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U.S. Statement on the Right to Physical and Mental Health and the Right to Education
June 19, 2012

Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the
Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health
and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Statement delivered by Margaret Wang,
Delegation of the United States of America
Human Rights Council 20th Session
June 19, 2012

(as delivered)

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States welcomes the focus on occupational health in the latest report from the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health.  While we may disagree with some recommendations and numerous references to human rights law in this report, we fully agree with the Special Rapporteur on the importance of occupational health.  Since 1970, when our Congress enacted the Occupational Health and Safety Act, we have fought for the ability of workers to return home to their families, safe and unharmed, each day.

The primary focus when protecting employees’ health and safety should be prevention.  We believe that it is the responsibility of employers to find and correct safety and health problems in their facilities.  Additionally, they should try to eliminate or reduce hazards by making feasible changes in working conditions such as switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, and using ventilation systems to clean the air.   When risks remain, employers should provide personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs to their employees free of cost.

When employees are faced with unsafe or harmful working conditions, they should be able to seek assistance from their government without fear of retribution and with the expectation that their claims will be investigated in a timely and transparent manner.  When governments confirm that unsafe conditions exist they should take appropriate action in response.  Such actions may include issuing citations, levying fines, and ultimately closing habitual offenders.

These ideas have worldwide relevance.  Every government can- and should – protect its citizens, including in the workplace.


The United States also welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, which highlights the importance of quality when discussing the right to education and its ability to create a better world.

Today, more than ever, a world-class education is a prerequisite for success.  We recognize how important it is that every student graduate from school well-prepared for college and a career.  A world-class education is also a moral imperative—the key to securing a more equal, fair, and just society.

A cornerstone of a quality education is literacy.  In the United States, we have a saying: reading is fundamental.  An individual’s opportunity to master reading skills impacts their enjoyment of their human rights – from petitioning their government to reading blogs on the Internet, from understanding the side-effects of a pharmaceutical drug, to taking on a contract for work.  Human rights education begins with literacy, and we will not remain true to our highest ideals unless we do a far better job of educating each one of our sons and daughters.

We as governments and the international community must reaffirm our commitment to provide quality education to all of our citizens – regardless of socio-economic background, race, religion, physical or mental ability, and gender.  As we strive to meet the Millennium Development Goal of universal enrollment in primary education, we must remember that the ultimate goal is not merely attendance but the attainment of knowledge.

We appreciate the report’s praise for the United States as one of the first countries to emphasize quality education.  In this context, we wish to clarify that our 2001 law, the No Child Left Behind Act, which the report mentions, does not set national standards or assessments.   Rather, No Child Left Behind operates consistently with our federalism, where many decisions concerning education are made at the state and local levels.

Thank you, Madame President.