The eighteenth session of the Human Rights Council came to an end in Geneva on September 30, 2011. This was the seventh regular session since the United States joined in September 2009. Though much work remains, in particular ending the Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel, U.S. engagement thus far has resulted in significant improvements to the Human Rights Council as a multilateral forum for promoting and protecting human rights. Accomplishments include groundbreaking resolutions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, preventing discrimination against women, LGBT human rights, religious tolerance, and the creation of monitoring mechanisms for Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Iran, and Syria. Key accomplishments at this session include:
Sudan: The United States worked with the Africa Group on a consensus resolution that renews the mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan for one year, expresses international concern at the humanitarian situations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and calls upon all parties to immediately end violence and halt clashes. The United States underlined our core message regularly during the session: we are deeply concerned about ongoing reports of human rights violations and abuses, including unlawful killing and other violence with impunity, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, and restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where there are credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United States will continue to support an independent and credible investigation to hold those responsible to account.
South Sudan: The United States joined South Sudan and the Africa Group on a consensus resolution that welcomes South Sudan as a new State and member of the United Nations and also welcomes the government’s commitment to strengthen national human rights mechanisms. The resolution calls upon the government to strengthen ongoing cooperation with the UN Mission in South Sudan on human rights issues, and also invites the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist the new government.
Libya: The United States worked closely with Morocco, Libya, and others on a consensus resolution that recommends the UN General Assembly lift Libya’s suspension from the Human Rights Council. The resolution also welcomes the commitments made by the new Libyan government to uphold its obligations under international human rights law and to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council at the February 2011 Special Session on Libya.
Yemen: The United States worked with delegations from Yemen and the Netherlands, as well as others on a consensus resolution that calls for a rapid political transition and transfer of power, as outlined in the plan drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and condemns ongoing violations of human rights in Yemen. The resolution notes the Yemeni government’s announcement to launch transparent and independent investigations, which will adhere to their international obligations. The resolution also calls upon the Government of Yemen and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop a framework for dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights.
Syria: At an interactive dialogue on Syria, the United States welcomed the prompt formation of the Commission of Inquiry mandated at the August 2011 Special Session on Syria. The U.S. government called on the Syrian authorities to allow the Commission of Inquiry, international humanitarian agencies, and international media unrestricted access to report on the abhorrent conditions inside Syria. The United States called on the Asad regime to step aside, and to stop killing and torturing the Syrian people immediately.
Israeli/Palestinian Issues: The United States continues to believe the disproportionate focus on Israel diminishes the credibility and effectiveness of the Council. The United States continues to strongly oppose the permanent agenda item devoted to Israel-related issues, which is the only agenda item devoted to a specific country. There were no resolutions under the Israel-specific agenda item at this session.
Fighting Racism: The United States worked with Brazil to co-sponsor a consensus resolution that urged States to fight against racism and strengthen democracy. The United States is committed to working with our global partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the fight against racism and racial discrimination. The United States also recognized the importance of tolerance and reconciliation, citing the powerful example of Nelson Mandela, as tools in the effort to foster more just, tolerant, and equal societies.
Remarks delivered under Item 4: Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Report on Belarus
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States thanks High Commissioner Pillay for her oral report on the grave human rights situation in Belarus. We are deeply disappointed the Government of Belarus has failed to take steps to meet its human rights obligations since the Council’s last session. The government continues to routinely suppress freedoms of expression and of assembly and association. It has ignored the resolution this Council adopted in June, just as it has ignored similar resolutions by other international bodies including the Council of Europe.
The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated sharply since the December 2010 elections, which failed to meet international standards. The government initiated a wide-ranging crackdown against the political opposition, civil society activists, independent unions and media during the post-election period. Security forces detained hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. Authorities harassed and raided the offices of dozens of nongovernmental groups, seizing documents and equipment. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, politically motivated trials, and long prison sentences for many of the country’s most prominent opposition figures and civil society leaders became the norm. These abuses have continued unabated ever since.
To protest this turn of events, some Belarusian citizens decided to stand silently – to say nothing publicly; others decided to stand in parks and clap their hands. These citizens have also been arrested. In Belarus, citizens are arrested and deprived of their liberty for standing silently or clapping their hands.
The United States considers those arrested on politically motivated charges during and after the December 2010 crackdown to be political prisoners; we call for their immediate and unconditional release. We further call upon the Belarusian government to stop harassing civil society, independent media and the political opposition, and to open space for the free expression of political views, the development of a civil society, and greater media freedom.
The United States is firmly committed to supporting the democratic aspirations and universal human rights of the Belarusian people. We urge the Government of Belarus to end its self-imposed isolation and to respect, protect, and uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on this important subject, Madame President.
The Obama Administration has dramatically changed America’s course at the United Nations to advance our interests and values and help forge a more secure and prosperous world. We have repaired frayed relations with countries around the world. We have ended needless American isolation on a range of issues. And as a consequence, we have gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.
What the President calls a “new era of engagement” has led to concrete results at the UN that advance U.S. foreign policy objectives and American security. The dividends of U.S. leadership at the UN are tangible – the stiffest UN sanctions ever against Iran and North Korea, renewed momentum to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, strong sanctions and an unprecedented mandate to intervene and save lives in Libya, support for the historic and peaceful independence of Southern Sudan, vital UN assistance in Afghanistan and Iraq, vigorous defense of our staunch ally Israel, lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable in the Horn of Africa and initial progress in improving the flawed UN Human Rights Council. In a world of 21st-century threats that pay no heed to borders, rebuilding a strong basis for international cooperation has allowed the United States to work together with others to solve common problems at the United Nations, making the American people more secure.
The President’s vision for a world without nuclear weapons includes a realistic path to get there. Several significant milestones on this important Administration priority have taken place at the UN.
UN Security Council Resolution 1887: In September 2009, the United States held the presidency of the UN Security Council, and President Obama chaired an historic Council Summit on nonproliferation and disarmament, culminating in the unanimous passage of Security Council Resolution 1887. This U.S.-drafted resolution reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to the global nonproliferation regime based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, supported better security for nuclear weapons materials to prevent terrorists from acquiring materials essential to make a bomb, and made clear that all countries need to comply with their international nuclear obligations.
Iran: In June 2010, the United Nations Security Council voted overwhelmingly to put in place the toughest UN sanctions regime ever faced by the Iranian government for its continued failure to live up to its obligations, sending an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The new sanctions in Resolution 1929 impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, its ballistic missile program, and its ability to acquire certain conventional weapons. They put a new framework in place to stop Iranian smuggling and crack down on Iran’s use of banks and financial transactions to fund proliferation. They also target individuals, entities, and institutions -– including those associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps –- that have supported Iran’s nuclear program and prospered from illicit activities at the expense of the Iranian people. The U.S. continues to ensure that these sanctions are vigorously enforced, just as we continue to refine and enforce our own sanctions on Iran alongside those of our friends and allies.
