Key Outcomes of U.S. Priorities at the UN Human Rights Council's 31st Session
Although the United States is not a voting member of the UN Human Rights Council this year – taking a mandatory year off, while standing for re-election in the fall – it maintains robust engagement in the Council, working with countries from all regions to address urgent human rights situations and issues. At the Council’s 31st Session in Geneva from February 29 - March 24, U.S. leadership proved critical to shaping the international community’s response to these challenges. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the U.S. national statement at the session’s high-level segment March 2, underscoring our ongoing commitment to the mandate and mission of the Council.
South Sudan: The U.S.-led resolution on South Sudan reflects the increasing gravity of the situation on the ground since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013. The resolution established a new mechanism, a Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan, to monitor and report on human rights violations in South Sudan and to provide guidance on transitional justice, accountability and reconciliation issues.
Syria, Iran, Burma and DPRK: The United States supported and co-sponsored resolutions to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the Special Rapporteurs on Iran, DPRK and Burma. These special procedures mechanisms have proven critical in documenting human rights violations and abuses in those countries and establishing the basis for accountability.
Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protests: The United States continued to fight back against the global trend to restrict the space for civil society, including at the UN. The delegation strongly supported the Norway-led resolution on protecting human rights defenders, which focused this session on human rights defenders working to defend economic, social and cultural rights. The United States also strongly supported the Switzerland-led resolution affirming the freedom of peaceful assembly and emphasizing the ability of persons to protest peacefully. The unprecedented number of 31 amendments to the human rights defenders text as well as several to the peaceful protests text was all soundly defeated before these resolutions were adopted.
Freedom of Expression: The United States led a joint statement on freedom of expression and peaceful transitions within democracies. Sixty-six countries from all regions supported the statement welcoming actions taken by states undergoing transitions in democratically elected leaders to protect freedom of expression. The statement highlights freedom of expression as a fundamental pillar for building a democratic society and for its essential role in supporting the peaceful transition of power.
Combating Religious Intolerance and Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief: The United States led efforts at the Council to promote of freedom of religion or belief and combat intolerance. The United States co-sponsored a resolution adopted by consensus to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief for an additional three years. The Special Rapporteur’s recent report focused on the significant relationship between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of opinion and expression. The United States worked with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to adopt a resolution by consensus reiterating calls on states to take concrete steps consistent with protecting fundamental freedoms of expression and religion or belief to combat religious intolerance and condemning all forms of violence, intolerance and discrimination in the name of religion or belief.
China: Deeply troubled by the Chinese government’s ongoing crackdown on lawyers and civil society activists and its apparent extrajudicial and extraterritorial action against journalists and critics, the United States led a joint statement signed by twelve states highlighting these concerns. This is the first Joint Statement on China at the HRC.
Anti-Israel Item 7 Resolutions: In the United States’ national statement, Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken underscored for the Council our longstanding, fundamental opposition of the stand-alone agenda item on Israel, maintaining that the HRC’s persistent bias against Israel undermines the work of the Council. As a non-member, the United States was unable to vote against the five anti-Israel resolutions presented at this session, but strongly supported the decision of those that did call votes on some of these resolutions. While the United States strongly oppose Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories, the United States was troubled by one resolution’s provision mandating the creation of a database of businesses operating in Israeli settlements – an unprecedented measure outside the mandate of the Council.
Burundi: Following the successful U.S.-led effort to convene an historic Special Session of the HRC on Burundi in December, an investigation team of independent experts provided an oral report on its first visit to Burundi to carry out its mandate to conduct investigations on human rights violations and engage with the Burundian authorities and all other relevant stakeholders. The United States joined a statement led by Canada expressing grave concern regarding the human rights violations and abuses being committed by State and non-State actors.