Far Too Many Goverments are Trying to Supress NGO, Civil Society Voices at the UN

Item 5 General Debate: Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America

UN Human Rights Council – 28th Session

As Delivered by Ambassador Keith Harper
U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council

Geneva – March 18, 2015

Thank you, Mr. President.

Members of civil society who cooperate with the UN play a number of tremendously important roles in the functioning of the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies.  When a human rights defender travels here to share personal experiences with delegations and humanize the challenges a particular population is facing, the Council and the international community benefit.  We also gain when an activist conducts an outreach campaign to call states’ attention to an urgent human rights situation somewhere in the world.

Unfortunately, far too many governments are trying to suppress the voices of members of civil society at the Council and the UN more broadly.  Acts of reprisal are happening, and they are simply intolerable.  In his 2014 report on reprisals for cooperation with the UN and its human rights mechanisms, the Secretary-General noted that reprisals have included “threats, travel bans, and arbitrary detention, torture and, sadly, death.”  When members of civil society are not permitted to share their point of view or believe they must censor themselves out of fear of what might happen to their relatives or colleagues, the Council’s work and its credibility suffer.  Moreover, a reprisal against a member of civil society who seeks to cooperate or provide information to the Human Rights Council should be considered an attack against the HRC itself.  As a result, all of us must respond to reprisals to protect the UN as an institution.

In particular, we are concerned that the government of South Sudan has hindered the enjoyment of freedom of expression of those that cooperate with the UN.  The views of civil society and NGOs draw much-needed attention to the grave human rights and humanitarian situation in South Sudan.  Their presence here enriches the discussion on finding a path to justice, peace, and reconciliation.  We commend representatives from East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights Watch, the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, the South Sudan Law Society, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the International Federation for Human Rights for their participation at this session.  We look forward to more voices joining the discussion in the future

We want to emphasize the importance of states’ commitment to creating an enabling environment for civil society and encourage all states to work together and with relevant national, UN, and civil society mechanisms in this effort.

Thank you Mr. President.