Statement by Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, on Item 69, Human Rights Situations and Reports of the Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, Third Committee, ECOSOC Chamber

Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,
New York, NY
October 27, 2010


Thank you, Mr. President.

In this session addressing Item 69 on the permanent agenda of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, we are called upon to draw attention to particular human rights situations of concern, as well as to comment on the work of special rapporteurs and representatives. As representatives of other member states will know, the United States believes strongly in the work of the special mechanisms and would like to see them strengthened.

Indeed, last month, the United States was proud to join more than 60 other governments to support the establishment at the Human Rights Council of a new Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, a fundamental freedom that had heretofore lacked such status in the UN system. My government looks forward to supporting the work of this Special Rapporteur and to cooperating with the person entrusted by the President of the Council with this responsibility as he or she undertakes new efforts to expand respect for this human right for individuals and the groups they freely form in countries all over the world. After all, systematic infringements on the rights of citizens freely to gather lie at the very heart of the global political recession now well underway in the world, and new ways must be found to address this mounting problem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton brought great clarity to this issue in her address to the Community of Democracies meeting in Krakow, Poland on July 3 of this year, when she noted that the largest impediment to the normal functioning of civil society is the web of constraints being put in place by governments: “over the last 6 years, 50 governments have issued new restrictions against NGOs, and the list of countries where civil society faces resistance is growing longer.” And she further warned that “we must be wary of the steel vise in which many governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.”

During the present discussion, the Reports of the Secretary General on Iran and the DPRK have been presented and reviewed. These are two countries of grave concern to the international community. There are other places, as well, far too many places, where women and men do not enjoy the protection of the fundamental rights that have been memorialized here in this hall in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We cannot speak of all these places today, though we know that the handful of situations we do cite are emblematic of the larger problem, the larger shame, that in the 21st Century, too many governments deny their own people the basic rights to gather and to associate in groups of their own choosing, just as too often governments deny men and women the opportunity to speak their minds freely, and even to worship in the manner of their own choosing.

As you all know, my government has a now long established practice of analyzing and reporting on the human rights situation in all the countries of the world. Our Congress requires it, and rightly so, as these reports provide objective and verified information for policy-makers, scholars and journalists. Even more importantly, by publishing our annual Human Rights Reports, we inform the people of the countries we describe that we are aware of their circumstances and thus assure them that this knowledge will be reflected in our diplomacy. For more than three decades, therefore, the United States has produced a detailed report on the human rights conditions in each country in the world each year. We do this systemically, and according to a framework that is clear and consistent and applied even-handedly throughout the world.

It is important to note that we are fully prepared as a country to be judged by the same standards; independent civil society groups, think tanks, advocacy groups, journalists and university researchers regularly publish their critiques of U.S. adherence to the values we profess and the commitments we have made as a nation. None of them lose their job in consequence; none go to jail. Some receive prizes. Moreover, we have recently presented a full accounting of our own performance in the U.S. report to the Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review. Indeed, our delegation will appear in Geneva next week for the oral presentation of our self-assessment and to reply to comments and critiques offered by other countries, an opportunity we welcome.

So, in this spirit of transparent and honest reporting and straightforward discussion, we state today that there are too many countries that deserve the scrutiny and attention of the Third Committee if the world is to move toward the enjoyment of basic human rights by the people of the countries whose representatives gather here today.

Today, instead, in the country widely known as Burma, civil society is brutally repressed in ways that damage the country’s reputation and retard its social and economic development. Moreover, the junta there has structurally ensured that its imminent November 7 elections will be neither free nor fair. The government’s restrictive election laws have stifled meaningful competition. The government’s ongoing detention of more than 2,100 political prisoners, including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and its barring of international media coverage of the elections stifle basic political freedoms.

Few places, however, approach the level of violent repression that we continue to witness in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We deplore the imprisonment of repatriated asylum seekers and their families by the government of North Korea. Reports continue to reach the international community of extrajudicial killings; denial of the universal freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, and association; and restrictions of freedom of movement and workers’ rights. If the world community cares at all about human rights anywhere, we must turn ever greater attention to the plight of the people of North Korea.

As I said at the outset, these two countries – for which there exist special rapporteurs – are drawn from a long list of countries and situations that cry out for our attention. In particular, we must promote dignity and human rights throughout all of Sudan, and strongly support the recent extension of the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sudan. We call on all parties to cooperate with him as he continues his important work to ensure we do not turn a blind eye to the violation of basic human rights. The importance of this work is underscored by reports of harassment, intimidation and arrests of individuals in Darfur for speaking to UN Security Council members during the Council's trip to Sudan. While we could name many others, I will conclude with reference to just two today: Cuba and Iran.

Freedoms of expression and assembly are seriously curtailed every day in Cuba, where the government uses short-term detention and government-orchestrated mob violence to suppress dissent; to disperse and harass and imprison trade union organizers; to penalize bloggers and writers; to isolate millions of people from the international community. We call once again for the unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, who should never have been jailed.

There is Iran, where intimidation of and violence against political activists, civil society members, journalists, and in some cases their family members persists in a multiyear campaign against the Iranian people. Thousands of individuals have been detained without cause, while others have been sentenced without due process. Some have even been sentenced to death for their participation in peaceful protests surrounding last year’s disputed elections, or for other peaceable political activities. Individuals and groups have been banned from political participation. The government in Tehran continues to ignore and abuse its citizens’ human rights and fundamental freedoms, even those enshrined in Iran’s own constitution and in its international obligations. As Iran continues to ignore its responsibilities to its own people, the need for our collective spotlight on these issues through international monitoring and human rights protection mechanisms, becomes increasingly critical, and the centrality of Freedom of Association becomes more vital.

As President Obama stated last month here in New York “The arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble; by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change; and by free media that held the powerful accountable. We have seen that from the South Africans who stood up to apartheid, to the Poles of Solidarity, to the mothers of the disappeared who spoke out against the Dirty War, to Americans who marched for the rights of all races.” Freedoms of Association and peaceable assembly are vital for the modernization of countries and to realization of the ideals upon which the United Nations was founded.

The United States believes strongly in supporting those shining a spotlight on abuses so that such practices will wither in the light of day. We hope that the work done here at the United Nations will contribute to making that light brighter so that human rights defenders across the globe will know that we stand with them and truly support their cause.

Thank you, Mr. President.


PRN: 2010/247