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Item 8: Follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action
March 24, 2009

UN Human Rights Council Tenth Regular Session

Item 8:  Follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action
General Debate

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Delivered by Kristen McGeeney
March 24, 2009

Mr. President,

The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action adopted in 1993 is a vision for the implementation of universal human rights that still challenges us in 2009.  One of the most striking statements in the VDPA is the recognition and affirmation that “all human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person, and that the human person is the central subject of human rights and fundamental freedoms….”

The United States is concerned by encroachments on the universally agreed principle that it is individual human beings who hold rights and freedoms and who deserve protection.  The concept of “defamation of religion” seeks to protect religions rather than individuals and some are now trying to expand references to “incitement to religious hatred” to include protection of religion.   These concepts unfortunately carry with them calls to restrict fundamental freedoms that exacerbate the misunderstandings and ignorance that lead to intolerance.  We look forward to working with Council members to find a common ground on which to fight religious intolerance and to promote respect for all religious traditions in a manner that also promotes human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The United States is deeply committed to ending discrimination based on
ethnicity and race.  We would like to work with others in this Council and elsewhere to advance a positive agenda for overcoming discrimination, promoting the benefits of tolerance and diversity, and ultimately, ensuring respect for the rights and dignity of each human being.  As President Obama has noted, “What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds.”  While never forgetting the lessons of our shared past, we need to build on the accomplishments and gains of decades of struggle for universal rights — and permit no backsliding.

In this same vein, the United States is proud to join the 66 other United
Nations member states that support the UN Statement on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”  We share the document’s condemnation of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and welcome its call for an end to criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation.  We note that in the United States, our Supreme Court has held that the right to be free from such criminalization “has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom…”

Thank you.