December 5, 2022

Efforts to address human rights concerns in the United Nations are not the work of a single person or country, but rather a collective effort to improve the lives of those around us.  As many of my colleagues from governments and civil society, I have approached this work from the perspective that those of us privileged to have access to the UN must use the opportunity to be inclusive and effective in holding governments accountable to the human rights obligations and commitments which they have made. 

 When informing me of the honor of being selected as this year’s recipient of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Human Rights Diplomacy Award, the UNA-NCA asked that I provide an article or some other piece I have previously written.  However, as a career Foreign Service Officer, I have consistently spoken on behalf of the American people rather than myself – and doing so incorporates many voices and a lot of clearances and approvals.  So, rather than putting forward a single piece of writing, I instead wanted to share excerpts from some of the statements I have delivered at the UN on behalf of the United States which I felt truly reflect the work I have done to promote human rights.  While I drafted or edited many of these statements, they represent the collective efforts of many dedicated Foreign and Civil Service Officers and other U.S. government officials to improve the situation of human rights around the world through U.S. leadership at the United Nations.  I am proud to have played a role in this important effort. 

Select Excerpts: 

From the first U.S. statement in the UN General Assembly the morning after Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine began, at a meeting to launch negotiations of a potential treaty on cybercrime (2022): 

It has been a long night and a sobering morning for many of us.  And so, I take this opportunity to reaffirm the United States’ steadfast support and commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.  The United States has been clear within the Ad Hoc Committee on Cybercrime process that we are committed to engaging in good faith with other Member States and stakeholders towards an international mechanism that provides an effective and rights-respecting tool for global cooperation to combat cybercrime.  

 But entering into negotiations towards a legally binding treaty requires a degree of confidence that other parties are committed to an adherence to international law.  Unfortunately, as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield underscored in the Security Council last evening, “Russia’s attack on Ukraine is tantamount to an attack on the UN.”  And Russia’s widespread, malicious cyber activities in support of mounting its military offensive cannot be ignored.

 Regarding human rights concerns in Burundi and the need to continue the work of the Commission of Inquiry despite Burundi’s efforts otherwise (2017):

Just days ago, when Burundi finally agreed to engage members of this Council in discussions for the first time, the Burundian Ambassador portrayed a rosy picture of his country with the clear goal of ending the Commission of Inquiry, which he repeated again today.  Yet that Commission of Inquiry has gathered and is continuing to gather valuable information that sheds light on serious human rights violations and abuses, including some violations by Burundian officials, which the Commission found “reasonable grounds to believe” “constitute crime against humanity” … Approximately four percent of the Burundian population are now refugees according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.  The voices of these refugees are essential and can best be heard and documented by a Commission of Inquiry … The people of Burundi deserve better … If Burundi is genuinely interested in engaging with this Council – not just going through the motions as it has done during the last few days – Burundi should demonstrate that desire with actions. 

 Regarding human rights concerns in South Sudan and the importance of continuing the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights (2018): 

The human rights situation in South Sudan as reported is deeply alarming to us all.  The report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan … contains chilling accounts of looting and destruction of homes and villages; rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence; violence against children; and extrajudicial killings on the basis of ethnicity.  The report also underscores that the situation continues to be characterized by impunity … We must come together to address these atrocities and put an end to the crisis in South Sudan … As we work to prevent this human rights crisis from intensifying, our shared goals are to end this crisis and to help South Sudan establish a just and enduring peace.  It is urgently important to address the ongoing atrocities in South Sudan and to renew the Commission’s mandate.

Regarding human rights concerns in Syria, with a particular focus on children (2018):

From the beginning of this conflict seven years ago, when the Syrian government chose to meet Syrians’ peaceful demands for their human rights – including those voiced by children – with torture and killing, children have borne an unconscionable cost.  Nearly every single Syrian child seven years old or younger has been affected in innumerable physical or psychological ways.  Hundreds of thousands have lost parents and relatives.  Millions have seen their education interrupted.  Nearly half of the more than 5 million Syrian refugees are children.  And if these figures weren’t shocking enough, human rights organizations report that more than 26,000 children have been killed since 2011.  More than 4,000 are under arbitrary arrest or forcibly disappeared and nearly 2,000 children some as young as age nine, have been recruited as soldiers since 2013 … Every one of these ghastly numbers has the face of a child.  We’ve gathered here today to shine a light on their suffering.  We must do more to protect Syrian children and we must ensure accountability for all those who have violated their rights. 


In support of the rights of minorities, including countering hate speech while promoting freedom of expression (2018, 2021, and 2022):

 “To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”  Nelson Mandela uttered many powerful words about racism, poverty, and other facets of human suffering, but this statement resonates particularly strongly … The United States strongly supports the elimination of racial discrimination throughout the world and is committed to continuing on the path to a world free from injustice.  While there is still much progress to be made, we must continue our work, both internationally and domestically, to combat racism, racial discrimination, and intolerance.

2020 shed new light on the enduring challenges of systemic racism that plagues every society, including the United States. It is an insidious evil that undermines our humanity and permeates every aspect of life that indeed requires urgent action.  As the world comes together to fight the two major crises of our time – COVID-19 and climate change – it is important to acknowledge the disproportionate and unique impact on people of African descent and members of other marginalized groups.  We greatly look forward to working with the newly established Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.  We recognize the Forum and the new HRC mechanisms on systemic racism in law enforcement as additional important tools to counter the scourge of racism worldwide.  The United States will continue to dismantle systemic racism and work towards concrete improvement in communities worldwide because when all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity, can live up to their full potential, our collective security is strengthened. 

