Civil Society Activists, Human Rights Defenders and Media Play Crucial Role in Advancing Human Rights
Item 3: General Debate
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Delivered by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
Human Rights Council 21st Session
September 14, 2012
Thank you, Madame President.
The United States is delighted to have the opportunity to affirm our unwavering commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. We have eagerly participated in the debates over the last week on the many practical ways this Council can effectively fulfill its mandate to promote and protect human rights. We would like to thank all Special Procedures mandate holders for their reports.
Before continuing, I would like to express our gratitude to the many delegations here in Geneva who have expressed to us their shock at the senseless violence that killed four of our colleagues in Benghazi, Libya. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted, we condemn the vicious and violent attack that took their lives – lives they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.
During this session the United States is working together with the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico, and Nigeria to highlight the importance of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association for civil society. These freedoms provide a basis for civil society organizations to play an essential role in the lives of many. Civil society groups can support the work of our governments by filling gaps in education, health, and provision of many public services. They provide for interreligious dialogue, academic and cultural exchanges; they promote economic development and strengthen access for the most vulnerable and least empowered people; and they work to keep our governments on track by pushing us to remain transparent and accountable. As Secretary Clinton says, “Societies move forward when the citizens that make up these groups are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.” But in order for civil society to serve the common good – to accelerate social, cultural, economic and political development – governments must respect and uphold the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.
As yesterday’s panel and the Secretary General’s report on the issues of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and others cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms highlighted “it is the responsibility of States to protect civil society.” Civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists all play a crucial role on behalf of others in society to advance human rights. While their rights are no more or less important than the rights of other individuals, the fact that they work on behalf of others means that intimidation and reprisals against them has a multiplier effect. When their rights are not protected, it is to the detriment of the society at large. Secretary Clinton underscored this point at the 2012 Civil Society Summit: “Each time a reporter is silenced, or an activist is threatened, it doesn’t strengthen a government, it weakens a nation.” Members of civil society, human rights defenders and journalists are less effective in conveying information and representing the interests of the common good in a climate of fear. We support the Secretary General’s call for States to prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals, and when this is not possible, to ensure there is no impunity for perpetrators. It is also essential that the international community support States in these efforts.
To conclude, we appeal to all States to recognize the important role that civil society plays, and to do their utmost to promote and protect the rights of members of civil society – be they human rights activists, organizations, congregations, or journalists – who are working through peaceful means to improve situations in their countries.
Thank you, Madame President.