News Archives

Deputy Spokesperson Toner on the Interim Report of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran

We welcome the first interim report by the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, and take note of his assessment regarding the Iranian government’s “pattern of systemic violation” of its citizens’ rights. The UN Secretary General’s report on Iran’s human rights situation also described an “intensified” campaign of abuses.

Under international law and its own constitution, Iran has committed to protect and defend the rights of its people, but officials continue to stifle all forms of dissent, persecute religious and ethnic minorities, harass and intimidate human rights defenders, and engage in the torture of detainees.

Iran’s brutal repression continues unabated despite repeated international condemnation and increasing isolation: opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, now entering their ninth month under house arrest without charges, are being held virtually incommunicado, while journalists and student activists are targeted for their “anti-regime” activities. Dr. Shaheed and the Secretary General both expressed alarm over the growing use of the death penalty for minor crimes, against minors and without due process.

We are particularly concerned that Iran has ignored its UN obligations and refused to cooperate with Dr. Shaheed. We call upon Iran’s government to allow the Special Rapporteur immediate access to the country.

We note that Iran has refused entry for any UN Special Rapporteur since 2005 in a blatant attempt to prevent the world from bearing witness to the abuses against its own people.

The United States stands by the Iranian people, who wish nothing more than to make their voices heard and hold their government accountable for its actions. We call upon the international community to use the occasion of these reports to redouble its condemnation of Iran’s disgraceful abuse of the human rights of all its citizens and demand a change.


Ambassador Efird on the Rule of Law, part II: Capital Punishment;Prevention of Torture; and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 5)

L to R, Amb. Cynthia Efird, Amb. Ian Kelly, Amb. Suzan Johnson Cook, Amb. David Johnson and DAS Thomas Melia, Sept. 26, 2011. Photo by USOSCE/Colin Peters.

L to R, Amb. Cynthia Efird, Amb. Ian Kelly, Amb. Suzan Johnson Cook, Amb. David Johnson and DAS Thomas Melia, Sept. 26, 2011. Photo by USOSCE/Colin Peters.

The prohibition against torture is a fundamental precept of international law and a core OSCE commitment to which all participating states must adhere. The U.S. government’s human rights reports, which compile and assess information on the human rights conditions in 194 countries, speak to our belief that it is imperative for countries, including our own, to ensure that respect for human rights is an integral component of foreign policy. Other governments, individuals, and organizations use the human rights reports as essential sources of information about conditions in countries around the world.

In our own country, President Obama has affirmed the importance of defending U.S. national security “with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.” During his second full day in office, President Obama ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. policy respecting the detention, trial, transfer, release, or other disposition of detained apprehended in armed conflict or counter-terrorism operations; ordered the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the review of the appropriate disposition options for detainees held there consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security interests and the interests of justice; and ordered a review of U.S. interrogation practices to ensure the humane treatment of detainees and compliance with U.S. treaty obligations and domestic law. He instructed the CIA to close any detention facilities that it operated as expeditiously as possible and ordered the CIA not to operate any detention facilities in the future.

President Obama has since continued to implement the U.S. commitment to upholding the rule of law, including through measures related to notice of and timely access for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to any individual detained in any armed conflict in the custody or under the effective control of the U.S. Government, consistent with Department of Defense regulations and policies; ensuring the humane treatment of all persons in U.S. custody; and the expansion of the review procedures for detainees held by the Department of Defense in Afghanistan in order to ensure that we do not detain anyone longer than necessary to mitigate the threat posed. The Administration also remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. While that commitment has not waivered, the task has proven enormously complex. President Obama cannot close Guantanamo alone; that also involves our allies, the courts and our Congress. Our intensive efforts to close the facility continue every day. We are grateful to those countries, including those around this table, which have helped by accepting detainees for resettlement.

Moreover, as President Obama recently reaffirmed in commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, “under no circumstances is torture ever justified.” As he stated on that occasion, “Torture and abusive treatment violate our most deeply held values, and they do not enhance our national security – they undermine it by serving as a recruiting tool for terrorists and further endangering the lives of U.S. personnel.” The United States does not permit its personnel to engage in acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of people in its custody, either within or outside U.S. territory, and President Obama has “made it clear that the United States will prohibit torture without exception or equivocation.”

