Translating Human Rights into Practice: A Conversation on the United Nations Human Rights Council

On July 11, the Managing Global Order project at Brookings and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs hosted a conversation on the UN Human Rights Council and its wider impact, especially the means by which events in Geneva translate into tangible action on the ground. Panelists included: Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, special representative of Switzerland to the Human Rights Council; Ambassador Mark Lagon, chair for international relations and security in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University; and Paula Schriefer, deputy assistant secretary for international organization affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  They discussed how the Council, including its body of independent experts, supports human rights defenders in their daily struggle to protect human rights. Senior Fellow Ted Piccone, deputy director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, provided introductory comments focused on the key findings of his new book, Catalysts for Change: How the UN’s Independent Experts Promote Human Rights (Brookings, 2012).  Listen the the audio of the discussion here.

Donahoe: U.S. Deeply Disturbed by Ongoing Human Rights Violations Around the World

Item 4: General Debate on Human Rights Situations

Requiring Council Attention

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
As Delivered by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Human Rights Council 20th Session

Geneva

June 28, 2012

Madame President,

The brutal, persistent attacks by the Syrian regime against its own people – including the outrageous targeted killings of civilians, including women and children, at Qubeir and Houla in recent weeks – are disgusting and unacceptable.Perpetrators of these and other atrocities in Syria must be identified and held to account.  The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end.

The United States remains deeply disturbed by other ongoing human rights violations around the world.

Iran must uphold its international obligations to protect the human rights of all citizens, including the right to religious freedom and free expression.  Iran must release all persons jailed for their religious or political beliefs, including the more than 100 Baha’is imprisoned, and those students, lawyers, and journalists currently detained.

The DPRK mustimmediately dismantle political prison camps, where it reportedly holds between 130,000 and 200,000 individuals, including children, without due process.

Sudan continues to target civilians, including by aerial bombardments in Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan.  Government forces continue to commit extrajudicial killings, torture, and other gross human rights violations throughout the country, including against religious minorities.

Belarus restricts the freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement.  The government should immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, restore their political and civil rights, and permit regime critics to leave the country if they desire.

China silences dissent through arrests, convictions, forced disappearances, and extralegal detentions; has tightened controls on the Internet; persecutes human rights lawyers; intimidates activists’ families; impedes civil society; and limits religious freedom.  Government policies undermine Tibetan and Uighur linguistic, religious, and cultural traditions.

Eritrea has still not accounted for those who have disappeared after arrest, including journalist Dawit Isaak.  The government’s severe repression of fundamental freedoms, including religion and expression, has caused large numbers of people to flee the country.

Cuba routinely harasses, arrests, denies employment to, beats, and jails those who criticize the government.  It intercepts, blocks, or diverts dissidents’ phone and Internet connections to prevent reporting on human rights abuses.  We call for the immediate release of Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned for over two-and-a-half years.

Venezuela continues to consolidate power in the executive branch.  It limits freedom of expression, criminalizes dissent, closes media outlets, and uses court cases to harass media owners and political opposition members.

Turkmenistan curtails the freedoms of religion, movement, expression, and association.  It restricts civil society and arbitrarily imprisons citizens who openly express criticism.  Torture is widespread in prison.

Thank you, Madame President.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs addressed the United Nations Association’s Annual Conference at the US Department of State on June 11, 2012. Full Text

The IAEA Director General's report makes clear that Iran continues to deny the Agency the full cooperation necessary

The IAEA Director General’s report makes clear that Iran continues to deny the Agency the full cooperation necessary

"We have taken note of the recent dialogue between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran, and look forward to learning further details as that dialogue continues. While we appreciate the efforts by Director General Amano to conclude a substantive agreement, we remain concerned by the urgent obligation for Iran to take concrete steps to cooperate fully with the verification efforts of the IAEA, based on IAEA verification practices. We urge Iran to take this opportunity to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its nuclear program. Full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA is the first logical step."
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Robert A. Wood, Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim, and Acting U.S. Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Vienna, Austria. May 22, 2012

"When the President says all options are on the table, he means it. When he says that our policy is prevention, not containment, he means it. But there are a number of different paths that can get us to the outcome we’re seeking, which is a peaceful resolution of this very difficult challenge. And we appreciate the fact that Iran will return to negotiations with what’s called the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus the European Union and Germany. And we will enter into those negotiations with the hope that there can be a positive resolution, but without any illusions and without any patience for talk without progress."
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Interview With Wendell Goler of FOX News

Interview

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Istanbul Congress Center, Istanbul, Turkey
April 1, 2012

Testimony of Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, House Subcommittee on Appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, March 20, 2012

S PREPARED

Chairwoman Granger, Representative Lowey, members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. I am deeply grateful for your leadership and continued support for our efforts at the United Nations, especially in this time of fiscal constraint.

