Remarks By Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, At Vienna+20: Human Rights Achievements, Shortcomings, and the Way Forward, September 25, 2013

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
September 25, 2013


Thank you very much. I thank President Fischer and my Austrian colleagues for organizing this important event and I offer my respects to High Commissioner Pillay and to her extremely distinguished predecessors, Mary Robinson and Louise Arbour. It is quite a lineage that you all are a part of.

The United States is very pleased to join in marking the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, recognizing, as others have done, both the progress that has been made and the tremendous outstanding work that needs to be done.

For the past two decades, OHCHR has been on the frontlines, bearing witness to humanity’s worst crimes, standing up and speaking out for human dignity and freedom, striving to help governments of the world realize the promise of the UDHR. And I’ve seen first-hand, and many here have as well, the important and vital and often dangerous work that OHCHR does. And it’s been impressive to see the mandate and the field scope expand steadily in the twenty years since 1993, given that the field is where people are, living, trying to live these rights.

But despite the progress we’ve made, of course, sometimes our words have been too careful, and our voices too quiet. Whether this regards the persecution of gays and lesbians under the guise of propaganda laws; the targeting of Coptic Christians and other religious minorities; or the imprisonment of activists seeking a more transparent and accountable government, too often the promise of the UDHR is more aspirational than it is experienced by real people in the real world. So as others, again, have said, a lot of work has yet to be done. We need these universal norms to become the rule, rather than what they sometimes feel like, which is the exception.

I would just note that President Obama on Monday while here in New York, chaired a gathering of civil society activists, foundations and governments to sound the alarm about the crackdown on civil society that is going on around the world. Over the last five years, more than 40 countries have passed restrictive laws, trying to shrink the space. The very success that my colleague from Amnesty described, the very reality that individuals are claiming these rights no matter if governments or institutions like it or not, has caused governments of course to respond with a vengeance. And, instead of sharing best practices as the OHCHR has tried to facilitate over the last twenty years, you now see governments sharing worst practices, and indeed one of the activists that we met with described not ‘rule of law,’ but ‘rule by law.’ And so, seeing the way in which a particular law is being used as a tool of repression.

The other thing I would just like to echo before wrapping up here is to agree with my colleague that we need to address in the MDG Post-2015 negotiations the reality, which is the centrality of governance and human rights to development. I mean these are just not separable, in fact, but we know that these negotiations will be incredibly important in making that real and fleshing that out. In addition, just – again – one very final point, there’s a lot of talk in light of the Arab Spring about the tension between stability and human rights, but I would only note that again and again we are seeing that it is government’s failure to respect human rights, and promote human rights, and protect human rights, that is giving rise to further cycles of violence and further instability. So, far from underscoring the priority that stability should take, it in fact – the events that trouble us all so much, including those in Syria, just underscore how inherently destabilizing the abuse of human rights are, not only of course to the way that people live, but also to peace and security and stability.

So let us rededicate ourselves to do more – to support the High Commissioner in her work, to further enhance OHCHR’s effectiveness, and to emphasize the centrality of human rights to international affairs and international stability here in New York, Geneva, and all around the world.


PRN: 2013/159