Statement by Laurie Shestack Phipps, at a Session of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on Advancement of Women
(Remarks as delivered)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We are pleased that the Third Committee is devoting its attention to this important agenda item on the advancement of women, and we thank Executive Director Bachelet for her informative and insightful report. We send heartfelt congratulations to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, and Liberian peace activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee for the prestigious honor of sharing this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. As Secretary Clinton said last week, “They are shining examples of the difference that women can make and the progress they can help achieve when given the opportunity to make decisions about the future of their societies and countries.” We also express our sadness at the recent passing of Professor Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and we celebrate her life and accomplishments.
The United States has made the empowerment of women and girls a guiding principle both at home and abroad, and we continue to incorporate women’s empowerment into all aspects of our foreign policy and international development assistance. Today I would like to focus on two areas in which women’s empowerment has become increasingly critical: the need to ensure women’s full political participation, especially during times of transition; and the issue of women’s equal right to nationality.
While we celebrate the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners and their achievements, we need to remember that across the globe, women’s voices in political decision-making are still muted. Discriminatory laws and practices persist. If women cannot be equal partners in the political process, especially in times of transformation, nothing less than the development, economic prosperity, and stability of their nations is put at risk.
Recently, in the Middle East and North Africa, women often risked their lives to lead street protests and call for an end to repression. But after pressing for democracy, some of the same women now face exclusion from key political negotiations.
In this context, we commend the UN’s work to highlight the costs of excluding women from the political process. UN Women did just this in the high-level event on “Women’s Political Participation” that it hosted on the margins of the General Assembly’s general debate last month. At that successful event, Secretary of State Clinton, alongside leaders from UN Women, UNDP, and a diverse group of countries, spoke out about the need to ensure women’s involvement in all aspects of political processes and decision-making. They also signed a Joint Statement on advancing women’s political participation, which President Obama highlighted in his address to the General Assembly last month. As President Obama said, “no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs.” President Obama challenged all states, including our own, to announce next year the steps they are taking to break down the economic and political barriers facing women and girls.
UN Women, under Michelle Bachelet’s strong leadership, and other parts of the UN system also have a key role in helping to break down those barriers. This Committee can contribute to that effort. To that end, the United States, joined by cross-regional co-sponsors, will be tabling a resolution on women’s political participation, with emphasis on periods of democratic political transition, for this Committee’s consideration. The United States and the other co-sponsors welcome broad cross-regional co-sponsorship and support for the resolution, which builds on our previous resolution 58/142.
Another important aspect of women’s empowerment that deserves all of our attentions is the issue of women’s equal right to nationality. In particular, the consequences of nationality laws that discriminate against women are not sufficiently recognized. Such discriminatory laws have consequences that deprive women and their families of legal protections in their countries of residence, often for generations, and can ultimately lead to statelessness. In many cases, nationality laws permit only a child’s father to transmit his citizenship or discriminatorily limit the ability of the mother to do so. In some cases, nationality laws strip women of their citizenship upon marriage to a foreign spouse, or prohibit women’s foreign spouses from naturalization. Without recognition by any state, stateless persons typically lack identity documentation, and cannot register births, marriages, or deaths. Without such documentation, they often cannot work legally or travel freely. They cannot vote, open a bank account, or own property, and they often lack access to health care and other public services. Without birth registration or citizenship documents, children are often barred from attending school. For these reasons, stateless women and their families are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
The United States is seeking to raise global awareness of this under-recognized problem for women’s rights and human rights—a problem that exists in as many as 30 countries around the world. Women’s nationality rights are a factor in determining their political, economic and social empowerment, and influence their ability to contribute to democratic governance, peace and stability, and economic development in their countries. The United States urges governments throughout the world to repeal discriminatory nationality laws, and commends civil society groups that continue to advocate for women’s equal right to nationality. We support the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ global mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness, including by providing technical assistance to eliminate discrimination against women in nationality laws. And we encourage other UN agencies, such as UN Women, UNDP, and UNICEF, to strengthen their work on this important issue.
Today I have focused on just two areas where together we can do much to empower women. Much remains to be done in other areas to advance women, including women’s health, violence against women, economic empowerment, and education for girls. The United States remains committed to working with all of you on these areas as well. Together, we can ensure that women can contribute fully to peace, security, development, and prosperity.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: It is a great honor for me to be here today. I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations — the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.
War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilizations. But in the first part of the 20th century, the advance of modern weaponry led to death on a staggering scale. It was this killing that compelled the founders of this body to build an institution that was focused not just on ending one war, but on averting others; a union of sovereign states that would seek to prevent conflict, while also addressing its causes.
No American did more to pursue this objective than President Franklin Roosevelt. He knew that a victory in war was not enough. As he said at one of the very first meetings on the founding of the United Nations, “We have got to make, not merely peace, but a peace that will last.”
The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than just the absence of war. A lasting peace — for nations and for individuals — depends on a sense of justice and opportunity, of dignity and freedom. It depends on struggle and sacrifice, on compromise, and on a sense of common humanity.
