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Ambassador Donahoe: Iran Vote Marks "Seminal Moment" for the Human Rights Council
March 24, 2011

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council

Stakeout at the UN
Following the Adoption of a Resolution on the Human Rights Situation in Iran

March 24, 2011


Ambassador Donahoe Speaks with Press After Iran Vote

Ambassador Donahoe: We are coming to the end of a session that has marked a significant shift at the Human Rights Council.  We believe this session has been important in part because it coincided with an important moment in history, and because the Council has shown itself able to deal with changing circumstances on the ground to a larger extent than had previously been seen.

A couple of important data points.  In terms of the Council’s ability to respond to emergency situations, crisis situations, we started with a special session December 23rd on the Cote d’Ivoire and the emerging crisis with respect to human rights violations around the elections there.

We followed with another special session on February 25th, on the human rights situation in Libya.

As you know, on Monday the 28th we began this regular session with the high level segment where Secretary Clinton and some 40 Ministers from around the world came to the Council to work together on the crisis situation in Libya, as well as to address the Council on other issues. Because of what we were able to do at the special session on Libya, the UN in New York acted on our recommendation and withdrew membership privileges for Libya at the Human Rights Council the following week.

Today, what we have just witnessed is a seminal moment for this body – the Human Rights Council – with the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran.  It is the first new mandate that is country-specific that has been created at the Human Rights Council since the creation of this body in 2006, so it’s a very important moment.

As you know, country-specific actions by the Council have generated a lot of resistance in the past.  Today we’ve seen the Council able to respond to a chronic, severe human rights violator which is Iran, and we’re very pleased with this development.

I think I’ll just stop there.

Question: Is there a difference between this mandate and the UPR?  Many countries say that the UPR is already [inaudible] active.  What will be better with this mandate?

Ambassador Donahoe: Country-specific Special Rapporteurs are used in extreme situations. Iran is one of those.

The UPR is universal.  It’s the Universal Periodic Review.  It’s applicable to all countries in the UN system.  It’s an extremely valuable tool for the Human Rights Council.  And it’s probably the single most important tool that was created along with the Council.  We’re very proud of it and we think it’s a very useful tool for the Council.

However, the case of Iran stands out along with cases like DPRK, Burma, Myanmar, both of which have recurring human rights resolutions at the General Assembly every year.  Those two other cases also had had a Special Rapporteur at the Council.  So the fact that Iran did not have a Special Rapporteur until today was a glaring omission on the part of the Council that was rectified by the action today.

Question: Less than half the Council members supported the resolution.  Is that a disappointment?

Ambassador Donahoe: We’re very pleased with the results, on a variety of fronts.  If you look at the margin, only eight voted against, which is also a significant number looking at the glass more than half full.

Voice: Seven.

Ambassador Donahoe: Oh, seven.  I take it back.  It ended up being seven.  So we think that margin is very substantial and as I mentioned earlier, the normal stance among many members, as you heard in several of the statements today, is that it is a matter of “principle” for them to vote against any country-specific initiative. The fact that so many countries broke with that typical approach is an important achievement for the Council today on top of the actual creation of the rapporteur for Iran, a country that warrants greater scrutiny by the international community with respect to its abhorrent human rights practices.

Question: Are we seeing the change in votes from Brazil eight years after abstentions and voting against resolutions such as this?  Today we saw a different voting pattern. How do you see it?

Ambassador Donahoe: I think the statement by the Brazilian Ambassador was a show of great leadership.  Her President has also been vocal in making her views known on this subject and we are greatly appreciative.  We think that her explanation of why a Special Rapporteur is warranted in this case will hold up to scrutiny. And that is the failure to cooperate with the thematic special rapporteurs that exist since 2005 has been unfortunate and it justified the movement to a country-specific special Rapporteur in this case.  And we agree with that argument.

Question: [Inaudible].  How can you make sure that you have an independent person as rapporteur?  Knowing [inaudible] all the details.  We have three Special Rapporteurs in history, 1984, [inaudible].  Two of them [inaudible].  So how do you assure us that [inaudible]?

My second question is that now that Iran [inaudible] ?

Ambassador Donahoe: On your first question, I have a fair amount of confidence in the selection process that’s undertaken for Special Rapporteurs by the Council at this point, so I feel solidly about that.

Your second question is more interesting to me.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that the establishment of this Special Rapporteur will have a lot of value for a variety of reasons regardless of how the Iranian regime reacts.  It’s important that the international community speak strongly to condemn the human rights practices in Iran, and we have done that today.  We have also very importantly spoken in solidarity with the human rights defenders in Iran, the women activists, journalists, opposition leaders, and those who have been imprisoned, so that they know the international community is paying attention and cares greatly about their work and we are supporting them.

I personally feel that is one of the most important things we can be doing at the Council and we have succeeded in doing that today with respect to Iran.

Voice: Ambassador, do you have anything else you would like to add?

Ambassador Donahoe: I would like to just say this Council is not a perfect body.  It still has flaws.  We do not expect that the shift has been so dramatic that in every case we will get it right.  We are simply trying to signal that we believe the Council has shown itself able to deal more effectively than in the past with emergent crisis situations as in the case of Cote d’Ivoire and Libya, as well as with cases of chronic, severe human rights violators, as we just saw with respect to Iran.

That is what this Council is here to do – to deal with crisis situations and deal with chronic, severe situations.  So the fact that we have had results in these areas makes this an important day for the Council.