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Civil Society Playing a More Critical Role Than Ever in Protecting and Promoting Human Rights
Clustered Interactive Dialogue Special Rapporteur on Torture and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
March 5, 2012

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Delivered by Charles O. Blaha
UN Human Rights Council 19th Session, Geneva

Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The United States thanks Special Rapporteur Mendez for his timely and informative review of existing best practices concerning Commissions of Inquiry (COIs).

The United States agrees with the Special Rapporteur’s observation that although COIs often begin a process of investigation and are primarily fact-finding in nature, they can play an important role in a State’s fulfillment of its international obligations to investigate and prosecute, depending on the COI’s mandate.  In particular, COIs generally do not obviate the need for a State to bring human rights violators to justice.  Nor should they be used as an excuse to avoid taking other steps that can further accountability or promote reconciliation.

We share his recognition that in order to be successful, COIs must have adequate financial and human resources, be granted critical access to individuals and information, and be provided adequate protection for both staff and witnesses.  Their mandates should be adequate to empower and direct the commission to evaluate possible violations of domestic and international human rights and humanitarian law, and they must be viewed – especially by those communities harmed – as independent, impartial and competent.

Where feasible and appropriate, civil society should also be consulted in the drafting of a COI’s terms of reference.  In addition, although a Commission of Inquiry may receive some confidential information, it should still make public as complete as possible a version of its findings and recommendations.  Further, while COIs should respect the presumption of innocence, they should strive to make public the identification of institutional responsibility, and consider where it may be appropriate for the COI to pass relevant information and suspects’ names to prosecutors for further investigation.

We look forward to and support the continued work of the Special Rapporteur on the patterns or practices of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

The United States thanks Special Rapporteur Sekaggya for her continued efforts to report on the situation of human rights defenders worldwide.

Secretary Clinton often speaks forcefully about the critical role played by civil society in democratic societies. That role is more important than ever, in light of brutal crackdowns and restrictive NGO laws that are being used to intimidate civil society. We salute human rights defenders, those courageous members of civil society who risk their lives for the protection and promotion of human rights in these difficult situations. The United States expresses strong concern about government actions or laws that jeopardize the ability of human rights defenders to exercise their rights and carry out their work.  They should not be jailed for exercising their fundamental freedoms whether by drafting petitions or writing poems.

Defenders and their families should not be subject to house arrest for simply representing clients working on issues deemed sensitive by a government or exposing corruption. We support the efforts of the Special Representative to address the activities, risks and challenges faced by the different groups that make up the global community of human rights defenders.

We read with interest the Rapporteur’s description of the important roles played by journalists and members of the media when, through their activities, they promote human rights.  In this context, we recognize that they often play two important functions:  publicizing, and thus protecting, the lives of endangered defenders; and promoting more generally the importance of human rights.  The United States also notes with alarm the increase in attacks globally on these groups from 2007 to 2011, and reaffirms its intent to continue to provide assistance to defenders on the ground and report on their work through its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.