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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

U.S. Delegation to UN Commission on Human Rights
Geneva, Switzerland, March 30, 2000

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Item 9: Question of the Violation of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World

Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of the United States of America, I am honored to address this, the first gathering in this century of the world's preeminent international forum on human rights.

In this expanding era of globalization and the Internet, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights still challenges us, as countries committed to human rights, to ensure that freedom and the rule of law remain our guiding principles as we seek a world in which all people are "free and equal in dignity and rights."

We in the United States treasure these principles, not because we are perfect, but because we struggle daily to live up to these ideals. Like all countries, we must confront and overcome unfinished human rights challenges at home. But as a nation conceived in liberty, we remain dedicated to the proposition that persons everywhere are created -- and must remain -- free and equal.

That is why we come to Geneva each year to review how far we have come together in embracing the Universal Declaration as a common charter of shared principles. Recognizing shared principles means acknowledging that civil and political rights, economic, cultural, and social rights are, in the words of the Vienna Declaration, "universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated." As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized long ago, freedom from want is both an economic right and a right deeply connected to political freedom. Recognizing shared principles also means rejecting claims that any particular regional, national, ethnic, cultural, or linguistic values justify the abuse of our shared value of universal human rights.

As someone raised with Asian family values, for example, I know of no Asian value that calls for wide-scale arbitrary detention, restriction of political dissent, or interference with freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

Yesterday, my distinguished colleague from Portugal presented a report on the countries whose human rights are of the most concern to the European Community. We share his concerns. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to address each country he discussed. However, our views on the human rights situations in every country of the world have been spelled out in considerable detail in our annual country reports. These can be found on the websites of the State Department and the U.S. Delegation's to the 56th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The year gone by has witnessed two important trends. First, at this Commission last year, all nations recognized, without dissent, that democratic governance is not an experiment, but a right accorded to all people. We must keep working together in this Commission to promote democracy, both as an end in itself and as a means to expand and advance human rights. To that end, Secretary Madeleine Albright noted before this body last week that "it is important that the Commission build on last year's achievement and approve the resolution on the Promotion and Consolidation of Democracy that Romania has drafted."

The indissoluble link between human rights and political democracy was demonstrated by recent elections held in Nigeria and Indonesia, which, in one fell swoop, brought two of the world's most populous nations under democratic rule, and brought more people under self-government than any year since 1989. As Commission members, we must support the Nigerian government's efforts to restore democracy and respect for human rights, and applaud their release of all political prisoners, their encouragement for active engagement in governance by independent political parties, and their permitting independent journalists greater freedom.

The Government of Indonesia has begun to follow its successful elections with the revival of civil society. This should include the growth of groups demanding improved protections for human rights, as well as fuller participation for women and ethnic and religious minorities in Indonesian society. At the same time, we need to continue supporting the government in its efforts to promote justice and reconciliation within the country.

We commend as well the important steps recently taken toward democratic government in Africa. Benin has been a model of peaceful political change in recent years, while Botswana remains one of the continent's most stable and vibrant democracies. Mali has played a leadership role in democracy building, as exemplified by its important role as a convenor of the upcoming Communities of Democracy Initiative in Warsaw. And the current peaceful transfer of political power in Senegal following the elections is a positive sign of democracy's solid roots there.

In Central Europe, we have been impressed by the resolute actions the current government in Slovakia has taken to strengthen the country's democratic institutions and enhance respect for the rule of law. Latvia and Estonia took positive steps last year in passing OSCE-consistent language laws, which eventually will facilitate the participation in national life by Russian speakers there.

As our resolution regarding the former Yugoslavia states, we are encouraged by the newly elected Croatian government's commitment to democratic principles and human rights.

The Iranian elections demonstrated how much the Iranian people favor more political and social freedom, greater government accountability, and increased economic opportunity. As a result of these elections, the United States has taken a number of steps toward improving our relations with Iran. At the same time, we remain very troubled by Iran's poor human rights record, in particular its treatment of religious minorities such as Baha'is and Jews.

The United States also is very concerned about the upcoming elections in Haiti and Peru. We strongly urge the Haitian government to hold free and fair legislative elections in the next few weeks in an atmosphere unmarred by violence. The nearly 4 million Haitians who registered to vote deserve a fully restored Parliament that can begin to address the many problems that country faces.

Similarly, Peru is scheduled to hold elections April 9, 2000 but many respected organizations fear they will not be fully free and fair. We call on the Peruvian government to take immediate steps to restore public confidence in the process and to assure the Peruvian people the honest election process they deserve.

Second, Mr. Chairman, the events of the last year again taught us that when democracy is absent, human rights suffer. This was nowhere more evident than in the former Yugoslavia, where the Milosevic regime continues its campaign of terror against its own citizens. Already indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, Milosevic is escalating his repression of what remains of Serbia's independent media, political opposition and nongovernmental organizations. To achieve a climate of tolerance and interethnic cooperation in Kosovo, it is necessary to condemn all extremism and human rights violations irrespective of their origin. That is why our resolution on the Former Yugoslavia calls for all groups in the region to work together for a peaceful, democratic and multiethnic Kosovo.