One delegate to the San Francisco Conference that led to the creation of the United Nations put it well: “Many people,” she said, “have talked as if all that has to be done to get peace was to say loudly and frequently that we loved peace and we hated war. Now we have learned that no matter how much we love peace and hate war, we cannot avoid having war brought upon us if there are convulsions in other parts of the world.”
The fact is peace is hard. But our people demand it. Over nearly seven decades, even as the United Nations helped avert a third world war, we still live in a world scarred by conflict and plagued by poverty. Even as we proclaim our love for peace and our hatred of war, there are still convulsions in our world that endanger us all.
I took office at a time of two wars for the United States. Moreover, the violent extremists who drew us into war in the first place — Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda organization — remained at large. Today, we’ve set a new direction.
At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over. We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq — for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.
As we end the war in Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have begun a transition in Afghanistan. Between now and 2014, an increasingly capable Afghan government and security forces will step forward to take responsibility for the future of their country. As they do, we are drawing down our own forces, while building an enduring partnership with the Afghan people.
So let there be no doubt: The tide of war is receding. When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline. This is critical for the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also critical to the strength of the United States as we build our nation at home.
Moreover, we are poised to end these wars from a position of strength. Ten years ago, there was an open wound and twisted steel, a broken heart in the center of this city. Today, as a new tower is rising at Ground Zero, it symbolizes New York’s renewal, even as al Qaeda is under more pressure than ever before. Its leadership has been degraded. And Osama bin Laden, a man who murdered thousands of people from dozens of countries, will never endanger the peace of the world again.
So, yes, this has been a difficult decade. But today, we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace. To do so, we must return to the wisdom of those who created this institution. The United Nations’ Founding Charter calls upon us, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” And Article 1 of this General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.” Those bedrock beliefs — in the responsibility of states, and the rights of men and women — must be our guide.
And in that effort, we have reason to hope. This year has been a time of extraordinary transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity.
Think about it: One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt. But the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination. And last summer, as a new flag went up in Juba, former soldiers laid down their arms, men and women wept with joy, and children finally knew the promise of looking to a future that they will shape.
One year ago, the people of Côte D’Ivoire approached a landmark election. And when the incumbent lost, and refused to respect the results, the world refused to look the other way. U.N. peacekeepers were harassed, but they did not leave their posts. The Security Council, led by the United States and Nigeria and France, came together to support the will of the people. And Côte D’Ivoire is now governed by the man who was elected to lead.
One year ago, the hopes of the people of Tunisia were suppressed. But they chose the dignity of peaceful protest over the rule of an iron fist. A vendor lit a spark that took his own life, but he ignited a movement. In a face of a crackdown, students spelled out the word, “freedom.” The balance of fear shifted from the ruler to those that he ruled. And now the people of Tunisia are preparing for elections that will move them one step closer to the democracy that they deserve.
One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.
One year ago, the people of Libya were ruled by the world’s longest-serving dictator. But faced with bullets and bombs and a dictator who threatened to hunt them down like rats, they showed relentless bravery. We will never forget the words of the Libyan who stood up in those early days of the revolution and said, “Our words are free now.” It’s a feeling you can’t explain. Day after day, in the face of bullets and bombs, the Libyan people refused to give back that freedom. And when they were threatened by the kind of mass atrocity that often went unchallenged in the last century, the United Nations lived up to its charter. The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre. The Arab League called for this effort; Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.
In the months that followed, the will of the coalition proved unbreakable, and the will of the Libyan people could not be denied. Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free. Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli.
This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights. Now, all of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.
So this has been a remarkable year. The Qaddafi regime is over. Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power. Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him. Something is happening in our world. The way things have been is not the way that they will be. The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open. Dictators are on notice. Technology is putting power into the hands of the people. The youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and rejecting the lie that some races, some peoples, some religions, some ethnicities do not desire democracy. The promise written down on paper — “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” — is closer at hand.
But let us remember: Peace is hard. Peace is hard. Progress can be reversed. Prosperity comes slowly. Societies can split apart. The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security. And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations. And we have more work to do.
In Iran, we’ve seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people. As we meet here today, men and women and children are being tortured, detained and murdered by the Syrian regime. Thousands have been killed, many during the holy time of Ramadan. Thousands more have poured across Syria’s borders. The Syrian people have shown dignity and courage in their pursuit of justice — protesting peacefully, standing silently in the streets, dying for the same values that this institution is supposed to stand for. And the question for us is clear: Will we stand with the Syrian people, or with their oppressors?
Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders. We supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people. And many of our allies have joined in this effort. But for the sake of Syria — and the peace and security of the world — we must speak with one voice. There’s no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.
Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change. In Yemen, men, women and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.
In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that, but more is required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart. It will be hard, but it is possible.
We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically. But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly. Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair. That is what our people deserve. Those are the elements of peace that can last.
Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity. We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press. We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country. And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad. And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.
Now, I know, particularly this week, that for many in this hall, there’s one issue that stands as a test for these principles and a test for American foreign policy, and that is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year. That basis is clear. It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.
Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied. That’s the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences. That’s the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state. And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.
We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.
But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
That is the truth — each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging. That’s what we should be promoting.
This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity. And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.
Now, even as we confront these challenges of conflict and revolution, we must also recognize — we must also remind ourselves — that peace is not just the absence of war. True peace depends on creating the opportunity that makes life worth living. And to do that, we must confront the common enemies of humanity: nuclear weapons and poverty, ignorance and disease. These forces corrode the possibility of lasting peace and together we’re called upon to confront them.
To lift the specter of mass destruction, we must come together to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Over the last two years, we’ve begun to walk down that path. Since our Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, nearly 50 nations have taken steps to secure nuclear materials from terrorists and smugglers. Next March, a summit in Seoul will advance our efforts to lock down all of them. The New START Treaty between the United States and Russia will cut our deployed arsenals to the lowest level in half a century, and our nations are pursuing talks on how to achieve even deeper reductions. America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons and the production of fissile material needed to make them.
And so we have begun to move in the right direction. And the United States is committed to meeting our obligations. But even as we meet our obligations, we’ve strengthened the treaties and institutions that help stop the spread of these weapons. And to do so, we must continue to hold accountable those nations that flout them.
The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful. It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the South. There’s a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation. That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.
To bring prosperity to our people, we must promote the growth that creates opportunity. In this effort, let us not forget that we’ve made enormous progress over the last several decades. Closed societies gave way to open markets. Innovation and entrepreneurship has transformed the way we live and the things that we do. Emerging economies from Asia to the Americas have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty. It’s an extraordinary achievement. And yet, three years ago, we were confronted with the worst financial crisis in eight decades. And that crisis proved a fact that has become clearer with each passing year — our fates are interconnected. In a global economy, nations will rise, or fall, together.
And today, we confront the challenges that have followed on the heels of that crisis. Around the world recovery is still fragile. Markets remain volatile. Too many people are out of work. Too many others are struggling just to get by. We acted together to avert a depression in 2009. We must take urgent and coordinated action once more. Here in the United States, I’ve announced a plan to put Americans back to work and jumpstart our economy, at the same time as I’m committed to substantially reducing our deficits over time.
We stand with our European allies as they reshape their institutions and address their own fiscal challenges. For other countries, leaders face a different challenge as they shift their economy towards more self-reliance, boosting domestic demand while slowing inflation. So we will work with emerging economies that have rebounded strongly, so that rising standards of living create new markets that promote global growth. That’s what our commitment to prosperity demands.
To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right. The United States has made it a focus of our engagement abroad to help people to feed themselves. And today, as drought and conflict have brought famine to the Horn of Africa, our conscience calls on us to act. Together, we must continue to provide assistance, and support organizations that can reach those in need. And together, we must insist on unrestricted humanitarian access so that we can save the lives of thousands of men and women and children. Our common humanity is at stake. Let us show that the life of a child in Somalia is as precious as any other. That is what our commitment to our fellow human beings demand.
To stop disease that spreads across borders, we must strengthen our system of public health. We will continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We will focus on the health of mothers and of children. And we must come together to prevent, and detect, and fight every kind of biological danger — whether it’s a pandemic like H1N1, or a terrorist threat, or a treatable disease.
This week, America signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to affirm our commitment to meet this challenge. And today, I urge all nations to join us in meeting the HWO’s [sic] goal of making sure all nations have core capacities to address public health emergencies in place by 2012. That is what our commitment to the health of our people demands.
To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands. We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made. Together, we must work to transform the energy that powers our economies, and support others as they move down that path. That is what our commitment to the next generation demands.
And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer. Together, we must harness the power of open societies and open economies. That’s why we’ve partnered with countries from across the globe to launch a new partnership on open government that helps ensure accountability and helps to empower citizens. No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.
And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. This is what our commitment to human progress demands.
I know there’s no straight line to that progress, no single path to success. We come from different cultures, and carry with us different histories. But let us never forget that even as we gather here as heads of different governments, we represent citizens who share the same basic aspirations — to live with dignity and freedom; to get an education and pursue opportunity; to love our families, and love and worship our God; to live in the kind of peace that makes life worth living.
It is the nature of our imperfect world that we are forced to learn these lessons over and over again. Conflict and repression will endure so long as some people refuse to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Yet that is precisely why we have built institutions like this — to bind our fates together, to help us recognize ourselves in each other — because those who came before us believed that peace is preferable to war, and freedom is preferable to suppression, and prosperity is preferable to poverty. That’s the message that comes not from capitals, but from citizens, from our people.
And when the cornerstone of this very building was put in place, President Truman came here to New York and said, “The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations.” The moral nature of man’s aspirations. As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that’s a lesson that we must never forget.
Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Today, by an overwhelming margin, the UN General Assembly approved the credentials of the Transitional National Council to represent the people of Libya at the United Nations. The United States congratulates the Libyan people for this historic step forward. As Libyans chart a course towards a more inclusive and democratic future that respects and protects human rights, they will have a friend and partner in the United States. I look forward to working with Libya’s new UN Permanent Representative on areas of mutual interest as our nations forge a relationship founded on mutual respect.