On behalf of the Administration, I am pleased to reiterate the request for funds for fiscal year 2013 for three key accounts: $1.57 billion for Contributions to International Organizations (CIO); $2.1 billion for Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA); and $327.3 million for International Organizations and Programs (IO&P). This request includes funding to meet our obligations to international organizations of which the United States is a member as well as our voluntary contributions to various United Nations programs.

Reflecting the fiscal environment, this year’s budget requests for voluntary contributions to major UN agencies largely remain constant and, in most cases have decreased, compared to last year’s request. On the whole, our FY13 request for the IO&P account reflects a 6% decrease from FY12 levels.

Let me start by underscoring the importance of the United Nations to advancing U.S. interests and upholding the universal values we hold dear.

The world is shrinking. Problems in remote parts of the globe can and do threaten our security interests abroad and ultimately affect us here at home. Nuclear proliferation, terrorism, drug trafficking, refugee flows, gross human rights abuses, manmade and natural disasters, infectious disease, extreme poverty and suffering, environmental degradation - problems that no one nation, no matter how powerful, can address alone. And especially in tough economic times, these are not burdens that the United States should have to bear on our own.

As both Democratic and Republican leaders have long attested, a strong and effective UN is one of the best tools we have to tackle many of the world’s problems. The UN plays an indispensable role in building international coalitions and promoting global burden sharing to meet 21st century challenges. The UN is not the sum of our strategy, but an essential piece of it.

As President Obama has said, “That’s how the international community should work — more nations; the United States right there at the center of it, but not alone — everybody stepping up, bearing their responsibilities, carrying the costs of upholding peace and security. That’s what it means to be United Nations.” And as former President Reagan proclaimed, “We are determined that the United Nations shall succeed and serve the cause of peace for humankind.”

Now, the UN is far from perfect, but when it stumbles, it’s often because its members stumble – because big powers block critical actions in the Security Council or spoilers grandstand in the General Assembly. As one of my predecessors, Richard Holbrooke, was fond of saying, “Blaming the UN when things go wrong is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the Knicks play badly.”

In response to the ongoing horrors in Syria, the United States and our partners have engaged in intensive diplomacy at the United Nations to put the world on record in support of an immediate halt to the violence; a negotiated, peaceful solution; and a responsible democratic transition. While Russia and China twice vetoed Security Council action, the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council have repeatedly condemned the carnage the Asad regime is inflicting on its own people and endorsed the Arab League’s proposal for a transition. The Human Rights Council has mandated a Commission of Inquiry that has thoroughly investigated and documented the human rights abuses of the Asad regime. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and senior UN officials have vigorously condemned abuses by the Syrian regime and called for an end to the violence. The United Nations and the Arab League have jointly appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as their Special Envoy for Syria. The UN has coordinated the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance to afflicted Syrian communities and has provided support to thousands of Syrian refugees and vulnerable populations inside Syria tormented by the regime’s systematic abuses, though the need remains great.

The regime continues to renege on its commitment to implement the League of Arab States’ action plan agreed to in November. It has spurned efforts by its Arab neighbors to mediate a peaceful political solution. It continues to wage a brutal campaign against innocent civilians and there are credible allegations that the regime has committed crimes against humanity.

The United States fully supports the Syrian people’s demands for a unified Syria with a democratic, representative, and inclusive government that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we fully support the Arab League’s unprecedented initiatives to end this crisis peacefully. In order to provide lifesaving assistance to Syrian civilians in need, we have announced a $12 million initial contribution to scale up humanitarian efforts. To deepen the Asad regime’s isolation, we have imposed sanctions and worked with others to do so as well, such as placing travel bans on senior members of the regime, freezing their assets, boycotting Syrian oil, and considering closing embassies and consulates. And we have encouraged a democratic transition by supporting opposition groups and individuals inside and outside Syria to come together around a common vision for the country’s future where the rights of every citizen are respected and protected.