North Korea: In response to North Korea’s announced 2009 nuclear test, the United States secured the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1874, which put in place a tough array of sanctions, including asset freezes, financial sanctions, a broad-based embargo on arms exports and imports, and an unprecedented framework for the inspection of suspect vessels. Since the adoption of Resolution 1874, countries have intercepted and seized tons of contraband cargo. These interdictions show that countries are taking seriously their obligations to enforce these tough new measures. The United States will continue to press on sanctions implementation until there is concrete, verifiable progress on denuclearization.
NPT Review Conference: In May 2010, NPT parties adopted by consensus a Final Document that advances a realistic path towards a world without nuclear weapons. This document includes calls for strengthened verification and compliance, recognizes the New START agreement and the need for deeper reductions of nuclear weapons, and calls for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the immediate start of talks on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. It also supports efforts to pursue international fuel banks and related mechanisms to broaden access to peaceful nuclear energy without creating new proliferation risks. This major achievement is a vindication of the broad thrust of U.S. efforts to inject new energy and renewed effort into stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
UN Security Council Resolution 1977: In April 2011, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1977, underscoring the vital importance of the Committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1540 by extending its mandate for an additional ten years. The 1540 Committee is charged with assisting UN Member States in the implementation of UNSCR 1540’s obligations to take and enforce effective measures against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery, and related materials, important elements in achieving U.S. nonproliferation objectives. The United States is making a $3 million donation to the United Nations trust fund for global and regional disarmament to help the Committee in its implementation efforts.
Bolstering Progress in Afghanistan and Iraq
Afghanistan: Since 2009, the United States has pursued a strategy in Afghanistan that places much greater emphasis on the role of international civilian assistance, while our troops work to secure the country and transition to a mission in support of Afghan security forces taking responsibility for their own security. To support this goal, the United States has worked to ensure that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has the resources and political support to carry out its vital mission to lay the foundation for a sustainable peace and a prosperous future, including providing assistance with security, elections, governance, economic development, and humanitarian assistance. The United States will continue to work to strengthen all aspects of the UN presence in the country so that UNAMA can best complement efforts to support the Government of Afghanistan by the United States and the International Security Assistance Force and better coordinate donor support.
Iraq: The United States and the international community are keeping their commitments to the Government and the people of Iraq, and as the United States is completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) continues to play a critical role. The United States strongly supports the work of the UNAMI as it continues to provide important technical assistance to the Government of Iraq, assists displaced persons in Iraq and provides humanitarian assistance. Additionally, the United States played a key role in the passage of three resolutions that mark an important milestone in normalizing Iraqi ties to the international community that were significantly limited when Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. The Security Council, in a special session chaired by Vice President Biden, passed Resolutions 1956, 1957 and 1958 to help return Iraq to the legal and international standing it held prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Promoting American Values
Protecting Civilians in Libya: In March, the United Nations took unprecedented quick and strong action to protect civilians in Libya. Resolution 1973 provided legal authority for the international community to intervene to save lives in Libya. The resolution authorized states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone, saving countless lives. The Security Council also imposed on the Qadhafi regime and on Libya’s major financial institutions a sweeping regime of financial sanctions and other measures to pressure the Qadhafi regime to end its brutal crackdown on demonstrators. Among other things, Resolutions 1970 and 1973 provided for an arms embargo, a ban on flights by Libyan-operated aircraft and asset freezes and travel bans on Qadhafi and his inner circle. These measures helped to isolate the Qadhafi regime from the international financial system, restricting its ability to fund military operations and to maintain support in Tripoli.
The people of Libya are now taking the initial steps to rebuild their country and transition to an inclusive democracy. There are still many issues to be resolved in the coming days, but the United States is very encouraged by early the steps the TNC has taken. The United States, the United Nations, and our international partners are helping the TNC build a government that reflects the aspirations of the Libyan people. The United States and our partners have worked through the United Nations to unfreeze billions of dollars in order for Libya to get access to their state assets to meet critical humanitarian needs. The United States will continue to work with the TNC to ensure that these funds are disbursed in a transparent, accountable manner. The United States is also providing over $90 million to UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs to address humanitarian needs generated by the crisis in Libya.
Moreover, the Security Council has adopted a new resolution to promote Libya’s recovery from its recent conflict and support its transition to a free society. This resolution mandates a new, three-month UN mission that will assist Libyan efforts to restore security and the rule of law, protect human rights, and undertake an inclusive political dialogue towards establishing a democratic government. It also begins the process of unwinding the UN sanctions that were imposed last spring. Although some measures will remain in place, ensuring that funds previously frozen are released in a transparent and responsible way, the Libyan authorities are now able to pursue a reenergized Libyan economy.
Promoting a Peaceful Transition to South Sudan Independence: On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan celebrated its independence. This action took place following months of intensified diplomatic efforts in the lead up to the historic, peaceful referendum on independence in January. Much of this work was accomplished working within or alongside the United Nations, including last year’s high-level meeting at which President Obama delivered remarks to galvanize international action to ensure a credible and timely referendum.
The United States continues to work closely with the UN and other international partners to support full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. In June, the Security Council created UNISFA, a UN peacekeeping force that will monitor the redeployment of armed forces from the Abyei area and that is authorized to use force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers. In July, the Security Council created UNMISS, a new UN peacekeeping force in the Republic of South Sudan, to consolidate peace and security and to help establish conditions for economic and political development.
The United States continues to work to end genocide and conflict in Darfur, including by supporting the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), and calling for the Government of Sudan to end aerial bombardments, improve conditions and freedoms on the ground, and allow humanitarian access.
Horn of Africa Famine: With more than 13.3 million people—primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia—in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations is at the forefront of a large-scale international response, and the United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the region, providing over $600 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance to those in need. Much of this funding is funneled through various UN agencies and supports humanitarian assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and other drought affected populations.
Additionally, the United States helped garner international support for the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), including by supporting UN funding to keep international peacekeepers in the country. The United States has been a strong supporter of recent efforts to augment the number of troops deployed in AMISOM, which now has a force of nearly 9,600. Since AMISOM’s deployment in 2007, the United States has obligated more than $258 million in assistance to AMISOM and over $85 million to the Somali transitional government’s National Security Force.
Standing up for Israel at the UN: The Obama Administration has consistently and forcefully opposed unbalanced and biased actions against Israel in the Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and across the UN system. President Obama has pledged that we will “continue U.S. efforts to combat all international attempts to challenge the legitimacy of Israel — including and especially at the United Nations.”
When an effort was made to insert the Security Council into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it. When the 2009 Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. When the UN General Assembly voted for a commemoration in September 2011 of the original 2001 Durban conference, we voted against it and announced we would not participate. When the Goldstone Report was released, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When anti-Israel resolutions come up at the UN Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, UNESCO, and elsewhere, we consistently oppose them.