The Libyan people still have much more work to do, but they also have the full knowledge that the international community, including the United States, stands ready to help their transition towards democracy, prosperity, and the rule of law. For many months, the international community has been inspired by the courage of the Libyan people. At the Secretary-General’s high-level meeting next week and in the months ahead, we will continue to support their brave and determined pursuit of a better future.
Ensuring Effective and Full Participation in Political and Public Life for Persons with Disabilities
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The United States is pleased to address Article 29’s critical focus on ensuring effective and full participation in political and public life. We are committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in political and public affairs. We are working with members of civil society at home and internationally to empower individuals with disabilities to exercise their rights.
Multiple U.S. laws protect the rights to political participation for persons with disabilities. From the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, through the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (known as the “Motor Voter Act”), the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”) of 2002, and the foundational antidiscrimination protections offered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the U.S. has adopted a comprehensive approach to making political participation accessible. The U.S. government provides technical assistance to and monitors local governments to ensure the full realization of political rights of persons with disabilities and takes strong enforcement actions when individuals are denied their rights. The federal government also works collaboratively with civil society to provide training and tools so that consumers and advocates can monitor local governmental actions and ensure that local governmental entities fully recognize the rights of persons with disabilities.
U.S. laws require the physical accessibility of all venues for civic participation, including polling places. The process of casting ballots also must be accessible. Our laws require that public entities afford all persons effective communication, so that persons with disabilities can fully participate in public affairs without barriers. U.S. laws further mandate that election officials and other governmental workers should be trained in the electoral process and the rights of persons with disabilities so that they can assist individuals with all types of disabilities, including psycho-social, sensory, developmental, and physical, to participate in the electoral process. Since 1999, the Justice Department’s Project Civic Access has signed agreements with 193 local governments throughout the country to ensure full access to civic life for over 4 million persons with disabilities. These agreements, which were pursued after problems with compliance were raised, recognize that non-discriminatory access to public programs and facilities is a civil right, and that individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in local government programs, services and activities on an equal basis with their neighbors.
To assist state and local entities in meeting accessibility requirements, the Justice Department has created a number of guides, such as an ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments and a checklist for accessibility of voting places. All of these materials are available at the federal government’s key disability rights website, http://www.ADA.gov.
The effectiveness of the U.S. approach is highlighted by the number of persons with disabilities throughout the country who hold local, state, and federal public offices. Also, candidates in national elections routinely develop platforms on key disability issues, a practice that demonstrates the effectiveness of disability rights advocates in communicating their messages in the public sphere. In recognition of the political significance of voters with disabilities, many campaigns appoint staff that specifically focus on outreach to this voting community.
In sum, the United States is deeply committed to ensuring that all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity for effective and full participation in all aspects of political and public life. This commitment also is reflected in our cooperation with other countries. The Department of State and USAID are working as implementing partners in providing technical assistance to countries seeking to make their elections inclusive of disabled voters. We are happy to engage in informal discussions with States Parties throughout this Conference to provide additional information about our laws and programs to promote full participation in political and public life. We also look forward to hearing about the efforts that other States Parties and Signatories are making to ensure access to political and civic life.
(As prepared remarks)
Thank you, John, for that introduction. Before we begin, I want to recognize the important work that CAP is doing on a range of key national security issues. I want to specifically point out your recent report on U.S. multilateral engagement, which highlighted the importance of this Administration’s engagement at the UN and how it advances U.S. national interests.
And it is great to be joined today by Nancy and Rich, who I’m sure will share their valuable insight and perspectives as two people who have worked on these issues from both Washington and at our UN missions.
I would like to discuss today the tangible benefits that U.S. engagement with the UN provides Americans. I also want to make the case that if we are going to address 21st century challenges, in an effective and financially sound way, the United States must continue to embrace a global leadership role at the United Nations.
Glancing at the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly session, you can get a sense of the scope and diversity of those challenges, and the importance of sustained U.S. engagement.
Next week, during the high-level portion of the UNGA debate, the international community will formulate next steps for assistance to the transition in Libya. Governments will identify how to best address the mounting humanitarian crisis in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa. Senior government representatives, along with UN agencies, civil society, and the private sector, will collaborate on how to address to the urgent global public health challenges posed by non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, which kill more than 35 million people worldwide each year.
Indeed, this is an exciting time to be working on multilateral issues.
The seismic political transformation taking place across North Africa and the Middle East, though incomplete, holds great promise for a new era in which democratic impulses and human rights are embraced, not suppressed.
New centers of influence in the 21st century are deciding how to shape their foreign policies, and whether they will accept the expanded global responsibility that comes with a greater presence on the world stage.
Economic pressures are forcing many countries to reevaluate their own places in the world, and their roles in the international system.
