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Item 4 General Debate: Human Rights Situations Requiring Council Attention
September 22, 2009

Statement by the United States of America
Delivered by Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Douglas Griffiths

Geneva, September 22, 2009

Thank you, Mr. President.

The United States remains deeply concerned about the plight that many around the world face in exercising the right of free expression or assembly, and about many prisoners of conscience. We see human rights defenders, civil society advocates, bloggers, and journalists targeted, harassed, and even murdered.

We were pleased that the Council extended the mandate for Sudan in June and look forward to the extension of the mandates for Cambodia and Somalia at this session.

The Burmese authorities extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest for 18 more months based on spurious charges. We understand that some political prisoners were released as a result of the amnesty announcement on September 17; we hope that this is the first step towards the release of all of the country’s more than 2,100 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

We remain deeply concerned about the manner in which the Iranian government handled protests by its population following the June presidential election. The Iranian government harshly repressed its people’s right to freedom of assembly and expression, resulting in scores of deaths of protestors, as well as hundreds of arrests. We call on Iran to live up to its international obligations to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Cuba and Belarus continue to severely restrict rights of free expression and assembly. In Russia, we are concerned about killings with impunity of human rights defenders and journalists in the North Caucasus; we are particularly troubled by the killing of Natalya Estemirova. We support a full, transparent, and independent investigation into her murder and other such unresolved cases.

In Cuba, the government continues to arrest and beat human rights defenders. In Somalia, in 2009, six journalists have been killed and numerous human rights advocates and members of civil society have been intimidated and harassed.

The United States cannot remain indifferent when constitutional and democratic systems are undermined or overthrown outright. In Fiji and Honduras, we call on authorities to work with the international community to restore the legitimate democratic constitutional systems in those countries. The leaders of the unconstitutional governments in Guinea and Madagascar should step down, follow through on their commitments to hold free and fair elections, and ensure civil liberties are protected during transition periods.

In Afghanistan, where there have been allegations of elections fraud, it is important to note that people are seeking to redress these through the formal adjudication process and not through violence as we have seen in the past.

Press freedom remains under pressure in many countries. In Sri Lanka, the government has equated disagreement with treason and continues to intimidate and jail journalists. The expulsion of the media and continued lack of access in the former conflict zone as well as the failure to investigate past abuses are not the actions of a democracy that seeks peace, reconciliation and public oversight of its actions. In Venezuela, government officials have publicly harassed and intimidated independent media outlets and journalists. The government has filed administrative and criminal charges against an independent Venezuelan television station, alleging that the network promoted a coup. We are also troubled by Vietnam’s repression of press freedom.

Finally, the protection of minorities is a human rights challenge for many countries, including the United States. We followed closely the recent disturbances in China’s Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region and last year’s unrest in Tibetan areas. We urge the Chinese authorities, as they work to maintain order, to respect the safety and legal rights of all of China’s citizens and to make efforts to find a solution to legitimate grievances.

In Europe, we are concerned with the plight of the Roma in many countries.

We hope that the Council will be a forum to address many of the issues we raised here today.

Thank you, Mr. President.