12th Session of the UPR Working Group
The United States welcomes the delegation of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste to the UPR Working Group.
We commend Timor Leste for its strong voice promoting human rights and democracy around the world and its further development of domestic institutions, including draft legislation on the creation of a Memory Institute and the award of compensation to victims of past human rights violations.
We are concerned by reduced staffing levels in the legal system. This year Timor-Leste’s justice sector had only 20 judges, 17 prosecutors, and 19 public defenders. These staffing levels limit the legal system’s efficiency.
Timor-Leste has made laudable progress in its efforts to professionalize its police and military forces. However, we are concerned that roles for security forces have not been clearly defined and training on how to protect human rights is insufficient.
Despite the creation of the Office of the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality and the enactment of the Law against Domestic Violence, gender-based violence remains a critical concern. In addition, human trafficking remains a serious problem for vulnerable populations—including migrants, children, and workers. We note the government’s increased efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking. However, investigations into reports of trafficking-related complicity by immigration officials and prosecutions of trafficking cases have both lagged.
Periodic tensions between Catholics and some Protestant denominations have raised concerns about the status of freedom of religion in Timor-Leste. Recent official statements reinforce those concerns, and the proposed law on NGOs may impede the work of these religious groups.
Bearing in mind these concerns, the United States makes the following concerns that Timor Leste:
1. enact the legislation creating the Memory Institute.
2. increase judicial staffing levels.
3. develop a national security policy that includes clear definitions of various security institutions’ roles and missions
4. train security forces to conduct their duties in conformity with the country’s human rights obligations and commitments.
5. enact legislation prohibiting sexual harassment. And finally
6. enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, and make robust efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders and those complicit in human trafficking.
12th Session of the UPR Working Group
The United States welcomes His Excellency Minister Chimasa and the Zimbabwe delegation to the UPR Working Group.
We commend Zimbabwe for creation of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission; however, we note with disappointment that it is not operational and is not set up to be an independent constitutional body able to effectively execute its mandate.
We are concerned by the increase of politically motivated violence; the failure of state institutions to hold security forces accountable for ongoing human rights violations against human rights defenders and perceived opponents of the ZANU-PF party; and other obstacles to citizens’ free and equal participation in the upcoming elections.
We are concerned by recurring attempts by officials to facilitate the arbitrary arrest and harassment of lawyers who represent human rights defenders, to use the law on civil and criminal defamation to control the mass media, and to infringe on individual rights to freedoms of expression and assembly.
We recognize there has been some progress by Zimbabwe to secure the Marange diamond producing area. We remain deeply concerned, however, about the failure of military forces to withdraw from the diamond fields, diamond-smuggling, corruption, diamond-related violence by state and non-state security agents, and the denial of access to civil society groups attempting to report on the diamond fields.
Bearing in mind these concerns, the United States would like to make the
That Zimbabwe fully implement the GPA provisions supporting the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee.
That Zimbabwe repeal or significantly reform the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and criminal code provisions that restrict freedoms of assembly and expression.
That Zimbabwe invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other mandate holders to conduct independent and impartial investigations.
And finally, we recommend that Zimbabwe create stronger mechanisms to ensure greater revenue transparency from diamond mining, demilitarize the diamond industry, and thoroughly investigate cases of beatings and abuse by government and private security services in the Marange area.
12th Session of the UPR Working Group
The United States welcomes Foreign Minister Maduro and the Venezuelan delegation to the UPR Working Group. We view as positive the draft law to extend protections to all victims of human trafficking.
We remain concerned about specific actions taken by the Venezuelan government to limit freedom of expression and criminalize dissent, including using administrative pretexts to close media outlets and harassing media owners and members of the political opposition through judicial action. We note Venezuela’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of expression, as well as the protections in the Venezuelan constitution.
Additionally, we note the importance of an independent judiciary to representative government, and express our concern about increasing evidence that the Venezuelan judiciary lacks the independence necessary to fulfill its role in society. We further note the obligations contained in the Venezuelan constitution to respect judicial independence and permit judges to act according to the law and without fear of retaliation. In this context, we join others in the international community in urging for the release of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, whose arrest and continued imprisonment demonstrate inappropriate executive involvement in judicial functions and constitute a violation of her human rights.
Finally, we are concerned by continued anti-Semitism expressed in the official media.
In light of these concerns, we recommend that Venezuela:
1. Respect the independence of the judiciary.
2. Investigate allegations of executive branch interference in judicial decision-making.
3. Direct officials to cease anti-Semitic commentary and condemn any such statements.
4. Urge the National Assembly to adopt the draft legislation on trafficking in persons.
5. Intensify its efforts to provide protection to asylum seekers and refugees, including through the timely provision of documentation as to their legal status and rights.
6. Accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteurs and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
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.
Welcome to you all. It is good to see several old friends and as well as to meet new colleagues in our common efforts to advance human rights and the rule of law. I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and I extend my thanks to USAID and ABA/ROLI for organizing the study tour.
Before I became Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, I led an NGO, now known as Human Rights First. In that capacity, I worked to ensure that my own government did not flag in its efforts to uphold international human rights principles, and we worked effectively with other governments and with NGOs at home and overseas to that end. So I know very well how valuable the work of advocacy NGOs can be – just as I know how much more can be achieved in partnership with responsible and responsive governments.
When I addressed the Civil Society Working Group at its meeting in Russia last year, I noted that one critical barometer of a country’s respect for human rights is how it addresses the challenges within its prison system . As you may know, last year the United States submitted a Report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review process. The report was a product of collaboration between the U.S. Government and representatives of civil society from across the United States. I was one of a number of senior representatives from more than a dozen federal departments and agencies who traveled the country to attend a series of consultations hosted by a wide range of civil society organizations, in which individuals presented their concerns and recommendations. Among the subjects discussed and reflected in our report were “fairness and equality in law enforcement”, “safeguards for dignity in law enforcement and criminal justice”, “dignity and incarceration” and “dignity and juvenile defenders.” In submitting the report, we quoted Secretary Clinton, who said “democracies demonstrate their greatness not by insisting they are perfect, but by using their institutions and their principles to make themselves…more perfect.” By that we mean a robust and engaged civil society including non-governmental watchdog and advocacy groups, a free press, an independent legislature and judiciary, democratic elections processes that allow a full airing of views and concerns and institutions that are accountable to the people.