And in the United States, there remain some here in Washington intent on forcing a U.S. retreat from global leadership, by hindering our participation in the UN system, seemingly unaware of the profoundly altered global landscape. These views stand in sharp contrast to the position held by a bipartisan majority here in Washington and by the vast majority of Americans, which supports U.S. leadership and engagement at the United Nations. These dismissive voices pretend that we just can turn back the clock to a simpler era, when the world was less interconnected and multilateral engagement less essential to core U.S. interests.
Yet today, our economy and security are intertwined with that of the rest of the globe. The benefits of U.S. multilateral engagement to our national security are well-known. In a 21st century world where threats do not stop at borders, the United States cannot tackle many of our most urgent problems alone.
Nuclear proliferation. Climate change. Attacks on freedom and human rights. Terrorism. Transnational crime. Pandemic disease. Armed conflict and instability that, left unchecked, can unleash these and other dangers.
But we know that to respond to these and other threats, U.S. engagement at the United Nations works.
It enhances U.S. national security.
It advances core American values, including human rights.
And it builds and maintains the global networks and systems worldwide, on which our 21st century economy depends.
It works, because as a tool for addressing these common challenges, multilateral engagement lets us share with other countries the financial and political burden of addressing global challenges.
I will be frank: important issues will be addressed at the United Nations whether or not the United States chooses to be actively engaged. So in reality, our choice is between maintaining global leadership at the UN, or ceding it to those who would not act in our interests.
So I would like to briefly walk through several of our most pressing foreign policy challenges, and highlight how multilateral engagement has been crucial to winning the strong cooperation we have needed to address each one.
In Libya, we and our partners worked across the UN system to marshal a robust international response. We won tough Security Council sanctions, an ICC referral of Qadhafi, and when the world’s warning was not heeded, an unprecedented Security Council mandate to intervene to protect civilians, and prevent atrocities. While U.S. diplomats in New York were pursuing that course, their counterparts in Geneva were achieving Human Rights Council condemnation of Qadhafi’s depredations. Libya was suspended from the HRC, and an international commission of inquiry was launched to investigate human rights violations and lay the groundwork for accountability. And next week, in New York the international community will come together to identify how we can best support the next phase of transition in Libya.
The UN also has been instrumental in combating nuclear proliferation. Security Council sanctions on Iran have hampered that regime’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Tough sanctions against North Korea allowed cargo vessels to be inspected and illegal arms shipments seized. To make these sanctions most effective, they need to be global in their scope and implementation, and only the Security Council can make that happen. And two years ago, President Obama chaired a Security Council session that reinvigorated global efforts to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons and the materials to make them.
On this subject, I want to make a broader point quickly about the value of investing in multilateral institutions. We have relied upon the monitoring and expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency as we have worked to develop coordinated international responses to cases of potential nuclear proliferation. The IAEA has been invaluable in sounding the alarm on illicit nuclear activities in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere, a reminder of the value of investment in these international institutions before we get to the crisis point.
The UN also is key to the international response after we have passed the crisis point, working to prevent further conflict and crisis. I am sure Nancy will talk more about UN peacekeeping missions, but it is important to note just briefly that with roughly 120,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers deployed in the field, we are calling upon them more than ever before, even as their roles have become more difficult and complex. Today, it is rare that we deploy unarmed observers to monitor an agreed ceasefire between two sovereign states. Instead, we increasingly are sending peacekeepers to some of the world’s most challenging security situations – Darfur, Congo, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire – with mandates that include protecting civilians, and bringing stability to parts of the world that for too long, have known too little of it.
UN peacekeepers also can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. forces. The bottom line is that UN peacekeepers provide another tool, so that when faced with a threat to civilians, or violent instability that risks engulfing an entire region, we do not have to choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing.
Now, tough sanctions and peacekeeping missions are perhaps the UN’s two best-known tools for addressing threats to international peace and security. But they are far from the only ways our engagement with the UN benefits U.S. national security.
UN political missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq have been crucial partners for the United States. In both countries, the UN – with real risk and danger, and tragic loss of life by UN personnel – has worked with the sovereign Afghan and Iraqi governments to strengthen democratic institutions, and contribute to political stability. They mediate local conflicts, and sometimes are asked to address, on behalf of the international community, issues that, for one reason or another, a single country might be hard-pressed to resolve. We work closely with the UN missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq; without them, U.S. efforts to responsibly draw down our military forces would be far more difficult.
Engagement at the UN is also an important part of our counterterrorism efforts. Security Council sanctions against al Qaeda have, through their universal application, isolated and frozen the assets of terrorists and their supporters. Working through UN bodies like the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, we and our partners are helping to prevent and combat terrorism by building national capacity, and sharing best practices. And at the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, we work to keep Americans safe when they take to the skies.
Beyond these tangible benefits to U.S. national security, our robust engagement across the UN system sends an important message to the world, namely that the United States remains a global leader. We have no intention of abdicating that role, or the responsibilities that come with it.
Global leadership means working in the Security Council to bring together representatives from all corners of the map, including emerging powers, to address the threats and challenges I have mentioned, as well as a host of others.
