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February 28, 2018

Agenda Item 5, High Level Panel on the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Geneva, February 28, 2018

As Prepared for Delivery:  the following statement by the U.S. Delegation could not be delivered due to Human Rights Council time constraints.

On this 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA), the United States celebrates the importance of these declarations, reaffirms our commitment to the principles enshrined in them, and reflects on the challenges to the universal realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There is no state that does not face some challenges in this regard.  But as Human Rights Council members, those of us here are expected to meet these challenges head on and to become leaders – both through our actions at home and through our cooperation with other States and through this Council – in promoting and protecting human rights, in upholding the highest standards of adherence to our international obligations, and in championing those States which are taking steps to improve their own human rights records, often with the invaluable technical expertise of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or of special procedures mandate holders.

Our unyielding commitment to advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms is driven by the conviction that international peace, security, and prosperity are strengthened when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and protected.  As both the UDHR and the VDPA remind us, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and adherence to the rule of law are key elements of any effort to achieve that most lofty goal in pursuit of which the United Nations was founded, namely:  “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … to establish conditions under which justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,.”

Fellow delegates, our responsibility as members of this body, for promoting human rights includes protecting the human rights defenders in our own countries and respecting/promoting their work across the world, and speaking out whenever they are harassed, persecuted, murdered, or otherwise subject to the reprisals that are all too common when they cooperate with UN organs and mechanisms.  It means promoting and protecting the fundamental freedoms of expression, religion or belief, and association and peaceful assembly for all, at home and abroad.  It means promoting accountability when human rights have been violated or abused.

Let us take this opportunity to reflect on whether the membership of this body truly does represent the highest standards.  And let us take up Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenge.  She said, “In each generation and in each country there must be a continuation of the struggle and new steps forward must be taken,” noting that human rights “is preeminently a field in which to stand still is to retreat.”