The 19th Session of the Human Rights Council underscored the importance of robust engagement at the Council, where the United States continues to work with a diverse range of countries from all regions of the world to address urgent human rights concerns.
U.S. leadership kept the Council at the forefront of the international effort to promote and protect human rights in the Middle East as the Arab Spring continues to transform the region. U.S. engagement has resulted in significant improvements to the Human Rights Council (HRC) over the past two and a half years, making it a more effective and credible multilateral forum for promoting and protecting human rights.
At the same time, the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel continues to be a major challenge, as exemplified by the annual Item 7 resolutions. Through engagement at the Council, the U.S. continues to vigorously oppose this biased treatment.
MULTILATERAL RESPONSES TO COUNTRY SITUATIONS
Israel: The 19th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council was marred by the vote by member states to create another one-sided UN mechanism targeting Israel. As reflected by our vote against this measure, the United States strongly opposed the creation of a Fact Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements, a mission that does not advance the cause of peace. The United States made clear its belief that the fact finding mission on Israeli settlements does not advance the cause of peace, will not add useful information to the debate over settlements and will not help develop consensus. The United States also recorded its staunch opposition to the Council’s broader pattern of anti-Israel bias - including the adoption of annual resolutions on Palestinian self-determination, human rights in the Palestinian territories, the Goldstone Report, and a resolution on the Golan - and will continue to refocus the Council’s attention where it rightly belongs.
Sri Lanka: The United States, together with the international community, sent a strong signal that Sri Lanka will only achieve lasting peace through real reconciliation and accountability, and the international community stands ready to help. Through a new resolution, the Council encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and take the necessary measures to address accountability. We are committed to working with the Sri Lankan government to help realize this goal.
Syria: Following three special sessions last year, the HRC adopted two resolutions this session on Syria. The first, which was adopted during a special high-level ‘Urgent Debate’ on the Syrian crisis, condemned the widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Syrian authorities and reiterated the need to urgently address humanitarian needs. The second resolution extended the mandate of the international Commission of Inquiry until September 2012. In doing so, the Council recognized the need to continue the Commission of Inquiry’s work to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law as the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate.
Libya: The United States worked with Libya and others on a cooperative resolution on human rights-related technical assistance during Libya’s transition. The resolution requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on its technical assistance, capacity building and cooperation with the Libyan Transitional Government during the Council’s 22nd session in March 2013.
Yemen: In cooperation with the new Yemeni government and in furtherance of a request for assistance in addressing its domestic human rights issues, the Council adopted a resolution that enshrines cooperation between the Yemeni government and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OHCHR will open and staff a country office within Yemen that will help build Yemeni civil society and work with the Yemeni government to protect human rights.
Iran: A cross-regional group of sponsors led the Council in renewing the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Iran, which passed by a larger vote margin than last year. Ahmed Shaheed, the former Foreign Minister of the Maldives, was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on Iran last year. His continued work will maintain international attention on Iran’s ongoing and serious violations of human rights. The renewal resolution also calls on Iran to allow entry for the Special Rapporteur and to cooperate with his work, which they have so far refused to do.
Burma: The Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma for another year. In its doing so, the Council took into account many of the recent positive changes in Burma, while expressing concern about continuing serious human rights abuses and the need for the international community’s ongoing engagement as Burma implements its reforms. The resolution also urges the government to ensure that the April 1 by-elections are free and fair.
CROSS-CUTTING HUMAN RIGHTS PRIORITITES
LGBT: The Council held the UN’s first panel discussion on discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as called for in last year’s landmark LGBT resolution. The United States gave a strong statement at the panel discussion affirming our support for the human rights of LGBT persons. Delegations from around the world also gave strong statements in front of a panel that included representatives from North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Internet Freedom: The panel discussion on the “Right to Freedom of Expression on the Internet” took place during the high-level segment of the session. The United States joined other delegations in reaffirming our longstanding commitment to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, both online and off.