Global leadership means actively engaging other members of the Human Rights Council, to continue the transformation of that body into one that increasingly can respond effectively to pressing human rights situations, in real time, and with concrete action. I would be happy to discuss the HRC more during the question and answer period, but I will say now just that U.S. leadership has been key to that metamorphosis of the Human Rights Council into a body that can advance universal values that Americans hold dear, and validates this Administration’s decision to reverse course and win a seat on the Council.
It means defending our close ally, Israel, from any efforts to delegitimize or isolate it at the UN. We oppose all attempts to unilaterally use the UN as the venue for addressing final status issues, which must be decided in direct negotiations between the parties. And we have been very clear from the beginning that we think it is a mistake for the Palestinians to seek a unilateral path to statehood at the UN, rather than a negotiated peace, and that we oppose such a unilateral move.
Finally, U.S. leadership means paying our bills in full. President Obama’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full has given us greater influence with allies, partners, and others, and helped us achieve both our policy goals at the UN, as well as much-needed management reform and budget discipline. For too long, our failure to keep current on our UN dues hamstrung our diplomats and hurt our national interest. So we oppose calls to withhold U.S. dues, given the impact doing so would have on U.S. influence and leadership across the UN system.
Of course, the UN can be improved. As careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, this Administration works every day to achieve much-needed UN management reform and budget discipline. But withholding U.S. assessments would set back those efforts, not advance them. And it would undercut our influence at the UN, with long-term implications for our national security, our economy, and our efforts to promote human rights and universal values.
As I have highlighted today, too many U.S. interests require strong multilateral engagement across the UN system for us to simply walk away and cede U.S. leadership at the United Nations. Too many of our most pressing foreign policy challenges require shared multilateral solutions for us to undercut our global influence by withholding our UN dues.
The world has changed markedly since the United Nations was founded in 1945. But if to protect our security against transnational threats, advance our values as an alternative to extremism, and promote international stability to advance our economy, U.S. engagement in the United Nations is more essential than it has ever been. So this Administration remains committed to pursuing constructive multilateral engagement at the United Nations, and to continued U.S. global leadership across the UN system.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Securing equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities continues to be a top priority in the United States. In addition to the federal government’s long-standing and wide-reaching enforcement efforts that prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace by private and governmental employers, we also are supporting equal employment opportunities through a variety of initiatives.
In 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order to increase the federal employment of individuals with disabilities with the intention of making the federal government a model employer. Under the Order, senior-level officials at each federal agency must be accountable for enhancing employment opportunities and retention of persons with disabilities. Each official is charged with creating recruitment, training, and counseling programs for the employment of persons with disabilities.
The federal government also supports several grant-making initiatives that provide employment support to persons with disabilities. The Department of Education oversees grant programs which serve approximately one million individuals with disabilities annually, to help them obtain employment and live more independently through the provision of supports such as counseling, medical and psychological services, job training and other individualized services. The Department of Education also provides funds to state vocational rehabilitation agencies, to provide employment-related services for individuals with disabilities, giving priority to individuals who are significantly disabled. It also supports Project SEARCH, a program that provides education and training to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through an innovative workforce and career development model that benefits both the individual and the workplace.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is another initiative undertaken by the federal government in the past ten years. ODEP is charged with creating a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities have increased employment opportunities. ODEP provides national leadership by developing new employment-related policies and practices, and sponsors several important disability research and technical support services.
The private sector has also taken up the challenge of increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. For example, the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is a national disability organization that has over 60 affiliates across North America, representing over 5,000 employers. Such private sector initiatives help create workplaces, marketplaces, and supply chains where people with disabilities are included and respected for their talents and abilities.
The key U.S. enforcement of disability rights protections in the workplace is carried out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor. These three agencies enforce federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against qualified job applicants or employees because of those individuals’ disabilities, history of disability, appearance of disability, or association with someone with a disability. Under federal law, there are strict limits on when employers may ask job applicants or workers questions about disability. However, employers may ask applicants whether they can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer. Reasonable accommodations might include providing sign language interpretation for a job applicant, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users, or providing an electronic screen reader for an employee who is blind. U.S. laws also prohibit employers from creating a hostile work environment for workers with disabilities.
The EEOC, Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor have the authority to investigate charges of discrimination. If they determine that an employer has discriminated, they attempt to settle the matter out of court, and if that effort is unsuccessful, the agencies may file lawsuits to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Since the effective date of the ADA’s employment discrimination provisions in July 1992, the EEOC alone has obtained more than 939 million dollars in benefits for persons with disabilities who experienced employment discrimination.
The United States recognizes the challenges of achieving equality of employment opportunity and will continue its vigorous efforts to end workplace discrimination against persons with disabilities.
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.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Last Saturday, I had the honor of heading the U.S. delegation to Juba to celebrate South Sudan’s independence. It was a deeply moving day. After a half-century of war, at a cost of more than two million lives, the Republic of South Sudan can now finally determine its own future. The United States salutes the courage and sacrifice of the people of South Sudan, who never abandoned hope. After so many years of bitter conflict, South Sudan’s independence occurred peacefully and democratically through referendum—a heartening way for the world’s newest nation to be born.
