federal government appropriately supports safety and security for individuals with disabilities in all-hazard, emergency and disaster situations. This effort involves the combined and concerted effort of more than twenty United States federal agencies involved in a wide array of national and international emergency situations. These federal agencies work together to ensure that the perspectives and needs of persons with disabilities are incorporated into emergency preparedness plans, and that barriers to their equal access to go governmental programs are removed. In addition, our Department of Health and Human Services oversees the United States’ Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act, which requires the development of plans and strategies that address the needs of at-risk individuals, including those with disabilities, so that emergency planners, managers, and responders will be better prepared for and respond to the needs of at-risk individuals prior to and following a catastrophic event and public health emergencies.
Our state and local governments also play a critical role, as do national and community-based organizations. The federal government partners in these efforts and our Justice Department has issued extensive guidance and practical tools to assist them in developing accessible shelters and emergency response procedures that meet the needs of persons with disabilities.
In sum, the United States takes seriously its international and domestic law obligations to protect all individuals with disabilities and to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk. We look forward to learning about and learning from the active efforts that other States Parties and signatories are taking.
Thank you Bob, for that kind introduction. It is an honor to be here today with all of you to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, and to reflect on the challenges and opportunities ahead. I’d like to thank Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) and the Office of Civil Rights for organizing this important event, and for inviting me to participate.
I know you all join me in recognizing Secretary Clinton for her inspiring words, and for her unparalleled leadership and principled advocacy on behalf of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) individuals throughout the world, starting here at the Department of State. And we could not have a better ally at USAID than Administrator Raj Shah.
Let me just echo what you’ve already heard this morning: protecting the rights of LGBT persons around the world is a priority for the Obama administration. We will continue to stand against persecution and other violations of human rights against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, anywhere in the world.
For the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), this means identifying and addressing protection challenges for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. We know that in some countries, people are threatened, tortured and even killed for their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for not conforming to social and cultural norms about how men and women should behave, dress, or speak. LGBT individuals who have fled their own countries may continue to face serious threats in countries of asylum, where they may be isolated and reluctant to seek help.
This is a problem that demands a response. Our Bureau will continue to engage with both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organization partners to strengthen our collaboration on behalf of vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
We have raised this issue with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at both senior and working levels and will continue to do so. UNHCR’s 2008 Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is an important foundation for enhancing protection for those facing persecution or threats based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. UNHCR must ensure that the Guidance Note is thoroughly understood and implemented by UNHCR personnel worldwide.
This Administration has a strong interest in UNHCR leadership taking effective actions to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. And with our encouragement and support, UNHCR is planning a number of new internal initiatives linked to refugee status determination and resettlement procedures that will focus on identifying protection concerns related to sexual orientation or gender identity. UNHCR will continue training of their staff on these issues, and work with NGOs to clarify the roles and responsibilities for everyone involved through all stages of a refugee situation.
UNHCR is also drafting a revised version of its resettlement handbook that will address these issues. We will remain engaged with UNHCR on these and related efforts, including an upcoming UNHCR-hosted workshop on LGBT refugees.
We have also worked to improve the speed with which we process all highly vulnerable refugee resettlement cases, and the Department will continue to coordinate with our U.S. government, international organization, and NGO partners to ensure these cases are processed as quickly as possible, and that vulnerable individuals, including LGBT persons, are afforded necessary protections.
Earlier this month, PRM hosted a meeting with NGO representatives to exchange information and ideas for enhancing protection for vulnerable LGBT refugees. We will establish a working group to further develop recommendations from that meeting, including on issues related to expedited resettlement to the U.S. and protection challenges overseas. The working group will include NGO representatives, PRM staff, and other U.S. government offices involved in refugee protection and assistance. We look forward to continuing our positive collaboration with members of the NGO community, many of whom I see here today.
We will also continue our efforts to mainstream broader gender issues into our programming in humanitarian settings and in our institutional relationships with international organization and NGO partners. This means assessing the impact of programs we fund on women and girls, and men and boys, and promoting inclusion. It also means enhancing our work to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including violence directed at individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This violence is often rooted in destructive notions of how men and women should behave and interact, and we cannot make progress towards achieving gender equality without addressing these fundamental problems.
