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Ambassador Donahoe Speaks with the Press at HRC Special Session on Syria
April 29, 2011

Transcript of a Press Availability by

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council

at the United Nations, Geneva

April 29, 2011


Ambassador Donahoe: Good afternoon.

As many of you know, there have been multiple conversations ongoing over the past month or six weeks about the human rights situation throughout the Middle East and North Africa. A variety of suggestions have been put forward about how the Council should act.

This past week the facts on the ground in Syria focused our attention and galvanized the international community to act. So today’s Special Session is very important for two reasons, and we have two goals in holding this session.

The first is to send a very clear message that the international community strongly condemns the behavior demonstrated by the Syrian authorities with respect to peaceful protesters in their own country. Opening live fire, sending in snipers, sending in tanks to quell demonstrations is unacceptable.

The second goal we have is to lay bare the sheer hypocrisy of the Syrian government in seeking membership at the Human Rights Council. The Syrian authorities have publicly put forward voluntary pledges to uphold, promote and protect all human rights at the very same time that they are opening live fire on peaceful protesters in their streets.

We want them to understand that the international community will not and has not been fooled by superficial measures such as the lifting of an emergency law when within a matter of days of the announcement of that lift they have slaughtered hundreds of citizens in their streets.

With that I will take a few questions.

Question: A number of countries mentioned the fact that there would be a danger of [inaudible], Bahrain, Yemen. Why is it that these two countries [inaudible] in the Council?

Ambassador Donahoe: The facts in every case are different, and as I said earlier, the particular facts in Syria in the past week have really made the difference. From our perspective and the reason we led in calling for this Special Session is we believe the facts on the ground in Syria crossed a threshold that differentiated them from some of the other facts we’ve seen, and absolutely warranted action by this Council. We also felt that we would be successful because the facts were so horrendous.

So every case is different. We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach. The United States is deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Bahrain, in Yemen, throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and we remain seized of those situations. Today we are focusing on the human rights situation in Syria.

Question: How do you think things will turn out today, and what do you think the reaction will be in some of the delegations? Do you expect [inaudible]?

Ambassador Donahoe: We don’t yet know the outcome. However, we feel relatively confident that there will be a strong majority of countries, members of the Council, who will show a convergence of opinion that the situation in Syria warrants our shared condemnation. So we expect the right outcome from the Council.

In terms of Arab support, I think for each of the Arab countries they have to make up their own minds. I think that there may be some support for this initiative from the OIC and the Arab Group.

Question: And getting a fact-finding mission. Do you hope that will be carried through this morning?

Ambassador Donahoe: There is still a reference to a fact-finding mission in the revised version. It’s still in the text and negotiations are ongoing.

Question: And the question of membership [inaudible], right?

Ambassador Donahoe: That is another aspect of our negotiations. We don’t yet know if it’s in or out of the text.

Question: What is your response to what Syria said that they need time to reform. How do you see [inaudible]?

Ambassador Donahoe: Absolutely, they need time for reform, but in the process of exercising their responsibility to reform their government they cannot be mowing down people in their own streets, bringing out tanks, opening live fire or sending in snipers against peaceful protesters.