All of these elements of our working democracy are involved, in one form or another, in identifying, debating and addressing issues related to prison conditions, the human rights of persons in custody and reform of the prison system in our country. For example, in America, one of the challenges that you have likely heard about this week lies in the disparities in the rates of imprisonment for different portions of our population. A book about the state of political freedom in the United States published a couple years ago by the internationally known NGO Freedom House entitled Today’s American: How Free? – a book co-authored by Thomas Melia, who is now my Deputy – addressed the high incarceration rate and persistent racial disparities among those incarcerated. I quote:
The recent increase in incarceration rates is jarring. In 1980, the rate of incarceration overall in America was 1.39 per thousand residents; by 2006, that figure had risen to 7.5. Also disturbing is the fact that a black man today has a one in three chance of being behind bars at some point during his lifetime. (If he has not completed high school, he has a 60 percent chance of going to prison.) In contrast, a white man has only a 1 in 17 chance of going to prison.
Our courts, the press and NGOs also engage with local, state and federal government on the serious issue of overcrowding. You may have heard that earlier this week the United States Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding in California’s state prison system constitutes a violation of the human rights of the prisoners incarcerated there, and ordered the prison system to reduce the number of prisoners held by 55,000 within three years. This court decision which made the front pages of our major newspapers and headlined newscasts on our leading television networks underscores the fact that an independent judiciary can, and regularly does, act boldly to protect the human rights of vulnerable populations.
As we stated in our Universal Periodic Review report, progress is our goal. Our commitment to the inalienable rights of each person guides our efforts to ensure that our law enforcement system reflects and respects those rights, including the rights of incarcerated persons. The strength and success of our own democracy and society – indeed the strength and success of any country’s system and society — will be based in some degree on how we address issues of fairness and justice; examining the issues of how people come to be imprisoned in the first place – and whether there is injustice in that process – as well as how we treat men and women once they are incarcerated. As the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” So it is important that we look for ways to cooperate in these areas.
The way we treat persons in confinement, the conditions of confinement themselves and how we can improve them cannot be divorced from larger questions of governance and society – the structure and integrity of our systems of justice, the strength or weakness of the rule of law in our countries, and the health or ills of our societies. These are by their nature highly complex questions that governments alone cannot solve. NGO insights and ideas are vital.
President Medvedev has set forth his vision of a democratic, modern and successful Russia governed by the rule of law. President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton have expressed their strong support for that same vision. As President Obama noted in his July 2009 visit to Russia, “America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia.” The ability of Russian citizens to exercise their basic civil and political rights and access justice and due process will be key to realizing the Russia we all want to see.
We applaud President Medvedev for advancing reforms and promoting an atmosphere that has allowed for progress to be made in some areas. Measures such as limitations on the use of pretrial detention for those accused of economic crimes have led to a 25% drop in pretrial detainees and are helping to prevent the use of pretrial detention as an extortion technique. These are real changes, ones that I am sure impact your daily work.
Despite these aspects of progress, we believe that continued limits and restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of the Russian people – rights guaranteed in international and Russian domestic law – are a larger problem for Russian citizens, businesses, and the government itself. We frequently raise these areas of concern with our Russian counterparts, both in public and in private. And we admire the work that many of you and your compatriots are doing to defend human rights, secure justice for all, ensure accountable government, fight corruption including in the justice sector, and foster the flow of information and ideas that leads to the exposure of abuses and the redress of grievances.
Of course, a free flow of ideas and a free media are indispensable elements of a democratic society and government accountable to its people. We saw a step in the right direction regarding freedom of conscience last month, when a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was acquitted of “extremism” charges, and the Ministry of Justice acted to remove Scientology literature from its list of banned “extremist” materials. These are signs that Russia is beginning to recognize that the overly-broad application of anti-extremism statutes serves only to infringe upon the rights of peaceful religious groups to practice their faith.
Progress has been more limited in the area of freedom of the press. We share the deep concerns expressed within Russia and across the international community over the murders of journalists known for their courageous work defending human rights and fighting corruption. There are still too many unsolved cases, and we continue to call for a full investigation into the unsolved murders of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, among others. We have also expressed our concern that the only judicial action to date in the murder of Natalia Estemirova, has been the prosecution of Oleg Orlov for saying out loud what many people suspected to be the case. We welcome last month’s convictions in the murder case of the human rights defenders Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.
In addition to effective prosecutions by the government, we hope the Russian media and independent Russian organizations and institutions will continue scrutinize the Russian justice system, to support improvements and address challenges. For example, a representative from the Presidential Council on Human Rights recently indicated that the Council would find that the charges against Sergei Magnitsky had been fabricated, so it has now been established that he was unjustly imprisoned Unfortunately, as you know, the investigation into the case of his death after deliberate medical neglect in a Moscow prison had not yielded any results. Similarly, this week’s court decision to deny the appeals of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev also reminds us of large issues regarding impartiality, due process and selective prosecution.
Outside scrutiny of government actions, and the follow-on dialogue with government, are key to progress in many areas beyond criminal justice. It was positive that President Medvedev agreed to take up the issue of continuing human rights abuses in North Caucasus during his May 2010 discussions with the Russian Council on Human Rights. We remain gravely concerned however, about the extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances committed with impunity by the forces of Chechen President Kadyrov and others. We have urged Russia authorities to act upon the many decisions of the European Court of Human Rights addressing human rights abuses in the North Caucaus as a step towards restoring rule of law in the region. And we call upon the Russian authorities at the highest levels to ensure the safety and rights of human rights victims, such as Islam Umarpashaev and Ali Ismailov who are seeking justice for rights violations in Russian courts and/or at the ECHR.
Finally, freedom of assembly – to gather together and share ideas and urge change – is another essential element to a stronger Russia that taps into the talent and creativity of the Russia people. We’ve seen that the “Strategy 31″ demonstrations have had some success in convincing authorities in Moscow to tolerate greater freedom of assembly. However, much work remains to be done to support freedom of assembly, especially in this pre-electoral season. Most recently, we were concerned about reports of intimidation and attacks by private security guards, police, and other parties on activists associated with the Khimki Forest campaign. Police have repeatedly detained and interrogated the activists, while the tax inspectorate and child protective services have threatened their livelihoods and families. And in another concerning move, this month, for the sixth year in a row, Moscow authorities refused permission for an NGO to hold an LGBT parade/rally.
