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Item 3: Protection and Promotion of Human Rights
June 3, 2011

ITEM 3 “Promotion of human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development”

Delivered by John Mariz
Human Rights Council 17th Session
Geneva, June 3, 2011


Thank you, Mr. President.

Two weeks ago, in a speech about the recent changes throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, President Obama reiterated the support of the United States for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose leaders.  President Obama also reaffirmed that these principles are universal rights—to be enjoyed by all persons, regardless of where they live.

Indeed, the events of the last six months reinforce how important respect for human rights is to the stability of any society.  Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.  There can be no stability where peaceful protestors are met with violence and repression from their governments.  Nor can there be stability when opposition leaders and human rights defenders are arbitrarily imprisoned.  In order to resolve legitimate grievances and address legitimate aspirations, there must be an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the government, and there cannot be a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.

The protection and promotion of human rights, while intrinsically important, also encourage long-term stability by ensuring free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership.  Respect for human rights also provides space for the kinds of political and economic reforms that help meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people—by increasing transparency and accountability in government, and by enabling the economic growth and broad-based prosperity that are necessary to democratic transition.

It is essential that human rights protections be extended to all members of society.  We too often see situations where some individuals, instead of receiving protection from their governments, become the targets of violence.  We deplore all instances in which people are subjected to violence due to such factors as race, gender, religious beliefs, ethnicity, disability, health status or sexual orientation.  We call on all governments to vigorously defend the human rights of all persons.

President Obama made it clear that support for these universal principles is not a secondary interest for the United States.  Rather, it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete action.  That task of translating these principles into action remains the primary work of this Council.  In this body, we have the same moment of opportunity that President Obama set before the United States—the opportunity to pursue the world, not as it is, but as it should be.

It is in this spirit that we look forward to working with other Members to advance the Council’s mandate—“promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind, and in a fair and equal manner.”

Thank you, Mr. President.