Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Address to the UN Human Rights Commission
Palais des Nations
Geneva, Switzerland, March 23, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Madam High Commissioner, excellencies and colleagues, it is not often that someone on the way from India to Pakistan stops off in Geneva. But I wanted very much to be here today personally to affirm America's commitment to international standards of human rights and to the work of this Commission.
This body was forged in the aftermath of global war and Holocaust. Its founders were determined to build a better future in which the world would not simply stand by and watch while countries were invaded and entire peoples annihilated.
They sought to make real the principles enshrined in the UN Charter.
They began by drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
And they created this Commission as a practical instrument for investigating and calling attention to violations of human rights, and as a forum for international discussion, consensus-building, and action.
It is our responsibility to carry forward their vision and do all we can to fulfill the high purpose of the Commission's founders. In that spirit, the United States looks forward to working with each delegation, for when it comes to the protection of human rights, every nation counts and there is always more to do.
Two main themes are at the heart of my presentation today. First, for all its imperfections, democracy is the single surest path to the preservation and promotion of human rights.
Second, no nation should feel threatened by this Commission's work, for our task is to support the right of people everywhere to control their own destinies. Moreover, the standards we apply are not narrow, but rather universal. They embody norms voluntarily affirmed by governments almost everywhere. This Commission asks only that its members play by global rules.
Mr. Chairman, the world today is freer now than ever. For the first time in history, a majority of people live under elected governments. This provides no guarantee of prosperity or progress. But it makes both more likely.
People who are free to exchange ideas, publish their thoughts, organize their labor and invest their capital will contribute far more to their societies than people stunted and held back by repression. As Aung San Suu Kyi has written, "it is difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth."
Last year, this Commission took a major step forward when it approved a landmark resolution affirming, without dissent, the universal right to democracy. This reflects the power of the democratic tide that has been sweeping the world for the past quarter century.
During that time, the number of democratically elected governments has increased from 30 to 120. More than two billion people, on five continents, have moved towards more open economic and political systems.
Still, our mission is far from complete. While the forms of democracy are more widely accepted than ever, the true substance of democracy remains too often absent.
For this reason, 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. As this Resolution makes clear, democracy requires far more than elections; and when we speak about the right to democracy, we include all the privileges and responsibilities that democracy entails.
In Warsaw in June, there will be a major gathering of nations committed to democracy. By seeking to ensure that the democratic tide remains a rising tide, this Community of Democracies Initiative will reinforce the cause of human rights around the world.
I congratulate the government of Poland for sponsoring this event, and look forward to joining counterparts from many countries including the other co-sponsors -- Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Mali, and the Republic of Korea -- in Warsaw.
Mr. Chairman, one lesson of the past decade and indeed the last century is that those who violate the rights of their own citizens are frequently the cause of instability that crosses national lines.
Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic initiated four wars during the 1990s, including a devastating campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo which killed thousands and drove almost a million people from their homes.
For these policies, Milosevic was indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal. Now he is using the repressive powers of the state to intimidate independent media and political opposition at home.
Milosevic richly merits condemnation by this Commission. And the Serb people deserve better leadership. We look forward to working with them to create a stable, democratic, and prosperous Serbia.
This body will also vote on whether to consider a Resolution expressing concern about widespread denials of political, cultural, labor and religious freedom in China. The United States strongly believes that favorable action on this Resolution is needed.
In recent years, China has made great progress in expanding social choices, building a new economy and lifting millions of people out of poverty. But its human rights record does not match the obligations it has accepted.
China is one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is bound by the UN Charter and recently reaffirmed its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Unfortunately, its official policies have always fallen well short of these standards, and deteriorated markedly this past year.
During that period, there were widespread arrests of those seeking to exercise their right to peaceful political expression. Thousands of members of the Falun Gong movement were detained. Authorities continued to limit the ability of Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists to worship in accordance with custom and conscience. Minority groups such as the Tibetans and Uighurs were barred from fully exercising their cultural and linguistic heritage.
In light of such a record, Mr. Chairman, it is both necessary and appropriate that this Commission express its concern and call for improvements.
