Statement by Walid Maalouf
Alternate Representative of the US to the 58th GA of the UN
U.N. General Assembly, Third Committee
New York, NY
Monday, November 10, 2003
Statement by Mr. Walid Maalouf, U.S. Special Advisor, on Agenda Item 117(c): Human Rights Situations, Before the Fifty-Eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly, in the Third Committee, November 10, 2003
I am a Lebanese American who has been in the United States for 24 years. I am honored today to speak on behalf of my country, the United States of America, on this compassionate subject of human rights.
The promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms is in the national interest of every member of the international community. Democratic States that protect human rights are those best able to secure peace, promote economic development, combat international terrorism and crime, avoid humanitarian crises, and improve the global environment.
Only democratic nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity. Closed political systems, poverty, weak institutions and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks, political instability, and organized crime. Democracy and economic openness are the best foundations for domestic stability and international order.
As President Bush has stated, the United States stands for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the right to influence government policy through democratic processes, the rule of law, limits on the absolute power of the state, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, equal justice, respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance and respect for private property. Countries that have incorporated these core principles into their own systems of governance have flourished as a result.
The United States hopes that governments will implement fully their international human rights obligations. We promote the rule of law and government accountability. While respecting other nation's traditions and values, we will advance the principles of respect for democracy and human rights to which all people universally aspire.
The United States is committed to supporting democracy around the globe and assisting the newly formed democracies in implementing democratic principles. Democracy promotes individual rights and freedoms and is a means for everyone to benefit from being a part of a globalized world.
Democratically governed nations are more likely to secure peace and deter aggression. They create and expand open markets, promote economic development, and combat international terrorism and crime. They rule responsibly, uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms, and improve human health. The promotion of democracy is an essential component of any effort to combat terrorism and promote global stability, prosperity and security.
Human rights training and support has strengthened civil society networks in Chile, Peru, and Argentina, leading to a healthy dialogue on past abuses and a new willingness to seek national reconciliation.
Great strides have been made this year in the Middle East. We applaud the commitment Bahrain has demonstrated to peacefully implement their "National Action Charter " - an ambitious liberalization program that is enabling their citizens to add their voices to public discourse and is creating the stable, open conditions that attract economic investors. In Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Morocco, municipal and parliamentary elections have resulted in the elevation of women candidates to the Cabinet and city councils. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI introduced historic legislation to reform family law, revolutionizing the rights of women and children in marriage, divorce and property rights, and underscoring that there is no clash between the values of Islam and the aspirations of women. We remain concerned about Syria's human rights record, and there continue to be numerous abuses of human rights. As the President said on November 6, 2003 before the National Endowment for Democracy: "Dictators in Iraq and Syria, promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories, they've left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin."
The failure of Belarus' authorities to implement democratic reforms brought about its self-isolation from Europe and the international community. Citizens are routinely denied basic civil and political rights, including access to justice. The lack of democracy and accountability has hindered key economic reforms, incurring widespread poverty, corruption and unemployment. This, in turn, has made lucrative arms sales to countries of concern attractive to the government, thereby supplying weapons to terrorist groups and other enemies in the Global War on Terrorism.
The Cuban dictatorship carried out its most egregious act of political repression in decades when it arrested more than 100 political activists, journalists, librarians, writers, poets, labor activists, and economists during March and April 2003. They were subjected to closed, summary trials, in most cases lasting no more than a few hours and sentenced to an average of 20 years in prison. The "crimes" of these individuals were to publish newspapers, organize petition drives, and meet to discuss the future of their country.
The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Reports paint a shocking, often horrifying, picture of brutality, oppression, injustice and deprivation. There is no tolerance for criticism of the State or its leader. Accordingly there is no freedom of expression or assembly. Individual rights and freedoms are trampled as the regime uses repression and a pervasive surveillance network to intimidate and control the population that is almost unparalleled. An extensive prison camp system under which people live in horrible conditions stands ready to receive those who fall outside accepted behavior. Politically favored groups and the military are given discriminatory access to food when food is short in large part due to a closed system of governance. The resulting situation in the country poses a threat to regional stability.
In Burma, the military junta continues to ignore the desire of the Burmese people and the international community for a return to democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi and all those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs should be released immediately and unconditionally. The offices of the National League for Democracy should be reopened. The government must end its brutal campaigns of abuse against civilians in ethnic regions including rape, extra judicial execution, forced labor, conscription of child soldiers contrary to international law and forced dislocation.
