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Ambassador Harper: Press Availability on Last Day of 26th U.N. Human Rights Council
June 27, 2014

Man speaks at podium with United Nations logo
Ambassador Keith Harper Speaks with the Media June 27, 2014

Press Availability
Opening Statement
Ambassador Keith Harper
June 27, 2014

26th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

So I was going to talk about Syria first and then some of our other key priorities here at the Council.  This morning the Human Rights Council adopted by a supermajority a resolution on Syria which ratchets up international pressure on Assad’s murderous regime.

The United States is pleased to have co-sponsored the resolution with a core group of partners including France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The brutal ongoing conflict in Syria is a shock to the conscience. We are appalled by the death toll from the regime’s continued attacks on its own people, as well the grave humanitarian crisis.  From the first shots fired in March 2011 on peaceful protestors in Dara, to the despicable use of chemical weapons, to  the barrel bombs dropped on innocent civilians, Assad has waged a vicious war on his own people.

The photos from the “Caesar Report” which we had an opportunity to view the opening day of this session document the torture, starvation and murder of defenseless prisoners.  It shows this regime’s modus operandi to terrorize their own people into submission.  Assad’s brutality has created a conflict that feeds extremism and is a threat to the stability of the region. As Secretary Kerry said earlier this week, the world will never forget the loss of the more than 1,400 innocent civilians senselessly killed from chemical weapons on August 21, 2013.    For 100 years, the international community has deemed the use of these weapons is far beyond the bounds of that which is acceptable conduct. The worst of the weapons are gone, but the crisis created by the regime’s despicable actions remains, and requires our collective focus.

The U.N. estimates that over 10 million people are in need across Syria, and yet, the UN Security Council has been informed yesterday, Assad’s inhumane regime continues to unlawfully block deliveries of life-saving food and medicine. The resolution we have just adopted demands rapid, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian aid.

Today’s resolution at the Human Rights Council takes a significant step toward accountability and laying the groundwork for ending impunity.   The text emphasizes that those responsible must be held to account, through independent domestic, or international criminal justice mechanisms.

Despite being denied access inside Syria, the Commission of Inquiry created by this Council continues its outstanding work to document not only the violations and abuses on the ground, but also the names of those responsible. Today the international community sends a clear message to the criminals guilty for the unspeakable ongoing assault against the Syrian people.  We are documenting your atrocities committed in Syria.  We are gathering evidence of your crimes.  The international community will hold you accountable for your horrific conduct and atrocities.

Let me also touch briefly upon some of the other important issues that we are reviewing or have acted upon in this session.

First on Ukraine.  From its opening day, this Council has been seized with the serious situation unfolding in Ukraine.  We are deeply concerned about the human rights situation on the ground in the East and in Crimea and commend the government of Ukraine for cooperating with OHCHR. During the second week of the session, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine released its third report which revealed an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, and increasing evidence of abductions, detentions, torture and ill-treatment, and killings in the eastern region.   The resolution which will be acted on by the Council supports continuing monitoring of the situation in Ukraine with a view towards documenting the facts on the ground.  The fact is that there is a tradition here at the Council  when a country has asked for assistance under item 10 to act, and we see no reason why the Council shouldn’t act in this case as well.

On Belarus, the United States welcomes the recent release of Ales Byalyatski.  At the same time, we reiterate the call on the government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release the many other political prisoners that  remain in detention.  The Council’s Special Rapporteur on Belarus is doing important work to highlight continuing restrictions of fundamental freedoms in Belarus.  It is important that the excellent reporting is continued.

And now a word on some of the other priorities.  First, I am very pleased that there has been a human rights focus regarding of women and girls at this session. Gender equality, ending violence and discrimination against women and girls, empowering women and girls are all major themes that cut across our work.  These themes have been reflected in resolutions and discussions throughout this session. We welcome this particular attention on women and girls, especially on their empowerment.  With so many of the issues that are before the Council, the answer is empowering women. When you empower women economically, politically and socially, you empower nations. Earlier this week, the US and 34 other countries joined in a joint statement calling for greater UN attention on the problem of violence against indigenous women and girls.  That is particularly appropriate in this year that we are leading up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September.  The fact is when you empower indigenous communities to address the issues that are before them, they are better capable of addressing those issues because they are closer to those problems.

On trafficking, combating trafficking is an important priority for the United States.  We are proud to stand with a large cross-regional group of delegations in reaffirming the commitment to fight for the eradication of trafficking and to renew the mandate of the special rapporteur for another three years.

The Human Rights Council also adopted a consensus resolution on Internet Freedom.  This resolution reaffirms the core principle that the same rights you have offline must be protected online.  Internet freedom is a foreign policy priority for the United States and our fellow core group members: Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia and Turkey.  The Internet serves as a powerful platform to bring information and resources to people who historically have been isolated and repressed. With that, I’ll take a couple of questions.