Strengthening UN Peacekeeping and Conflict Prevention Efforts
Improving Peacekeeping Effectiveness: In his first visit as President to the United Nations, President Obama hosted the first-ever meeting with the leaders of the top troop-contributing nations to UN peacekeeping operations, underscoring America’s commitment to this vital tool, which allows countries around the world to share the burden for protecting civilians and supporting fragile peace processes in societies emerging from war. The U.S. continues to advance initiatives to strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities, including by seeking to expand the number, capacity, and effectiveness of troop and police contributors, helping secure General Assembly approval for vital peacekeeping reforms, and working with fellow Security Council members to craft more credible and achievable mandates for operations in Haiti, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and several other current operations.
Haiti: After the devastating earthquake of January 2010, which claimed the lives of over 100 UN personnel and the UN Mission’s leadership, the United States worked extremely closely with the UN to help the Government of Haiti ensure security and deliver vital humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces were able to withdraw from Haiti within a few months, as countries from Latin America and around the world moved quickly to share the burden and augment the UN peacekeeping presence. In addition, the total U.S. 2010 and 2011 humanitarian assistance funding provided is $1.2 billion for the earthquake and $75 million for cholera.
Liberia: The United States built an international consensus to maintain a robust UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) peacekeeping operation for an additional 12 months, ensuring continued support for the 2011 elections. Security Council resolution 2008, which was adopted unanimously on September 17, also calls for a technical assessment mission in spring of 2012 to evaluate potential reductions in UNMIL’s authorized strength.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The United States continues to champion improved protection of civilians, especially by demanding an end to the epidemic of rape and gender-based violence. The United States has worked successfully to secure new Security Council sanctions against key leaders of armed groups operating in the DRC, including one individual linked to crimes involving sexual and gender based violence and child soldier recruiting. Additionally, the United States led the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that supported, for the first time, due diligence guidelines for individuals and companies operating in the mineral trade in Eastern Congo and agreed to practice due diligence when considering targeted sanctions.
Ivory Coast: In April, the United States welcomed the end of former President Laurent Gbabgo’s illegitimate claim to power in Ivory Coast, following robust implementation of Security Council Resolution 1975, which demanded that Gbagbo step down as President, imposed sanctions on him and his close associates, reaffirmed the international recognition given to Alassane Ouattara as President of Ivory Coast, and reiterated that the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) could use “all necessary means” in its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of attack. Early in the conflict, the United States worked with partners to renew UNOCI’s mandate and increase its ranks by 2,000 troops, further bolstering the mission’s ability to protect civilians.
The United States supports accountability on all sides for atrocities committed during the electoral crisis, and we will continue to support UN efforts in Ivory Coast as the nation recovers from this crisis. The Ivory Coast has accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and President Ouattara requested that the Prosecutor open an investigation into the most serious crimes committed in during the post-electoral crisis.
Eritrea: In 2009, the United States supported the African Union’s call to sanction Eritrea for that country’s role in destabilizing Somalia and the region and its failure to comply with Security Council Resolution 1862 concerning Eritrea’s border dispute with Djibouti. As a direct result of U.S. and African leadership, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1907 to impose an arms embargo and targeted financial and travel sanctions on Eritrean officials. Eritrea is paying a price for its sponsorship of foreign extremist groups. The Security Council, with the support of the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, continue to review additional measures to respond to Eritrea’s acts to destabilize its neighbors.
Protecting and Empowering Women and Girls
Women, Peace and Security: The United States continues to lead efforts across the UN focused on women’s important roles in preventing, managing, and resolving conflict, as well as ending conflict-related sexual violence. In 2009, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presiding, the United States led the Security Council in unanimously adopting Resolution 1888, which strengthens the international response to sexual violence in conflict by establishing a dedicated UN Special Representative and creating of a team of experts to assist individual governments in strengthening their capacities to address sexual violence in conflicts within their borders.
Building upon this success, during the 2010 U.S. presidency of the Security Council, the United States supported the adoption of Resolution 1960, which expressed deep concern that violence against women and children in situations of armed conflict continues to occur. The resolution also improved reporting mechanisms on gender-based violence in conflict. On the margins of this year’s General Assembly, Secretary of State Clinton will join other women leaders from across the world in spotlighting the importance of women’s political participation in times of peace, conflict, and transition. And in the year to come, the United States will continue to lead efforts to support women’s decision-making in matters of conflict prevention and international security by releasing its National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.
UN Women: The United States was also instrumental in the establishment of a new UN agency called UN Women. This vital new organization combines four separate UN offices into one stronger, streamlined and more efficient entity working in support of women around the world. UN Women will work to elevate women’s issues within the UN system, on the ground in member states, and on the international stage. The United States is working very closely with Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, as the first head of UN Women. In addition, when elections were held for the 41-member Executive Board, the United States secured a seat and supported other countries with strong records on women’s rights, while successfully leading efforts to block Iran’s bid for membership.
Promoting Human Rights
Human Rights Council: At the beginning of the Obama Administration, the United States made the decision to join the Human Rights Council, and that decision has paid real dividends for oppressed people around the world. Though the Council remains flawed, the United States has worked tirelessly to create the political will necessary for the Council to realize its full potential. While much work remains, in particular ending the Council’s excessive focus on Israel, the Council has taken great strides in speaking up for those suffering under the world’s cruelest regimes and focusing on the major human rights abuses worldwide.
In the past two years, the United States has spoken out on serious human rights abuses in Iran, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, Russia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. With active U.S. leadership, the Council authorized international mandates to closely monitor and address the human rights situations in Iran, Libya, Syria, Ivory Coast, Burma, North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan. With U.S. engagement, Council members also voted to keep Iran and Syria from gaining seats on the Council.
We have also worked cooperatively with governments such as those of Haiti, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan, Guinea and Tunisia, as they experienced crises and sought help from the Council to strengthen their human rights capabilities and help their countries rebuild. For example, last year the United States partnered with the government of Afghanistan to build international support for efforts to prevent attacks on Afghan school children, especially girls, who seek to be educated.
In 2011, the United States has shown leadership that has led to additional concrete results. On Iran, the Council took assertive action to highlight Iran’s deteriorating human rights situation by establishing a Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran. In June, the Human Right’s Council appointed Ahmed Shaheed to serve as Special Rapporteur. He will serve as a voice for all those Iranians who have suffered egregious human rights violations. This is the first new country mandate established since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006.
U.S. leadership has led to two Special Sessions on the situation in Syria, sending President Assad a clear message that the world is watching what he does and that atrocities and human rights violations would not go unnoticed. At the most recent special session, the Council established a Commission of Inquiry to 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.
The United States also played a pivotal role in convening the Council’s Special Session in February 2011 during which the Council condemned the human rights violations and other acts of violence committed by the Government of Libya, and created an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate those violations. Additionally on March 1, 2011 the General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council because of the atrocities the Libyan authorities are committing against its own people. This was the first time that either the Human Rights Council or its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, suspended any member state for gross violations of human rights.
In March 2011, the Council took an important step away from the deeply problematic concept of defamation of religion by adopting a constructive new resolution that promotes tolerance for all religious beliefs, promotes education and dialogue and is consistent with U.S. laws and universal values. Previous resolutions adopted under the concept of defamation of religion have been used to rationalize laws criminalizing blasphemy, and challenging widely held freedoms of expression and the press, rather than protecting religious freedom and human rights.
