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Statement by Ambassador Tichenor at the Human Rights Council 7th Session
March 5, 2008

Human Rights Council 7th Session – General Segment

Statement by Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva

Thank you, Mr. President.

Over the next weeks and years, this Council will face the opportunity – indeed, the imperative – to focus on both the important thematic issues of our time and the countries or regions of the world where human rights most urgently need our attention. My government has long supported the use of cooperation and technical assistance as a means to build a country’s capacity to address human rights concerns. Indeed, this is among the reasons why the High Commissioner’s independent assessments, and the work of her offices on the ground, are so vital. Yet, while we strive for this cooperation, when faced with a situation where abuses are ongoing and a government resists such cooperation, this Council owes it to those deprived of their human rights to act. In the final analysis, we must never forget that the basic mission of the Council is protect and defend people not governments.

My government welcomed the special sessions on Sudan and Burma, but we still wait for substantive action by those countries and hope to see strong follow-up measures, as well as strong action on the tragic human rights situation in the DPRK. It is at a time like this when the work of dedicated individuals such as the outgoing Special Rapporteur on Burma, Paolo Pinheiro, is so critical, and when renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the DPRK is so vitally important.

My government is also dismayed by the call for increased limits on freedom of expression, including references to “defamation of religions.” Tragically, many States – including some prominent members of this Council – have sought to use that concept to limit freedom of religion, stifle a free press, harass those exercising their freedom of expression, and to justify repressive State actions. There are times when the content of others’ speech may make us uncomfortable and even angry because it is offensive. There are some who advocate views that we all find reprehensible. Yet their right to express those views – and to respond – is crucial to a healthy debate that enlightens and that overcomes extremism, which is the enemy of human rights. Such challenges highlight the need to do a better job of teaching and respecting liberty and diversity, and help to sharpen – and at times illuminate – our own convictions. The beliefs of freedom of religion and freedom of speech are inseparable, each supporting the other and therefore mutually reinforcing. No great religion need be threatened by the criticism of others. As the concept of defamation continues to be a subject of discussion in this body, the Council should promote the realization of all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and religion or belief, rather than attempt to restrict the exercise of these fundamental rights.

In every country in every age, few principles are as central to democracy as the ability to speak freely one’s own thoughts and opinions, to profess, argue or maintain one’s beliefs. Similarly, human rights defenders play a vital role – often at great personal risk – to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, and to insist on accountable, democratic institutions and practices. This Council should renew the mandates of both these Special Rapporteurs without delay.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed in his address to this Council on Monday that “your power gathers strength and resonance from the respect it enjoys among nations around the world.” But such respect is earned, not automatically given. We will continue to work cooperatively, in a spirit of mutual respect, with all delegations, across regions, toward promoting and protecting the human rights of all the world’s citizens as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.