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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Statement delivered during the Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Libya
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.
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.
Remarks delivered under Item 3, General Debate
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States is glad to have to the opportunity to affirm our unwavering commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
People around the world continue to demonstrate their desire for democratic government. We are inspired by the strength, courage, and innovation shown by peaceful demonstrators across the Middle East, and we support transitions to genuine democracies that reflect the aspirations of people across the region.
Against the backdrop of dramatic developments from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus, we would like to emphasize in particular the essential role that civil society plays in the protection and promotion of human rights, and in the transition to genuine, vibrant democracies.
Civil society provides a critical foundation for holding governments accountable, ensuring good governance, and promoting all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Citizens, activists, organizations, congregations, writers, journalists and reporters each play a vital role in encouraging governments to respect human rights. The mandate of this Council acknowledges the importance of these groups in creating and maintaining a healthy, vibrant society. Our commitment to civil society is renewed every time NGOs and national human rights institutions are given a voice in this chamber.
We call upon emerging democracies to recognize and publicly defend the vital role civil society plays in the transition to healthy and vibrant democracies. New governments must recognize this important role through their laws and their actions. To allow civil society to develop and flourish, governments must respect the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In this light, we especially appreciated the timely and informative panel on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests earlier this week.
Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated the importance of peaceful assembly, the time-honored right to come together in public to demonstrate demands, as a vital tool for civil society. This Council has acknowledged its importance in the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Peaceful Assembly and Freedom of Association.
Likewise, civil society members must be able to express themselves in person, in the media, and over the internet. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our bedrock document, showed great wisdom when they emphasized that freedom of expression applies equally “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
States using the excuses of security, order, or stability as a justification to unduly restrict these rights do so at their peril. The permissible scope of restrictions under international human rights law is very narrow and should only be used when absolutely necessary. The former governments of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt used these arguments to justify restricting basic rights and freedoms. But they had to answer to their people in the end. In Syria, we are again seeing what happens when a government tries to silence its people for too long.
Civil society must be able to make its voice heard in government and have a meaningful role in the conduct of public affairs. In many parts of the world we have seen civil society work effectively to demand transparency, protect the environment, battle corruption, promote charity and relief work, and defend the rights of the poor and disenfranchised elements of societies. We strongly support these efforts. As Secretary Clinton recently stated, “We have to protect civil society…They are the ones going to prison, they are the ones being beaten up, they are the ones on the front lines of democracy.”
We call upon this Council to continue its work with vigor and purpose, paying special attention to the important role that civil society plays in political transition. We have been heartened to see how this Council has responded to repression and widespread human rights violations in the Middle East. We urge the Council to continue to address human rights violations as they occur in other parts of the world. We look forward to working collaboratively to achieve these goals.
Thank you, Madame President.
Thank you, Dr. Tuman, for that introduction. Thanks also to the School of Liberal Arts, for putting together this event, and to all of you for coming out today. As the lead State Department official overseeing U.S. interaction with the UN system – including UN bodies in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Rome, Nairobi, Paris, and Montreal – it is my privilege to hear from Americans about the challenges you see facing the United States, and to share with you the good work your diplomats are doing every day to advance U.S. foreign policy at the United Nations. With global attention soon turning to New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly, it is a natural time to discuss these issues.
Even after the presidents and prime ministers have left New York later this month, your diplomats there – and at the UN bodies in the cities I just mentioned – will continue their work on a broad range of issues that benefit Americans. Robust U.S. engagement with the United Nations stems from a simple fact: in a 21st century world where threats do not stop at borders, even the United States cannot tackle many of our most urgent problems alone.
We have known for a long time that what happens beyond our borders affects our security and our economy, and that we ignore turmoil abroad at our own peril. Nuclear proliferation threatens the security of us all, regardless of nationality. If not checked, the impact of climate change will be truly global, albeit felt in different ways. Threats to freedom and universal human rights anywhere stain our collective conscience. Terrorism and transnational crime pay no heed to national borders; pandemic disease requires no passport to move quickly from one country to the next. We know that conflict and instability, even when it is half a world away, can unleash these and other dangers.