In June, the Human Rights Council took historic, bold and assertive action to highlight violence and human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons around the world by passing the first UN resolution solely focused on LGBT persons. The United States co-sponsored, strengthened, and gained support for a South African initiative, which was ultimately joined by countries from every UN geographic region and paves the way for the first UN report on the challenges faced by LGBT people and sustained Council attention to LGBT issues.
Along with our international partners and the NGO community, the United States has made important initial steps toward improving the work of the Council. The United States will run for re-election next year so that we can continue the progress the Council has made over the last two years.
LGBT Rights: In a reversal of the previous Administration’s policy, the United States supported a landmark General Assembly declaration condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation. The United States also spearheaded an effort that led to a decisive victory in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which voted to grant consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that does invaluable work around the globe to protect basic human rights, combat discrimination, and fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS. When a committee vote removed a reference in a resolution condemning extrajudicial killings based on sexual orientation, the United States led a successful campaign to reinstate that reference in the final General Assembly resolution. And the United States joined the LGBT core group in New York for the first time.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: On behalf of the President, Ambassador Rice signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century.
DRIP: In another important reversal of the previous Administration’s policy, President Obama announced U.S. support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP).
Health Security: The United States has taken a multi-faceted approach to dealing with infectious diseases, whatever their cause, through fora such as the UN Security Resolution 1540, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and World Health Organization (WHO). The BWC Review Conference in December offers an important opportunity to revitalize international efforts against these threats, helping to build global capacity to combat infectious disease, and prevent biological weapons proliferation and bioterrorism. This week the United States is signing an agreement with the WHO on “Global Health Security,” affirming their shared commitment to strengthen cooperation on common health security priorities. Improving global capacities to detect, report and respond to infectious diseases quickly and accurately lies at the heart of the WHO’s International Health Regulations. The U.S. is committed to have in place these vital IHR core capacities as soon as 2012.
Reforming the United Nations
UN Arrears: Working with the U.S. Congress, the Administration cleared hundreds of millions in arrears to the United Nations, which accumulated between 2005 and 2008, and is now working to stay current with payments to the Organization.
Budget Discipline: As the largest financial contributor to the UN, ensuring that U.S. funds are spent wisely and not wasted is vital. The United States has worked to contain the growth of the UN budget and consistently pressed the issue of efficiency and accountability in our discussions with the UN, pushing for a focus on results. In 2009, the Administration successfully negotiated an agreement that held constant the share of U.S. assessed contributions to the United Nations.
UN Peacekeeping: In 2011, the United States rallied major financial contributors to thwart an effort by troop-contributing countries to impose a 57% increase in the reimbursement rate for troops in peacekeeping missions, which would have cost the organization well over $700 million annually. The United States was able to insert a new provision to prevent reimbursement for troops who have been repatriated for disciplinary reasons, including violation of the UN zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.
U.S. leadership was instrumental in ensuring adoption of the Global Field Support Strategy, a sweeping reform of how the UN undertakes administrative and logistics support for UN field operations. This initiative will improve the quality, consistency, and efficiency of service delivery by capturing efficiencies within peacekeeping operations and improving the UN’s capacity to support complex field missions.
Oversight and Accountability: The United States advocated and supported adoption of key elements of an accountability framework for the UN. The United States has also blocked attempts to curb the authority and operational independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and succeeded in March 2010 in preserving OIOS’ existing mandate and authority, allowing OIOS to fill many long-vacant positions.
The United States has consistently and aggressively supported OIOS to be a strong and independent watchdog so that U.S. taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and UN programs are managed effectively. And, while OIOS has provided valuable recommendations to improve the UN’s effectiveness and served as a deterrent in the area of waste, fraud, and sexual exploitation and abuse, it has fallen short, especially in the area of investigations. The United States has pushed hard for improvements in that function so that OIOS can more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct. The United States was pleased to see quick action by Carman LaPointe, the Head of OIOS, in filling several leadership positions in that critical office. The United States was successful in ensuring that the position of Director of Investigations, vacant for almost two years, was filled by a qualified candidate who is tasked, among other things, with reigniting the former financial crimes unit of OIOS.
Transparency: The United States has promoted transparency throughout the United Nations system for many years. We have pushed for the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Funds and Programs to take a number of important steps toward public disclosure of all internal audit, oversight and financial reports, and have seen significant progress. For example, Carman LaPointe has announced that she will post internal audits of the UN Secretariat on her website for public viewing starting in January 2012. Additionally, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) gave access to internal audit reports to the Global Fund and other intergovernmental donors. All of these organizations also voted to let governments who fund their programs – like the United States – read audit reports remotely from all over the world, instead of keeping audits under lock and key in New York. This September, leaders at all of these New York based funds and programs announced their support for full public disclosure of internal audits on the internet. Every agency in the UN system is a public institution and should open its doors to public scrutiny.
Human Resources Reform: In December 2010, the United States pushed through reforms that led to harmonization of conditions of service for staff serving in the most difficult locations in the world, eliminating disparities in practices between organizations—including reducing the unreasonably high levels of allowances paid by some organizations—to ensure a balance between fiscal responsibility and ensuring that the organization is able to attract and retain the most qualified staff for service in hardship locations.
The United States also demanded a review of the recent action by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to increase the post (cost of living) adjustment for staff in New York, in light of the ongoing pay freeze in the U.S. federal civil service—whose salaries and benefits serve as the basis for those of professional staff at the UN—and the difficult international economic climate.
The United States welcomes the rapid action by the President of the Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Syria as called for August 23 by HRC member states. The membership of the three-member Commission was announced yesterday on the opening day of the 18th Session of the Human Rights Council. It is now essential that this team be permitted to enter Syria to begin their investigation.
The death toll from the brutal crackdown in Syria continues to rise. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the slaughter, arrest and torture of peaceful protesters by the Assad regime, which clearly has no intention of ending its violent attacks against the Syrian people.
The establishment of this COI is part of a growing consensus in the international community that the appalling behavior of the Assad regime must be brought to an end now.
Remarks delivered during a side event at the 18th Session of the Human Rights Council:
“Applying a Human Rights Based Approach to Efforts to Eliminate Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity”
Thank you to all of the esteemed speakers here today. The United States is proud to be one of the co-sponsors of this side event on eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. More than a decade after the UN established Millennium Development Goals concerning maternal and child health, global maternal and child mortality rates remain too high.
The means exist to save the lives of women and children. Strengthening health systems to better respond to the needs of women and girls must be a political priority.
The Human Rights Council is one of several UN bodies which has demonstrated the political will to address this issue. We thank Colombia and New Zealand for their leadership on initiating that resolution. In June 2009, HRC member states adopted by consensus a resolution on “Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Human Rights.” As a member of the HRC coalition supporting this initiative, let me mention some key examples of U.S. actions to combat maternal mortality domestically and globally. Within the U.S., new health care reform legislation expanded coverage and improved access to preventative care. Programs such as “Healthy Start” provide primary and preventative care to high-risk pregnant women.
