Thank you, Mr. President.
Last year, the United States joined over 60 other governments to establish through the Human Rights Council the mandate for the Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. These freedoms have always been central to healthy civil society and to the democratic process. New technologies such as the Internet and mobile phone networks help people to assemble and associate, both in person and online, and have become important tools for the exercise of these universal human rights. Unfortunately, some countries continue to deny their citizens these rights, both in the streets and online.
Syria has responded with violence to its citizens’ efforts to peacefully assemble and protest for their universal rights. The Asad regime has now reportedly killed more than 3,000 civilians and has arrested and detained roughly 30,000 individuals since protests began seven months ago. Activists report the government is increasingly targeting doctors and pharmacists for treating injured protestors and over 250 medical personnel have allegedly been arrested since the start of the unrest. Regime forces are responsible for mass arrests, torture, targeted killings, and arbitrary executions and detentions, including those aimed at young children - actions the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said may amount to crimes against humanity. Despite the Asad regime’s rhetoric of reform and dialogue, a number of people have been killed by Syrian security forces while in custody, including human rights activist Ghiyath Mattar, who was courageously committed to confronting the regime's despicable violence with peaceful protest.
Iran, through its security services, continues to quash freedom of assembly. The regime repressed all forms of opposition, precluding accountability of its actions to its own citizens. It harassed, abused, intimidated, detained and sentenced human rights defenders, civil society actors, student activists, artists, and thousands of individuals without cause or due process of law, including political leaders Mir Houseein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and their wives. It jailed journalists, prosecuted human rights attorneys, executed political prisoners, and continues to hold more than 100 juveniles on death row, in contravention of the UN conventions to which it is a party. Iran has extended the repression to the exercise of rights online: it blocks access to thousands of websites, jails opposition bloggers, and monitors individuals’ private Internet communications to collect information to support interrogations and fabricate criminal charges. Iran continued to abuse members of ethnic and religious minorities, repressing their practice of faith, denying them their right to equal treatment, and sentencing some to death for their religious beliefs, such as Pastor Nadarkhani. One hundred members of the Baha’i community are currently in jail, along with many others of oppressed religious sects.
Burma subjects members of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the Muslim Rohingya, to unique discrimination. While we welcome the recent release of some political prisoners, the government continues to hold a high number of others who should also be released, and ongoing attacks against ethnic minority populations have resulted in the displacement of thousands of Burmese in Burma, along its borders, and in the region over the past five decades. The Burmese government targets political activists and censors the media. Internet users face up to 15 years imprisonment for sending or receiving some types of messages, such as those deemed damaging to the national culture. Burma is currently moving forward with labor law reform, which we hope will comply with ILO standards, but it continues to jail trade unionists for trying to organize and advance worker rights.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea maintains draconian controls over almost all aspects of citizens’ lives. It denies citizens the freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, association and movement and fails to respect worker’s rights. It severely restricts the flow of independent information into, out of, and within the country, including on the Internet. The tight controls on access to information and restrictions on freedom of movement make it unlikely and difficult for North Koreans to form associations or assemble in an organized fashion.
In Cuba, we note with sadness the passing of Laura Pollan, founder of the Damas de Blanco who continue to fight for not only the right to peacefully assemble, but for the rights and freedom of political prisoners. The Cuban authorities actively target the Damas for harassment, prevent free assembly of the Damas and other groups through house detention without due process, and employ mobs that frequently use violence to disrupt peaceful demonstrations. Earlier this year, the regime reacted with increased harassment and violence as the Damas sought to expand their movement. We also note with sadness the continued incarceration in Cuba of Alan Gross, a 62-year-old American, who has been unjustly imprisoned for over 22 months for helping improve the internet connectivity and facilitate the free flow of information to, from and among the Cuban people. Cuba has kept this innocent man in jail despite his own fragile health and that of a daughter suffering from cancer. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross.
Finally, before closing, Mr. President, while we welcome China’s increasingly important role on the world stage, we note that China harasses and detains its citizens expressing dissenting viewpoints both individually and collectively, labeling them as dangers to state security or even as terrorists. It has imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who helped draft and organize signatures for Charter 08 which peacefully advocated for reforms. It blocks many social networking sites and Internet searches of subjects deemed sensitive, and detains citizens for posting content that the government finds objectionable. Civil society organizations operate only under tight controls. Workers cannot form independent unions. Unregistered religious groups cannot gather together to worship as they see fit. Authorities detained leaders of the Shouwang Church in Beijing when their congregation resorted to outdoor meetings. They maintain restrictive policies that threaten the unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity of Tibetans. The government also strictly regulates religious activities of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, including making it impossible for some to travel for the Hajj. And new regulations dramatically expand government control over religious life and practice.
Mr. President, the United States hopes that the work done here at the United Nations will help human rights defenders across the globe know that we stand with them.
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