In Syria, as elsewhere, the United States has led efforts to promote principled action at the UN through persistent diplomacy with our traditional allies, regional partners, and emerging powers. Indeed, this has been the hallmark of the Obama Administration’s engagement at the UN. We work hard to build and sustain the coalitions required to advance our interests and values. And we fulfill our obligations, so that our hand is that much stronger when we demand that others do the same. Our investments at the United Nations have advanced U.S. interests and made the American people more safe and secure.

In Libya, the United States and its allies acted through the United Nations to prevent Qadafhi from massacring his own people. And now the UN is remaining engaged over the long term, helping the people of Libya make the difficult transition to democracy after a brutal dictatorship.

To curtail illicit nuclear weapons programs, the United States led the Security Council in imposing the toughest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea. As a result, a large number of countries have also imposed additional bilateral sanctions on Iran, and the regime is more isolated than ever before with its leaders facing crippling sanctions. As the President has repeatedly made clear, we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and as long as Iran fails to meet its international obligations, the pressure will build.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United Nations is providing vital assistance to their political transitions, and to their social and economic development – supporting the process of bringing our service members home responsibly.

After decades of brutal war, the United Nations played a critical role in supporting the creation of the newly independent South Sudan. There are significant challenges ahead in Darfur, Abyei, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, so the United States will continue our efforts to support Sudan and South Sudan living side by side in peace.

In Cote d’Ivoire, the UN stood firm in stopping a strongman from stealing an election and ensured that the democratically elected President took office, preventing a return to civil war.

In Haiti, the United Nations has been essential in helping the country recover and rebuild from the devastating earthquake two years ago – a tragedy that claimed thousands of lives, including one hundred and two UN personnel. The United States worked closely with the UN to help the Government of Haiti ensure security and deliver humanitarian relief. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces were able to withdraw from Haiti within a few months as the UN peacekeeping presence was quickly reconstituted.

During last year’s General Assembly, we secured, by the largest margins ever, condemnations of Iran and North Korea – and for the first time ever, Syria – for their mass violations of human rights. In the Human Rights Council, the United States worked to achieve ground-breaking resolutions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, discrimination against women, religious tolerance, and investigations into human rights abuses in Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Libya, and Iran.

We have led the fight for women’s rights, forging a broad coalition to establish UN Women, a streamlined entity that replaced multiple UN offices, and that now works to empower women worldwide. We also support the vital work of a Special Representative to tackle the issue of sexual violence in conflict.

We’ve spearheaded important progress throughout the UN system to advance the universal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, including landmark victories in the General Assembly and Human Rights Council, and our advocacy on behalf of LGBT non-governmental organizations.

These are just a few examples of how United States leadership at the United Nations is yielding tangible dividends for the American people.

But despite important progress, much remains to be done. UN reform is not a luxury. It is a necessity. That is why we are relentlessly championing greater budget discipline and comprehensive administrative and management reforms that will make the UN more efficient and cost-effective.

In December, we led a successful effort to cut by five percent the size of the UN’s regular budget, the first reduction in 14 years and only the second in the past 50 years.

In addition, by responsibly shutting down peacekeeping missions and showing discipline in establishing new missions, we have contained the growth in recent years of the UN peacekeeping budget, which increased from $2.6 billion to $7.8 billion from 2000 to 2009. The Obama Administration has succeeded in holding peacekeeping budget levels effectively constant for the past three years.

We have also promoted a paperless UN, resulting in a 65% reduction of pages printed in New York over the past two years, saving on an annual basis a pile of paper nearly 50 times the height of the UN building.

To better tackle waste, fraud, and abuse, we have worked to reduce vacancies in the UN inspector-general’s office by nearly half so it can be a strong, independent, and effective watchdog.

Over the past decade, the United States has championed increased transparency throughout the UN system. And last year, we secured a commitment from the heads of all NY-based UN funds and programs to disclose publicly online all internal audit reports, starting this year.

We led efforts in the General Assembly to adopt wide-ranging peacekeeping reforms –including a new global field support strategy - which have already saved an initial $62 million to date and will dramatically improve the performance of 15 peace operations worldwide employing approximately 120,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers.

Our UN reform agenda is based on four key pillars:

First, economy: a leaner UN that does more with less. We are working hard to shrink the bureaucracy, bring some private-sector sensibility to the UN, and upgrade the UN’s information technology.

Second, accountability: a cleaner UN with robust oversight mechanisms, ethics enforcement, whistleblower protection, and greater transparency.