Americans benefit immensely from globalization and the interconnections it brings with peoples around the globe. Here, in one of the tourism and commerce capitals of the world, you instinctively understand that more than most. Our security and prosperity are inextricably hardwired to the rest of the world but it does not mean that the United States should take on the world’s problems by ourselves. American troops should not police every conflict, and American generosity alone cannot solve every humanitarian crisis or bring relief after every natural disaster. Because these common global challenges call for shared global solutions, we find ourselves more than ever working through the UN to achieve many of our most important foreign policy goals.
On matters of international peace and security, the UN’s role has been central to several top U.S. foreign policy priorities. UN peacekeepers help prevent conflict and protect civilians around the globe, at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. troops. Security Council sanctions on Iran have had a significant effect on that regime, including by hampering its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. UN counterterrorism sanctions have isolated terrorists and frozen their assets and those of their supporters. UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq work to strengthen democracy and mediate local conflicts, meaning that we can draw down our military forces there on schedule.
The UN’s humanitarian agencies also deliver lifesaving aid in many of the world’s worst crises. From Haiti to Somalia, Pakistan to the Congo, the World Food Program and UNICEF are preempting starvation, the World Health Organization is preventing outbreaks of disease through vaccination programs, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is providing comfort to those displaced from their homes. These agencies are only a few of the important UN organizations that are saving lives, providing critical humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations, and contributing to the overall human security on which lasting peace must be built.
The United States also works through the UN system to promote global respect for human rights and universal values. I will discuss in a moment our work at the Human Rights Council, and the advances that body has made as a result of U.S. engagement. We see the UN as an increasingly important forum for bringing the countries of the world together to promote human rights and call out abuses and violations of liberty, equality, and basic human dignity, no matter where they occur.
And UN technical and specialized agencies support the architecture of globalization we have all come to take for granted. From international civil aviation to worldwide postal service, from cross-border telecommunications to global shipping, it is through the long list of UN agencies, many of which you may never have heard of, that the world builds and maintains the links that bring us all together.
Working through the United Nations means we do not have to choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing. Instead, we can show global leadership, to bring together allies and partners to achieve our goals. This was true recently in the international response to Libya, where both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council served to channel the international community’s collective response. In this case, these two UN bodies worked to reinforce each other’s actions and maximize international pressure on the Qadhafi regime.
So as the members of the Security Council met to determine that body’s initial response, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was called into special session, where it launched an international commission of inquiry to investigate the reality on the ground, and recommended suspending Libya’s membership. This helped catalyze a unanimous Security Council resolution the next day that imposed tough sanctions against the Qadhafi regime, referred his depredations to the International Criminal Court, and warned him that the world would not stand by as his forces attacked Libyan civilians whose only wrongdoing was their desire for freedom.
When the Qadhafi regime failed to heed this warning, we went back to the Security Council and worked to shape a mandate to protect civilians in Libya. An unprecedented coalition, included the United States, our NATO allies, and Arab nations, launched a military operation to save civilian lives and stop Qadhafi’s forces. And in the course of the past few months, the Transitional National Council has established itself as a credible representative of the Libyan people, such that the United States has recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. We support the TNC’s work with the international community to prepare for a post-Qadhafi Libya.
Although we have come to expect the UN Security Council to act decisively with regard to threats to international peace and security, the Human Rights Council has not always acted as deftly as it did in Libya. Some critics had asked whether it was much better than the old Commission on Human Rights that it replaced. They argued that too many of the members had dubious human rights records, that the Council spent far too much time unfairly focused on Israel, and that it failed to show it could act quickly and to concretely address pressing human rights situations around the world.
Given these criticisms, it was not without controversy that the Obama Administration announced in 2009 that the United States would run for a seat on the Human Rights Council. Although the previous Administration had kept the Council at arm’s length since its creation, we believed that if the United States wanted the HRC to live up to its mandate to protect and promote the human rights of all mankind, we could not leave it to be dominated by others.
