Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens, U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council, At the 68th General Assembly: Plenary Adoption of the A/68/L.33 Amendment to Report of the Human Rights Council

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
December 18, 2013


Thank you, Mr. President. On behalf of the United States, I am taking the floor to inform that we are withdrawing our co-sponsorship of A/68/L.33, amendment to the draft resolution on the Report of the Human Rights Council, in order to make an explanation of vote before the vote to urge member states to support this amendment.

This amendment is crucial to preserve the integrity of the Human Rights Council and the established and well-understood balance between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. This amendment is vital in order to ensure that we do not today set a precedent with far-reaching implications that can have negative consequences for each and every Member State.

The United States has listened seriously to the concerns that some colleagues have raised about one particular resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council this year. We have also been very clear that we are open to any number of ways to give voice to those concerns and find ways to address them. It is in that spirit of mutual respect that we have been working diligently with colleagues to explore any scope for common ground up until this very moment.

We are disappointed that those efforts have not borne fruit, and our grave reservations about the draft resolution remain.

It is without precedent and entirely inappropriate for the annual resolution on the report of the Human Rights Council to single out one item of the Council’s work that is fully within the mandate of the Human Rights Council– in this instance, Resolution 24/24 which deals with the important issue of reprisals against human rights defenders – for reconsideration by the General Assembly. Resolution 24/24 does not include any recommendations from the Council to the General Assembly that would require the General Assembly to consider the resolution or take any further action.

We are also troubled that no informal negotiations were held on the draft text. This year’s draft differs significantly from last year’s and every prior year’s text which have been adopted by consensus. This departure from precedent should not have moved ahead without broad consultations and negotiations that include member states from all regions.

Moreover, the Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 24/24 with broad support. Sixty-seven states – including states from every regional group, including the Africa Group – co-sponsored the resolution. Not one member state voted against that resolution.

Most concerning, independent of the specific concerns about this specific resolution, the annual resolution taking note of the report of the Human Rights Council is not the appropriate way to address a new substantive concern and upsets the longstanding balance carefully wrought between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Deferring action or reconsidering this Human Rights Council resolution in the General Assembly creates a dangerous precedent that could undermine the work of the Human Rights Council by opening the door to the General Assembly revisiting any of the Council’s decisions that are clearly and fully within the mandate we have all entrusted to the Human Rights Council.

The decision we take here today is therefore not one that delegations should make lightly. The success of the amendment before you, A/68/L.33, is critical to ensure that the integrity of the Human Rights Council is preserved in line with the mandate all the Member States of the General Assembly have given it. This amendment needs to succeed in order to prevent a damaging precedent for any future Human Rights Council resolutions. If delegations have concerns about any Human Rights Council action, there are many ways to deal with them in both Geneva and New York. Using this Third Committee technical resolution as a vehicle, however, is the one way that should not be used. Your support for the amendment before you, A/68/L.33 is vital and will ensure that the General Assembly safeguards the Human Rights Council from having its legitimacy eroded.

We urge all member states committed to fundamental human rights, to the appropriate and legitimate exercise of the mandate of the Human Rights Council and to the established institutional relationship between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, to therefore vote yes on this amendment.

Thank you Mr. President.


PRN: 2013/275