Third, integrity: a more credible UN that lives up to its founding principles and values, and does not tolerate individuals or states that bring dishonor to the institution.

Fourth, excellence: an insistence on delivering real results and upholding the highest standards, including a merit-based human resource system that rewards performance, the capacity to respond in real time to unfolding crises, integration of disparate UN programs, and a culture of evaluation for effectiveness.

We have a good partner in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been a leader on these issues, and look forward to working with him and his team in the coming months and years.

There are many challenges ahead – upcoming negotiations on member state assessment rates, divisive politics within the General Assembly, an entrenched bureaucracy that resists change – but with patience and determined engagement, we will continue to succeed.

This brings me to another important priority: ensuring that Israel’s legitimacy is beyond dispute and its security is never in doubt.

Every day, we stand with Israel and oppose hostile efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy and security at the UN. We remain vigilant on the Palestinians’ unilateral bid for UN membership. The United States will not hesitate to use its veto when necessary. However, due to our efforts, the Palestinians saw clearly that they had not mustered enough votes to gain the UN Security Council’s support and thus to provoke a U.S. veto. There is no shortcut to statehood. Tough issues can only be solved through direct negotiations between the parties. We have been consistent and clear on this.

When a Security Council resolution on settlements that would have undermined the cause of peace was put to a vote, we vetoed it. Likewise, when the deeply flawed Goldstone Report was released, we insisted on Israel’s right to defend itself and maintained that Israel’s democratic institutions could credibly investigate any possible abuses. We refused to attend meetings in 2009 and 2011 concerning the 2001 Durban Conference, which unfairly singled out Israel. And we always fight against anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and other UN bodies.

We are also fighting for the full and equal participation of Israel throughout the UN system. We championed Israel’s successful bid for the UNDP Executive Board last year and when they took their seat last month, it was hailed by the Israeli Deputy Ambassador as “a milestone in Israel’s integration to the global agenda of the UN.” We have succeeded in winning Israel’s inclusion in key negotiation groups in New York and in Geneva, and are pushing for Israel’s participation where it remains excluded. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the disproportionate and biased focus on Israel undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the Council, and we consistently oppose the permanent agenda item devoted to Israel. As President Obama has said, “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will continue to be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”

Madam Chairwoman, members of the Committee, allow me to draw your attention to one specific matter of great importance – longstanding legislative restrictions on paying our assessed contributions to UN specialized agencies that admit Palestine as a member state. Our participation in these organizations serves a wide range of important American interests, such as promoting human rights, democracy, nonproliferation, global health, international telecommunications, intellectual property rights, and free markets. Withholding U.S. funding only harms U.S. interests.

The World Health Organization assists countries in addressing critical health problems and helps protect Americans from infectious diseases, such as the H1N1 and avian influenza. WHO programs have led to the eradication of smallpox, which saves America millions by eliminating the need for vaccinations, and are working towards the eradication of polio, neonatal tetanus, leprosy, and other preventable illnesses.

The International Atomic Energy Agency protects Americans from the dangers of nuclear proliferation through its essential verification work ensuring that peaceful nuclear programs are not being diverted for weapons purposes. IAEA inspectors have been instrumental in blowing the whistle on illicit activities by Iran and North Korea.

The World Intellectual Property Organization supports American economic growth through the protection of patents and copyrights, and provides a forum for American businesses to raise complaints about the infringement of intellectual property. Last year, American companies, such as Apple, Costco, and Facebook, brought cases before WIPO.

Current U.S. law runs counter to U.S. national security interests by enabling the Palestinians to determine whether the U.S. can continue to fund and lead effectively in key UN specialized agencies that help protect Americans. Cutting off funding for agencies such as WHO, IAEA, and WIPO would deal a blow to our efforts on global health, nuclear nonproliferation, and the protection of the interests of American businesses.

In the case of UNESCO, due to irresponsible Palestinian actions, we have withheld our funding for valuable work that supports key U.S. interests. UNESCO’s contributions include promoting freedom of the press and freedom of expression, providing literacy training and supporting tsunami warning systems. The United States has been a leading supporter and financial contributor to UNESCO’s valuable Holocaust education program, second only to Israel. We have also supported UNESCO’s efforts to empower women and girls through education. As former First Lady and UNESCO honorary Ambassador to the UN literacy decade Laura Bush has argued, “achieving the goal of global literacy requires global participation. It requires continued global leadership at every level – from international organizations like UNESCO to political leadership in each nation.”

