Ambassador Betty King|
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council
Remarks to the Third Committee of UN General Assembly
United Nations, New York City, November 1, 2000
Human Rights and Country Situations
For more than 50 years, the Third Committee has reported to the United Nations General Assembly on the state of human rights throughout the world. In doing so again this year, each nation honors the commitments it has undertaken under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the international human rights treaties and Conventions it has signed and ratified.
This is a process that concerns more than just the people gathered in this chamber and the governments that we report to. Human rights are universal. We are here to measure the progress that we nations have made in promoting and protecting human rights and report our findings to the people of the world. This is an obligation my country takes very seriously. We cannot look back on the early days of this institution without being impressed at how much the world has changed since then, and how the governments that have embraced human rights have brought improvements to their people's daily lives.
The first great triumph of the UN era was the collapse of colonialism. Dozens of new nations from Africa to Asia and the Caribbean were born, offering new hope to many millions. At the same time, new human rights instruments were being developed, to which nations pledged their adherence. Nurturing this process was an NGO movement that in turn has been nurtured by it, to such an extent that non-governmental groups are among the most active and dynamic participants in the promotion of human rights in all but the most repressive countries.
With the fall of Warsaw Pact, the people of the Baltic region and central and eastern Europe gained the freedom they had long been denied and a chance to choose their governments. This left only those parts of the Balkans which were dominated by the Milosevic regime on the wrong side of history and human rights.
The greatest victory for human rights in the region, of course, has been the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. The United States is very pleased that the Serbian people at last prevailed and the Kostunica government has signaled its intention to start down the long road toward consolidation of democracy. Indeed, the fall of Milosevic can only benefit the entire region. As Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said on October 26, 2000, about the upcoming Bosnian elections, "I hope the people of Bosnia will understand what a historic opportunity it is for them."
Many million of lives were shattered by ethnic hatred in the former Yugoslavia. But over time, hatred ran its course and left a legacy of desolation that everyone could see. And so a new era -- and a new appreciation of human rights -- has begun at last. It will not be easy. Only time can heal those wounds. But there is great resiliency in the people of the region, and with our support they can start to build new lives and institutions.
We congratulate the new government that came to power in Croatia last winter, for it has made significant progress in meeting international human rights standards. Although the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been buffeted by many hostile forces, it has demonstrated considerable political maturity in avoiding the conflict that wrought such damage to its neighbors. Although the most recent elections witnessed some violence, we are pleased that the government has pledged to address the concerns raised by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And while in Kosovo, we regret that the Serb minority did not wish to participate in the elections this weekend; the choice was theirs, and the elections were generally free and fair.
So 55 years after World War II, Europe is almost completely whole and free and democratic. Only one European country remains hostile to this trend, and that is Belarus, where the Lukashenko dictatorship has consistently tried to suppress dissent, throttle the free press, and destroy civil society. The so-called parliamentary elections which took place on October 15, 2000 were neither free, fair, nor transparent. According to the reports of over 5,500 independent domestic observers, large segments of the Belarusian citizenry rejected this electoral farce by heeding the opposition's call not to vote. The effectiveness of the opposition boycott meant that the real turnout -- about 41% -- forced the authorities to falsify the turnout figures and announce a 60% plus turnout. The irresistible winds of history are clearly blowing strongly against a regime that engages in such practices.
Russia today is a democratic country, a monument to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the overthrow of Soviet communism. The brutal violation of individual rights which marked that regime are history. However, the conflict in Chechnya appears no closer to an end than it was a year ago, and reports indicate that violations of human rights continue daily. Each day brings new reports of violence, cruel and inhumane treatment and an agonizing loss of life among combatants and noncombatants alike. This is a fight that cannot be ended militarily. With the help of the international community, a political settlement must be found that can promote reconciliation and restore regional stability.
The United States and the international community have consistently called on Russia to uphold its international commitments. The government has taken some steps, such as allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisons and other detention facilities as well as the appointment of Mr. Kalamanov as President Putin's Special Representative for Human Rights in Chechnya. The continuing reports of human rights violations, however, and the lack of prosecution of those responsible for those violations, indicate that the Russian Government has not complied with the resolution adopted this spring by the UN Commission on Human Rights. This only fosters a culture of impunity and encourages further abuse. The United States calls on both sides, therefore, to act now and find a political solution that will end these gross human rights abuses and bring peace once more to this troubled region.
Mr. Chairman, the United States continues to be concerned about the lack of freedom and political pluralism in Central Asia. The elections in Uzbekistan last year were neither free nor fair, while the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan a year ago fell well short of international standards. At the same time, the bright promise of Krygyzstan seems to have dimmed in recent years. Sunday's presidential election was marred by serious flaws and numerous irregularities, and the harsh treatment of opposition politicians, the independent media and domestic civil society NGOs has seriously damaged the country's reputation. At the same time, Turkmenistan has made little effort to abide by its human rights commitments. As for Azerbaijan, we believe the elections 5 days from now will demonstrate the nature of their commitment to democracy.