All of these developments that I’ve reviewed today certainly show the challenging state of human rights in Russia. As partners, we should work together to address these problems, while taking note of and supporting progress. We know you share this goal, just as surely as you share the urgency expressed by President Medvedev when he said in March that “freedom cannot be postponed.” As you work to help your country move forward on a path of reform, modernization and accountability in the rule of law sphere and more broadly, I want you to know that you have the support of the Obama Administration, Secretary Clinton herself and the American people. I welcome your comments and questions, and I look forward to hearing your insights and learning more about your extensive experience working to reform one of the world’s most challenging penal systems. Thank you for your attention.
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Thank you. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Department of State. My name is P.J. Crowley. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, or as Stephen Colbert described me last night, an unnamed government functionary. (Laughter.)
I have several purposes here. One is to welcome you all, which I’ve done. The other is to introduce my two very good friends and colleagues, Assistant Secretary Mike Posner, who has an even more challenging job than I do as the State Department spokesman and — as our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Harold Koh, our distinguished legal advisor and my lawyer. (Laughter.)
Now, Mike Posner has some experience with Stephen Colbert as well. He made an appearance earlier this year, did us all proud here at the State Department. But we were trying to prep him a little bit before getting started, and we said, “So, suppose Colbert asks you a question like what got you interested in human rights?” And Michael paused and said, “I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.” (Laughter.)
Now, Harold and I are both Red Sox fans. I’m not sure whether we have anybody here from New England and Red Sox Nation, but we’re doing okay. There have been a couple of key acquisitions here. So – but we can sympathize. I mean, everybody in the world is a Cubs fan, and we can sympathize with that.
But again, we welcome you here. And this is – we welcome you on a particular day, December 10th, which commemorates Human Rights Day and the UN adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But this is something that our diplomats do every single day. And I would pause here and say you don’t need to have a release of a treasure trove of secret documents to hopefully understand that this is the subject of conversations day in and day out by our diplomats all around the world as we – both as we both promote human rights and as we try to meet the challenge every single day of practicing what we preach.
We, the United States, do not by any stretch say – suggest that we are perfect. We are – we have challenging – challenges within our practice of human rights in this country. Now, has anybody here heard of something called the Universal Periodic Review? Anybody here from Arizona? Well, we did, through Michael and Harold and others we did present something called the Universal Periodic Review to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, which was our best assessment of the human rights challenge in this country.
Why did we do it, even though some conservatives in the country said, “Why are you doing this?” Well, again, our practice here at the State Department and within the U.S. Government is to lead by example. And we do recognize that even though we have shortcomings, by the same token, we do respect human rights in this country. In fact, we do see ourselves as a model for others to emulate, and in fact we recognize that many people look to us to lead the way in terms of the promotion and practice of human rights, promoting freedom of association, the freedom to participate in an open political process, the freedom of the press.
I deal with the press every day, and whether you like the press or not — many Americans respect the press but don’t necessarily like what they print. On some days I agree with them. But by the same token, our press are here every day. They challenge the government every day. They hold us to account, and by holding us to account they make us more effective. We do recognize that in other parts of the world journalists are intimidated, they are jailed, and in some cases, tragically, they are killed. So we have built institutions of civil society here in the United States over more than 240 years, and we do see ourselves as an indispensible country in promoting human rights around the world.
We don’t – and we hold ourselves up to that standard. We respect anyone who wants to point a finger at us, and there is this debate going on in the world today about this thing called WikiLeaks, and we welcome that debate. I think that is what distinguishes us from other countries, a country like China, for example, where it is trying to stifle debate, even on a day where we recognize Liu Xiaobo as the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And we respect and salute his courage in demonstrating for a different kind of political system in China.
But with that, we welcome you here. It’s an important subject. I’m going to introduce Mike Posner, who will say a few remarks, and then Harold Koh, and then we will start a question and answer period. I think the Secretary of State’s going to come down for a quick hello to you, and then we’ll continue the Q&A after the Secretary’s remarks. But with that, happy to introduce and bring to the podium Assistant Secretary Michael Posner. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you. Thanks so much, P.J. It’s, first of all, a great pleasure to have you here on Human Rights Day. And we view this, more than anything, as an opportunity to have an open discussion and hear your questions.
Just by way of introduction, to follow on what P.J. said, today we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, now 62 years old, which for the first time provided the world a universal set of standards that apply to everyone, regardless of their nationality, their race, their religion. Everybody, by virtue of their humanity, is entitled to core rights. That document, a single set of standards that we apply to everyone, including ourselves — and as P.J. said, and as Secretary Clinton has said, our aim is lead by example. That document very much the product of Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership in the UN Human Rights Commission, and 62 years later we are still trying to honor her legacy by continuing our engagement on human rights.
The President has talked about principled engagement. We’re engaged in the world on a range of issues, political, business issues, strategic, but human rights is at the center. In every place we operate, human rights issues are raised, and that’s my job, and it’s the job of many people in this Department and in this government. And then finally, we believe very strongly that things in the world change not because you force them outside but because within a society agents of changes — whether they’re women’s groups or the press or an independent judiciary — human rights groups have the ability to create a democratic environment where change is possible.
So the Secretary in Krakow, Poland in July gave a speech which we regard as a kind of watershed for this Administration and this government, where she focused on the role of the nongovernmental sector, civil society, in promoting human rights and spelled out some of the challenges that human rights and other activist groups face in their own societies. That commitment to civil society extends to you. Part of the reason for our having you here and having events like this throughout the year, is our belief that if we’re going to have a democratic country, a truly democratic country, we need to do what we can to engage our own people, our own country.
So we’re delighted you’re here. With those opening comments, Harold and I are really eager to hear your thoughts and questions, and the floor is open. Please.
MODERATOR: And if you would identify yourself that would be great.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Dr. Janet Paker (ph). I am here from Lawrence, Kansas. I’m the executive director of Medical Whistleblower in Lawrence, Kansas, and we did submit a report to the Universal Periodic Review. I wanted to ask you in regards to the Whistleblower Protection Act, currently now in legislative session with the Senate, already has passed the House, and is being debated, I think right now, on the floor of the Senate. It’s S-372.