We believe our membership and participation in UNESCO is valuable and worth supporting. Therefore, the Administration’s budget request includes funding for the U.S. contribution to UNESCO and a statement of intent to work together with Congress to find a solution that would give the Administration the authority to waive restrictions on paying our financial contributions when doing so is clearly in our national interest.

I also remain concerned about pending legislation that would shift contributions to the UN from assessed to voluntary funding. Treating our commitments and treaty obligations to the UN as an a la carte menu invites others to do the same and, simply put, would leave us paying more of the bill. Similarly, we oppose legislation that would link efforts to reform the UN to withholding dues. Historically, such approaches have backfired by allowing opponents of reform to weaken our ability to prevail in negotiations.

I also respectfully request the Committee provide the authority proposed to pay our assessed peacekeeping dues at the current rate of 27.14 percent.

As we learned in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the United States is unable to pay our bills, we undermine our leadership at the UN, especially on UN reform. In 2009, the Obama Administration worked with Congress to pay off millions in arrears that accumulated between 2005 and 2008. Being up to date with our commitments has helped us deliver some of the most significant accomplishments on UN reform for American taxpayers in more than a decade. The failure to pay our assessments undermines our credibility and our influence. We alienate our closest allies and partners when we don’t follow through on the policies we together advocate in the Security Council, on priorities such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Libya, Haiti, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Neglecting our commitments leaves us in a position of weakness, not strength, when it comes to championing reforms and achieving the concrete results that make America safer and stronger. Paying our assessments has been the consistent policy of both Republican and Democratic Administrations. Of course, paying our bills in full and on time does not mean giving the UN a free pass. On the contrary, it allows us to pursue reform even more aggressively and successfully.

I will conclude by saying the United States is at the forefront ensuring that the UN lives up to its founding principles, safeguards international security, and delivers assistance to those who need it most. We greatly appreciate the Committee’s longstanding efforts to help meet our commitments throughout the UN system, especially at a time of fiscal belt-tightening. The active and full support of this Committee has been and remains essential to our efforts.

It is an honor to represent the United States at the United Nations. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with wonderful colleagues at the U.S. Mission, the UN, the broader diplomatic community, and the Members of this Congress who share a deep commitment to protecting the innocent, pursuing peace, and defending universal human rights.

I welcome your questions.

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Maria Otero: Human Rights Council makes a Significant Impact on the World

Statement by:

Maria Otero
U.S. Under Secretary of State
for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights

19th Session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, Switzerland
March 2, 2012

When the United States joined the UN Human Rights Council two years ago, we set forth four values that would guide our work in this body: universality, dialogue, principle, and truth.  We knew then, as we know now, that the honest dialogue and dedicated effort of this Council will help all of our nations on the path to international peace and security.

In the two years since, we have stayed true to those values.  But our global challenges remain—among them, threats to freedoms of assembly, association, expression and religion and to vulnerable populations.  As we seek a second term on the Council, the United States stands ready to build on the Council’s successes to pursue solutions to these pressing challenges.  This session provides several opportunities to do so.

Last week in Tunisia, we partnered with the Friends of Syria in a unified commitment to help end the suffering of the Syrian people.  We joined Council members this week to condemn the Asad regime’s ongoing brutal crackdown.

We must extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry launched by the Council, which has effectively performed its intensely difficult mandate with great commitment, so that it can continue to document the atrocities being committed and lay the groundwork for accountability.

Recent efforts on Syria are not the first time the Council has provided an important platform for action.  Last year, this Council created a special rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in Iran.  Special Rapporteur Shaheed has conducted his work in a spirit of openness and dialogue.  His important work must continue, and I encourage the Council to continue his mandate.

Tomorrow, Iranians will go to the polls for the first time since the 2009 disputed election—a moment when tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to demand their civil rights.  Since then, the regime’s repression and persecution of all who stand up for their universal human rights has only intensified.   The United States stands with religious and political leaders around the world in condemning the conviction of Youcef Nadarkhani’s  and calling for his immediate release.

In Burma, the government has taken substantial and serious steps to improve the human rights situation for its citizens.  We must continue to support this progress by extending the mandate of the special rapporteur. We commend the government for its recent efforts and encourage it to continue discussions with ethnic minority groups—armed or otherwise—on the path to national reconciliation.