Vice President Machar, welcome and congratulations to the people of the Republic of South Sudan. We are delighted that you are here to represent your new government at this meeting where the Security Council unanimously recommended that your country be admitted as the United Nation’s 193rd member state.
Ambassador Osman, we also commend the Government of Sudan’s decision to be the first country to recognize South Sudan’s independence. We welcome all efforts to forge a relationship between Sudan and South Sudan that is rooted in mutual respect and cooperation—a relationship that strengthens the viability, security, and prosperity of both states. By continuing on the path of peace, the Government of Sudan can redefine its relationship with the international community and secure a brighter future for its people.
Mr. President, the Security Council remains fully engaged in helping both countries towards their shared goals of peace and stability. On July 8, this Council unanimously authorized a new UN peacekeeping mission in the Republic of South Sudan. UNMISS will assist the government as it builds a new nation, including on issues of peacebuilding, development, security, and protection.
But as we all know, this moment of promise is also fragile and fraught. Sudan and South Sudan must work hard to secure an enduring peace and two viable states coexisting as peaceful neighbors. It is vital that both countries work with the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel to swiftly resolve all outstanding issues. The parties need to finalize arrangements on the border, citizenship, oil, and other issues if they are to forge an enduring peace.
A permanent resolution of Abyei’s status remains elusive. Despite an agreement on temporary security arrangements and the imminent deployment of a UN interim security force, the situation in Abyei is still extremely volatile. An estimated 100,000 people remain displaced from their homes.
Meanwhile, brutal fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the troops of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North has displaced more than 70,000 people in Southern Kordofan. The Sudanese army is continuing and intensifying aerial bombardments that are killing civilians. On June 28, the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-North agreed to a framework of political and security principles for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, but the Government of Sudan’s commitment to this agreement has wavered. Both parties need to agree immediately to a cessation of hostilities. The violence, the human rights abuses, and the deliberate obstruction of access for humanitarian agencies must end.
Given the ongoing hostilities and abuses in Southern Kordofan and the vulnerability of neighboring Blue Nile, we deeply regret the Government of Sudan’s decision to compel the United Nation’s departure from these two states. The United Nations should be allowed to maintain a presence in these areas to help distribute humanitarian aid, protect civilians, and implement any cessation of hostilities agreement.
Mr. President, the challenges are great, but they are by no means insurmountable. The Security Council has done its utmost to support this process, and this Council and my government will remain deeply engaged in supporting the Republic of South Sudan at this crucial juncture and into the future.
My own country’s history has taught us that it takes moral courage to attain freedom—and make freedom’s promise real for all citizens. We’ve learned that this work is never done. We have great faith in the people of South Sudan. We expect they will create a government that works for the good of all people and for the stability of the region – and thereby create a country that strengthens this community of sovereign nations. As I said in Juba on Saturday, “a nation born from conflict need not live in conflict.” In this spirit, and with great hope for the future of the world’s newest nation, the United States wholeheartedly supports South Sudan’s application for membership in the United Nations. Congratulations, and we look forward to welcoming you.
Thank you, Mr. President.
U.S. Statement on Agenda Items 4, 7(a) and 7(e)
Thank you, Mr. Vice-President, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,
The United States recognizes the need to improve coordination on policies and programs within the UN system to empower women, and fully supports UN Women, Under-Secretary-General Bachelet and her team in stepping up to this challenge. The founding resolution of UN Women, General Assembly resolution 63/289, last year’s ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration, and the ECOSOC resolutions we are about to adopt later this morning give UN Women a firm mandate to work with other parts of the UN system to clearly define the respective roles and responsibilities of each Fund, Programme, Agency and Organization. The Executive Board of UN Women last month endorsed a Management Results Framework for its Strategic Plan. This Framework emphasizes UN system coordination, coherence, efficiency, partnerships and accountability to further women’s empowerment. We expect to see the fruits of improved cooperation and coordination both at headquarters level and in the field. As the 2010 Ministerial Declaration said, “investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth.”
The mandates and objectives of the UN system cannot be fully met if half the world’s population is overlooked by any part of UN family in its planning and policies. Each part of the UN system must do what is needed within its own mandate to see that a gender perspective is incorporated in its work, and that women benefit fully and equitably from its projects. UN Women, playing its leadership and coordination role, will need to hold all parts of the system accountable for upholding their responsibilities towards meeting women’s needs, as well as men’s, in their programming.
