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Item 4: General Debate on Human Rights Situations Requiring Council Attention
June 8, 2010

Ambassador Donahoe


Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America

Delivered by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Human Rights Council 14th Session

Geneva, June 8th, 2010


Thank you, Mr. President. The United States appreciates the opportunity to bring to the Council’s attention the following country specific situations:

• The human rights situation in Iran remains one of grave concern. Since last June’s contested election, the Iranian government has engaged in systematic infringement on the Iranian people’s rights to basic liberty, freedom of speech, and political association. Peaceful political demonstrations have been prevented or disrupted with government violence against civilians. According to judiciary sources, the appellate court has confirmed sentences for 250 individuals who were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for participating in post-election protests. Fifty individuals are still serving sentences for their roles in peaceful protests. In January of this year, several mothers were arrested while silently commemorating the deaths of their children at the hands of government authorities. At least 35 journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran because of their efforts to report on civil and political activity since the election. Both conservative and reformist newspapers have been shut down. Iranian authorities systematically slow Internet connections and block the Internet sites of human rights groups, independent media and civil society organizations. Human rights defenders are routinely harassed by government authorities. Security forces have imposed travel bans on activists, and forced shut downs of major civil society organizations.

Additionally, we need to mention the continued persecution of religious communities in Iran. Right now over 32 members of the Baha’i community are in prison. Seven Baha’i community leaders are undergoing trial, and another 125 are out on bail awaiting trial.

The need for international monitoring and civil human rights protection mechanisms in Iran is self evident.

• In Burma, the grim human rights situation documented for us in March by Special Rapporteur Ojea Quintana remains grim. While we continue to pursue engagement with the authorities, we believe that the international community must also continue to look for ways to effectively address the human rights challenges in the country. The authorities’ response to efforts by the international community to engage with it on these issues has been profoundly disappointing, as was the recently promulgated electoral law. In March, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the UN consider creating a Commission of Inquiry into serious violations of international humanitarian law. Establishment of a unified, peaceful, prosperous, and democratic country that respects the human rights of its citizens is essential. With this objective in mind, the United States is actively considering the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to convene a Commission of Inquiry. We would be interested to hear the views of other delegations on advancing the work of the Special Rapporteur, including on the Commission of Inquiry recommendation.

• Violations of human rights by China tend to be focused on groups and individuals perceived by the Party to challenge official policy or their legitimacy. Government pressure and scrutiny of public interest and rights lawyers has increased significantly; several have been disbarred because they represented clients or cases the government deems “sensitive,” including Falun Gong members. Civil society groups and NGOs are increasingly subjected to financial and administrative controls, which are limiting their space to operate. Ethnic and religious minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang are subject to particularly onerous restrictions, including restraint on religious practice. Following violence in Xinjiang in July 2009, authorities imposed tight controls on Uighur Muslims to restore and maintain order. International phone calls were suspended for six months and Internet access, which had been completely cut off, was only restored on May 14 of this year. Finally, restrictions and controls on Internet use and content continue.

• In Cuba, the government continues to harass dissidents and civil society activists through strategies such as more frequent use of short-term detention and release without charges, and government-orchestrated mob violence against peaceful demonstrators. Cuban authorities also continue to restrict freedom of speech, expression and assembly, as evidenced by ongoing restrictions on a free press and citizens’ access to the Internet, and the imprisonment of journalists and writers. Finally, the death of Orlando Zapata on February 23 highlights the deplorable condition of Cuba’s approximately 200 prisoners of conscience, who should all be released immediately and unconditionally.

• In Venezuela, official harassment and intimidation of the media has intensified. Privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists continue to be harassed by government authorities. Government officials, including the President, have used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

• In Vietnam, the past year represents a deterioration with respect to human rights. Arrests and convictions of political activists, lawyers and journalists, attacks on peaceful religious groups, and the tightening of controls on the Internet are all on the rise.

• In Zimbabwe significant obstacles to human rights, democratization, and development of the rule of law remain. Politicized arrests, land seizures, human rights abuses at state-controlled diamond mines, and restrictions on press freedoms concern us. We regret that no concrete action by the Zimbabwean authorities has occurred on promised reforms to draconian laws restricting freedom of association or press.

• We close by remembering noted Congolese human rights leader Floribert Chebeya Bahizire of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr. Chebeya, the founder of “Voix des Sans Voix” (Voice of the Voiceless), had been arrested, detained and threatened by security forces numerous times over the past two decades for his advocacy work. We note that Congolese human rights groups in general remain particularly vulnerable to abuses by security forces. The United States extends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Chebeya and calls for an immediate and independent investigation and autopsy, with UN oversight, to determine the cause of his death. We also welcome the June 3 statement by the DRC government that it intends to conduct a thorough investigation. The United States stands ready to provide U.S. forensic experts to assist the Congolese authorities in their inquiry. At the conclusion of these investigations, those deemed responsible must be held accountable.

Mr. Chebeya’s death reminds us of the very real risks human rights defenders face every day. We in this Council will honor his memory by intensifying our work here and by calling governments to account when we have evidence of specific abuses. We owe that much and more to Floribert and the brave men and women on the front lines of the fight for human rights.

Thank you, Mr. President.