We are, as a nation, required by the Declaration of – for Human Rights Defenders, the mandate for human rights defenders, to protect those who are obligated to report violations of human rights under treaties that we have signed and ratified, such as CAT, the Convention against Torture. And our federal whistleblowers, those in federal service, many of whom have classified clearances, some of whom are working in the federal prison system, some of whom are working in the BA (ph), some of whom are working in military positions, some who are working in the intelligence community, are especially concerned that they do not have adequate protections right now with the Merit Systems Protection Board and also protections under the Office of Inspector General. And I was wondering if you will be looking at that legislation to make sure that it is in compliance with the Declaration for Human Rights Defenders, mandate 53/144. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going to turn to my lawyer for this one.
MR. KOH: You have a right to remain silent. (Laughter.) Well, let me say I won’t comment on the specific bill. That’s not something that we do in this forum. We will do it with regard to hearings and other things that are presented on the bill. On the basic notion, do governments have – I mean, do individuals have a right to call their governments to account, it’s a core principle of how the U.S. system has operated, notably absent in other countries.
I think if I could just say a word to follow what Mike said, it’s important to realize two things: how radical the notion of international human rights is, that simply by virtue of being born as a human being you acquire certain rights that you cannot sell, that cannot be taken from you, that you don’t have to own property or have a certain amount of money or be a certain skin color or a certain gender to possess. You have those rights simply by virtue of being born as a human being. And that’s a notion that the Universal Declaration recognized 62 years ago.
Now, there are some people in this country and elsewhere who find that concept threatening, to which I would say we hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that that concept is the very concept on which this nation was founded, that this is a nation that is based on human rights, and that therefore has a critical role to play in advancing the cause of international human rights.
Finally, Eleanor Roosevelt did a remarkable thing in her time. And those of you who haven’t looked at her speeches on the world wide web, we’d encourage you to do that. One of the most touching things is that every night during the negotiations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights she would say a prayer, which was reported in a book about her by Mary Ann Glendon, who is a professor at Harvard Law School. It says, “Show me a vision of a world made new.” That’s the title of the book, A World Made New.
The notion was that after World War II, having experienced unspeakable violence and genocide, we needed to have a different vision to animate us going forward in the 20th century. And what she was saying was the concept of recognizing and protecting fundamental human rights for all persons is what the war was about; it was what we were fighting for, and that it’s so important that we have that concept and that the advance of human rights is a measure of whether civilization is advancing or standing still. So I think that on this day, why do we celebrate it, because of an extraordinary idea, radical idea, that was recognized because it is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and because it’s a measure of the advance of civilization both in this country and elsewhere in the world.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Josh Ruebner. I’m the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and I want to thank you for hosting this event this afternoon.
I’m just a little bit confused about the universality of human rights, given that the Obama Administration has now on two occasions – the Goldstone Report and Israel’s attack on the flotilla — worked to prevent the international community from holding Israel accountable for its human rights violations.
So I have two fairly simple questions. Number one, does the State Department believe that there really truly is one human rights standard for all countries to abide by, or is Israel held to a lower standard of account? And number two: Are Palestinians, in the State Department’s vision, considered equal human beings with equal human rights to Israelis? And if so, when is the State Department going to end our diplomatic and military support for Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Harold and I were there in Geneva when the Goldstone Report was first taken up last September. Since then, I’ve been back to Israel twice, most recently last month, to follow up on our work in this area. So let me offer a couple of observations about what you say.
Yes, there is a single universal standard that applies to every country, including our own. We apply it to the Israelis, and we also view – in an answer to your second question – Palestinians as being human beings under the Universal Declaration and entitled to those rights.
We said three things in Geneva and have continued to say them about the Goldstone Report. One is that the report had a number of flaws, which we’ve identified and which, by the way, we’ve discussed directly with Justice Goldstone, who I know and respect. But the report was a document that had a number of flaws. We could discuss that.
Secondly, we’ve said that the UN forum in which that report was taken up, the Human Rights Council, devotes disproportionate attention to Israel and Palestine. It doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t legitimate. It means that, for example, next March the Council will have not one but six different resolutions on that subject. Lots of other things get no attention. Again, it doesn’t say there isn’t a serious issue. It does say that the institution needs to be reformed.
But the third we said, and we continue to say, is that the report included a number of serious allegations, and we called on the parties, including the Israelis, to take those reports seriously and to establish credible accountability mechanisms. We said that a year ago in September, and those have been my marching orders since then. We are discussing with the Israeli Government, including the IDF, the follow-up measures that we believe they ought to be taking, some of which they’ve taken and some not. We regard it as a serious issue.
And frankly, there’s a broader issue, which I’m increasingly focused on, which is the way in which the international community and governments and international institutions deal with the very real phenomenon in the 21st century of what are called asymmetrical urban wars. We face that. I faced it in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many other countries are fighting a new kind of war. And I think one of the things we’re urging the Israelis, we’re trying to do ourselves, is to take a fresh look at what are the maximum civilian protections, what are the maximum ways that humanitarian law can be enforced in these urban settings.
This is not an easy subject, but I can assure you that more than few minutes have gone into trying to address that. I’m committed to continuing to do it, and I have the support of this Department and this government to do it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. I’m Tommy Grandon (ph). I’m in Consular Affairs now, but you’re quite right. It’s been a long haul. I was a staff assistant back in 1968 for President Johnson’s commission on the celebration of the anniversary of the human rights treaties, and I just would like to historically pay tribute to not only Alice Holsted (ph), who was a co-chair with Avril Hariman (ph), but also our executive director James Green (ph), his assistant Steve Shot (ph). And you can’t talk about human rights or women’s rights without mentioning in the same breath Gladys Tulet (ph). Human rights is hard, and you said today is 62 years. I was there on its 20th anniversary, and we’re still chugging along. Please keep it up. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you.
QUESTION: I’m Mark Hangman (ph). I’m with U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Thank you for having us here today, and I just want to recognize how amazing it is to have people with your credentials in and commitment to human rights working in this Administration. Unfortunately, the United States has not ratified the most widely recognized human rights treaty in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I’m just wondering what the prospects are of the Obama Administration getting that treaty package together and shipping it to the Senate so the Senate can take it up in the not too distant future. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going back to my lawyer.