Capital punishment in the United States must be viewed within the context of U.S federalism, whereby States have broad powers to regulate their own general welfare, including enactment and enforcement of criminal laws. The death penalty is authorized by 34 States, the Federal Government, and the U.S. Armed Forces. There are currently 16 jurisdictions that do not authorize it. Authorization was repealed most recently in New Mexico in 2009 and in Illinois in 2011. Several states with legislation permitting the death penalty have not used it in the past 30 years. In a number of other states, although capital punishment remains on the books, it is rarely, if ever, imposed. Nine states that retain the death penalty, for example, have not conducted an execution in the last decade. Although New York has a capital statute, the highest state court held in 2007 that a portion of the law was unconstitutional. As a result, no defendants may be sentenced to death until the legislature corrects the deficiencies in this statute.

The United States is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which specifically recognizes the ability of countries to impose the death penalty for the most serious crimes, carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with appropriate safeguards and observance of due process. The U.S. judicial system provides an exhaustive system of protections to ensure that the death penalty is not applied in an extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary manner, and that its imposition does not constitute cruel or unusual punishment as prohibited by the United States Constitution, in keeping with our international obligations and OSCE commitments.


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

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Thank you, Madame President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Madame President.


Gross Violations of Human Rights Continue in Syria, Assad Regime Must Step Aside

Thank you, Madame President.

One month ago at the 17th Special Session of the Human Rights Council, the United States and other members of this body expressed our profound concern over the findings in the report of the Fact Finding Mission. We strongly condemned the serious, systematic and continuing human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, which unfortunately have intensified rather than abated since that time. The United States welcomes the prompt formation of the Commission of Inquiry mandated at the Special Session and strongly urges full cooperation by the Syrian government and all other member states.

The High Commissioner has noted that the Syrian government’s continued campaign of repression is now responsible for the deaths of over 2,600 of its own citizens. The body count rises on a daily basis. The Fact Finding Mission and international human rights observers, have found that the Syrian security and military forces are responsible for arbitrary executions and detentions, torture, and other abuse of detainees, including young children. The United States condems in the strongest possible terms the killing of Syrian human rights activist Ghiyath Mattar while in the custody of Syrian security forces. Ghiyath Mattar courageously confronted the regime’s despicable violence with peaceful protest, and he paid the ultimate price for his bravery.

Senior members of the Syrian regime who bear responsibility for safeguarding their people have betrayed that obligation. They must be accountable for the gross violations of human rights that continue. Again and again, Damascus has blamed armed insurgents for the harm causes to the thousands of citizens who have bled on the streets of Syria. Coming from a government that has denied access to independent observers, to international media, and to the experienced and objective investigators we have mandated here, these assertions have no credibility. It is time for the regime to stop trying to mask its atrocities with propaganda. The Assad regime must step aside and let Syria transition peacefully to a representative and inclusive democracy that supports and defends the universal rights of all Syrians.

President Assad’s public support for the campaign of brutal crackdowns shows that he is determined to hold on to power regardless of the price paid by his people. We call on the Syrian authorities to stop killing and torturing their people immediately, and to allow the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, international humanitarian agencies, and international media unrestricted access to report on the true conditions inside Syria.

The United States strongly affirms our unwavering support for the Syrian people. A legitimate government does not fear dissent, does not sow seeds of sectarianism, and does not rely on violence and intimidation to force a false dialogue. The United States stands with the Syrian people as they strive to determine their own destiny in a peaceful transition to a representative and inclusive government, and urges those who would hinder it to step aside.

Thank you.


Syria: Attack on Ali Farzat and Persecution of Activists

The Syrian government’s targeted, brutal attack on Ali Farzat, the most popular political cartoonist in the country and a long-time human rights advocate, is deplorable. The regime’s thugs focused their attention on Ferzat’s hands, beating them furiously and breaking one of them – a clear message that he should stop drawing. He was then reportedly dumped on the side of a road in Damascus, where passers-by stopped and took him to a Damascus hospital.

