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U.S. Statement at HRC Panel on International Nelson Mandela Day
Panel on International Nelson Mandela Day
September 21, 2012

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
As Prepared for Delivery
by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Human Rights Council 21st Session

Geneva, September 21, 2012

Thank you, Madame President.

We are here today to honor Nelson Mandela and to discuss how the values of reconciliation, peace, freedom and racial equality can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights.

We welcome the opportunity to reflect upon  the important impact Mr. Mandela’s life continues to have on the community of nations, civil society, and individuals seeking to create a better world.  Mr. Mandela exemplifies the capacity to triumph in the face of nearly impossible adversity.  His graciousness, humility, and willingness to cooperate with his one-time oppressors provide us with a powerful lesson on how to come together in spite of the differences of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation: categorizations that those who seek to divide too often exploit.

The movement to end Apartheid is also an example of the role the international community can play to promote human rights throughout the world.  And as we honor Nelson Mandela’s legacy, we must also be proactive in identifying the 21st century’s human rights causes and work together as nations to promote them.

The United States is deeply committed to protecting human rights and believes that states should lead the fight against intolerance and discrimination of all types.  We believe the best ways to combat intolerance and discrimination are with strong legal regimes, proactive outreach to affected communities, statements against intolerance, and broad protections for freedom of expression.  In the United States, we have expanded our laws to protect members of vulnerable groups from hate crimes and we have a program that sends mediators throughout the country to peacefully resolve tensions and conflicts.

And our constitutional protections for free speech help foster an open dialogue among people.  In our view, limiting speech is not an effective way to build tolerance and understanding.  Dialogue can debunk myths, however intolerant they may be, while leading to greater understanding  and conflict resolution.

Dialogue played an important role in the end of Apartheid.  Toward the end of his 27-year imprisonment, Mr. Mandela and the government opened discussions in an effort to reconcile their seemingly intractable differences.  These conversations built greater understanding and awareness and helped further a political solution that peacefully transformed and advanced the causes of racial equality and human rights for all South Africans.

The United States looks forward to collaborating with all nations of goodwill in the future to advance universal human rights and protecting fundamental freedoms.