Statement delivered by Ambassador Joan M. Plaisted, United States Senior Advisor, on Agenda Item 64: Report of the UN Human Rights Council, in the Third Committee of the Sixty-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Joan M. Plaisted
Senior Advisor 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
October 30, 2009


Madam President, let me join with others in welcoming the President of the Human Rights Council and thanking him for his report.  The United States was honored to take up its seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the first time this year, and we look forward, in the spirit of mutual respect, to continuing this work with our colleagues on the Council -- and the entire UN membership – to protect and promote human rights around the world. 

The U.S. decision to join the UN Human Rights Council was not entered into lightly.  It was reached based on a clear and hopeful vision of what we can accomplish together.  This vision is not an American one, but one that reflects the aspirations embodied in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the mandate of the Council itself.

In his address to the General Assembly, President Barack Obama emphasized that respect for human rights and democracy is essential to sustained prosperity and lasting security.  In his remarks last month, and in Cairo and in Accra earlier in the year, President Obama provided the direction for our approach to the Council’s work: it is guided by four tenets, as outlined by Assistant Secretaries Brimmer and Posner during the September session: the universality of human rights, dialogue among nations and people, principled engagement, and a fidelity to the truth.  

As others have noted, we approach the Council willing to support what it does well but also pledging to challenge actions we believe undermine the Council’s effectiveness and its mandate.  The United States seeks to build partnerships in our efforts; to listen and learn from one another and to work to identify common ground.  We will remain steadfast in our assertion that all governments, including our own, are responsible for ensuring the rights and freedoms spelled out in international human rights law.  We believe the Human Rights Council must focus its work on making a practical impact on respect for human rights, the betterment of the lives of victims, and the prevention of abuses. 

It is with these views in mind that we approach this report.  Indeed, the breadth of work covered by the Human Rights Council is tremendous with close to 100 or more resolutions a year on any number of thematic areas, with multiple special sessions.  The Universal Periodic Review, multiple Committee meetings including the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards now ongoing in Geneva – these only add to the tremendous workload.  As is true with any political body, as the United States looks back at the activities undertaken by the Human Rights Council over the past year, there is much we can agree with and much with which we would take strong exception. 

For example, in reviewing the report of last year’s work, the United States strongly supported the HRC’s considerable work on women’s issues, including resolutions on maternal mortality and violence against women, as well as its emphasis on trafficking in persons.  We supported resolutions on Somalia.  We worked diligently with other observer states and HRC members to try to forge agreement on sensitive and difficult issues in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name just a few.  

We would be remiss without pointing out that the report, while including the Council’s successes, is also a transparent reminder of its failings.  The United States was disappointed that the Council failed to address seriously some of the most difficult and sensitive situations, including the situation in Iran, as just one example.  Its failings also include the continued one-sided treatment of Israel.  There are multiple resolutions within the report that target Israel, and that the U.S. could not support for many reasons, in large part because they attempt to isolate and criticize the government of Israel with no mention of Hamas.

As a member of the Council, the United States hopes to work in partnership with all member states and particularly with Council members to strengthen the Council’s work and impact in fulfillment of its mission.  We look forward to working with the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly to empower and strengthen the UN’s human rights mechanisms, and to improve its – and our – ability to make an impact around the world and better the lives of the world's most vulnerable people. We believe the United Nations and its Member States --- and particularly the victims of human rights violations around the world --- deserve no less.


PRN: 2009/255