UN Human Rights Council Tenth Regular Session
Item Four General Debate
Human Rights Situations Requiring the Council’s Attention
Statement by Mark C. Storella
Head of Delegation of the United States of America
Geneva, March 17, 2009
Thank you, Mr. President.
The United States appreciates the opportunity to take the floor on this agenda item covering country human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. In making this statement, the United States notes the importance that we attach to the international community addressing the critical human rights situations of our day. Recognizing both domestic and international scrutiny of the U.S. record, I quote from the introduction to our 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices:
“We do not consider views about our performance voiced by others in the international community – whether by other governments or nongovernmental actors – to be interference in our internal affairs, nor should other governments regard expressions about their performance as such. We and all other sovereign nations have international obligations to respect the universal human rights and freedoms of our citizens, and it is the responsibility of others to speak out when they believe those obligations are not being fulfilled.”
We remain deeply concerned about the plight of prisoners of conscience. There are still far too many examples around the world of governments using detention, arrest, and imprisonment to prevent people from exercising their universal rights, including the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe and his supporters continue to disrupt peaceful gatherings and harass and detain civil society activists and opposition political figures, despite the recent power-sharing agreement. In Iran, lack of due process exacerbates the problem of arbitrary arrests and detention without charge (including the holding of American citizens); closure of newspapers continues as well as the detention of individual journalists. In China, the government has increased detention of dissidents, petitioners, human rights defenders, religious freedom advocates, and defense lawyers. In Cuba, more than 200 prisoners of conscience remain behind bars, often in squalid conditions without access to medical treatment. In Burma, civil society and pro-democracy activists have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, held in harsh prison conditions, and sentenced to more than 65 years in prison. In North Korea, the regime is holding vast numbers of political prisoners in detention camps where they are subjected to severe human rights abuses.
The United States believes that independent media represent a key element of any democratic society and are an essential mechanism to foster freedom of speech and the press. In this regard, we are also troubled by the dangers journalists face in attempting to report and inform on controversial issues. In South and Central Asia and Azerbaijan, governments continue to harass individual journalists and in some cases shut down media outlets. In Russia, journalists continue to be harassed and even murdered; all too often, their killers are not brought to justice. In Sri Lanka, independent media and journalists have come under intense pressure through attacks and threats from pro-government actors.
Finally, the United States underscores our continued solidarity with human rights defenders around the world. Last week, Secretary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama recognized eight extraordinary women as International Women of Courage who have advanced the rights of all human beings through persistence and bravery. The awards honored recipients for their courage in opposing child marriage in Yemen, in combating sexual and domestic violence in Afghanistan, in fighting impunity in Guatemala, in seeking justice for the families of military conscripts in Russia, in promoting the economic and political empowerment of women in Iraq, in advocating for rule of law and good governance in Uzbekistan, in challenging slavery in Niger, and in pursuing judicial reform and standing up for religious tolerance in Malaysia. The United States calls on the Human Rights Council to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders globally. They need our support – and the world needs their courage and strength of purpose.