On our international efforts, the United States has been working to provide technical leadership in this area of family planning. In FY 2010, a total of $648.5 million was appropriated for U.S. assistance for family planning and reproductive health programs. The FY 2011 budget included $615 million in funding for family planning and reproductive health, including $40 million designated for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Through the Global Health Initiative, the U.S. commits billions of dollars to improving global health, including efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality; prevent millions of unintended pregnancies; and thwart millions of new HIV infections. Through the Global Health Initiative, we provide a range of integrated, essential services for women and their children: skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-partum period; family planning; prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; and child health interventions.
During the 2010 Commission on the Status of Women session, 15 years after the Beijing Women’s Conference, the U.S. was part of a cross-regional group of co-sponsors who introduced a resolution on “Eliminating maternal mortality and morbidity through the empowerment of women.” While progress has been made on the Beijing agenda, much more remains to be done.
The U.S. looks forward to continued partnerships to improve maternal and child health and contributing to progress in this area where we can.
Remarks delivered during a panel on the Realization of the Right to Development
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We thank the panelists for their thoughtful presentations.
The United States has some well-known concerns about the “right to development.” To move forward, we would like to consider ways we can work together constructively and make the right to development a uniting, rather than divisive, issue on the international human rights agenda.
Fostering development continues to be a cornerstone of U.S. international engagement, and we are the largest bilateral donor of overseas development assistance. President Obama, in his speech at the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Review last September, reaffirmed the United States’ strong support for achievement of the MDGs and announced a new U.S. Global Development Policy that guides our overall development efforts.
The United States is committed to development, but we continue to have concerns about the direction discussions on the right to development have taken over the years.
We are willing to work with the proponents of the right to development to expand the consensus on this topic in a way that will be mutually beneficial, if we take into account the following five points:
First, discussions and resolutions on the right to development should not include unrelated material on controversial topics, particularly topics that are being addressed elsewhere. For example, the most recent version of the annual UNGA Third Committee resolution on the right to development contains 41 operative paragraphs, as opposed to four operative paragraphs in the most recent Human Rights Council resolution on the same topic.
Second, we are not prepared to join consensus on the possibility of negotiating a binding international agreement on this topic. At the very least, we would need more of a shared consensus on the definition and nature of the right to development before considering whether such a time- and resource-intensive course of action would be necessary and beneficial.
Third, theoretical work is needed to define the right to development and in particular to explain how it is a human right, i.e., a universal right that every individual possesses and may demand from his or her own government. This fundamental concern has not been adequately addressed.
Fourth, the recent efforts to come up with numeric or concrete indicators of development and its progress are interesting and warrant serious further consideration, though these efforts should leverage, not duplicate, the statistics of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, regional UN statistical agencies, and the work done to monitor the Millennium Development Goals.
Finally, discussion of this topic needs to focus on aspects of development that relate to human rights, i.e., those of individuals. Of course, that includes all human rights, civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
While we are strong supporters of international development, we have long expressed significant concerns about some understandings and interpretations of the right to development. We are willing to work to address those concerns in order to move forward on this important topic.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Remarks delivered during an interactive Dialogue with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States thanks Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her excellent report and for her efforts to protect children around the world from the trauma of armed conflict. The United States is deeply committed to protecting children from abuse, exploitation, and the terrible suffering they endure as a result of armed conflict.
UNESCO’s 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report estimates that two million children were killed and six million disabled in armed conflicts between 1998 and 2008. Approximately 300,000 children are reportedly being exploited as unlawful child soldiers. We are appalled. Children continue to be forcibly recruited into armed forces, killed and maimed in violation of applicable international law, abducted, subjected to sexual violence, denied humanitarian aid, and deprived of education, health care and access to justice in the context of armed conflict. This is unacceptable.
The United States is deeply disturbed by information the Special Representative has presented regarding attacks on schools and hospitals in areas of armed conflict, including in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Schools, teachers and students, especially girls, have been regularly targeted by anti-government elements. In response to these vicious attacks on innocent students, Afghanistan and the United States, together with 40 other co-sponsors, adopted a joint resolution by consensus at the HRC in 2010. We welcome such efforts by the international community to advocate for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.
The United States would like to ask Special Representative Coomaraswamy for her opinion on what can be done to improve the situation of children in armed conflict, especially children at particular risk such as girls and children with disabilities. We would like to inquire if she can suggest specific actions to be taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The United States recognizes that some progress has been made since the entry into force of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We note in particular the Special Representative’s report that some parties in Nepal, Philippines, Chad, South Sudan, and Afghanistan have committed to action plans to stop unlawful recruitment of child soldiers and to release those already unlawfully in their armed forces. We are also pleased to learn that the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia has committed to work towards an action plan to release girls and boys now in government forces and allied militias.
More can and needs to be done to protect children in armed conflict. We commend the Special Representative for her tireless efforts to mobilize Member States to support and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The United States calls upon all nations to increase their efforts to protect children in armed conflict. Children are innocent and unable to protect themselves. Failing these children is NOT an option.
Thank you, Madame President.
Remarks delivered during a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States is deeply concerned about violent repression of peaceful protests in a number of countries around the world. The fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The violent repression of peaceful protests is a clear violation of those human rights, and those responsible for such violations must be held accountable.
Over the past several months, as we have seen hundreds of thousands of people protest peacefully in various countries – particularly across the Middle East and North Africa – the United States has consistently opposed the use of violence against peaceful protesters and supported the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and the right to participate in the affairs of the state. We have strongly condemned the killing, torture, arbitrary detention, and abuse of peaceful protestors. And we have made clear our view that people’s legitimate demands and aspirations must be met by positive engagement from governments in the form of meaningful political and economic reforms.
In Syria, we are witnessing a brutal and sustained onslaught against the Syrian people, who have bravely demanded reforms by protesting peacefully in the face of tanks and gunfire. Their courageous exercise of their universal rights has exposed the Asad regime’s flagrant violations of human rights and disregard for the dignity of Syrians. Though this Council has mandated a fact finding mission and an independent commission of inquiry, the Asad regime continues to grossly violate the universal rights of its citizens. We must ensure that this Council’s mandates are fully implemented and supported, and that all means of leverage are applied to help ensure that governments like the Asad regime cease their acts of repression and are held to account for their human rights violations.
In addition to Syria, a number of other states, including Iran, Belarus, China, and Burma, regularly repress peaceful protests. Such cases of systematic repression of peaceful protests must also be addressed.
We encourage the Special Rapporteurs to focus on urgent situations, like Syria, as well as persistent violators of the rights of peaceful protesters. We urge this Council to take decisive and principled action to promote and protect the rights of peaceful protesters and call on all countries to respect the human rights of their citizens.
Thank you, Madame President.