MR. KOH: Well, I think it’s an important point. We very much want to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have ratified two protocols connected to it, which was an important step. I think that one of the things that we have to explain to those who are not in our political system is that to ratify a treaty takes not just the support of the executive branch and the support of civil society but the support of 67 senators, which is a super majority, which means that a relatively small number of senators can prevent a treaty from being ratified.
That does not prevent us from trying to move into full compliance with the treaty before we get to the point when the actual ratification occurs. And so I think as we said at the Universal Periodic Review, the difficulty of our political mechanism often leads to the opposite pattern in our country from some other countries. Some other countries ratify first then comply either later or never. Our country tends to try to move into compliance, and then when we have achieved that, at that point it becomes possible to get the political support to get the ratification.
That’s not a reason why we will not push for those ratifications. We do not believe the objections to the Convention that have been made by others are well founded. We think the Convention is something that should, indeed, be ratified by the United States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would just say just one other point on that. Senator Durbin’s Human Rights subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, I guess, last week or the week before on CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Melanne Verveer, who is the Ambassador for Women’s Issues here, testified on that. Secretary Clinton has made it very clear we’re going to continue to push on that.
And there’s also the relatively new Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, and we are moving forward also to try to tee that up in a place. So these are priorities for us. As Harold said, the political reality makes it challenging, but it’s not stopping us from doing what we can to be – and get those things in place so when the moment is right we’re going to able to really push forward.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name Sumej Sudani (ph) and I’m a student at Georgetown University. And my question is, recognizing the fact that we are in a war in terror and the fact that America is perceived, if not believed to be allied with nations that do not promote human rights, I wanted to ask if there are moments – or if the United States should put its national security interest before human rights, and if so when?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: When I said earlier that the policy of this Administration, articulated by the President and the Secretary of State, is that of principled engagement, it precisely is aimed at addressing that question.
I was with the Secretary last week in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Those are all countries where we have important security interests at stake relating to the war in Afghanistan, but there are also human rights issues. And those issues were raised. We’ll continue to raise them.
I think the challenge for this or any administration is to be clear that we have a range of issues with all sorts of governments, and we’ve got to be able to be multifunctional. We’ve got to be able to say, yes, we have security interests, but that’s not going to prevent us from raising the human rights concerns. And we did, and we did it very forcefully.
MR. CROWLEY: Just to add to that, this should – this is never an either-or situation. We have a range of interests with countries. We don’t have one approach to a country and – we look at what can be the most effective means of helping to transform the practice inside other countries. Well, how do we best influence them?
In a case of North Korea, a country with which we have profound human rights concerns, we do not have diplomatic relations with that country and we try to work those both in our public statements and in the dialogue we have with other countries, such as China, which has a relationship with North Korea.
In other countries, we may well have and do have well-founded human rights concerns, but we’ve made a judgment that we can best effect change in those countries from working with that country. You look at an Indonesia, for example, where we have a growing relationship, and through our cooperation and engagement we have, in fact, been able to help transform how Indonesia looks at and holds to account those within government who may be a suspect of human rights abuses.
At times we have pulled back from cooperation and made it clear that our future relationship, our future engagement, our future support, will depend on change and that we hold that country to account.
And through this involvement and having people on the ground helping to demonstrate to them this is how you have a military that relates to broader society; this is how you can create a civil society that can hold government to account but not necessarily be a threat to government. And we believe that we have had influence in various countries around the world.
Michael is going to Vietnam, which is a country where we have transformed our relationship, and while we have come a long way over 35 years, human rights is fundamental aspect of our dialogue expressly because we still have concerns about how the government – the actions the government takes with respect to its own population.
MR. KOH: And since I’m the lawyer on the panel, I hope you don’t mind if I try to narrow the terminology. You said we’re in a war on terror. We would say we’re in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces, which Congress approved in a statute that it passed in September 2001.
The President made clear a year ago today that – in his Nobel Prize lecture, that he does not like to be fighting an armed conflict, but that’s not a choice that he made. It was a choice that was presented to him, and that he’s deeply committed to fighting that armed conflict consistent with our values, because he believes that fighting that conflict consistent with our values makes us both safer and stronger. And among other things, he rejected the use of torture as a tool in that armed conflict and committed himself to pursuing that armed conflict consistent with the rule of domestic and international law.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Please.
QUESTION: Hello. My name’s Victoria (ph), and I’m a law student at Northeastern University School of Law, and I’m currently here in Washington as a legal fellow with the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty. And my question is with respect to the conversation in Geneva about the reduction of homelessness and poverty.
And as usual, we reaffirmed our commitment to that – to reducing shelter and food and security. However, we seem to continue to conceptualize that problem as one that is best solved through aspirational policy goals. However, that doesn’t generally seem to be having the effect of precluding states from passing laws that criminalize various activities that are performed by homeless people, life sustaining activities such as sleeping or collecting cans for money for food. Isn’t it time that we maybe re-conceptualize our understanding of food, and shelter, security as human rights as opposed to simply aspiring to solve the problems through various encouraging policies, if you understand what I mean?
MR. KOH: Well, I think – I certainly believe that we have human rights to freedom from want. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt said in 1941. I think that was incorporated in the Universal Declaration, the first part of which had to do with civil and political rights, and the second part which had to economic, social, and cultural rights. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question in 1972 under our domestic law and did not find a constitutional right to be free from poverty, and that has led to a different trend in our domestic constitutional law.
But there are some countries in the world, and ours is one of them, in which polices and pursuing particular policies can then lead to legal change. for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act that has actually led to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – I think the Secretary is here, so I think it probably might be a bad idea for me to keep talking. (Applause)
MR. POSNER: Earlier today we presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to three, four great Americans, and we were delighted that Secretary Clinton led that ceremony. When introducing her, I said that very much as we’ve been talking today about the American — U.S. role, leadership role, in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Eleanor Roosevelt’s role, we feel very proud to be led here at the State Department by someone who very much follows in Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership tradition, a woman who needs no introduction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Good afternoon. On behalf of the United States of America, I am honored to return to Geneva to conclude our first Universal Periodic Review. With my colleagues from the State and Justice Departments, I thank the President of this Council, the many states that participated constructively in the Working Group for our UPR, the Troika — France, Japan, and Cameroon — the Secretariat staff, and in particular, our own civil society, for your hard work and many, many contributions to our review.
