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U.S. Condemns Syria’s Continued Violent and Deadly Repression of Peaceful Protests

Ambassador Betty E. King, U.S. Mission Geneva photo

Ambassador Betty E. King, U.S. Mission Geneva photo


U.S. Statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Syria, 12th Session

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Syrian government’s gross violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people and its continued violent and deadly repression of peaceful protests.

The Syrian national report touts its human rights record and states that its people enjoy fundamental rights and legal protections, but for over four decades, Syrian security forces have operated with impunity, directed by unaccountable dictators, immunized by unjust laws and protected by a politicized judiciary. The Syrian people remain unable to achieve their aspirations or enjoy universal human rights despite more recently announced reforms that have no purpose except to provide cover for the government’s continued atrocities.

The Syrian government responded to peaceful protests by killing over 2,900 civilians in the past seven months in military and security operations, using tanks and heavy weapons. The Syrian national report states that freedom is a sacred right guaranteed by the constitution but even as we speak, the Syrian people continue to suffer mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture and targeted killing of civilians. A government that fails to respect the will of its people, denies the fundamental rights of its citizens, and chooses to rule through terror and intimidation, cannot be considered legitimate and must step aside immediately.

Bearing this in mind, the United States has the following recommendations:

1. Immediately end violations of international human rights law, including violent reprisals against peaceful protestors, political activists and their families;

2. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience;

3. Expeditiously permit international humanitarian missions, human rights observers and media unrestricted access within Syria, including the HRC Commission of Inquiry; and

4. Allow a Syrian-led transition to take place that will initiate change in laws and lead to the formation of an inclusive and representative government that adheres to the rule of law and upholds the rights of members of religious and ethnic minorities.

 


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.

 


Making Right to Development a Uniting, Rather than Divisive, Issue on the Human Rights Agenda

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.

 


More Must Be Done to Protect Children in Armed Conflict

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.

 


U.S. Deeply Concerned about Use of Force Against Peaceful Protestors

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.

 


U.S. Statement at the HRC Dialogue on the Right to Drinking Water and Sanitation

Remarks delivered during an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water and Sanitation

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States takes note with interest of the report of the special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation. We support the special rapporteur’s assertion that governments should strive to progressively realize universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and should seek to expand access, especially for underserved populations. We agree with her on the importance of monitoring and evaluation the quality of and affordability of drinking water and sanitation as well as the obligation governments have to ensure that access to safe drinking water and sanitation services is provided on a nondiscriminatory basis.

In light of this, we would like to take a few moments to respond to the report from the special rapporteur’s country visit to the United States of America from February 22 to March 4, 2011.

We underscore our commitment to providing safe and clean drinking water and proper sanitation to the American people. The United States is understandably proud of the tremendous accomplishments it has made it the past decades to provide its citizens with clean water at an affordable price. As the special rapporteur notes in her report, 92 percent of the population was served by water systems which met mandatory health standards. In addition, the U.S. far exceeds World Bank guidelines on affordability, as combined water and sewage bills average only 0.5 percent of household income.

While we recognize the challenges presented by the report, we have conveyed to the rapporteur our concerns that the report often focuses on anecdotes that do not fairly depict the state of drinking water and sanitation in the United States. Moreover, the report makes some factual errors and does not cite sources for some statistics.

The United States also acknowledges that some indigenous communities face significant challenges with respect to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. However, the United States is taking steps to address these challenges in conjunction with Tribal and State governments. For example, the United States has established a partnership across federal government agencies that brings together expertise and resources to address access issues, including funding of the construction of water and sanitation systems for indigenous communities. Furthermore, some of the issues raised regarding indigenous peoples are unrelated to their access to water and sanitation, and –to the extent they need to be addressed—would be more appropriately addressed by other special procedure mandate holders.

The report does not take into full account the federal system of the United States, where a number of the issues raised may be most feasibly handled at the state or local level rather than through federal action. As the report notes, water in the United States is governed by a complex amalgam of federal and state statutes which make it hard to make generalizations; however, given the broad range of issues and situations in our country, it is impossible to have a one-size-fits-all solution.

As the report points out, there are considerable challenges that exist, such as in replacing aging infrastructure and providing drinking water to remote communities. We will give the report’s recommendations due consideration.

We look forward to continuing to work with the special rapporteur to take concrete action to reduce the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 
 

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