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Rights, and Labor Press Roundtable, U.S. Embassy, Cairo, Egypt
Posner: Good morning and thank you all for being here. I want to start, if I may, with a few introductory comments. This is my second visit here this year. It won’t be the last and it is a pleasure to be back. This is part of a broader strategic dialogue between the United States and Egypt. Our countries have a strong partnership, and we talk about and work on a range of issues together; strategic issues. The government of Egypt has been an important partner in the ME peace process, and we have a range of interests and shared objectives in terms of development and economics.
The issues that are part of my portfolio in Human Rights and Democracy are part of that dialogue and discussion, and a routine part of what we discuss. The engagement here is part of a broader principal of engagement of the Obama Administration, and a commitment to be involved and discuss with a range of countries strategic, economic, political, and human rights issues, all simultaneously. That principle of engagement, which the President just re-articulated in his speech to the UN General Assembly, includes a greater commitment to working not only on a bilateral basis, but also through the UN. Our decision last year to join the UN Human Rights Council is part of that. We worked last fall with Egypt on a resolution at the HR Council on Freedom of Expression, and we continue to be very involved there as part of our engagement in the world.
The second broad principle for this administration is that there is a universal set of human rights standards to which every government is held accountable, including our own. President Obama on his second day in office, outlined part of our commitment to doing that, like making a commitment to close Guantanamo, to end abusive interrogation practices, and to review security detention policies. All of those things are still underway, and some of them are quite challenging.
We’ve also agreed that this November, we will appear with the UN human rights council with our universal periodic review on the US. I take note of the fact and we are greatly encouraged by the Egyptian government’s participation last year in the universal periodic review. It’s part of the frame work in which we and other governments discuss these issues.
A third broad principle– and it’s the last and I’ll stop– is that we believe here and elsewhere that change occurs from within a society. It’s impossible to impose it from outside. We believe Secretary Clinton articulated this last December in a speech at Georgetown University and more recently in a speech in Poland in Krakow on Civil Society. We believe that democracy– sustainable democracy– is a process that lasts 365 days a year. It includes freedom of the press. It includes a vital vibrant civil society that’s allowed to operate freely. It includes the right of workers to organize themselves. It includes the empowerment of women. It includes the rule of law, transparency, and accountability. So, in our discussions with the government of Egypt and every government, these are the points we stress. It’s up to every society to create and strengthen and live its own democracy, but these are the elements we try to work with governments and civil society to promote.
I’ll just say finally that we have been here for several days, and we met with representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the national council on human rights, as well as a range of non-governmental actors, civil society groups, human rights groups, journalists, religious leaders, etc. Our discussions dealt with five broad areas, and I’m glad to take questions on those or anything else. One is the state of emergency, and our continued desire that the state of emergency be lifted or allowed to expire, and replaced by a narrower law on counter terrorism that respects civil liberties and due process.
Secondly, that there be accountability. There are in every society challenges that face police officials of excessive use of force and torture, and we have discussed among other things the Khaleed Sayid case and the prosecution of that case, which we welcome. It is important to us that there is accountability for excessive use of force.
The third is that there be a democratic environment and a space for civil discourse and freedom of association. We are eager that there be less government involvement or interference in the day to day operations by non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. We are eager that there be an openness to foreign funding to support those organizations. We are eager that there be no changes in laws of governing NGO’s that would in any way further restrict the environment and the climate. We are also eager that there be a continuation in the openness in press and press freedom, which is evidenced here today, and we want to be sure that particularly now before parliamentary elections and the presidential election next year, that the press and multiple voices and views be allowed to be expressed.
The fourth area for us is the electoral process and again, these elections are for Egypt, by Egyptians its not our position to take sides or to offer any suggestions on how the outcome should be decided, but what we are concerned about is that the elections be free and fair and that there be a right to participate a free right to access to polling places, that observers would be allowed to monitor those elections. We have urged and continue to urge that there be both domestic observers as well as international observers, and we are also eager that there be an open process that allows voters to register, that allows political parties to register, and that allows maximum participation in the electoral process.
Fifth and finally, we are continuing to follow very closely the challenges posed by sectarian tensions in this society, between Christians and Muslims. When I was here in January it was right after the Naga Hamadi killings, which I spoke about publicly. We have reiterated our concerns in meetings here. Again, we are mindful and appreciative to the government that there is a prosecution going on in that case, but we are very aware that the government needs do everything within its power to limit and to reduce the tensions along religious lines. Let me stop with that and open up to questions.
Q.: First I would like to ask about what you mentioned about international domestic observation for the elections, but it seems the Egyptian government doesn’t want this, they refuse this claim, so why do you think are the reason behind this refusal. Is it fair or not? And if I can ask a second point about this, it is felt here that the American administration has lifted a little bit from demanding of democracy the ME and especially in Egypt, how do you see this? Thank you.
Posner: On the first question on international and domestic observers, it is the position of the United States Government that there ought to be an open process here and that observers, both national Egyptian observers and monitors as well as international observers ought to be allowed to participate and observe the scene. This is not unique to Egypt. We believe that in every country, an open electoral process is a healthy thing, there is a lot of international attention and interest in Egypt, and to these upcoming elections in November and we are discussing this routinely with the government of Egypt. I think you have to ask them their view of it, but our view is pretty straightforward.
I think there is a lot that can be done to ensure that there is greater access to Egyptian monitors and we took note of this after the Shoura Council election, that there were some problems in terms of access, both for voters and for monitors. The government has made a broad commitment to having open, clean, fair elections, and in our view, allowing monitors to be present and to have access is part of that process. The second questions is about the approach of the Obama Administration and whether there is a difference. I think it’s fair to say that I’m here for the second time this year, we are having very open discussions. It’s not just me, there is a commitment by this Administration that issues of human rights and democracy are a central piece of our bilateral agenda. Again, as I said earlier, we have a range of interests and issues with our Egyptian government’s friends and partners, but these issues of human rights and democracy are vitally important to us.
Q.: I have mainly one more question about sectarian tensions: you mentioned that you discussed this issue with Egyptian politicians and NGO’s and things like that. How do you see these tensions, and are there any suggestions of the American administration regarding this issue?
Posner: You know, every society, including our own, faces issues of discrimination and tensions between religious, racial or ethnic groups. We have in our own society in recent weeks a situation where somebody wants to burn the Koran. What is critical is that these are private actions largely, and we are mindful of that. These are not things that we are assuming the government is making happen, but I think every government has an obligation when these tensions arise to do everything it can publicly and privately to reduce those tensions, to create an environment or a climate where people are aware that the government is very much taking a lead in promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence. As I said, in January the Naga Hamadi killings were a flash point of violence, it made everybody aware here and elsewhere that these tensions had risen, and I think it’s a positive step that the government has initiated a prosecution of those involved. But there is a broader obligation I think of this government, as there would be for any government, to make sure it’s doing what it can both by words and deeds to make sure that these tensions are reduced.