Many other moderate activists who oppose violence have been jailed for speaking out against the regime, including Walid al-Buni, Nawaf Basheer, Georges Sabra, Mohammed Ghaliyoun, and Abdullah al-Khalil. Some have been held for months incommunicado.

While making empty promises about dialogue with the Syrian people, the Assad regime continues to carry out brutal attacks against peaceful Syrians trying to exercise their universal right to free expression. We demand that the Assad regime immediately stop its campaign of terror through torture, illegal imprisonment, and murder.


Secretary Clinton on The Human Rights Council’s Special Session on Syria

I congratulate the Human Rights Council for its work to create an international independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and to make clear the world’s concern for the Syrian people. Today, the international community joined together to denounce the Syrian regime’s horrific violence. The United States worked closely with countries from every part of the world – more than 30 members of the Human Rights Council, including key Arab members — to establish this mandate.

The Commission of Inquiry will investigate all violations of international human rights law by Syrian Authorities and help the international community address the serious human rights abuses in Syria and ensure that those responsible are held to account.

There are credible reports that government forces in Syria have committed numerous gross human rights violations, including torture and summary executions in their crackdown against opposition members. The most recent attack by Syrian security forces on protesters in Homs is as deplorable as it is sadly representative of the Asad regime’s utter disregard for the Syrian people.

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the slaughter, arrest, and torture of peaceful protesters taking place in Syria. We continue to urge nations around the world to stand with the Syrian people in their demands for a government that represents the needs and will of its people and protects their universal rights. For the sake of the Syrian people, it is time for Asad to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves.


Ambassador Donahoe: The Syrian People cannot Wait

Thank you Madame President.

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

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

For the second time this year, we join a special session on the human rights situation in Syria to make clear the international community’s grave and growing concerns over the rapidly deteriorating situation there.

We condemn in the strongest terms, the ongoing slaughter and callous brutality unleashed by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.

The Syrian government’s abuses have been condemned by leaders in the region and from every region of the world. Increasingly, the international community is speaking with one voice to denounce the Syrian regime’s horrific violence.

The condemnation from Syria’s neighbors shows that the Assad regime is more isolated than ever.

Our message to the Syrian Government is clear: We will not turn a blind eye as you deliberately and ruthlessly imprison, torture, and kill your own citizens.

To the brave people of Syria who are demanding freedom and dignity, we send the message that the world stands by you, and we will not ignore your plight.

The human rights situation in Syria is extremely grave and deteriorating. The death toll continues to rise. Regime security forces continue to engage in house-to-house raids, mass arrests, and the torture of prisoners. We have heard multiple accounts from human rights groups of the Assad regime’s security forces interrogating and abusing detainees in large facilities such as stadiums and factories. There are also credible reports of detainees being tortured to death and of bodies returned to families bearing signs of torture.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict also reported this week of allegations that children have been tortured by security forces.

The United States deplores Assad’s campaign of ever-increasing brutality and terror against unarmed innocents, which may amount to crimes against humanity. The regime’s horrific actions – the systematic violence, the mass arrests, and the outright murder of civilians – show its disdain for the will of the Syrian people, and for the calls of the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, regional leaders and the international community to end the violence immediately.

Assad’s chosen course also defies the clear demands contained in the UN Security Council’s Presidential Statement. And the regime’s continued assault on civilians flies in the face of a commendable initiative by the Turkish government, which warned the Assad regime that it must halt its attacks on civilians immediately and unconditionally.

This is not the work of the fictional “armed gangs” invoked by Assad’s propagandists. The regime has made a conscious choice to continue to deploy security forces throughout the country to prevent demonstrations, to attack civilians, and to arrest activists and protesters on a massive scale. The Assad regime has no intention of ceasing its violent attacks against the Syrian people.