In Iran, the overall deterioration of the human rights situation this year - through a broad crackdown on public debate and dissent - is of grave concern. The clerical regime stifles open debate through such tactics as intimidation, violence and imprisonment of opposition activists. In addition, the Council of Guardians' power to vet candidates inhibits the Iranian people's ability to assert its democratic will.
Rule of Law
A strong rule of law tradition is necessary to build stable, secure political and economic environments that benefit all countries and to protect citizens from unjust or capricious actions by government for their exercise of personal freedoms. Without it, states lack the legal framework necessary for a vibrant civil society, sustainable economic development, adequate checks on executive and legislative power, and the legal foundations for free and fair electoral and political processes.
Serious deficiencies in the rule of law create an atmosphere conducive to drug and human trafficking, criminal violence, abuse of power, and human rights abuses. Corruption undermines the legitimacy of government, alienates citizens from their leaders, deters investors and threatens stability.
Yet, respect for the rule of law continues to take root on many continents. In the Balkans, encouraging progress in the conduct of elections, including the May presidential election in Montenegro, and beginning the upcoming transfer of responsibility for elections from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo to local officials show that democratic processes and respect for the rule of law have taken root in the region.
In Kenya the road to democracy has been long and sometimes turbulent. In 2002, President Kibaki was elected in historic elections that were widely considered free and fair, with few incidents of violence or electoral irregularities. With President Kibaki's efforts to reform the government and fight corruption and poverty, the Kenyan people have experienced a renewed sense of optimism about the future of their country.
Although Turkmenistan presides over the tenth largest natural gas reserves in the world, its failure to enact key political and economic reforms prevents Turkmens from enjoying the benefits of their natural endowments. While President Niyazov uses the country's resources for personal consumption and grandiose monuments, 34 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Turkmenistan's inhospitable political, economic and legal environment and unwillingness to reform have driven away foreign investors and development banks. Its laws restricting civil society developments and religious freedom are not in keeping with international agreements and standards.
The formerly warring parties that comprise the transitional government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) face the significant challenge of extending control over, and stability into, the eastern parts of their country. Although there has been an improvement in the security situation, ethnic violence continues. This violence has caused 50,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced persons, and has put another 2.5 million civilians at risk. A recent UNICEF report suggests that sexual violence against women and girls is rampant and used as a weapon of war by most forces involved in the conflict. Also according to the report, tens of thousands of young child soldiers including both boys and girls are recruited and used by all parties to the conflict.
The situation in Zimbabwe grows more desperate with each passing day. In recent weeks the government arrested over 200 peaceful demonstrators calling for a new constitution and economic reforms, and shuttered the country's only independent daily newspaper. The government's disregard for the rule of law and human rights is a direct attack against members of its own population and has led to the gross mismanagement of Zimbabwe's once-dynamic economy. Opposition leaders and journalists are subject to unlawful detentions, confiscation of property, beatings and other harassment.
Religious freedom is a right long championed by the United States and cherished by the American people. It is the policy of the United States Government to promote religious freedom worldwide and to encourage other nations to adhere to the international standards articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Allowing persons to practice their faith peacefully and free from government or societal repression or discrimination helps to promote stability to cultivate democracy and to support sustainable development. Restricting these fundamental rights undermines stability and creates cycles of violence that undermine national development.
We remain deeply concerned at the Government of Iran's continued discrimination and harassment of religious minorities, in particular against Baha'is, Christians, Jews and Sunni Muslims. These conditions undermine efforts to build trust between faith communities in the region and constitute a bad example for reconstruction and reconciliation in Iraq. We support the aspirations of the Iranian people to live in freedom, and we hope the voice of the Iranian people and their call for democracy and the rule of law will be heard and will transform Iran into a force for stability in the region.
The devastating civil war in Sudan and the practices of the government in Khartoum have long crippled the development of Sudan's human and material resources. However, leaders of the North and South now stand at a historic moment. They are poised not only to make peace and bring to close a terrible war, but they also stand at a window of opportunity to embrace democracy, human rights, and religious freedom. I call upon these leaders to demonstrate their courage to genuinely embrace these principles, and I call upon the international community to ensure that this new day in Sudan is built upon the foundation of human dignity.
The United States commends those countries that have decided to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. They are the countries best able to unleash the potential of their people and to assure their future prosperity. We call on all governments to make the advancement of political and economic freedoms a top priority. It is worthy work for the UN and its Members States, as reflected in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Charter, to advance those natural rights of men and women. President George W. Bush said last week before the National Endowment for Democracy: "We believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind."
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.