As Secretary Clinton noted this morning, this is a battle not yet won, but one well worth fighting. Today, we acknowledge those who risk their lives to speak out, and those who advocate tirelessly at home and abroad, for basic principles of equality, justice, and tolerance.
I look forward to working on these challenges with my colleagues in the Administration, and with many of you here, in the coming months.
And I hope that by next June, we have even more to celebrate. Thank you.
I want to thank the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine for hosting today’s event and for inviting me to participate. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the challenges faced by children caught in conflict and to share what the U.S. Government, and in particular the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), is doing to protect and assist populations that are affected by conflict around the world.
In the coming days, this conference will review global trends and the latest thinking about the mental health of children who have been affected by armed conflict, including sessions focusing on trauma, resilience, child soldiers, and rehabilitative and psychosocial support. During my time in the State Department and at PRM, I have seen how war deeply affects children. The topics on your agenda are all critical areas of discussion that will further our common understanding of how the international community can work together to more effectively respond to the mental health and psychosocial needs of conflict affected children.
In doing so, we face many troubling challenges. Though children share many of the same protection problems as adults , they also have special protection needs, including against sexual and physical abuse and exploitation, separation from families, deprivation of education, forcible recruitment by armed groups, as well as protection against discrimination in the delivery of goods and services. Children are targeted by combatants and armed elements in conflict situations. They also face great risk of physical and sexual violence during displacement, and for each child killed or injured by physical violence, gunfire, or landmines, many more children are deprived of their basic needs. Gender-based violence, including the exploitation of women and children (and to a lesser extent men), continues to be a feature of virtually all recent armed conflicts. Sadly, sexual exploitation and abuse of children by the very peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers responsible for protecting them, continues to take place during humanitarian emergencies despite recent political commitments by governments and international organizations to tackle this problem.
Thanks to the work of academics, researchers, and humanitarians, we now know more about the lives and needs of children who have lived through conflict than ever before. For example, we are now much more aware that children are extremely vulnerable to forcible recruitment as combatants in conflict situations. The gravest cases, such as in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, involve national armies or guerilla groups deliberately pursuing a program of enlisting children to commit atrocities. After overrunning a village, for instance, a military or paramilitary group may abduct a child from his family. The group then instructs the child to kill, rape or maim someone in the community in order to sever that child’s natural ties to family and neighbors and replace this with a bond to the military force or armed group. The tragic abduction and coercion to servitude and violence of Ishmael Beah from Sierra Leone, is now well known around the world because of his incredible bravery and resilience. His story provides us with a case study of the effective brutalization of a child into a state of numbness, in which that child is capable of committing horrible crimes, in this case on behalf of the Revolutionary United Front. The Khmer Rouge used equally harsh techniques to create merciless young soldiers.
Slightly less severe, but also reprehensible, is the practice of exploiting children as unpaid laborers. In Burma, for instance, children are taken away from their families and forced to be porters for the Burmese military. These children are often from minority ethnic groups that are deemed inferior by the majority Burmese military. As porters, they are required to walk in areas littered with landmines, and are often killed or severely injured as a result.
You may have noticed that so far today I have only used masculine pronouns, but girls are also enlisted in conflict as combatants and porters, by both government and rebel groups. It’s widely known that in Uganda and parts of Sudan, the Lord’s Resistance Army drafts girls as sex slaves, cooks and servants – heinous practices that have persisted in that area for almost two decades. This trend is not limited to rebel groups, of course, and government forces are regularly responsible for such recruitment and exploitation as well.
Working to put an end to the abuse of the world’s most vulnerable is difficult enough, but perhaps even more challenging is the topic of your conference – the rehabilitation and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict. Given the wide scale of conflict throughout the world and the various ways that children can be implicated and abused, the international community often struggles to meet the needs of children after conflict has ended. Ideally, once peace has been attained, children and adolescents should be able to return home to be productive members of their communities and countries; after all, children represent the future of every nation. In addition to political reconciliation and economic development, promoting the mental health and well-being of the next generation is critical to reconciliation, consolidation of peace, and the transition of war torn societies from recipients of relief assistance to partners in the sustainable development of their countries. Failure to address the mental health needs of all children, particularly ex-child soldiers, could in many cases lead to either a return to war down the road, or result in other social ills, such as increased levels of violence and insecurity through the prevalence of gang activity and crime, as we have seen in Liberia.