Under the Taliban, Afghanistan has become the world's largest supplier of heroin and the home base of Osama Bin Laden and his followers. The Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan has urged investigation of reports of torture and summary executions of Taliban prisoners and the repeal of edicts inconsistent with Afghanistan's obligations under international instruments to which it is a party, particularly restrictions on women's rights. The Taliban's deplorable treatment of women remains unchanged. We feel deep sympathy with the people's long suffering, but denying women the right to work and keeping girls from school will only make it much harder to address the country's poverty and lack of development.
Not surprisingly, Iraq has sought to take advantage of the unfortunate tensions in the Middle East to raise the specter of a wider war. But however much it threatens its neighbors, its real war is with the Iraqi people -- those the regime has starved, and brutalized, and murdered for many, many years. Indeed, such is the magnitude of the crimes against the Iraqi people that a special war crimes tribunal for Saddam Hussein is clearly merited. We call on all nations that believe in human rights to support us in this effort to bring Saddam Hussein to justice.
Burma's human rights record remains among the worst of any nation. Over a decade after the people of the country voted for democratic government, the military remains in charge. Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi continues to be harassed, as do the followers of her party, and those who seek some meager measure of their universal human rights are often met by torture, rape, or death. Meanwhile, the regime's tolerance of children who are exploited as soldiers, laborers, and sex workers shows an appalling lack of human decency.
China continues to suppress political dissent. The silencing of the members of the China Democracy Party since 1998 is a clear violation of universal rights of association, expression, and assembly. For the past 15 months, the Chinese authorities have cracked down on the members of the Falun Gong spiritual group. Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained, at least briefly, following encounters with police. Some have been beaten or sent to prison, re-education through labor camps and mental institutions. Repression of manifestation of religious belief of many Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslems, and Christians who participate in activities not registered by the government also persist. At the same time, we call upon China to treat its workers with respect and dignity and to provide them with a higher quality of life befitting their contribution to China's economic development. And we call for the closing of forced labor camps.
The summit meeting between President Kim Dae-Jung and Chairman Kim Jong II last June has inspired hope that the conflict that has loomed over the Korean Peninsula for half a century may soon be ending. Nevertheless, we and our allies are mindful of the dreadful violations of human rights that continue to this day in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Secretary Albright made known directly to the top leaders of the DPRK our concerns in this regard during her October 23-25 visit to Pyongyang.
Indonesia remains a troubled archipelago. While the new government struggles to establish control over the military, deal with huge numbers of refugees and internationally displaced, numerous separatist movements have erupted. Under such conditions, serious human rights violations too often go unnoticed, unchallenged, and unpunished.
The United States is pleased that the people of the Cote d'Ivoire defended democracy and forced the departure of General Guei after he tried to steal the presidential elections just last week. We join others in the international community in hoping that calm can once again prevail and that the political arrangements that have emerged in recent days will reflect the Ivoirian people's desire for a broad-based and democratic government. To that effect, we look forward to December's parliamentary elections and beyond.
The people of Sierra Leone have lived with horror for far too long. We welcome signs that a measure of stability has returned to the country. The cruelty of the civil war, and particularly the barbaric acts perpetrated by members of the Revolutionary United Front upon non-combatants of every age, cannot go unpunished. Such crimes against humanity must be addressed by an impartial tribunal.
For years, the Government of Sudan has encouraged -- or turned a blind eye to -- the slave-raiders who do its bidding. For years, the government has bombed villages and churches and prevented food from reaching regions it does not favor. At the same time, it takes considerable pains to suppress dissent, and it has shown no reluctance to detain, torture, and beat its enemies, several of whom died from such mistreatments. Adding to the list of Sudan's massive human rights abuse is the government's blatant repression of religious freedom.
Within the Western Hemisphere, Cuba's human rights violations stand out. As every credible human rights organization agrees, the situation there is very poor. Freedom of speech, association, assembly, and movement are extremely limited. Cubans have little hope of privacy or a fair trial and none of changing their government or bargaining collectively. While there was some opening up to churches and dissidents around the time of the Pope's visit in 1998, reports suggest that the government has begun to reverse the process.
Despite our well-known opposition to Cuba's totalitarian government, since January 1999 the United States has sent the Cuban people more than $1 billion in donations, licensed sales, and remittances. Contrary to popular perception, we have always permitted medical sales to Cuba, and just recently agricultural sales have been allowed.
Colombia, on the other hand, has made a clear commitment to improve its human rights problems, many of which stem from paramilitary and guerilla units operating in the areas with weak government presence. I am sure that there are some in this room who believe that such a change is far from likely, and so, by their unwillingness to help, contribute unintentionally to the perpetuation of the problem. It is no secret that my Government has tried another tack. By working with the Pastrana government, strengthening administration of justice and human rights mechanisms, and training military and police counter-narcotics units in accordance with the strict human rights provisions of our Colombia Supplemental legislation, we hope to help Colombia turn the corner on its many problems. It won't be easy, and it won't be quick.
No speech of 20 minutes can do full justice to the complexities of any country, Mr. Chairman, let alone the 194 that our Annual Country Report covers in much greater detail. So I would invite you all to visit our website, for there you can find not just what we say about other countries but what we say about ourselves as well -- in reports such as the one we submitted last month to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. [Report].
In closing, I would like to stress the importance that the United States puts on the frank discussion of country situations. That it makes some countries uncomfortable is not surprising. The solution is not suppressing discussion but improving the human rights conditions within mentioned countries.
Reports released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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