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Mar-21-2013 22:27printcomments

Ambassador Donahoe Press Statement After Adoption of HRC Resolution on Sri Lanka

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, at a press stake-out at the United Nations, Geneva.

Ambassador Eileen Donahoe speaking to the press at the UN in Geneva.
Ambassador Eileen Donahoe speaking to the press at the UN in Geneva.

(GENEVA) - I’d like to open with a few general remarks about the current session and then turn to the important resolution on Sri Lanka that just passed.

This session, which draws to a close tomorrow, has been one of the most significant in the Council’s short history. The packed agenda and vast portfolio of country situations and human rights issues that we have dealt with in this session serve as clear evidence of the dramatic improvement in the Council’s functioning and in its ability to serve as the lead entity in the UN for promoting and protecting human rights.

In addition to the formal work of Council members in the chamber behind us, I will note that more than 150 different parallel events sponsored by NGOs, civil society and governments have taken place. These activities signal that human rights defenders and civil society do consider now the Human Rights Council as an essential platform and venue for their work and for ensuring that international attention and focus remains on important human rights issues.

I want to highlight a couple of the other priority issues that we have before us at this Council session.

Obviously, the global community is seized with the crisis in Syria, which has taken a terrible toll on the lives of so many, and is truly one of the most difficult humanitarian and human rights crises of our time. As we were meeting here in Geneva during this session, we learned that UN High Commissioner for Refugees registered the one millionth refugee forced to flee Syria, challenging the humanitarian community, as well as Syria’s neighbors. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are internally displaced. Tens of thousands have been killed, including many, many women and children.

We condemn in the strongest terms the brutal, persistent attacks of the Assad regime against its own people. The United States is committed to working within the international framework to try to bring about an end to this crisis and a change that is necessary in Syria. The actions we take together at the Council are part of this international effort to bring an end to this crisis.

The Commission of Inquiry, charged by this Council with investigating the atrocities and massacres, is amassing a body of evidence that will play a very important part in ensuring accountability and justice for the Syrian people. At this session the United States is cosponsoring an Arab-led resolution on Syria that will extend the mandate of the COI so that it can continue its important work documenting the ongoing gross human rights violations taking place in Syria. The work product of the Commission of Inquiry will help ensure that there is accountability for the massacres and atrocities committed over the past two years. We expect that this resolution will have overwhelming international support.

Also of note, the U.S. is very pleased to be cosponsoring a landmark resolution on North Korea. This year’s resolution on DPRK breaks new ground by establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate grave, widespread, systematic violations of human rights in the DPRK. Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman will serve as part of the COI team. We call upon the DPRK to provide access into North Korea for the COI as well as the other OHCHR special procedure mandate holders. The creation of a COI sends an important message that the global community is paying close attention to the situation in the DPRK, not just on the nuclear front but also especially on the human rights front. We believe the creation of this Commission of Inquiry will help focus the spotlight of sustained international scrutiny on one of world’s darkest and most secretive regimes.

We are also pleased to co-sponsor the African Group’s resolution on Mali, and to see the Council’s determination to work with Malian authorities to end all human rights violations and abuses in the country, and bring all perpetrators to justice.

On Iran, the U.S. is part of the core group sponsoring the resolution addressing the human rights situation in Iran which will this year renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. We are extremely concerned about reports of a growing crackdown on opposition groups, and increasing numbers of incidents against human rights defenders and journalists in the lead-up to Iran’s election in June. We once again call upon Iran to provide access to the country for OHCHR special procedures mandate holders.

Let me come now to the resolution that was just adopted by the Council overwhelmingly on the subject of the human rights situation, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.

The resolution just passed should be seen as both an expression of support by the international community to the people of Sri Lanka, and as an expression of encouragement and concern to the government of Sri Lanka. The international community has sent a message that lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka will require meaningful steps toward truth and accountability.

Today, in effect, the international community came together to call upon the government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its stated obligation to its own people to take concrete steps to move forward to address outstanding issues related to truth and reconciliation, and by meeting its obligation on accountability.

The resolution relied upon the detailed report of the High Commissioner Navi Pillay, which made clear that Sri Lanka must take meaningful action on reconciliation and accountability, including the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism as an integral part of transitional justice. The resolution passed today also addresses the growing concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including reports of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, as well as intimidations and reprisals against human rights defenders.

Over the past year the United States and many others have expressed strong concern over the lack of process on these vital issues as well as backsliding on respect for human rights and the rule of law.

The United States, along with 40 co-sponsors, put forward this resolution in a spirit of friendship toward the people of Sri Lanka, but also out of genuine concern about the lack of follow-through on the promises by the government of Sri Lanka to carry out a credible form of domestic accountability. We are concerned about some worrying signs of back sliding with respect to the rule of law and protection of human rights in the current situation as well.

The United States stands ready to assist Sri Lanka as it makes necessary progress on these longstanding issues of reconciliation and accountability. The Office of the High Commissioner, as well as the Special Procedures, are also standing by ready to assist the government of Sri Lanka with technical assistance and capacity building so that they can move forward toward a sustainable peace and reconciliation, based on truth and accountability.

The resolution, which includes specific follow up actions including an interim update by the High Commissioner in September and a comprehensive report in March 2014 by the Office of the High Commissioner, is a strong signal that the international community intends to remain seized with the situation in Sri Lanka.

And with that I will take your questions.


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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.