 The impact of hate speech on communities and individuals can be devastating when it leads to targeting and exploiting the vulnerable with violence, exclusion, and discrimination.  Today, new technologies and means of communication can spread divisive rhetoric and ideologies on a global scale. If left unaddressed, hate speech can fray our social fabric and can precede wide scale human rights violations. While taking steps to address hate speech, the United States considers freedom of expression, whether exercised offline or online, a critical component of a vibrant, functioning democracy. For this reason, it is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution … In the United States, we have long believed the strongest weapon against hateful speech is more speech that promotes tolerance and unity.  We recognize that suppressing the expression of such ideas doesn’t make them go away.  In fact, banning intolerant or offensive speech can be counter-productive, often significantly raising the profile of the offensive speech as well as forcing hateful ideologies to fester in dangerous ways.  We have learned through our own experience that banning offensive speech is not useful in promoting a vibrant democracy, in respecting human dignity, or in creating space for change … 

 Additionally, recognizing that individuals of racial, ethnic, and other minorities and vulnerable groups are often the targets of hate speech, we celebrate our diversity as a nation, our heritage, and our need to deliver the promise of America for all Americans, through activities such as the commemoration of emancipation with Juneteenth; last month’s dedication to Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage; and this month’s focus on LGBTQI+ Pride … Whether Member States, civil society and human rights defenders, the private sector, media and internet corporations, faith leaders, educators, and those individuals affected by hate speech, youth, or simply as individuals, we all have the moral duty and vital role to speak out firmly against instances of hate speech and reject any calls to violence.

We join the international community and all stakeholders here today in the UN General Assembly to honor and remember the more than 36 million people, including 700,000 Americans, who have tragically died from AIDS-related illness since the start of the epidemic.  We also renew our commitment to stand with the nearly 38 million people living with HIV around the world as we pursue our shared goal of ending the HIV epidemic.  To do so, we must ensure equitable access to HIV services for all, particularly the populations most impacted by the epidemic: the LGBTQI+ community, people who use drugs, sex workers, racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls. It is astounding to reflect on the lives lost and to reflect on how far we still need to travel together, as a global community, in saving and improving millions of lives touched by the AIDS pandemic. 


In support of civil society participation in the UN and countering reprisals against those working with the UN (2017, 2018, and 2019):


Civil society organizations and human rights defenders play a critical role in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Civil society and human rights defenders are our eyes and ears on the ground and are critical in implementing international efforts to promote and protect human rights, including the human rights of women and girls … We remain concerned about the increasing trend by some member states to restrict civil society and human rights defenders at the United Nations, which we have seen across bodies and in modalities resolutions, particularly during this session of the General Assembly … If we cannot include human rights defenders in a modalities resolution where we should ensure their participation to discuss their work, then we should re-evaluate our work here at the UN. Leaving out critical partners from key events, such as the Beijing+25 commemoration, goes against the spirit and purpose of the United Nations.

We want to reiterate U.S. concerns over reprisals targeting the special procedures of this Council, the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner, and civil society actors who cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its mandates, and with the UN more generally.  Within the last few months, several mandate holders have informed us of reprisals or threats made against them in Geneva, including at Palais Wilson, and on country trips.  This is a disturbing development, and we call upon you and the members of the Human Rights Council Bureau to take urgent action to address States who engage in reprisals against members of civil society and UN mandate holders and staff … We are also concerned by steps taken by some states to restrict civil society members, including their ability to interact with OHCHR and the Council.  States have used travel bans, threats against family members, and various other tactics to stifle the voices of civil society.  Civil society should be able to organize side events and participate in the work of this Council and OHCHR without fear of harassment, intimidation, or reprisals, whether at home or abroad. 


At this Council, participation of civil society is a critical component for addressing ongoing human rights concerns.  The United States has long urged member states to end acts of reprisal against members of civil society for their engagement with the UN.  Member states must ensure the ability of civil society to engage with the UN without fear of retaliation.  UN bodies, mechanisms, and representatives also share a responsibility to expose and address reprisals effectively … The United States was appalled by direct threats of retaliation levied against Venezuelan panelists by the Venezuelan delegation during a side event of Human Rights Council’s 35th session.  Their threats of “consequences” for UN participation were in stark contrast to the panel’s advocacy on the need to uphold universal freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, for all Venezuelan citizens … We also note the record of reprisals committed by the Chinese government.  China has consistently worked to silence criticism of its human rights record before a variety of UN bodies, demonstrating contempt for the procedures of the UN.  Reprisals by the Chinese government include: the harassment of civil society and UN staff; attempts to block NGO accreditation; and the attempted “blacklisting” of accredited activists … Civil society plays a critical role in highlighting human rights concerns for this Council’s attention. The Human Rights Council has a responsibility to address acts of reprisals committed against them. 

 Promoting Human Rights Council Reform (2018):

In this limited progress, we see the promise of a body that should be the leading human rights body in the international system.  It reinforces our willingness to, one day, reengage with a reformed, improved, and strengthened Human Rights Council worthy of its name whose membership, agenda, and work fully reflect the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings … Nevertheless, the overall credibility of the Council remains severely tarnished. Three weeks ago, several countries with some of the worst human rights records were once again elected to the Council … The HRC has not addressed China’s detention of hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of Muslims in so-called “re-education” camps and the widespread violation of the rights of other religious minorities; nor the arbitrary detention and torture of human rights defenders and lawyers in China, and ongoing reprisals against Chinese who attempt to engage the UN human rights system … In addition, the Council’s institutional bias against Israel, which undermines efforts for lasting peace in the region, continues unchecked. 


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