We support UN Women’s efforts to enhance its country and regional level capacities. However, UN Women does not yet have all the required resources to meet the needs of women and girls throughout the world. For this reason, it must work particularly closely at this early stage with Country Teams and Resident Coordinators to build upon the strong field presence of other UN Funds, Programmes and Agencies to get the tasks done and to help member states maximize their capacities to empower women. We look to UN Women, and other parts of the UN system, as much as possible, to involve gender equality advocates in decision-making processes that affect women, develop knowledge and expertise on gender equality issues, provide technical assistance, and improve coordination on gender issues within the Resident Coordinator system. The objective of these efforts is to assist governments in developing the necessary laws and policies to ensure women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Despite the critical linkage between the situation of women and a nation’s development, prosperity, and security, issues of women’s empowerment received inconsistent and insufficient attention prior to the creation of UN Women. We have high expectations of UN Women Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director Michelle Bachelet to turn that situation around, and have already seen the energy and high profile she has brought to this issue. Her status as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s core leadership team and her presence on senior governing bodies – including the Chief Executive Board, Committee on Programmes, Committee on Management, and the UN Development Group – elevates women’s issues to the appropriate higher level and injects gender considerations into policies throughout UN entities.
The United States is active on cross-cutting issues contained in the 2010 Ministerial Declaration to strengthen implementation of internationally agreed goals and commitments regarding gender equality and empowerment of women. We continue to work both at home and abroad towards eliminating violence against women, including by welcoming a visit from Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo in January 2011. The United States supports Special Rapporteur Manjoo, her mandate, and her activities in calling attention to some of the world’s worst human rights abuses.
FAO’s 2011 report on the “State of Food and Agriculture” notes that women lag significantly behind men in access to land, seeds, credit, and modern technologies. Women also remain underrepresented in political and administrative structures. This prevents their equal participation in agricultural training programs and producer organizations. Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, is focused on promoting practical measures that have been demonstrated to empower rural women. We strive to include women in all stages of consultations and planning. The United States is also working with partners to expand women’s participation in all levels of decision-making and to ensure women’s equal access to assets, technologies, and markets, including financial services such as savings and credit. Mobile innovations such as smart cards allow women to deposit money into their accounts and control their earnings.
Thank you and we look forward to hearing about other member states’ progress in implementing the goals of last year’s Ministerial Declaration.
Thank you, Mr. President. In Geneva and New York, the United States has repeatedly urged our fellow members to join us in conducting a thorough, comprehensive review of the Human Rights Council that would significantly improve its ability to meet its core mission: promoting and protecting human rights.
Unfortunately, the Geneva process failed to yield even minimally positive results, forcing us to dissociate from the outcome. We appreciate the work that the co-facilitators have done in New York over the past months, but the final resolution before us also fails to address the core problems that still plague the Human Rights Council. We deeply regret that this opportunity has been missed. The United States has therefore voted “no” on the resolution.
The Council has had many significant achievements in recent weeks; including a historic resolution highlighting the human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons around the world, a special session on Syria, the Commission of Inquiry in Libya, and the historic creation of a Special Rapporteur to investigate human rights violations in Iran. But the Council’s effectiveness and legitimacy will always be compromised so long as one country in all the world is unfairly and uniquely singled out while others, including chronic human rights abusers, escape scrutiny.
The gravest of the Council’s structural problems remains its politicized standing Agenda Item 7 on Israel. No member state during this Review has been able to explain how Item 7 is consistent with the principles clearly outlined in the resolution that established the Human Rights Council: “impartiality, non-selectiveness, and balance.” This Review should have eliminated this unfair and unbalanced Agenda Item and instead ensured that all member states, including Israel, are treated on an equal and impartial basis. The Review is over, but this struggle is not. My government will continue to fight to remove this item and the biased and unfair resolutions that flow from it.
This Review also failed to tackle another fundamental issue: Council membership. The Council discredits, dishonors, and diminishes itself when the worst violators of human rights have a seat at its table. During the Review in New York, the United States put forward a proposal to ensure that GA members have real choices in Human Rights Council elections by calling on all regional groups, including our own, to run competitive slates. This was rejected out of hand. We were also dismayed that another much more modest proposal, which simply called on candidate states to hold an interactive dialogue about their human rights records with member states and civil society groups, was also blocked. These failures to address the critical problem of membership do a serious disservice to the Council and to the brave men and women around the world standing up for their universal rights. Let there be no doubt: membership on the Human Rights Council should be earned through respect for human rights, not accorded to those who abuse them.
Mr. President, when the United States ran for a seat on the Council in 2009, we made clear that we did so precisely to strengthen the Council from within, through direct and sustained engagement. That is what we have done, and that is what we will continue to do. Sadly, today’s resolution marks a major missed opportunity for the Council to right historic wrongs. The resolution before us today does nothing to address the Council’s failures nor move it any closer to the founding values of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States remains firmly committed to working to reform the Human Rights Council and change it for the better. We will continue to work with fellow member states, session by session and resolution by resolution, to advance respect for the rights we hold dear. But we will not acquiesce in perpetuating a failed status quo that we all know leaves this institution performing well below its potential. At a time when people around the world are risking their lives for freedom in dramatic numbers and especially dangerous circumstances, those who share a commitment to the universal rights of all men and women can do no less.
At the same time, we hope that one day soon, we will be able to act together to redress the fundamental flaws of this Council and fulfill its commitment to promote “universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner.” Thank you, Mr. President.