President Obama has said of our country’s recent history, “At the core of the civil rights movement, . . . there is a voice that is best captured by [Martin Luther] King, which says that we are American, and that our story is America’s story, and that by perfecting our rights we perfect the Union.” This voice epitomizes a fundamental American belief, that “the society as a whole is transformed for the better” through our work to protect and promote the civil and human rights of its least powerful members. That tradition explains why I – the child of Korean immigrants who came to America to search for a better future – sit before you today to represent our country.
We have found the Universal Periodic Review a useful tool to assess how our country can continue to improve in achieving its own human rights goals. Civil society has been involved in each and every step of our UPR: from an unprecedented series of a dozen listening sessions that involved representatives of local and national civil society organizations as well as hundreds of citizens from communities across our country, to the Town Hall gathering for civil society held here last November in Geneva, and since then our Federal agencies have held numerous meetings with civil society to discuss our response to the many recommendations.
As a result, this UPR has been a uniting event. One civil society coalition told me how they first heard about the UPR from a human rights lawyer; they proceeded to develop a joint submission which they presented to us; and their UPR work led them subsequently to work together on other related issues. The story of one NGO is an inspiring story of how this process brings civil society together, as well as promotes an active and ongoing dialogue between government and civil society.
Civil society groups hold government to our values by asking hard questions and making tough recommendations. We welcome your recommendations and thank you for them; for that is how we can learn and improve. We value our conversation with those NGOs who were able to make it to Geneva this week. We are glad to see some of you here, with the formal speaking role the UPR affords you in this session.
Among the more than one dozen Federal agencies that have made essential contributions to our UPR submission, let me note in particular the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, represented here by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes. Reflecting its historic role in implementing our human rights obligations through enforcement of U.S. civil rights laws, the Civil Rights Division has played a critical role at every step of our UPR.
When we presented our initial report last November, we received 228 recommendations. We have considered the substance of each and every one of the recommendations, even those whose tone suggests they were not offered in a constructive spirit. While our written submission provides a specific response to each recommendation, in my time today, let me discuss the ten thematic areas these recommendations cover, and review significant changes that have occurred since our report last November.
First, we support many recommendations concerning civil rights and discrimination, including those from Ghana, Morocco, Costa Rica, Qatar, and Indonesia.
Many members of civil society – and such states as Uruguay, Australia, and Israel – asked us to do more to address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Our government has taken important recent steps in this regard, notably enactment on December 22, 2010, of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, which will allow gay men and women to serve openly in our military, strengthening our national security while upholding the basic equality upon which our nation was founded.
The United States continues to strive vigorously to ensure justice and equality for all Americans. In response to the mortgage crisis, the Civil Rights Division established a new Fair Lending Unit, to address a wide range of allegations of discriminatory conduct. The Department of Justice also has stepped up its vigorous enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination in areas including voting, employment, public accommodations, and education.
The United States continues to prosecute violations of our Federal hate crimes law, including a recent indictment involving a racially motivated assault of a Native American victim with a developmental disability.
In a second area, criminal justice, the United States continues to work – as recommended by Sweden, France, Haiti, Thailand, Belgium, Algeria, and others – to ensure protection under our Constitution and laws of the rights of those accused of committing crimes and held in prisons or jails. We set and enforce high standards of conduct for law enforcement personnel. In New Orleans, the Civil Rights Division recently secured convictions against police officers who engaged in misconduct in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, the Justice Department announced its findings that the New Orleans Police Department has engaged in patterns of misconduct that violate the Constitution and Federal law. Its problems include excessive force and policing inconsistencies based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, limited English proficiency, and gender.
About 25 countries, including close friends and allies, made recommendations concerning administration of capital punishment by those governments within our system that still apply it. Domestic civil society also raised capital punishment as an issue of concern. While we respect those who make these recommendations, as I noted last November, they reflect continuing differences of policy, not differences about what the rules of international human rights law currently require. To those who desire as a matter of policy to end capital punishment in the United States – and I count myself among those — I note the decision made by the government of Illinois on March 9 to abolish that state’s death penalty.
In a third area, the rights of indigenous peoples, the United States recognizes past wrongs and has committed itself to working with tribal governments to address the many issues facing their communities, including two particular recommendations. First, the importance of tribal consultation was repeatedly stressed during our UPR listening sessions with tribal leaders and civil society. Second, reflected in recommendations from civil society and tribes and echoed by a number of countries including Finland and New Zealand, was that we support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
At his second White House Tribal Nations Conference last December, President Obama addressed both concerns when he announced the United States’ support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and issued a statement detailing U.S. support for the Declaration and ongoing work on Native American issues. His announcement capped a year in which the President had directed that consultations with tribal officials be reinvigorated throughout the U.S. Government.
Civil society and countries including Malaysia, Mexico, and Norway made recommendations to us concerning a fourth area: national security. As I explained in November, the United States takes its obligations under international law seriously, and abides by all applicable law in its continuing armed conflicts against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, including those laws respecting humane treatment, detention, and use of force. It is legal under the laws of war to use detention to prevent adversaries from re-engaging in the conflict, but we do not — and we will not — tolerate torture or inhumane treatment of detainees in our custody, wherever they are held.
Ireland, Switzerland and others made recommendations about the Guantánamo detention facility. As the White House indicated last Monday, President Obama remains committed to closing that facility, although that will clearly take more time, due to restrictive legislation and complex politics. As this effort continues, we are committed to ensuring that all practices on Guantánamo fully accord with international law. On March 7, 2011, the President announced five steps reaffirming the framework first outlined in his 2009 National Archives Speech, to ensure we have a lawful, sustainable, and principled regime handling Guantánamo detainees consistent with our national security interests and our national values. The first element is a continued commitment to civilian trials in Federal courts: as the President recently stated, “I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system – including Article III courts – to ensure that our security and values are strengthened.” The second element is a resumption of prosecutions by military commissions, which had previously been suspended. Third, we continue efforts to lawfully and safely transfer detainees from Guantánamo. Fourth, the President formalized a process of periodic review, to ensure that individuals on Guantánamo are detained only when both lawful and necessary to protect U.S. security. Fifth and finally, we reaffirmed our commitment to humane treatment of detainees in our custody by announcing that the United States will seek advice and consent to Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions and will also – out of a sense of legal obligation – adhere to the humane treatment and fair trial safeguards in Article 75 of Additional Protocol I in international armed conflicts.