I am pleased to report that the Human Rights Council has fundamentally changed over the past two years as a result of U.S. engagement. Both Iran and Syria backed out of campaigns to get elected after tough diplomacy by the United States and our partners made clear they would lose. Though the Human Rights Council held five special sessions on Israel in the three years before the United States took our seat, there have been none – none – in almost two years. And thanks to leadership by the United States and our partners, the Human Rights Council is showing an increased ability to respond quickly and constructively to serious human rights abuses. That includes launching the international commission of inquiry in Libya, as I mentioned before. It includes working with the interim Tunisian government to ensure respect for human rights during the transition there. And it includes tough resolutions on the human rights situation in Syria, along with an international commission of inquiry to investigate the Assad regime’s continued lethal attacks against peaceful protestors, and provide the foundation for international accountability.
There is far more that we have achieved since joining the Human Rights Council, from promoting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly worldwide, to reinforcing the principle that the rights of LGBT persons are, yes, human rights. I can go into further detail during the question-and-answer period if you would like. And yes, we remain disappointed that the Council continues its bias against Israel, even if it is reduced. But the change that has come over that body since the United States took our seat in 2009 is a testament to the benefits of U.S. engagement at the United Nations.
Our strong diplomatic engagement at the Human Rights Council was not the only path we could have taken. There are critics even today who call for drastic unilateral steps that would undermine the important work we are doing, in a time when our need for shared solutions is growing. These go-it-alone types think the United States pays too much in dues, or allege that the UN is incorrigibly corrupt, or point to instances where the United States disagrees with some symbolic vote or conference held in the UN General Assembly. From that, they argue that the United States would be better off without the United Nations, that we should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, or that we somehow can force the UN to correct some shortcoming by refusing to pay the dues we owe pursuant to treaty obligations.
They could not be more wrong.
For too long, the United States played games with our UN assessments, paying them when we wanted to and withholding them whenever we felt doing so was somehow justified. So sometimes the UN peacekeepers sent out into harm’s way got paid, and sometimes they did not. Not only did this practice wreak havoc on UN budgeting – imagine trying to run a corporation never knowing if your largest investor will up and pull out its stake – it also undermined U.S. credibility, and hurt our ability to get things done at the UN.
But all this has changed since 2009. President Obama’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full has given us more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations. Both in pursuing foreign policy goals and in pressing for UN management reform and budget discipline, our failure to keep current on our UN dues hamstrung our diplomats and hurt our national interest. For too long, our adversaries could change the subject to our arrears when we pressed them on an important policy matter; they no longer can do so.
And what, you ask, is the price for all this? What does this investment in shared security, universal values, and global systems cost the American taxpayer? About one-tenth of one percent of federal spending.
That is because U.S. global leadership at the UN means we pay our fair share of the burden. Not more, not less. Our UN dues amount to roughly twenty-five cents on the dollar. That is right: every dollar we put into the UN system leverages roughly three dollars from the rest of the world toward solutions to our shared challenges. And as careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, this Administration is proud of the management and budget reform initiatives we have worked with the United Nations to create and implement. The United States is second to none in pursuing a more efficient, effective, and transparent UN. These accomplishments may not grab headlines, but they get results. Not only do these efforts save money, they also help ensure that the United Nations is strong enough to bear the burdens we must place upon it in the decades to come.
As I have discussed tonight, U.S. engagement at the United Nations is an essential means of achieving our foreign policy goals and advancing our values. It is an important forum for burden-sharing in tough financial times. And it clearly benefits Americans.
I want to thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today, and I look forward to any questions you may have.
I congratulate the Human Rights Council for its work to create an international independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and to make clear the world’s concern for the Syrian people. Today, the international community joined together to denounce the Syrian regime’s horrific violence. The United States worked closely with countries from every part of the world – more than 30 members of the Human Rights Council, including key Arab members — to establish this mandate.
The Commission of Inquiry will investigate all violations of international human rights law by Syrian Authorities and help the international community address the serious human rights abuses in Syria and ensure that those responsible are held to account.
There are credible reports that government forces in Syria have committed numerous gross human rights violations, including torture and summary executions in their crackdown against opposition members. The most recent attack by Syrian security forces on protesters in Homs is as deplorable as it is sadly representative of the Asad regime’s utter disregard for the Syrian people.
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the slaughter, arrest, and torture of peaceful protesters taking place in Syria. We continue to urge nations around the world to stand with the Syrian people in their demands for a government that represents the needs and will of its people and protects their universal rights. For the sake of the Syrian people, it is time for Asad to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves.