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Key U.S. Accomplishments at the UN Human Rights Council 18th Session

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.

 


Nelson Mandela and the Transformative Power of Tolerance and Reconciliation

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America during a Panel on Mandela / Tolerance and Reconciliation

Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to the excellent and esteemed panelists for your insight and commitment to this work.

There is no better example of the transformative power of tolerance and reconciliation than Nelson Mandela and his inspiring work in overthrowing the apartheid government in South Africa. Nelson Mandela faced one of the greatest evils of our time. He understood the power of words to change minds and the power of peaceful deeds to open hearts. Nelson Mandela taught us that the humanity all of us share can help us transcend the sins some of us commit. His life reminds us that justice and tolerance can overcome even the greatest cruelty.

The United States is profoundly committed to combating racism and eliminating racial discrimination in all forms and all places. Through our own experience, and in learning from the example of Mandela, we know that tolerance and reconciliation are important tools in that effort.

There is a common theme running through the work of today’s distinguished panelists and Nelson Mandela – they live the values that they espouse. Through sustained and principled action to promote and protect human rights, we can foster more just, tolerant, and equal societies.

The United States has long believed that there are many actions that states can take to combat intolerance and discrimination, including on the basis of race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or gender. Those actions include: speaking out against intolerance, promoting intercultural dialogue, training government officials in effective outreach strategies, promoting education and awareness-building, enforcing anti-discrimination laws, and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. We are dedicated to working with others to ensure that such endeavors are implemented around the world.

With respect to intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion, this Council took an important step last March with the adoption of Resolution 16/18, a resolution that the United States enthusiastically supports. Our divides can be bridged through sustained efforts to listen to each other, learn from each other, respect one another, and seek common ground – just as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa. The United States will continue to engage actively on issues of intolerance and discrimination and work in partnership with all nations of goodwill to live the values that we espouse – to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms.

 


Efforts to Combat Racism Must also Preserve Robust Freedom of Expression

Remarks delivered under Item 9: Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Thank you Madame President.

The United States expresses its appreciation to the Special Rapporteur on Racism and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent for drawing attention to the continued vigilance that is needed in order to combat racism and to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. We condemn racism of any kind for any purpose by any person or group against any person or group. We have worked hard at every level to combat racism, including:

Domestically, we take seriously our obligations as a State Party to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The United States implements these obligations through the operation of the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and local laws, together with the federal and state machinery charged with protecting human rights. Our laws prohibit discrimination based on race in all areas of life, from education to housing to employment. We work to ensure that hate crimes are prosecuted, that law enforcement misconduct is investigated and remedied, and that our laws and programs ensure fair housing, fair lending, equal educational opportunity, equal employment opportunity and the right to vote are enjoyed by all, without regard to race.

Bilaterally, we have co-funded and cooperated in anti-racism programs around the world, such as the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality and the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan to Promote Racial and Ethnic Equality; and

Multilaterally, we have pledged $650,000 to UNESCO to develop an anti-racism curriculum; provided resources to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-descendants and against Racial Discrimination; and joined other countries in the Western Hemisphere to focus on the International Year for People of African Descent.

But the United States believes that even the best-intentioned efforts to combat racism must also preserve robust freedom of expression. We are concerned that the Special Rapporteur, for example, recommends that States prohibit advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence; dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred; and incitement to racial discrimination. He also invokes the limitations in Articles 19-22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, apparently to suggest that States should control the Internet or other new technologies to prevent extremists from spreading material that is deemed racist. In its recommendations, the Working Group invokes Article 4 of the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to underline the need to criminalize racism.

We remain deeply concerned about speech that advocates national, racial, or religious hatred, particularly when it seeks to incite imminent violence, discrimination, or hostility. But based on our own experience, the United States remains convinced that the best antidote to offensive speech is not bans and punishments but a combination of three key elements: robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to racial and religious groups, and the vigorous speech that challenges the premises and conclusions of hateful speech.

Thank you very much Madame President.

 


U.S. Statement on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States is profoundly committed to ending racism and racial discrimination. We remain fully and firmly committed to upholding the human rights of all people and to combating racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, anti-Semitism and bigotry, including through enhanced implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This commitment is rooted in the saddest chapters of our history and reflected in the most cherished values of our union. We will continue to work in partnership with all nations of goodwill to uphold human rights and combat racism, bigotry, and racial discrimination in all forms and all places.

Our concerns about the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) are well-known, including its unfair and unacceptable singling out of Israel and its endorsement of overbroad restrictions on freedom of expression that run counter to the U.S. commitment to robust free speech. But we will always stand ready to work with others in the effort to combat racism, bigotry, and racial discrimination.