The same combination of repression, violence and revenge can be seen in the systematic violation of human rights in Sierra Leone, where rebel forces killed and maimed with extraordinary cruelty, amputating the ears, noses, hands, arms, and legs of civilians -- including small children and the elderly. The government and the ECOMOG forces have also committed serious human rights abuse. While these egregious violations have eased since last July's peace accords, the United States remains deeply concerned at the continuing level of violence and brutality, as rebels continue to regularly commit atrocities against civilians.

Similarly, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, even as we strive within the framework of the Lusaka Accord to bring peace to this troubled land, government and antigovernment forces -- as well as troops of the govern-ments supporting each side -- have committed mass killings of civilians, arbitrary detentions, torture, beatings, and rape. Both Congolese and Rwandan security forces have committed many abuses, often with impunity, including the forcible conscription of adults and children. The DROC government has also restricted political activity and freedom of movement, while sharply curtailing free speech and peaceful assembly.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban's repressive treatment of women constitutes a clear and systematic violation of their universally-recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the rights to education and employment. The conditions of women in non-Taliban areas are also problematic. Particularly in conflict areas, many women and girls are subject to rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage. Both major factions have been responsible for disappearances, summary justice, and the denial of the right of the Afghan people to choose or replace the officials who govern them.

We cannot discuss the Taliban's ill treatment of women without noting the restrictions that women face throughout Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Saudi Arabia continues to curtain the religious freedom of all who do not practice Islam. Similarly, in North Korea, the ill-advised policies of the government have left huge portions of the population facing malnutrition and even starvation.

Ten years after the government of Burma was elected, the country remains under military rule. The political restrictions on Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remain in place and the junta's human rights record continues to be extremely poor. Repression and arbitrary rule are staples of everyday life. Credible reports, especially in minority-dominated areas, link soldiers to serious human rights abuse, including extrajudicial killings and rape. Disappearances continue, while security forces torture, beat, and abuse detainees.

Mr. Chairman, some claim that this Commission should not focus on country situations. But in some countries, human rights abuses are simply too pervasive to be addressed by thematic resolutions.

In Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein continues its brutal campaign against the Iraqi people, ignoring appeals by the Special Rapporteur for access by human rights monitors. The Iraqi government willfully neglects the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for example, consistently underordering medicines and nutritional supplements. The world will never forget that the Iraqi government killed 50,000 to 100,000 Iraqi Kurds during the Anfal campaign, killed 5,000 Iranians in chemical attacks, killed thousands of Iranian prisoners of war, killed 1,000 civilians from more than 20 countries in Kuwait, killed or wounded 15,000 landmine victims, and continues to have the highest number of disappearances reported to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. This is a regime for whom a legal accounting is long overdue.

In Sudan, the government continues to suppress political dissent, utilizing extrajudicial execution, disappearances, torture, beatings, harassment, arbitrary arrest, and detention to restrict freedom of speech, the press and the right of assembly. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms four aspects of the Khartoum government's practices. First is slavery. As the Special Rapporteur's report stated last year, "there is enough consistent and credible information to ascertain the existence of slavery patterns in the Sudan." "The problem of slavery," his report continued, "is exacerbated by war strategies aimed at control over territory." Women and children are often captured as "war booty" by government-backed militias and subjected to " forced marriage and other sexual abuses amounting, in certain cases, to sexual slavery." Second, we remain deeply concerned about the government's religious persecution of Christians, animists and those Muslims who fail to adhere to its own particular brand of radical Islam. Third, since the beginning of this year, the government of Sudan has violated its own cease-fire agreement by intensifying its aerial bombardment of civilian targets, with attacks reported in the Nuba Mountains, Western Equatoria, and Bahr el Ghazal. We particularly abhor the bombing and killing of civilians, including children in the Nuba Mountains. Fourth, Sudan has refused permission for flights for numerous Operation Lifeline Sudan sites in western Upper Nile. According to the Special Rapporteur, the government has forcibly displaced thousands of people in this area and continues, despite the deteriorating situation, to ban humanitarian flights into there.

Mr. Chairman, this Commission has a duty to address the worst of these country situations through country resolutions. When pervasive human rights violations in a country persist, when human rights conditions in a country have deteriorated, when bilateral and regional efforts to protest those conditions have been rebuffed, this Commission should, as a matter of principle, condemn these abuses and urge their remediation.

Let us also agree on the principle that no country should be able to prevent the Commission from fulfilling its duty to examine human rights violations through "no-action" motions that prevent honest discussion of whether a country's conduct meets shared international standards. We ask all member States to join us in reaffirming two important principles: first, that the right to democracy necessarily includes a right to peaceful democratic dissent, and second, that no government may join this Commission yet avoid its rules. Any member government's conduct may be examined by this Commission under universal human rights standards.