The United States will also support renewal of the mandate of the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  We share the Republic of Korea’s deep concerns regarding the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers from the DPRK in third countries.

We know from experience that there can be no lasting peace without reconciliation and accountability, but the United States is concerned that, in Sri Lanka, time is slipping away.  The international community has waited nearly three years for action, and while we welcome the release of the LLRC report, the recommendations of the report should be implemented. We have engaged Sri Lanka bilaterally on these issues since the conflict ended in 2009, and stand ready to continue to work with them.  Action now in this Council will sow the seeds of lasting peace on the ground.

The United States has worked through this Council to assist countries in transition with their human rights challenges.  We have supported human rights protection and promotion in Kyrgyzstan, Guinea, Haiti and Cote d’ Ívoire, among others.  In our UPR presentation, we addressed our own incomplete journey toward universal human rights, and we admire those countries that speak about their shortcomings as well as their strengths.  We stand ready to help countries ready to address their human rights challenges, and during this session we hope to reach agreement to provide additional assistance to Yemen and Libya.  With the support of this Council, these countries can consolidate democracy and become new beacons of leadership on human rights.

The United States has also worked through this Council to address significant cross-cutting issues that affect all of us, including combating discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.  We were pleased to host the first meeting that seeks to implement Human Rights Council resolution 16/18, and we look forward to adopting a resolution this session that recognizes the important progress we have made.

Resolution 16/18 has proven that this Council can discuss and act upon difficult issues where consensus seems impossible. We also look forward to the upcoming discussion on the human rights of LGBT persons, underscoring that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender does not make you less human.

As States increase pressure on rights and freedoms online, the United States must reiterate that the universal freedoms of expression, assembly and association are as applicable on the Internet and mobile technologies as they are to traditional modes of expression. We are concerned that some States are using new technologies to block content and suppress political dissent, and we encourage States to fulfill their human rights commitments  and obligations in the context of new technologies.

The Council has done a great deal to focus on pressing human rights situations but there are still challenges to address. The United States was disappointed that the Human Rights Council review process did not address the unfair singling out of one country for a permanent agenda item.  The Council will improve its credibility when it eliminates Item 7 and addresses all states under a common rubric.

Lastly, the United States remains gravely concerned about recent violence and continuing tensions in Tibetan areas of China. We call on all governments including China to respect the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression of all of its citizens including members of ethnic minorities.

Human rights have universal application.  All governments, including mine, must respect the human rights of individuals, protect the ability of individuals to exercise their rights, and create mechanisms for transparent and accountable governance.  As we participate in this session and seek a second term on the Human Rights Council, the United States will continue to bridge differences and build consensus with all members.  We believe the Council continues to make a significant impact on the world, and we look forward to being a part of its ongoing progress.

Yesterday, Secretary Clinton spoke to the Press following the London Conference. See excerpts from her remarks below:

"Today’s conference coincided with the halfway point of the roadmap to end the transition in Somalia, which spells out the steps for building a stable government after decades of erratic rule. On August 20th of 2012, the Transitional Federal Government’s mandate expires, and the international community has been clear that we do not support another extension. It is time to move forward to a more stable and unified era for the Somali people.”

"I announced the United States is providing an additional $64 million in humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa, bringing our total emergency assistance, since 2011, up to more than $934 million, including more than 211 million for Somalia alone. And looking ahead, as the security and political situation improves in Somalia, the United States will consider a more permanent, diplomatic presence there."

"Today, I had a chance to meet with a number of key partners and allies in preparation for tomorrow’s Friends of Syria conference in Tunis. This meeting comes on the heels of the overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly, which condemned the Assad regime’s widespread and systematic violations of human rights and backed the Arab League’s plan for a negotiated, peaceful, political transition to solve this crisis.

Tunis will be an important opportunity to begin turning international consensus into action. We look forward to concrete progress on three fronts: providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime, and preparing for a democratic transition. To that end, we hope to see new pledges of emergency assistance for Syrians caught in Assad’s stranglehold and international coordination and diplomatic pressure on Damascus to convince it to allow humanitarian aid to those who need it most. We also expect additional nations to impose effective sanctions against the regime, and we look to all countries to aggressively implement the measures they have already adopted.”

