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Statement on Intercultural Dialogue to the Human Rights Council 7th Session
March 18, 2008

Human Rights Council 7th Session
An Intercultural Dialogue on Human Rights

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

Thank you, Mr. President.

And thank you to the panelists for their contributions for bringing this timely subject to the Council’s attention.

The United States welcomes the opportunity to participate in this dialogue on human rights. We welcome this opportunity because lack of understanding and suspicion often separate us, and cloud from our view the essential truth that our common humanity unites us all.

This afternoon, we have heard many things that confirmed our belief that freedom of expression and religion are universal values, each supporting the other, and that respect for multiculturalism and pluralism – in all our societies – can go a long way to breaking down the barriers that divide us. That minority groups in all our societies – be they minorities of religion, of ethnicity, of race or any other, must enjoy the equal rights as those of the majority.

Yet we have noticed from the responses of other delegations in the room today that our reaction to these thought-provoking presentations has not been fully shared. We have noticed in this Council since 2006 much talk about non-selectivity, heard much suspicion of the motives of the “North,” of the need for some to unite in opposition to the interests of others represented here.

Appreciating the broad array of cultural and religious perspectives that exist both around the world and within our own societies, we believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms requires a willingness for all groups – especially groups that exercise power of government – to allow those with different cultures and religion to peacefully exercise their rights to free speech, free assembly, and religious freedom.  My country’s early history showed the dangers of oppression by the government or by powerful government sponsored religions to punish or prohibit religious expression with which it disagreed. More than two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson noted that it was, quote: “for the freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” Freedom of religion and right to express oneself – including the right not to believe – remain thebedrocks of any free society.

People around the world, regardless of culture orreligion, are bound together in our universal aspirations to exercise our universal rights without interference or prohibition. When the Organization of the Islamic Conference speaks in defense of religion, the United States understands the anger about discrimination against Muslims. When New Zealand speaks about gender mainstreaming, the United States understands the fight for women’s rights. When South Africa speaks about racism, we in the United States recall the struggle, which with we have defined our own history. When the people of Burma march to insist on freedom of speech and assembly and to have their voices heard at the ballot box, we recall our own struggle for freedom of speech and assembly, which are truly representative of an accountable government. The United States strongly believes against discrimination and suppression of all universal rights — in all their guises is unacceptable.

If we are to live up to the aspirations outlined in the Universal Declaration, all voices must be heard and respected – including those with which we disagree. People of all faiths, of all cultures, must engage in a rich and constructive dialogue – both when we agree, but especially when we do not – in order to realize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ core vision, that all human beings are born free in liberty and equal in dignity and rights.

Thank you, Mr. President.