The United States has been and continues to be a leader in protecting and assisting children affected by conflict, both by promoting humanitarian principles with partner governments and through our engagement with and financial contributions to international and non-governmental humanitarian organizations. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made statements prioritizing children’s issues in U.S. foreign policy, and there are many government actors, including Congress, the Department of State, USAID, and others that are engaged in preventing and responding to these challenges.
Within the Department of State, PRM works to protect, assist, and seek sustainable solutions for the most vulnerable populations around the world – including refugees, conflict victims, stateless persons, and vulnerable migrants. In 2009, this was over 42 million people – the majority of whom are women and children. PRM promotes its goals through the inclusion of humanitarian priorities in diplomatic exchanges , through advocacy, and by providing financial support to international and non-governmental humanitarian responders. PRM also has the primary responsibility within the U.S. government for international population policy, including advocating for international child and maternal health initiatives. In FY 2009, PRM provided over $1.7 billion to international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) toward this end. In fact, the United States, through PRM, is the largest bilateral donor to international partners.
Together, we are particularly engaged in:
· the legal, physical, and social protection of children, including unaccompanied or separated children;
· expanding the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in all its forms, and promoting psychosocial programming that directly targets children as well as adults;
· working to prevent children from becoming soldiers and providing rehabilitation for those who have been recruited or detained.
PRM works through international partners such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other international agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide protection for children who are vulnerable to forcible recruitment into armed conflict, as well as to rehabilitate children who have been, literally and figuratively, through the war. PRM contributions to UNHCR and UNICEF makes programs possible in places like Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan for displaced children that focus on physical protection, education, health, and gender-based violence. PRM insists on the broadest possible implementation of UNHCR’s Guidelines on the Protection and Care of Refugee Children in international organizations working with refugees, their implementing partners, and USG-funded organizations. PRM also worked with UNHCR to develop and roll out its best-interest determination process for unaccompanied minors, and supports UNHCR’s five priorities for refugee children: education, prevention and response to sexual exploitation and abuse, separation from families and caregivers, military recruitment, and special needs of adolescents.
PRM’s contributions to the International Committee of the Red Cross allow it to play an important, even unique role in organizing training courses for the armed forces, police and weapon bearers to promote knowledge of international humanitarian law and other fundamental standards. ICRC regularly reminds armed groups and government authorities and forces of the ban on the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as other obligations. ICRC has been able to secure the demobilization of many children, especially in Asia and Africa. For these demobilized children, ICRC does its utmost to trace family and facilitate family reunification -IF the security situation allows and IF it is in the child’s best interest.
In addition, PRM’s funding also supports the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which resettled over 74,000 refugees to the United States in FY 2009, including many families and hundreds of unaccompanied refugee minors. Though resettlement is not a perfect solution, and is not available in all situations, it significantly improves the physical and legal protections of children affected by conflict who have access to the program.
PRM also partners with NGOs and international organizations to provide specialized programming for children and adolescents. In recent years this programming has included school rehabilitation, education, psychosocial care, youth groups, livelihoods training, health programming, and other activities. PRM is also working with NGO partners to implement an action plan on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiary populations in order to increase the accountability of our partners and support their commitment to this important issue. PRM expects its partners to comply with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. This handbook is a very useful tool for ensuring a minimum set of multi-sectoral responses to protect and improve the mental health and psychosocial well being of children and other conflict affected populations.
More broadly, the U.S. continues to view the use of child soldiers as intolerable, and the Department addresses the issue frequently, in its annual human rights reports and in various multilateral fora. Our goal is to see the use of children in armed conflict become the exception in all situations, and never the rule. At our embassies in Sri Lanka, throughout Central Africa and in other regions where children are often pulled into war, we monitor the situation and urge governments to prevent the conscription of children. It is easier, of course, to shame other governments into doing the right thing than to convince rebel groups, who usually have far less to lose. But increasing the social sanction worldwide against the use of children in armed conflict is an important step toward reducing the problem. Recently we began referring to child soldiers as another type of child laborer – indeed one of the very worst forms. As countries worldwide realize the need for investing, protecting and caring for their youth, we hope that this will reduce the frequency with which children are drafted into battle.