In the context of counter-terrorism, a number of U.S. civil society groups and countries – such as Egypt and Algeria – have raised concerns regarding discrimination against Muslims. The United States agrees that the problem of terrorism is not unique to members of any religious or ethnic group. Our government does not support attempts to treat entire communities as a threat to our national security, based solely on their race, religion, or ethnicity.
In a fifth area, immigration, we accepted many recommendations from civil society and from countries including Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Vietnam, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The contributions of immigrants have been an important element of every chapter of American history. While challenges remain, we also know that people from around the world continue to arrive on our shores in search of refuge and opportunity. What attracts immigrants to the United States — like my own parents, and those of many others in our delegation – is the promise of universal values embodied in our Constitution, with our continuing efforts to ensure that we deliver on that promise.
In keeping with commitments relating to our status as party to the 1966 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, our government is reviewing its handling of emergent refugee cases to improve accessibility and efficiency in the program. Last December, the Department of Homeland Security improved accessibility of care for immigration detainees, by simplifying the process for detainees to receive authorized health care. And in January, the Department improved its procedures for handling, investigating, and correcting complaints regarding all kinds of civil rights issues. In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security provided 10,000 victims of crime and over 9,000 of their immediate family members with the opportunity to work and live permanently in the United States.
In a sixth area – economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights — as civil society and countries including Thailand, Norway, Morocco, and Brazil recommended, local, State, and Federal governments in the United States continue to protect the environment in which we live and to take significant action to address what President Roosevelt called “freedom from want.” Recent Federal department and agency actions include: (1) the Department of Education’s February 2011 announcement of an Equity and Excellence Commission to examine disparities in educational opportunities and to address the needs of children in distressed, high-poverty communities; (2) grants from the Department of Health and Human Services to support health centers around the country and improve to health care access for the uninsured; and (3) two recent settlements from the Environmental Protection Agency that would require new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions.
In a seventh area — workplace protections and the fight against human trafficking — the United States has long been a leader. We support several recommendations that concern trafficking, including one from Moldova. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency launched the “No Te Enganes” (Don’t Be Fooled) media campaign in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, which offers information on the dangers of human trafficking and advises how to avoid becoming a victim. Last year the Department of Justice prosecuted its highest annual number of human trafficking cases ever, including one involving more than 400 victims. We continue to address worker protections in countless ways, including through the President’s Equal Pay Taskforce to strengthen our response to wage differences between men and women, the Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program, and joint enforcement and education campaigns focused on civil rights of immigrant workers.
We are committed to an eighth goal as well — robust domestic implementation of our international human rights obligations. In this area, we support recommendations from Egypt, Norway, Austria, and Costa Rica. We particularly appreciated Austria’s recommendation that we continue consultation with civil society, which we have done and intend to continue including immediately after this presentation. Civil society has also helpfully advised us on how to take additional steps to inform local and state governments about our UPR.
As a party to several human rights treaties, the United States is bound to comply with its obligations at Federal, State, and local levels. Under our Constitution and federal system of government, the different levels and branches of our government ensure a comprehensive web of protections and enforcement mechanisms that reinforce our country’s ability to guarantee respect of human rights.
The ninth and largest group of recommendations that we received concerned ratification of treaties and other international instruments. Under our Constitution, treaty ratification requires approval not only by the Executive Branch, but also a two-thirds supermajority of our Senate. Despite this high threshold, the Administration has pushed for positive Senate action on a number of human rights and other treaties that afford humanitarian protection, and will continue to do so. As I have noted earlier, eleven days ago the Administration announced its intent to seek, as soon as practicable, Senate advice and consent to ratify Additional Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. This responds to points raised by Germany, Russia, Cyprus, Austria, and Hungary. The U.S. also declared that, out of a sense of legal obligation, it will treat the principles set forth in Article 75 of Additional Protocol I as applicable to any individual it detains in an international armed conflict, and expects all other nations to adhere to these principles as well.
Tenth and finally, we address together a number of the recommendations made at the UPR that did not fit into other categories. As our written report says, we do not support recommendations that urged particular action in pending judicial cases. Nor do we support certain other inappropriate or politically motivated recommendations. Despite some countries’ desire to use the UPR for their own political ends, we have worked, with respect for the process, to consider the merits of each and every one of the 228 recommendations made to us, and to respond honestly to each.
In closing, we complete our first Universal Periodic Review proud of our heritage as a nation conceived in liberty, still dedicated to the proposition that all persons are created equal. At a time when so many nations are in turmoil, when so many are still struggling to achieve government of the people, by the people, and for the people, our constant and urgent challenge remains the same: to achieve a more perfect union and to promote a more perfect world. As a diverse democracy now well into our third century, the United States of America has been honored to present our response to the world’s recommendations. We now look forward to hearing the reactions of other countries and civil society.
Thank you very much.
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt — Vice President Joe Biden issued the following statement today after his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak:
“I am grateful to President Mubarak for his hospitality, and for the opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues. Egypt and the United States are partners in a shared desire to see peace and economic prosperity in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sudan. I thank Egypt for the leadership role it has played in supporting these priorities.
“Today, President Mubarak and I reiterated our commitment to reaching a comprehensive peace in the region. The United States recognizes and appreciates Egypt’s leadership in support for these efforts. The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It is vital to make progress in the proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations as soon as possible that will result in an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and to a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and a Palestinian state living in peace and security. In addition, we are consulting closely with Egypt, as well as our other partners, on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza.
“In addition to the pressing priority of reaching comprehensive peace, we also discussed other areas of regional concern. We appreciate the vital role Egypt is playing in Afghanistan and its support for a strong, independent, unified and democratic Iraq.
