National Statement at the Human Rights Council

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Geneva, Switzerland
March 2, 2016

Mister President of the Council, distinguished delegates, it is an honor to represent the United States here at the Human Rights Council on its 10th anniversary.

The United States’ commitment to the mandate and mission of this Council runs deep into our nation’s history, where it is engraved into our founding values and etched into standards we strive to hold ourselves to every day. When the United States engaged with this Council under the leadership of President Obama, it was a decision made not only because we share the aspirations of this Council—but because the world does. The fight for greater freedom, greater respect, greater dignity is a unifying narrative of our humanity in all its diversity, and we are very proud to join this Council in upholding our common responsibility to this universal pursuit. That is why I am very pleased today to reaffirm the United States’ intention to seek reelection to the Council.

The principled, balanced, proactive leadership of this Council is needed now more than ever in a world where a growing number of countries are laying siege to civil society. It is a world where violent extremism thrives in the shadows of marginalization and transforms some of those who feel cast aside, left behind, or repressed into slavers and executioners. And it is a world where unprecedented refugee flows are making more people—especially women and children—vulnerable to predation, trafficking, and abuse.

In Russia, a little more than a year after former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov’s murder in central Moscow, the Russian government’s attempts to suffocate civil society, suppress political opposition, and stigmatize members of minority groups continue unabated. As we approach the two-year anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, we remain gravely concerned over the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine’s Donbas and in the occupied peninsula.

Raids, arrests, baseless prosecutions, and torture have become regular facts of life for civilians, especially for those in the Tatar community. Occupation authorities and Russian-backed separatists have moved systematically to suppress dissent and impose a new repressive way of life in these parts of Ukraine. In addition, Russian-supported separatists in the Donbas prevent Ukrainian residents from accessing humanitarian assistance, leaving civilians without sufficient food and shelter. This is simply unacceptable. We welcome the Council’s continued attention to these egregious abuses and call on Russia to do its part by putting an end to this behavior once and for all.

In Egypt, we are deeply concerned by mounting allegations of abuses by security services, particularly arbitrary arrests. It is important for President Sisi to uphold his pledge to address these allegations and restore public trust. We strongly support Egypt’s efforts to confront the threat of terrorism and surmount its economic challenges, but long-term peace and stability require trust, accountability, and avenues for peaceful dissent.

Conditions continue to deteriorate horrifically in South Sudan, where the UN is documenting large-scale extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, abductions, and enforced disappearances. We hear of indiscriminate attacks against civilians, forced recruitment of children, and extensive destruction of property. The widespread scale of atrocities is such that this Council must take further action immediately.

In Venezuela, the people have made their desire for change known in a peaceful and democratic way. Meaningful dialogue among all parties and respect for the newly-elected legislature are essential. Opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma should be released. And the prolonged and arbitrary detention of critical voices must end.

In Cuba, we are increasingly concerned about the government’s use of short-term detentions of peaceful activists, which reached record numbers in January. We call on the Cuban government to stop this tactic as a means of quelling peaceful protest. President Obama will make a historic visit to Cuba in a few weeks and will emphasize that the Cuban people are best served by an environment where people are free to choose their political parties and their leaders, express their ideas, and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.

In China, we are alarmed by the ongoing crackdown on lawyers, religious adherents, and civil society leaders and by growing attempts to restrict internationally recognized freedoms, including the freedom of speech. We are also deeply troubled by China’s willingness to threaten journalists with expulsion or the non-renewal of their visas as a tool to influence their reporting. Hundreds of Chinese citizens have been detained, formally arrested, or held in incommunicado without due process. This includes the apparent abduction of five individuals associated with a Hong Kong bookstore that strongly suggests that China has taken extrajudicial or extraterritorial action in violation of its international commitments.

In all of these cases and in too many more, this Council has an obligation and a mandate to shine a bright light on grievous violations of human rights and help hold perpetrators accountable. When it does, we have seen the difference it can make.

We’ve seen the impact of the Council’s leadership through the emergency Special Sessions on Burundi and Iraq, the creation of special rapporteurs on Iran and Belarus, and mandates for the Office of the High Commissioner and UN panels to examine human rights in South Sudan and Burundi.

We’ve seen the value of the Council’s new tools, like the universal periodic review process, and technical support for countries like Colombia, Mali, and the Central African Republic that have requested it.

We’ve seen the importance of establishing Commissions of Inquiry into gross human rights violations in Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea to help lay the groundwork for the day when justice will come, and the importance of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture for those rebuilding their lives.

And we have seen the hope and promise of nations, like Burma and Sri Lanka, taking stock of the aspirations of their citizens and setting out on a new journey to meet those aspirations. While we celebrate and support their progress, we believe it is important for the Council to remain engaged, as the governments confront their legacies of human rights violations and address the challenges that remain. In Burma recently, I shared our strong concern about discrimination and violence experienced by ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya population, and our deep belief in the importance of the rule of law—equally applied—to all citizens.

The Council must also continue to act on issues of anti-discrimination and inclusion at a time when people are targets of violence simply because of who they are—because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, political beliefs, or their religion. We believe the Council must do more to better protect the human rights of marginalized individuals.

The United States is greatly encouraged by the work of the Council, but that work is undermined by its persistent bias against Israel. No other nation has a stand-alone agenda item on this Council’s agenda. So long as this Council persists in its efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel, it will be profoundly limited in the good it can accomplish. Under President Obama, we have worked tirelessly to protect Israel’s legitimacy on the world stage and fight for its full and equal participation in UN institutions. We will continue to do so.

All of us deserve balanced scrutiny. And all of us can do better, including my own country, the United States. The work of democracy is painstakingly hard. In my own nation’s history, it has been marked by times of struggle and setback, when the results of our efforts do not meet our expectations and our actions fall short of our ideals.

The measure of our courage as leaders and the measure of our strength as nations is how we face these challenges—whether we retreat into destabilizing tactics of repression and sectarianism or whether we confront our own imperfections with honesty, openness, and transparency. The consequences of this choice are playing out across the world today, and the results could not be clearer. Advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms: this is not a cause for vulnerability and insecurity. To the contrary, it is our greatest reservoir of strength and stability.

Thank you very much.