We know child soldiers can be rehabilitated successfully and the US government has funded many initiatives to reintegrate former child soldiers. Societies emerging from violent conflict need stability, and diminishing the threat of armed, disenfranchised youth is essential. Last year the Department of Labor funded programs in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that successfully reintegrated child soldiers through educational and vocational programs. And in Liberia, USAID conducted an assessment of the needs of child soldiers and women combatants. They have begun a labor-intensive public works program to provide education, skills and employment to ex-combatants and other war affected groups.
Landmines and unexploded munitions can also continue to pose a serious humanitarian risk to communities long after conflicts end. Since 1993, the United States has been the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, providing more than $1.5 billion in aid to 47 countries toward efforts by partner nations and more than 60 NGOs working on the ground from Iraq and Afghanistan to Angola, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and beyond. My colleagues in State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs work closely with the Department of Defense, USAID, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in this effort to support land surveys and clearance operations, educate children and families about mine risks in their communities, and fund medical assistance, rehabilitation and other services for victims of landmine injuries and their families, among other services.
While acknowledging the progress that has been made, we still have much more to do, which is why conferences like this gathering are so critical to advancing our understanding of both the challenges we face and how, working together, we can improve our programs, policies, and engagement. While our ultimate goal will continue to be the prevention of conflict and protection of children, one of our most daunting current challenges continues to be the rehabilitation and reintegration of children affected by conflict so that countries can successfully transition to development without relapsing into violence. PRM is keenly interested in hearing about any outcomes or recommendations from your meetings. I thank you for your efforts, and wish you a very productive conference.
The deep commitment of the United States to championing the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is driven by the founding values of our nation and the conviction that international peace, security, and prosperity are strengthened when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and protected. As the United States seeks to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world, we do so cognizant of our own commitment to live up to our ideals at home and to meet our international human rights obligations. We therefore make the following pledges:
COMMITMENT TO ADVANCING HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE UN SYSTEM
- The United States commits to continuing its efforts in the UN system to be a strong advocate for all peo-ple around the world who suffer from abuse and op-pression, and to be a stalwart defender of courageous individuals across the globe who work, often at great personal risk, on behalf of the rights of others.
- The United States commits to working with princi-pled determination for a balanced, credible, and effec-tive UN Human Rights Council to advance the purpose of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To that same end, in partnership with the international commu-nity, we fully intend to promote universality, transpar-ency, and objectivity in all of the Council’s endeavors. The United States commits to participating fully in the Universal Periodic Review process and looks forward to the review in 2010 of its own record in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental free-doms in the United States.
- The United States is committed to advancing the promotion and protection of human rights and funda-mental freedoms in the UN General Assembly and Third Committee, and in this vein intends to actively participate in the UN General Assembly 2010 review of the Human Rights Council.
- The United States is also committed to the promo-tion and protection of human rights through regional organizations. Through our membership in the Organi-zation of Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States, the United States commits to continuing efforts to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to strengthening and developing institutions and mechanisms for their pro-tection. In particular recognition of its human rights commitments within the Inter-American system, the United States strongly supports the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
- The United States recognizes and upholds the vital role of civil society and human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights and commits to promoting the effective involvement of non-governmental organizations in the work of the United Nations, including the Council, and other international organizations.
- As part of our commitment to the principle of univer-sality of human rights, the United States commits to working with our international partners in the spirit of openness, consultation, and respect and reaffirms that expressions of concern about the human rights situa-tion in any country, our own included, are appropriate matters for international discussion.
COMMITMENT TO CONTINUE TO SUPPORT TO HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVITIES IN THE UN SYSTEM
- The United States is committed to continuing its support for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In 2009, the United States intends to pledge $8 million to the OHCHR and its efforts to ad-dress violations of human rights worldwide, as well as an additional $1.4 million to the UN Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, and more than $7 million to other funds.