To reaffirm these principles, the United States will introduce a resolution this year with respect to China. While China has made important strides in recent years, its human rights policies fall short of the international norms and standards that China has agreed to uphold.

Government authorities continued their crackdown this past year against all forms of peaceful dissent, particularly organized political dissent. Members of the China Democracy Party and others who sought to exercise their internationally-recognized rights of association, expression, and participation in political life were systematically deprived of those rights. In addition, tens of thousands of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were detained and thousands more Christians, Muslims and Buddhists were prevented from manifesting their beliefs in accordance with their universal human rights. Some were subjected to prolonged detentions, disappearances and torture. Similarly, minorities such as the Tibetans and Uighurs were unable to exercise their full religious and cultural rights. These developments represent a marked deterioration in China's human rights conditions, which other governments have unsuccessfully protested through bilateral channels.

The Chinese have unilaterally suspended our bilateral dialogue with them about human rights, and dialogues with other countries have not led to significant human rights improvements. Further, the Chinese Government has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, addressed existing abuses, or brought its laws or actions into conformity with the Covenant's standards.

We do not consider it "confrontation" to ask member nations to play by global rules to which they have themselves acknowledged, and which bind all member nations of this Commission. Nor do we consider "dialogue" sufficient absent progress in the area of human rights. We believe the situation in China deserves the examination of this Commission and that a resolution to this effect should be voted upon and passed.

To support the right of political dissent, we must also support a resolution this year regarding conditions in Cuba. As we well know, the government of Fidel Castro continues to suppress ruthlessly all forms of political dissent. Authorities routinely engage in arbitrary detention of human rights advocates and independent journalists, subjecting them to interrogation, threats, and degrading treatment. The government continues to hold the four founders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group -- Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Felix Bonne Carcasses, Rene Gomez Manzano, and Vladimiro Roca Antunes -- as well as Oscar Biscet, for the supposed crime of nonviolently exercising their rights to freedom of expression.

Many of the countries represented here today are now led by former political dissidents. The resolution's sponsors, Poland and the Czech Republic, know all too well what it means to lose their freedom -- and how international scrutiny can help to get it back. As a matter of principle, we must join together in protesting such bold and bald invasions of the right of peaceful democratic dissent.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, the Commission must speak up particularly on behalf of defenseless civilians. As Secretary Albright reiterated last week, the United States is profoundly disturbed by persistent and credible reports of human rights violations that have been reported in Chechnya. There are also reports that Chechen separatists have committed abuses, including the killing of civilians and prisoners. While we recognize Russia's right to defend its territorial integrity, and protect its population against terrorism and attacks from insurgent groups, we object to indiscriminate use of force against innocent civilians. Thousands of Chechen civilians have died and more than 200,000 have been driven from their homes.

We welcome President Putin's decision to name a human rights ombudsman and to accept international experts on his investigative team. It is important that Russia permit or conduct a prompt, transparent and impartial investigation of all credible charges; provide the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with unhindered access throughout Chechnya, including to all detainees; and provide for the re-establishment of the OSCE Assistance Group in the region.

We are encouraged that the High Commissioner is in Russia, and we look forward to hearing her report and considering appropriate Commission action when she returns.

Numerous other countries present human rights challenges that this Commission session should not overlook. In Belarus, the regime of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, whose legal term as president ended last July, has increased repression against the democratic opposition and independent media over the past year. Two prominent opposition figures disappeared in 1999, and the government has shown no signs of investigating the disappearances in any serious way. The show trial of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir continues. Only last Saturday, March 25, the Lukashenko regime brutally broke up a peaceful opposition rally, arresting 300-500 people, many of whom were beaten. The regime has also avoided meaningful dialogue with the opposition and has made no real progress toward resolving the political and constitutional crisis in Belarus.

In Uzbekistan, the government's already poor human rights record worsened over the past year. Following February 1999 terrorist bombings in Tashkent, police arrested and beat hundreds of innocent people and at least 14 persons are believed to have died after torture or beating in custody in 1999. Parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections this January were neither pluralistic nor democratically competitive and, as such, constituted a breach of OSCE commitments.

In Angola, journalist Rafael Marques faces criminal charges of having defamed Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. The United States remains seriously concerned over restrictions imposed by the government of Angola on freedom of expression, which is the cornerstone of every democratic society, and well as troubled by questions about the observance of due process of law at Mr. Marques' trial.

Mr. Chairman, last week, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the first sitting American Secretary of State ever to address this body. She was the child of Czech exiles who fled to democracy and freedom. I am the child of Korean exiles, and I have once again had the privilege of speaking before you for my country on human rights. And today, both of our homelands -- the Czech Republic and the Republic of Korea -- are free and democratic. In this new millennium, let us remember both how far we have all come in the struggle for human rights and democratic governance, and how far we have yet to go. Let us commit ourselves in this new century to work together before in this Commission so that we, the peoples of the United Nations, may secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Thank you.

[end of document]

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