Posner: Our view is that international observers supplement domestic observers and monitors. But by no means are they limited to embryonic or nascent democracies. In our country, for example, international observers come routinely to observe our elections. We welcome that. There is barely any attention paid to it frankly. Both political parties have regular contact with a range of international groups, and we encourage them to come, so I don’t view this as something that is confined to only new democracies or emerging democracies. I think it’s a healthy practice. Perhaps the more important issue is that observers or monitors, whether they’re international or domestic have the whole support of the government and that means that they’re fully recognized, that they’re given the proper badges and accreditation that they are allowed access to every aspect of the electoral system. They should have access to see what is going on in the polling places, they should have access to see as the ballots are moved, they should have access to the vote counting, so for us the key issue is really access, welcoming of observation, we would prefer to see both international and domestic observers there.
Q.: There has been a series of events in the last few weeks that were negatively seen by the local human rights activists and politicians such as a crack down on press freedom, cancelled conferences, and arrested protesters. I was wondering… I understand you have been in office for a year but I’m sure you have been following Egypt closely, do you think there has been a lapse in the democratic reforms that were instated in the past few years only in these few months, and how do you think about the upcoming elections? What kind environment is there, and how are they going to take place this year? And as a footnote to this we get a bit unclear about how the US decides to make public statements about violations of human rights or issues of concern to human rights activists here is Egypt. Sometimes there is a public statement about sectarian violence or an arrest of an activist, and sometimes there isn’t. Is there a criteria on when do you decide to make it public and when you actually follow it behind closed doors?
Posner: The first questions I think call for an answer that is beyond my ability because I’m only here for a few days, but I would say broadly that we in the last several years, in the last 5 or 6 years, have seen an opening of the space for journalists, for freedom of expression, and certainly some of the events in the last couple of weeks by private news organizations, whether newspapers or TV stations, are cause for concern. What we don’t want to see is that there is pattern of greater restriction on critical voices, especially in this period leading up to the elections. Now that is not necessarily a government decision, but we are looking more broadly at the environment in which the press operates and we favor and have said to the government that we are certainly hopeful that every effort is made to allow multiple voices in the media to be able to do their job. We are also aware that there is kind of irregular practice of some meetings being shut down– one on freedom of association a couple of weeks ago. Again the details are sometimes hard to piece together, but we would favor freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression as vital elements for a sustainable democratic society. This is particularly important in a period before an election. So in general those are observations about what we see.
As to when we make public statements, I have to confess I spend a lot of my time trying to answer your question. There may be less rhyme or reason in general to how we do it. It isn’t as though there is a model or a perfect system. What I would say, and I’m not just talking about Egypt, I’m talking in general, is that the US Government has lots of people working and different people always have different views on when something should be made public. What I would say more broadly is that the President’s speech at the General Assembly three weeks ago, and in Secretary Clinton’s speech on restrictions on civil society in Krakow, I think show that at the most senior level, this Administration in increasingly outspoken about human rights and democracy issues, and that translated into more activity in terms of our diplomacy, our public diplomacy, and the financial support we give to democracy and human rights organizations. So, I think from where I sit, looking broadly, there is more public commentary in the last 6 to 9 months, and I think it reflects back to a new administration that has now been there almost 20 months, and there has always been a recognition but there is an operational realization of a human rights and democracy program, and part of my visit here is one piece of that.
Q.: Does the US administration accept or notice its critics in other countries about human rights in Guantanamo, Baghdad, or Afghanistan?
Posner: Yes, part of my job is to help fulfill the second broad point that I mentioned, which is our commitment to have the same universal standards of international human rights apply to ourselves. Secretary Clinton has said we need to lead by example. We shouldn’t be critical of others without being first mindful of our own problems and deficiencies. We, over the last 6 months, put together the report to the UN under the Universal Periodic Review. We took it seriously. We had 18 sessions in 16 cities, where we brought together our own civil society to talk about relations and discrimination against the Muslim community. We had a meeting in Dearborn. In regards to the migrant community on the border, we had a meeting in Texas. We talked about national security issues in Washington. We talked about racial discrimination with African American groups in New York. We will appear on November 5th in Geneva and take comments from a range of countries, and we’ll take that seriously. I’m particularly focused on fulfilling the President’s commitment to close Guantanamo. I’ve spent time in Europe trying to get some European countries to take some of the people so that we can continue to close the facility. I think it’s an important commitment. The President has made very clear that no US official should be involved in coercive interrogations, and we are struggling with, but working through, issues of detention policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We take these things seriously. These are not easy challenges, but at the same time, it’s in our interest to get them right.
Posner: I don’t know the exact comments you are referring to. I would say in the last couple of days we’ve had frank, but very constructive discussions with senior officials in both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We don’t always agree, but friends and partners need be and are open with each other about our disagreements. So, we regard this as part of our strategic relationship with the government of Egypt. We’ll continue to raise these issues in a respectful but direct way, and we’ll hope that we can resolve some of our differences.
Posner: A number of the issues I raised are subjects that we raised previously and will continue to raise in future meetings. So, for example, on the state of emergency, we raised our hopes in January that the state of emergency be allowed to expire and that there be in its place a more limited law on counterterrorism that would respect civil liberties. The government renewed the emergency law, but restricted its application to cases of terrorism and drugs. That’s a positive development, but from our perspective, we still strongly favor that the state of emergency be lifted or allowed to expire. It’s an ongoing discussion. It’s a critically important discussion.
We talked in January about issues of accountability, which was before Khaleed Sayid was killed, but that kind of a case is what we have been discussing and will continue to discuss. The events, his killing and the use of force, is something that disturbed us and disturbed many people in Egypt, but the fact that there is a prosecution is a positive step. We’ve raised in January the killings in front of the church in Naga Hamadi, which had just occurred ,and again the sectarian tensions continue, but we are, as I have said here, urging the government to do all that it can to reduce those tensions. But, we again commend the government for its prosecution of people who were involved in that murder. So, these are all discussions that are ongoing, and things change. Some of them are positive, and in some cases we haven’t seen positive stuff.
Posner: Before the election in 7 weeks, we are going to continue to support a range of civil society and democratic organizations that promote an open, fair, political process, both in terms of parliamentary and presidential elections next year. Both our bureau in the State Department and MEPI continue to look for opportunities to support organizations here that would reflect the broad spectrum of views within Egypt– peaceful views of people that are willing and eager to work within the democratic framework. So, we are urging the government to create more space for these groups to operate without interference, and we are also eager to be a partner with some of these groups in their activities and support what they do.
Q.: What do you think about human rights organization in the Middle East, especially in Palestine, West Bank and Gaza?
Posner: Throughout this region and around the world, we support and encourage the growth and development of human rights organizations– organizations that both monitor human rights conditions and advocate on behalf of prisoners and others who are vulnerable. That would be true in all the countries in all the parts of this region, including the West Bank and Gaza. I’ve met with many of the people in those organizations, and their work is critically important to helping to promote democratic and human rights objectives. Secretary of State Clinton’s speech in Krakow was focused on a growing pattern of restrictions against human rights and civil society organizations around the world. Many governments are making it more difficult for human rights and civil society organizations to function freely. Those problems certainly exist in various parts of this region, and part of what we are hoping to do now is to address those restrictions and to provide more, and to amplify the voices of civil society, to provide protection, to provide financial and technical support, and to help work with governments to create more space for those groups to operate freely.