- The United States is also committed to continuing its support of other UN bodies whose work contributes to the promotion of human rights. In 2008-2009, the United States has contributed funding to support hu-man rights efforts such as through UNICEF ($130 mil-lion), UNDEF ($7.9 million), and UNIFEM ($4.5 million). The United States also supports the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and is providing $50 million for the 2009 fiscal year as provided in the 2009 Omnibus Ap-propriations Act.
COMMITMENT TO ADVANCING HUMAN RIGHTS, FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS AND HUMAN DIG-NITY AND PROSPERITY INTERNATIONALLY
- The United States commits to continue supporting states in their implementation of human rights obliga-tions, as appropriate, through human rights dialogue, exchange of experts, technical and inter-regional coop-eration, and programmatic support of the work of non-governmental organization.
- The United States commits to continue its efforts to strengthen mechanisms in the international system to advance the rights, protection, and empowerment of women through, for example, supporting the full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 on Women, Peace and Security, and all rele-vant General Assembly Resolutions, particularly 61/143 and 63/155, on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women; sup-porting the work of the UN Commission on the Status of Women; and supporting the work of the Inter-American Commission on Women.
- The United States commits to continuing to promote respect for workers rights worldwide, including by working with other governments and the Interna-tional Labor Organization to adopt and enforce regulations and laws to promote respect for internationally recog-nized worker rights and by providing funding for tech-nical assistance projects to build the capacity of worker organizations, employers, and governments to address labor issues including forced labor and the worst forms of child labor, such as child soldiering, workplace discrimination, and sweatshop and exploitative working conditions.
- The United States commits to continuing to advo-cate a victim-centered and multi-disciplinary ap-proach to combating all forms of trafficking in per-sons and to restoring the dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms of human trafficking victims.
- The United States commits to continuing to pro-mote freedom of religion for individuals of all beliefs, particularly members of minority and vulnerable reli-gious groups, through dedicated outreach, advocacy, training and programmatic efforts.
- The United States is committed to continuing to promote human rights in the fight against HIV/AIDS in a variety of ways, including through promoting the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, fighting against stigma and discrimination, and supporting women’s rights. The United States is committed to preventing suffering and saving lives by confronting global health challenges through improving the quality, availability, and use of essential health services.
- The United States is committed to continuing its leadership role in promoting voluntary corporate so-cial responsibility and business and human rights initiatives globally. The United States intends to con-vene government, civil society and business stake-holders to seek joint solutions on business and hu-man rights, and to serve as an active participant in key multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Volun-tary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
- Recognizing the essential contributions of inde-pendent media in promoting the fundamental freedom of expression, exposing human rights abuses and promoting accountability and transparency in governance, the United States commits to continuing to champion freedom of expression and to promote media freedom and the protection of journalists worldwide.
- We are dedicated to combating both overt and subtle forms of racism and discrimination internation-ally. The United States is party to the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and is committed to seeing the goals of this covenant fully realized. Particular emphasis should be placed not only on eliminating any remain-ing legal barriers to equality, but also on confronting the reality of continuing discrimination and inequality within institutions and societies.
COMMITMENT TO ADVANCING HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS IN THE UNITED STATES
- The United States executive branch is committed to working with its legislative branch to consider the possible ratification of human rights treaties, includ-ing but not limited to the Convention on the Elimina-tion of Discrimination Against Women and ILO Con-vention 111 Concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation.
- The United States is committed to meeting its UN treaty obligations and participating in a meaningful dialogue with treaty body members.
- The United States is committed to cooperating with the UN’s human rights mechanisms, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other regional human rights bodies, by respond-ing to inquiries, engaging in dialogues, and hosting visits.
- The United States is also strongly committed to fighting racism and discrimination, and acts of vio-lence committed because of racial or ethnic hatred. Despite the achievements of the civil rights move-ment and many years of striving to achieve equal rights for all, racism still exists in our country and we continue to fight it.
- The United States is committed to continuing to promote human prosperity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons within the United States, including enforcement of the Ameri-cans with Disabilities Act and its amendments, en-gaging religious and community leaders to uphold religious freedom and pluralism, and encouraging the private sector to serve as good corporate citizens both in the United States and overseas.