We owe it to the Chinese people and to the credibility of this Commission and its members not to shy away from the whole truth, or to hide behind procedural motions. I hope very much that all of you will be willing to work with us and give us your support for the resolution on China that we will offer.
I urge the Commission's backing, as well, for the resolution that the Czech Republic and Poland will present regarding the ongoing failure of the Cuban government to respect the fundamental rights of its people.
The overwhelming majority of delegates in this hall represent governments that change as citizens express their will and whose constitutions require that one leader give way to the next. In Cuba -- alone in the Americas and increasingly alone in the world -- the rules of freedom and law have long been suspended.
The Castro regime continues to suppress dissent, deny free speech, outlaw free assembly, and harass human rights advocates and others who seek independence of action and thought. It continues to jail courageous individuals such as Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne, Rene Gomez and Oscar Biscet for the invented crime of calling for peaceful democratic change.
Here again, the Commission should act with the interests of the people affected in mind. Under President Clinton, the United States has sought more and more contact with the Cuban people. We have become the single largest contributor of humanitarian aid. We want to help the Cubans prepare for the day their universal rights are finally respected.
And today, I urge this Commission to speak forthrightly on their behalf, because they remain unable to speak freely for themselves.
Another area that commands our attention is Chechnya. We understand Russia's need to protect its territorial integrity and to defend its population against terrorism and attacks from insurgent groups. But the United States joins with many others in objecting to the indiscriminate use of force against civilians.
We have received persistent and credible reports of human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya, including extra-judicial killings. There are also reports that Chechen separatists have committed abuses, including the killing of civilians and prisoners. We cannot ignore the fact that thousands of Chechen civilians have died and more than 200,000 have been driven from their homes.
We are encouraged by the Russian Government's decision to name a human rights ombudsman, accept international experts on his investigative team, and invite High Commissioner Robinson to visit Chechnya.
But the allegations of Russian violations are serious and must be addressed urgently. I therefore urge the Russian government, once again, to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation of all credible charges; provide the ICRC with unhindered access throughout Chechnya, including to all detainees; and provide for the reestablishment of the OSCE Assistance Group in the region.
We must also express our concern about ongoing violations elsewhere. This Commission was established to provide a voice for those denied by their own governments the right to speak.
So it is essential that we speak out against the array of abuses being committed by the government of Sudan -- including the international crime of slavery -- even as we recognize the violations perpetrated by the rebels.
We must also reiterate our support for a democratic dialogue in Burma and condemn the authorities there for their relentless repression of fundamental rights.
We must make clear again our opposition to the denial of basic freedoms and the brutal suppression of dissent by Iraq's government against its people.
And we should express our ongoing concern about religious discrimination in Iran against the Baha'i, and about the need for due process in the pending trial of 13 Iranian Jews.
Before closing, I have two additional points.
First, in our deliberations, we should pay particular attention to defending those least able to protect themselves -- our children. In recent weeks, here in Geneva, we have negotiated historic protocols addressing two issues that have shocked the conscience of humanity -- child soldiers, and the exploitation of children through prostitution and pornography.
One of the Commission's vital tasks is to endorse these two protocols and send them forward for adoption by ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly.
Second, I want to emphasize the importance my country attaches to next year's World Conference on Racism and the work that the High Commissioner and national delegations have already done on it. This is a matter of deep concern to all, and we are looking forward to participating fully in preparations for that event.
Mr. Chairman, the work of this Commission, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, draws upon the moral and legal traditions of every great culture on earth. It speaks to the best within us all. And it matters to people everywhere.
Accordingly, my government appeals to all governments to support the work and promote the purposes of this Commission.
Let us work together, as the UN Charter suggests, with "faith in fundamental human rights, in the worth of every human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small."
Let us respect the dignity of our citizens and all others who come within our power.
And let us not rest until we have established a foundation of humanity, democracy and law that will secure for our children in the new century the peace and justice so often lacking in the old.
Thank you all very much.
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Link to the U.S. Government Delegation to the 56th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.