“We discussed our serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The international community continues to witness Iran’s non-compliance with its obligations to the United Nations Security Council and the International Agency for Atomic Energy, as well as Iran’s unwillingness to engage seriously with the P5+1 on its nuclear program. The United States remains committed to a diplomatic resolution to these serious issues, but we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its continued violations of its international responsibilities, in accordance with our dual-track policy. We expect to see developments in the United Nations Security Council to hold Iran accountable very soon. In addition to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, we remain concerned about its destabilizing activities throughout the region, including with regard to its support for Hizballah and Hamas.
“We reaffirmed our commitment to supporting stability in Sudan, including Darfur, and the full implementation of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and preparing for the referendum on southern self-determination in 2011.
“The United States looks forward to a continuing dialogue with Egypt on a broad range of interests, including Egypt’s ongoing political and economic reform. Elements such as respect for human rights and the need to continue working for a vibrant civil society and more open political competition are vital for Egypt to remain strong and serve as a model to the region. Egypt has made commitments as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, including accepting some of the Council’s recommendations. These commitments are important and I encourage Egypt to move ahead swiftly to implement fully those commitments and build upon that agenda.”
UN Human Rights Council
THE UPR WORKING GROUP SEVENTH SESSION
Consideration of UPR Reports
Report of the UPR Working Group on Egypt
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
The United States welcomes His Excellency, Mr. Mufid Shihab, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Parliamentary Councils and thanks the Egyptian delegation for the presentation of its national report. Having carefully reviewed the information provided, we offer the following recommendations.
The United States recommends the Government of Egypt lift the state of emergency that has been in effect since 1981 and replace the Emergency Law with a counterterrorism law that guarantees civil liberties. Because of freedom of expression concerns, the United States recommends the abolishment of prison terms for incitement to discrimination regarding sex, origin, language, religion or belief, and for acts damaging to an individual’s honor.
The United States recommends that the Government of Egypt release bloggers and activists currently detained under the Emergency Law and cease its arrests and detentions of political activists.
We recommend that Egypt pass legislation that allows NGOs to accept foreign funding without prior government approval, legislation that allows for increased freedom of association and assembly, and legislation allowing labor unions to operate without joining the Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
We recommend that Egypt redress laws and government practices that discriminate against members of religious minorities, and in particular urgently pass a “unified law” that makes requirements equal for construction and repair of the places of worship for all religious groups. We welcome the news that the trial has begun for four suspects charged with the January 6 attack on Coptic churchgoers. Failure to prosecute those who perpetrate violent crimes against Copts has contributed to a climate of impunity. We further recommend that Egypt investigate and prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence and ensure victims’ recourse to the judicial system. We recommend that Egypt eliminate legal and bureaucratic restrictions affecting an individual’s right to choose his or her religion.
We further recommend that Egypt expedite the provision of all official documents, particularly identity documents to all members of its Baha’i community.
We recommend that Egypt pass comprehensive anti-trafficking in persons legislation.
We recommend that Egypt uphold its international obligations relating to refugees We are concerned about the ongoing deportations of Africans to places where their lives may be in danger and are concerned that Egyptian police continue to shoot unarmed Africans attempting to cross into Israel. We recommend that Egypt require that the police act with restraint when not directly threatened.
Friends and Colleagues:
Earlier this month I traveled to Geneva to co-head an interagency delegation to an historic event: the United States’ first–ever presentation of a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UPR is a cumbersome moniker for something that is actually quite remarkable. Simply put, each member country of the United Nations is required to report on its human rights situation to the Human Rights Council and then be questioned, challenged, and applauded by other nations.
The State Department embarked on the UPR process more than a year ago when we, along with colleagues from 13 other federal agencies including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Interior, crisscrossed the country holding meetings with civil society to hear what they had to say about our human rights record. It was critical that America’s civil society –those activists on the frontlines of improving human rights conditions – have a say and role in our review.
The result was a 29-page report which included a wide array of issues from racial profiling and immigration to torture and homelessness. The Administration sent a large delegation to Geneva to demonstrate further that we take engagement with the international community seriously. I led the delegation along with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner and the Department’s Legal Advisor, Harold Hongju Koh. For the three-hour session, we entered a room packed with delegations from around the world, NGOs and global media.
Seated in the front rows behind the United States’ placard was a delegation that reflected the full support and engagement of our domestic agencies, including Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk who delivered remarks on indigenous issues and noted his own personal background as a member of the Pawnee Tribe.
In opening remarks to the standing room only Human Rights Council, I reminded the audience that the Obama administration is used to hearing criticism from its own citizens at home, in newspapers, blogs and talk radio shows. “Some are respectful and constructive, some are not. We protect them all.”
Over the course of three-hour session, the range of issues covered was enormous and included commentary on the death penalty, America’s commitment to fighting human trafficking, and racial profiling. We did our best to convey our openness, transparency and unrelenting efforts to become “a more perfect union.”
We did not shrink from criticism either from governments, including those that have no credibility when it comes to their own poor human rights records, or our own civil society. The issues of torture and detention were very much front and center. Many delegations urged the prompt closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and Legal Advisor Koh told the room “While the commitment has not wavered, the task is complex. President Obama cannot do it alone. Our intensive efforts to close that facility continue every day,” he said.
As Mike Posner noted in his closing remarks, none of us three co-heads of the delegation would have been able to sit on that dais even 50 years earlier. And that is real progress. Just as important as the morning session where we made our formal presentation was an innovation we introduced to Geneva for the first time in the afternoon: a U.S. government-sponsored town hall meeting with American civil society.
Moderated by journalist Sheila MacVicar, the town hall welcomed more than 100 activists from American civil society. We had more than 10 high level people from different Federal agencies on hand to answer questions. We also linked with Washington to host a spillover audience including representatives from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education.
But we didn’t stop there. We also broadcast the town hall live on the web where people across the globe tuned into to listen and ask questions. The 90-minute conversation was pointed, at times even testy as activists expressed concerns over indigenous rights, racial profiling and torture.
The town hall was another element of the Administration’s commitment to listen to, engage with, and incorporate ideas from civil society. Many activists in other countries do not have that right, and can even put their lives on the line by questioning and challenging their governments.
In our minds, this open dialogue with our civil society was a milestone. “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” Eleanor Roosevelt the American grand dame of human rights once asked. “In small places, close to home.”
We believe our day in Geneva would have made her proud.
As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback on the UPR process, other multilateral priorities, etc.