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Council Must Serve Interests of Humanity as a Whole, Not Just Interests of Governments
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America Delivered by John Mariz
March 2, 2012

Item 2: General Debate- Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Reports of the OHCHR and SYG
Human Rights Council 19th Session

Thank you, Madame President.

Bad picture of a conference room
Human Rights Council in session

The United States welcomes the High Commissioner’s opening statement, and we share her observation that 2011 was an extraordinary year for human rights.  While we gather here, momentous events that began in 2011 are continuing.  Many countries are in the midst of profound transition away from autocracy and toward greater freedom.  In the High Commissioner’s report, she notes that when governance failed, it was civil society that mobilized to fill the void.  We should always remember that the mission of this Council is to serve the best interests of humanity as a whole, not just the interests of governments.

Some believe that the UN should not address country-specific situations.  We disagree.  The credibility of the UN’s human rights machinery depends on its capacity to address both urgent and persistent human rights situations; to make a difference in the lives of the people who suffer under oppressive governments; and to protect those who work to advance the cause of human rights around the world.

At this session, as we have done consistently during our three years on the Council, the United States will work with partners from around the world to ensure that calls for accountability for gross human rights violations are not ignored.

In 2011, this Council acted decisively to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations taking place in Syria.  The commission’s report released on February 22 concludes that Syrian regime forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and that the Syrian government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect its people.

Earlier this week, the Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on the situation in Syria.  The resolution adopted during the debate sends a forceful message about the international community’s outrage at the ongoing human rights violations and deepening humanitarian crisis created by the Assad regime.

We will continue to focus on Syria throughout this session. We will join our Arab partners and a cross-regional group in extending the mandate of the commission of inquiry to ensure the international community remains vigilant and continues to monitor events on the ground to the best of our ability, so that, when the time comes, those responsible for these atrocities can be held accountable.

We note the publication of the final report of Sri Lanka’s domestic Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and welcome its recommendations on reconciliation.  However, the report does not include any plan to implement those recommendations, nor does it adequately address the crucial issue of accountability.  Based on recent history from countries that have undergone similar experiences, we know accountability can play an important role in the reconciliation process.  As Secretary Clinton noted, we are prepared to work with Sri Lanka in order to bring lasting peace to the island.

In Iran, the government continues to flagrantly deny its citizens their human rights, and displays a pattern of willful non-cooperation with the United Nations, this Council’s special procedures, and the international community.  We will join Sweden and others in calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.  We call upon Iran, in the strongest possible terms, to grant access to the Special Rapporteur without delay.

The United States welcomes Libya back to the Human Rights Council.  During Qaddafi’s reign, the commission of inquiry for Libya received alarming reports of human rights violations.  Post-Qaddafi, the commission worked cooperatively with a new Libyan government that has pledged to protect the human rights of the Libyan people.

The United States urges the government to make good on this pledge amid worrisome reports that human rights violations continue in some areas.  The commission’s final report will include findings from multiple visits to Libya, and we look forward to working cooperatively with our Libyan partners to support them as they work to build the accountable, transparent institutions that are essential for strong, stable governance.

Finally, the United States notes the report of the Secretary-General on “Human Rights and Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality” and its discussion of the rights of non-citizens.  We are particularly concerned about the human rights of non-citizens who are de jure or de facto stateless.

The United States strongly promotes the right to nationality as proclaimed in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments, and we are committed to supporting efforts – both diplomatic and programmatic – to prevent and resolve situations of statelessness around the world.

Here in Geneva last December, Secretary Clinton spoke about her concern that discrimination against women in nationality laws is a significant cause of statelessness.  The United States therefore appreciates the attention to the principle of non-discrimination in the Secretary General’s report, and we look forward to further discussions on the equal right to nationality for women and their children with members of the Council.

In closing, we commend the Office of the High Commissioner for its landmark report documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and we look forward to a robust and respectful panel discussion on this topic next week.

Thank you, Madame President.