"Next, Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khar and I had a constructive discussion of our common concerns, from confronting violent extremism, to supporting Afghan-led reconciliation, to improving our bilateral relationship. Building and sustaining a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect takes constant care and work from both sides, from the daily engagements of our embassies to high-level meetings like the one we had today. Now, I am sure we will continue to have our ups and downs, but this relationship is simply too important to turn our back on it for both nations. And we both, therefore, remain committed to continue working to improve understanding and cooperation."

U.S. Department of State: Travel Diary: Secretary Clinton Participates in London Conference on Somalia

statedept:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, third right, makes an address as Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, bottom left, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, second right, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, right, listen during the London Conference on Somalia at Lancaster House in London, United Kingdom, on February 23, 2012. [AP Photo]

More: Interactive Travel Map | Trip Page | Special Briefing To Preview Conference on Somalia

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined heads of state and foreign ministers from over 50 countries, as well as representatives of the United Nations and the African Union, at the London Conference on Somalia. Hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the conference is dedicated to building stability and peace in Somalia. Secretary Clinton discussed the importance of cutting al-Shabaab’s remaining financial lifelines, strengthening development and fighting piracy.… more »

Syria a Top Priority for U.N Human Rights Council, Donahoe Says

By Jane Morse | Staff Writer | 22 February 2012

Syria will be a top priority at the upcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, says Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. representative to the council.

The 19th regular session of the council is set to be held February 27– March 23.

“I think there’s an overwhelming consensus that the Assad regime must go; the violence has to stop,” Donahoe said at a press conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva February 22.

“Assad is being more and more isolated. Unfortunately, it’s not yet universal. The condemnation isn’t quite to that point yet, but it’s moving in that direction,” Donahoe said. She noted that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be attending the February 24 Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis with other world leaders to find ways to deliver humanitarian relief to the most threatened areas in Syria and look for other ways to pressure Assad to leave and end the violence.

The recent deaths of journalists in the Syrian conflict, Donahoe said, underscored the value of free media. “Without a free media, human rights defenders and activists cannot get their messages out,” she said. “The international community is not able to support the work or convey support for anyone in a closed society if we don’t get their messages.”

Marie Colvin, an American journalist, and French photographer Remi Ochlik died when a shell hit their makeshift media center February 22 in the Syrian city of Homs. 

Regarding Sri Lanka, Donahoe said the United States firmly believes a Human Rights Council resolution is warranted that would call for real reconciliation based on a truthful accounting of the government’s involvement in the large-scale civilian casualties that took place during the years-long civil war that finally ended in 2009.

“We are working to convince the Sri Lankan government that there has to be greater evidence of serious implementation of the recommendations in their own domestic report and greater accountability in order to satisfy the victims and the various communities that feel like they have not yet been heard,” Donahoe said.

In her comments on Iran, Donahoe said the council’s landmark resolution last March to establish a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran will most probably be renewed.

“We hope to be able to increase pressure on the Iranian regime through either increased numbers or other potential language in the resolution to allow the special rapporteur to enter Iran,” she said. “Whether that happens or not, we think there’s real value in continuing this mandate because it shows the people inside Iran that the international community is paying attention and that the Iranian narrative about how they treat their people is not fooling anyone.”

In case you missed it, watch President Obama’s State of the Union Address from last night.  Read the text HERE.

United States Welcomes Additional European Union Sanctions on Iran

(Jan. 23) - Joint statement by U.S. Department of State Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Iran sanctions:

We welcome today’s decision by the European Union to ban imports of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products, freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank, and take additional action against Iran’s energy, financial, and transport sectors.

The measures agreed to today by the EU Foreign Affairs Council are another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran. They are consistent with steps the U.S. previously has taken and with new U.S. sanctions on Iran that the President signed into law on December 31. These new U.S. sanctions intensify the ongoing pressure on Iran and strengthen the impact of existing measures by targeting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran and by providing strong incentives to reduce Iran’s ability to earn revenue from its oil exports. Taken in combination with the many other sanctions on Iran that continue to be implemented by the United States and the international community, this new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran’s leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations.

The United States and our international partners are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That is why we have pursued a dual-track policy that puts pressure on Iran to engage seriously in discussions with the international community on its nuclear program. To date, Iran has failed to take advantage of the offer of engagement described in EU High Representative Ashton’s October 2011 letter. Instead, Iran has refused to address the international community’s serious and well-founded concerns about its nuclear program. These concerns have only been heightened by Iran’s inability to explain how its nuclear program is, as it claims, exclusively peaceful in nature or to provide any credible response to the IAEA’s November 2011 report that detailed the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

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