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46th Human Rights Council: End of Session Statement
March 24, 2021

46th Human Rights Council: End of Session Statement
General Statement Including Legal Position on Resolutions

Geneva, March 24, 2021

On February 8, the United States was pleased to announce its re-engagement with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) as an observer state following our withdrawal in June 2018. During the 46th session, the United States co-sponsored 17 resolutions on crucial human rights situations, from Belarus to South Sudan, from Myanmar to North Korea, and on important human rights issues, such as defending freedom of religion or belief. We delivered more than 40 national statements on key human rights concerns around the world, including condemning abuses in China, Iran, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen, among others, and demanding accountability for those who violate or abuse human rights. We co-sponsored more than 12 joint statements, including a standalone joint statement on human rights abuses in Egypt. Most notably given our own history, we led the joint statement on Countering Racism and Racial Discrimination, which calls for a proactive approach to address systemic racism, both at home and abroad. This statement galvanized the global community to make real progress on stamping out the continuing evils of racism and garnered more than 155 co-signers.

We take this opportunity to elaborate on the statement the United States delivered during the HRC plenary on March 24, 2021, and to provide important points of clarification with respect to the resolutions that the United States co-sponsored during the 46th regular session and the 29th special session of the Human Rights Council. The 18 resolutions the United States co-sponsored at these two sessions are listed at the end of this statement.

As a general matter, we underscore that HRC resolutions are nonbinding documents that do not create rights or obligations under international law. HRC resolutions do not change the current state of conventional or customary international law and do not change the body of international law applicable to any particular situation discussed or referred to in a resolution. We do not read resolutions to imply that States must join or implement obligations under international instruments to which they are not a party, and any reaffirmation of prior instruments in these resolutions applies only to those States that affirmed them initially. We understand abbreviated references to certain human rights in HRC resolutions to be shorthand references for the more accurate and widely accepted terms used in the applicable treaties or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we maintain our longstanding positions on those rights.

The United States strongly supports the condemnation of harassment, intimidation, gender-based violence, and other acts that can amount to human rights violations or abuses, but believes it is important for resolutions to accurately characterize these terms, consistent with U.S. law and our international obligations. We note that U.S. co-sponsorship of HRC resolutions does not imply endorsement of the views of special rapporteurs or other special procedures mandate-holders as to the contents or application of international law or U.S. obligations thereunder.

The United States does not accept that sanctions, in and of themselves, are tantamount to violations of human rights. Among other legitimate purposes, targeted sanctions can play an indispensable role in countering breaches of international law and in responding to human rights violations and abuses. The United States flatly rejects the notion that Zionism equals racism.

Specific Points of Clarification

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: The United States recognizes the 2030 Agenda as a voluntary global framework for sustainable development that can help put the world on a more sustainable and resilient path and advance global peace and prosperity. We applaud the call for shared responsibility, including national responsibility in the 2030 Agenda and emphasize that all countries have a role to play in achieving its vision. The 2030 Agenda recognizes that each country must work toward implementation in accordance with its own national policies and priorities. We support the 2030 Agenda and are committed to working toward the achievement of its Sustainable Development Goals. The United States also underscores that paragraph 18 of the 2030 Agenda calls for countries to implement the Agenda in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of States under international law. We also highlight our mutual recognition in paragraph 58 that 2030 Agenda implementation must respect, and be without prejudice to, the independent mandates of other institutions and processes, including negotiations, and does not prejudge or serve as precedent for decisions and actions underway in other fora. For example, the 2030 Agenda does not represent a commitment to provide new market access for goods or services. The Agenda also does not interpret or alter any World Trade Organization agreement or decision, including with respect to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Further, citizen-responsive governance, including respect for human rights, sound economic policy and fiscal management, government transparency, and the rule of law, are essential to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The “Right to Development”: The “right to development,” which is not recognized in any of the core UN human rights conventions, does not have an agreed international meaning.

Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: The United States is not a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the rights contained therein are not justiciable as such in U.S. courts. We note that countries have a wide array of policies and actions that may be appropriate in promoting the progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights.

Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion or Belief: The United States strongly supports the freedoms of expression and religion or belief. We oppose any attempts to unduly limit the exercise of these fundamental freedoms. We strongly believe that these fundamental freedoms are mutually reinforcing and that the protection of freedom of expression is critical for protecting freedom of religion or belief.

COVID-19-Related Measures: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) sets forth the conditions for permissible restrictions on certain human rights, including that any such restrictions must be in conformity with law and necessary in a democratic society for, inter alia, the protection of public health. The language in these resolutions in no way alters or adds to those provisions, nor does it inform the United States’ understanding of its obligations under the ICCPR. We also note that language in certain resolutions this session appears to construe emergency measures as meaning restrictive measures. However, not all measures responsive to this health emergency restrict the enjoyment of human rights; for example, many States, including the United States, have implemented measures aimed at improving care and providing economic support.

Justice and Accountability: The United States strongly supports calls for justice and accountability for human rights violations and abuses. We understand language regarding the responsibility of States to prosecute violations of international law and human rights abuses to refer only to those actions that constitute criminal violations under applicable law and note that there are no such violations in some of the bodies of law referenced in certain HRC resolutions. Similarly, we read language regarding the responsibility to provide an effective remedy to apply to those whose human rights have been violated, as appropriate under applicable treaties.

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The United States greatly appreciates the close collaboration we enjoyed with numerous allies, partners, and likeminded countries during HRC 46. We look forward to continuing the effort to make lasting progress on promoting respect for human rights around the world; advancing these efforts intersessionally; preparing for the 47th Session of the HRC in June; pursuing our candidacy for a seat on the Council; and promoting the nomination of Professor Gay McDougall for the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

List of resolutions co-sponsored by the United States at the 46th Regular Session and the 29th Special Session of the Human Rights Council:

  1. Promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua
  2. Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka
  3. Freedom of Religion or Belief
  4. The right to privacy in the digital age
  5. Question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights
  6. The enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism (mandate renewal)
  7. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:
  8. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law
  9. Situation of human rights in Myanmar
  10. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  11. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (Special Rapporteur mandate renewal)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic (Commission of Inquiry mandate renewal)
  13. Situation of human rights in South Sudan (Human Rights Commission mandate renewal)
  14. Situation of human rights in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath
  15. Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights
  16. Cooperation with Georgia
  17. 10th anniversary of the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to support the Participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the Work of the Human Rights Council
  18. Human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar (at the 29th Special Session)