Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken
Remarks to the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Thank you, Madam President, High Commissioner Bachelet, and distinguished delegates.
It is an honor to join you as the United States reengages with the Human Rights Council and other important international organizations. I’m here to reaffirm America’s commitment to respect and defend the human rights of all people, everywhere. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims: all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated.
The United States is placing democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy, because they are essential for peace and stability. This commitment is firm and grounded in our own experience as a democracy – imperfect and often falling short of our own ideals, but striving always for a more inclusive, respectful, and free country.
It’s for that reason that I’m pleased to announce the United States will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-24 term. We humbly ask for the support of all UN Member States in our bid to return to a seat in this body.
The Council has played a meaningful role in protecting fundamental freedoms by documenting atrocities to hold wrongdoers accountable, helping provide the framework to address past atrocities, and supporting transitional justice. And the Council’s special emergency sessions – most recently on Burma – quickly focus attention on unfolding crises and ensure that those who are voiceless have a place to be heard.
Still, institutions are not perfect. As the United States reengages, we urge the Human Rights Council to look at how it conducts its business. That includes its disproportionate focus on Israel. We need to eliminate Agenda Item 7 and treat the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories the same way as this body handles any other country.
In addition, we will focus on ensuring that the Council membership reflects high standards for upholding human rights. Those with the worst human rights records should not be members of this Council. We must work together to improve the work and membership of the Council so it can do even more to advance the rights of people around the world.
I recognize that any pledge to fight for human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight for human rights at home. People of color in the United States deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice. In his first week in office, President Biden took action to tackle the root causes of these inequities, including in housing, prison reform, improving the conditions of indigenous peoples, and fighting discrimination against Asian Americans.
We must do more to advance racial justice globally. We are eager to find a more effective and inclusive way to put “fighting racism” at the top of the global human rights agenda.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And yet the rights of women and girls, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI people, religious minorities, and members of other minority groups are often violated or abused. We are committed to advancing gender equality and uplifting the rights of women and girls. And we will pursue a policy to end violence and discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.
The United States does not claim to be perfect but we strive every day to improve, to hold ourselves accountable, to become a more perfect union. We confront our own challenges openly, transparently, for the entire world to see. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but we deal with our problems openly and fully.
There is no moral equivalence between the actions of the United States, which are subject to robust, impartial, and transparent accountability mechanisms – and those of authoritarian regimes, which violate and abuse human rights with impunity.
Together, we must push back against blatant attempts to subvert the values upon which the United Nations is founded – including that each of us as individuals are endowed with human rights and that states are obliged to protect those fundamental rights. Those who hide under the mantle of promoting economic development while seeking to undermine human rights will be held to account, including for their own human rights violations.
We will continue to call out abuses in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Iran. We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Alexei Navalny, as well as hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained for exercising their rights. We will speak out for universal values when atrocities are committed in Xinjiang or when fundamental freedoms are undermined in Hong Kong. And we are alarmed by the backsliding of democracy in Burma, which is why our first action upon re-engaging the Council was on this very crisis.
We encourage the Council to support resolutions at this session addressing issues of concern around the world, including ongoing human rights violations in Syria and North Korea, the lack of accountability for past atrocities in Sri Lanka, and the need for further investigation into the situation in South Sudan.
The United States is fully committed to the universal protection and promotion of human rights. We look forward to working collaboratively with friends and partners in this body and in the NGO community from all regions, to ensure that the Council lives up to its mandate and effectively contributes to human rights around the world.