The United States has just pledged $650,000 in extra-budgetary funds to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to develop and disseminate an anti-racism educational curriculum titled “Teaching Respect for All.” As an outcome of President Obama’s March 2011 visit to Brazil, the Brazilian government is partnering with us on this important initiative. The curriculum will be developed over two years, after which time it will be available for global dissemination by UNESCO through its contacts with education ministries, as well as its extensive network of affiliated schools.

In the Western Hemisphere, the United States is working bilaterally with Brazil and Colombia on Action Plans to Promote Racial and Ethnic Equality, sharing best practices and implementing programs to improve access to the justice system, political institutions, employment, health care, education, and environmental justice for people of African descent and indigenous people in our societies.

We look forward to working with other nations to strengthen efforts to combat racism around the world.

Thank you, Madame President.

 


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.

 


The Human Rights Situation in Belarus has Deteriorated Sharply Since 2010 Elections

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.

 


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.

 


Crisis in Libya is Not Over; Commission of Inquiry Must Continue its Mandate

Statement delivered during the Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Libya

Madame President,

The United States would like to thank the Commission of Inquiry for Libya for the important work it has already undertaken, even as we express our concern about impediments to its full functioning during the critical months since the Council extended its mandate. The Commission’s dedication to impartial and timely reporting on human rights violations is commendable during this sensitive time of transition.

We see a better future for Libya without a Qadhafi regime, with a new government that responds to the democratic aspirations of the Libyan people, respects their universal human rights, and adheres to Libya’s international commitments and obligations. With broad international support, and credentials at the United Nations granted this week, the Transitional National Council represents a clean break from the Qadhafi legacy. the TNC has expressed its commitment to protect and respect the rights and freedoms of the Libyan people, to respond to their legitimate aspirations for good governance, to embrace human rights principles and give a meaningful voice to the Libyan people in how they are governed. We support those goals.

The United States remains concerned by some reports of human rights abuses and violations in Libya, including the treatment of vulnerable minority groups. In a letter to the Secretary General this week, the TNC stated that it will work to ensure security and accountability according to the rule of law and in line with Libya’s human rights obligations and commitments. We have called on the TNC to live to those commitments. The TNC has facilitated visits by UNHCR, IOM, and NGOs to detention facilities to investigate reports of arbitrary detentions and abuse of Libyans and sub-Saharan African migrants. We commend the TNC for its openness to working with the international community. The TNC has called upon the UN to provide technical assistance, to allow it to protect human rights, particularly for individuals belonging to vulnerable groups, and to support transitional justice. We look forward to working with the TNC on critical human rights concerns once Libya is reinstated to the Council.

The crisis in Libya is not over, and we call on the Commission of Inquiry to continue its critical mandate. We trust that the High Commissioner recognizes the high priority that is placed on Commission of Inquiry for Libya, and will continue to support its important work through to the end of its mandate. We stand ready to work with OHCHR and other member states to ensure that funding and other bureaucratic hurdles are not permitted to stand in the way of full implementation of HRC mandates.

Thank you.

 


U.S. Condemns Use of Force Against Civilians, Calls for Peaceful Transition in Yemen

Statement delivered during the Interactive Dialogue with the OHCHR Mission to Yemen

Madame President,

The United States would like to thank the Office of the High Commissioner for its work, including its visit to Yemen. The High Commissioner’s report calls attention to many important human rights concerns that have developed in Yemen.

The United States remains concerned by recent human rights violations committed in Yemen, particularly the excessive force used against peaceful protesters and civilians.

The United States acknowledges the Office of the High Commissioner’s recommendations, as outlined in this report, particularly calls to end attacks against peaceful protesters and other civilians, as well as to take steps to ensure the protection of vulnerable populations, such as displaced persons, and peaceful demonstrators. In addition, the United States strongly supports the High Commissioner’s call on the international community to urge all Yemeni parties to refrain from the use of violence.

Today’s discussion on Yemen comes against the backdrop of increasingly disturbing reports of additional violence. According to news reports from Saana, yesterday government forces opened fire with anti-aircraft guns and automatic weapons on thousands of protestors. The United States condemns the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors and civilians in Yemen.

Last week President Saleh delegated to the vice president the authority to bring to an end the political crisis. We urge vice president Hadi to take immediate action to implement the transition and bring an end to the bloodshed. The United States believes that now is the time for an immediate, peaceful and orderly transition that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people and bring those responsible for crimes committed against peaceful protestors and other civilians to justice.

Thank You Madame President.

 


U.S. Welcomes Rapid Appointment of HRC Team to Investigate the Situation in Syria

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.

 
 

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