Posner: I had planned to come to Egypt in January before the Naga Hamadi killings took place, but I was concerned about some of the same issues before while I was here. I continued to be concerned as I’ve said today about the tensions between Christian and Muslim communities here. I did not meet with the Pope. I did meet with a range of religious leaders both Christian and Muslim, and will continue to do that. I think it’s important that we do whatever we can to encourage harmony and tolerance and the ability of every person to have the freedom to practice their faith. Our job is not to prefer one religion over another; our role is to promote religious freedom, which means that every individual should pursue their faith.
Posner: On the issue of Guantanamo, what I’ve said is that since January 22, 2009, the second day President Obama was in office, it’s been the policy of this Administration to close Guantanamo. We can’t do it on our own. Our system gives great power to the US Congress, and there has not been a majority in the Congress willing to provide funds for a new detention facility or to allow other aspects of the plan to close Guantanamo. We also need the cooperation of some other governments, because some of the people either need to be resettled in a third country or to be returned to their home country. We are working hard in every aspect of that, and a commitment to close Guantanamo continues to be real. And so this is an issue of great importance to me, and it’s important to the Administration.
When you ask about specific laws, I mentioned the broad subject of the continuation of the state of emergency and the emergency law. That’s one area in which we would like to see the lifting of the state of emergency and a new counterterrorism law replace it that’s narrower in scope and that protects civil liberties and due process. There are other laws on the books. The other one I mentioned I think we have some concerns about is in the area of rights and obligations of civil society NGO’s. I know there has been some discussion of a new NGO law, and what we have said is that any new law ought to open greater space and freedom for NGO’s to operate, rather than restrict their conduct.
Posner: On my visit here, I actually met one individual from the Sinai, from the Bedouin community, who had been detained for many, many months and had multiple court orders ordering his release, and yet he continued to be detained. We are concerned about that, not only about people in the Sinai, but for everyone in this society. There ought to be a system based in the rule of law that allows individuals accused of a crime, to be prosecuted and tried. If they are convicted, they are sentenced and go to jail. But when courts are ordering people to be released, they ought to be released, and so this is for us a broader concern. It may apply particularly in the Sinai with the Bedouin community, but when we talk about rule of law, when we talk about lifting the emergency, when we talk about a more predictable system based on due process, that is what we are talking about.
If I may say a couple of words by way of conclusion, as I said at the outset, I have had a very productive visit here, constructive and direct conversations with both representatives of the Egyptian government and with various civil society actors. This is my second visit here. It won’t be my last, but our concerns are very much consistent with the kind of issues we raise around the world as part of the principal of engagement of the Obama Administration. We are not holding Egypt to a different standard; we are holding every country to the same universal standard, and we start from the premise here and elsewhere that it’s up to Egyptians to build and to live their democracy in a sustainable, democratic system. Our hope is that from the outside we can help reinforce those efforts, so thank you all for coming. I will be back and I welcome meeting you again. Thanks very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wanted to come by and welcome and give you a little bit of a respite from hearing from the three advocates for human rights, each in their – in his own way truly devoted to the work that we do here at the State Department. And in particular, on this day, I want to thank Mike Posner and everyone in DRL who works with him and for all that you are doing. I want to thank Harold Koh and everyone in L who keeps pushing, pushing, and trying to make sure that our human rights policy continues to lead the world. And I want to thank P.J. Crowley and everybody in his shop who have to explain everything we do or don’t do, which is sometimes the most difficult of all tasks.
But mostly, I came by to thank you, members of civil society, human rights organizations, college students, Hill staffers, State Department colleagues. Thank you very much. Because we thought it was important to really have a chance on this day where we commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a vote of 48-0 in the United Nations, the very core concept that each of us, all of us, are born with equal and inalienable rights.
Those words hearken back to our own Declaration of Independence, which was such an incredible, historical event in addition to representing the very best of our values and aspirations. But from the beginning, the United States has recognized that our rights are inextricably bound up with the rights of others. And we remain committed as a nation, and certainly in the Obama Administration, to working toward realizing a world that was envisioned by both of these declarations, in which every person has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.
Those of us in this great Dean Acheson Hall who lived through the civil rights movement, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid, and so much else knows that these singular achievements are by no means the work of governments alone. In fact, it took civil society pushing governments, and sometimes pulling them against their natural inclination, to just protect the status quo. It took groups of citizens in shipyards and lunch counters and even prisons to keep prodding the conscience of governments and the rest of us.
So for the United States, supporting civil society around the globe is a crucial priority. I made that clear in a speech I gave last summer at the Community of Democracies in Krakow, where we laid out an agenda of support for civil society, because we think it’s not only a matter of good global citizenship, but it’s a key to advancing so many of our national security priorities.
So we intend to make engagement with civil society a defining feature of our diplomacy. We’ve asked our embassies and missions around the world to develop strategies to elevate support for and protection of civil society. Next year, I will launch the new strategic dialogue with civil society to bring together representatives from government and civic groups for regular consultation, just as we do in our strategic dialogues with other countries.
We have seen increased efforts by governments to restrict civic space, whether in Cuba or China’s efforts to somehow divert the world’s attention from the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony today. We really know that we have our work cut out for us. And in Krakow, I called on the UN Human Rights Council to do more to protect civil society and announced the creation of a new fund for embattled NGOs. And I want to thank Lithuania, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Czech Republic for their pledged contributions to this fund and for joining us in providing a lifeline to NGOs under siege. We also have worked with a coalition of countries on the Human Rights Council to create a new special rapporteur on freedom of association.
Now, just last week, Mike and I were in Central Asia, a place where civil society faces severe challenges. And we worked hard to give civil society a voice at the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. And in each country, from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, I met with the brave men and women who are committed to improving the lives of their fellow citizens, often at significant personal risk. These meetings, as they always are for me, were inspiring and deepened my appreciation for the difficult work that you and many others on the front lines of human rights and civil rights actually face every day.
As Mike said, earlier today, I presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights to outstanding individuals: Sarah Cleto Rial, an activist who sought refuge in the United States from Sudan; Wade Henderson, with whom I have worked over many years; and Louis and Alice Henkin, who together helped to promote and protect human rights in international law. And so we’re working to lead by example and hold ourselves accountable. And actually, we’re trying to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenge that America should be the best possible mirror of democracy that she can be.
So this year’s State Department Human Trafficking Report, for the first time, graded our own efforts as well as others. Last month, we presented our own human rights record as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. And just as we ask other governments to work with civil society groups, we also held a special event to allow NGOs from around the world to speak directly with officials from 12 different federal agencies, and we webcast the proceedings.
We’re doing that and a lot more, but we need your advice, your support, your recommendations, your constructive criticism, because we want to help. Human Rights Day is a celebration of you and of what you are doing, and it is also a reminder and a challenge about how much more we all have to do.
So with that, I will turn you back to the triumvirate at the front here to take all the hard questions, because I am moving on. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.