We welcome the recent report of the Syria Fact Finding Mission, called for at this Council’s April 29 Special Session. We also welcome the statements made by the Security Council, including the August 3 Presidential Statement. Today we must take firmer actions to halt the ongoing crackdown against the Syrian people. The United States supports the call for an international, transparent, independent and prompt investigation into alleged violations of international human rights law by Syrian authorities. And we will work with our partners so that those responsible for crimes will be held accountable, either through the courts of a democratic Syria or through international processes.

The Syrian people cannot wait. As President Obama said last week, “the time has come for President Assad to step aside… We recognize that it will take time for the Syrian people to achieve the justice they deserve. There will be more struggle and sacrifice. It is clear that President Assad believes that he can silence the voices of his people by resorting to the repressive tactics of the past. But he is wrong…It is time for the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, and we will continue to stand firmly on their side.”

Thank you.


Statement by the President on the Violence in Syria

I am appalled by the Syrian government’s use of violence and brutality against its own people. The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime. Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people. His use of torture, corruption and terror puts him on the wrong side of history and his people. Through his own actions, Bashar al-Assad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past, and that the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine its future. Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward. In the days ahead, the United States will continue to increase our pressure on the Syrian regime, and work with others around the world to isolate the Assad government and stand with the Syrian people.


U.S. Condemns Ongoing Violence in Syria

The United States condemns the ongoing violence in Syria, particularly the brutality practiced by the Syrian Government against its own citizens – peaceful protestors and bystanders alike. On July 23, the world witnessed the death of 12-year-old Talha Dalal, shot in the head by a Syrian police officer in Damascus on July 15. The behavior of Syria’s security forces, including other such barbaric shootings, wide-scale arrests of young men and boys, brutal torture, and other abuses of basic human rights, is reprehensible. President Asad must understand that he is not indispensible, and we believe he is the cause of Syria’s instability not the key to its stability. The regime should make no mistake that the world is watching, and those responsible will be held accountable for their crimes.

This violence will not suppress the legitimate demands of the Syrian people to exercise their rights and shape their own country’s future. Additionally, it is another clear sign that President Asad has lost legitimacy with the Syrian people, because he is unwilling to lead a democratic transition. The violence perpetrated against innocent civilians only contributes to instability, feeds sectarian tensions, and increases the Syrian people’s distrust and anger at their government.

The world is inspired by those in Syria who are demanding a better future through peaceful protests, and we underscore that resorting to force will not resolve the challenges Syria faces today or bring about a better future. We urge all Syrians to renounce violence and work together for a unified and democratic Syria free of violence or retaliation against any community among Syria’s diverse population.

We urge President Asad’s government to immediately halt its deadly actions against peaceful protesters, to release the many thousands of detainees, and to respect and act upon the clear demands of the Syrian people for a peaceful and democratic transition to democracy. This transition would be a positive step for Syria, the region, and the world.


Statement by the President on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

As we mark the anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture, I join people around the world in honoring the victims of torture, paying tribute to all those who are courageously working to eradicate these inhuman practices from our world, and reaffirming the commitment of the United States to achieving this important goal.

Generations of Americans have understood that torture is inconsistent with our values. Over two decades ago, President Reagan signed, and a bipartisan Senate coalition ratified this landmark document, which affirms the essential principle that under no circumstances is torture ever justified. Torture and abusive treatment violate our most deeply held values, and they do not enhance our national security – they undermine it by serving as a recruiting tool for terrorists and further endangering the lives of American personnel. Furthermore, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are ineffective at developing useful, accurate information. As President, I have therefore made it clear that the United States will prohibit torture without exception or equivocation, and I reaffirmed our commitment to the Convention’s tenets and our domestic laws.

As a nation that played a leading role in the effort to bring this treaty into force, the United States will remain a leader in the effort to end torture around the world and to address the needs of torture victims. We continue to support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and to provide funding for domestic and international programs that provide assistance and counseling for torture victims. We also remain dedicated to supporting the efforts of other nations, as well as international and nongovernmental organizations, to eradicate torture through human rights training for security forces, improving prison and detention conditions, and encouraging the development and enforcement of strong laws that outlaw this abhorrent practice.


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