Advancing Universal Values at the UN Human Rights Council

Posted by John Kerry
March 2, 2015
Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva

Our commitment is driven by the founding values of our nation, and the conviction that international peace, security, and prosperity are strengthened when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and protected.

I had the opportunity to speak at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva today --  at a time that represents an extraordinarily important moment not only for the future of the HRC, but also for human rights around the globe.

We support the HRC because we strongly believe in its mission and its possibilities. We know that at best the Council can be a valuable means for reminding every nation of its commitments and obligations to human rights and for holding countries accountable when they fail to meet international standards.   It provides a means for self-evaluation on the part of individual nations, including through the universal periodic review process.

The HRC can help countries to respond successfully to domestic human rights challenges, as we’ve seen firsthand in Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere. The Council can help countries advance global norms like LGBT rights.

The HRC can also play a critical role in shaping the global response to situations where human rights violations have reached levels that stagger the imagination and shock the conscience.

Sadly, that is the case in far too many countries today.

In parts of the Middle East and Africa, violent extremists have made it clear that not only do they have zero regard for human rights, but they have zero regard for human life. We’ve seen groups like Daesh burn human beings alive, barbarically behead prisoners, sell girls into slavery, and execute widely and indiscriminately.

In Syria, those who escape the horrific attacks of extremist thugs do so only to face a brutal dictator who gasses his own people, starves them as a weapon of war, and continues to barrage them with barrel bombs that fall on their schools, their hospitals, their mosques, their children and women indiscriminately.

In North Korea, tens of thousands of people live as virtual slaves in 2015. There is no freedom of expression, worship, or political dissent.

And then there’s the crisis in Ukraine. In Crimea and in the separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, men, women, and children are being killed, tortured and sexually assaulted. They are detained arbitrarily, abducted for ransom, forced into labor, prosecuted and persecuted because of who they are and where they worship. 

Too many people in too many places are facing unbearable realities.

It is up to the HRC to shed light on those realities and to help to hold those who violate human rights accountable.  Working with governments across the globe, the HRC can help to create a future that is much brighter than the present or the past.

Since re-engaging the HRC in 2009, we have made historic progress and gains -- gains made in partnership with HRC member countries.

Consider the unprecedented resolutions this Council has passed to respond to threats facing civil society, to better protect the human rights of LGBT persons, to promote freedom of religion and freedom of expression, including through HRC Resolution 16/18.

Consider the indispensable role the HRC has played in encouraging leaders to live up to their promises and commitments in countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka, where there are opportunities for real change.

Consider the mountain of evidence we’ve compiled detailing horrific human rights abuses by government forces and terrorists in Syria.

Consider how the Commission of Inquiry created by this council changed the conversation regarding the DPRK’s appalling record on human rights.

And consider the great work of the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, which spotlighted violations there.

Make no mistake, these are all significant accomplishments. The more the international community understands about specific human rights violations, the greater the pressure will be on bad actors to change course.  Although progress may not be seen as rapidly as we might wish that pressure often translates into the kind of change that saves lives and expands freedom.

Together we can continue to make progress and help the Council fulfill its mandate to make the world a better and safer place. But we must address the roadblocks that can hinder our progress. The HRC’s continued bias against Israel risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization.  We will oppose any effort -- wherever it occurs -- by any group or participant in the UN system to arbitrarily and regularly delegitimize or isolate Israel. When it comes to human rights, no country on earth should be free from scrutiny, but neither should any country be subject to unfair or unfounded bias.

When the stakes are as high as they are today and when people in every corner of the globe are denied the rights that they deserve, the HRC must live up to the standards upon which it was created.  Together, we have to be the voice for those who are silenced by their leaders.   

The world desperately needs a Council to be the source of hope for those who fear that their suffering may never end or never even be recognized.  The United States remains deeply committed to the HRC’s important mission, and we certainly intend to remain deeply involved in the HRC, which is why we are running for re-election. The Council needs us, all of its member nations, to dare greatly and to live up to the highest standards. Because, when it does that, all of our nations can live up to the ideals that we share.

About the author: John Kerry serves as the 68th U.S. Secretary of State. Go to and follow @JohnKerry on Twitter for more from the Secretary.

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Juan F.
March 2, 2015
I truly believe we have to find a standard model that can work for third world countries. More education is needed. I m very happy to be able to discuss and watch other realities, so we can stick to our target and keep track of what to improved . However we need more education and guidense of expert people, so we can make that a reality in the short run . Finally it keeps me happy to see Mr Secretary doing this type of very important issues, so we can follow great examples and take ideas of how to improved.
Mary G.
United States
March 3, 2015
Press King Salman to immediately release prisoners of conscience Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair . Why is the US silent on releasing men who speak for moderate Muslim views? Use your voice and speak out.
Edwin P.
California, USA
March 3, 2015
Is there no end to the hypocrisy? You decry beheadings by Daesh, but are silent on beheadings by the Saudi monarchy. You are appalled by Daesh burning people alive, but you ignore burning of humans by the Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias. You praise the activities of the HRC, except when it scrutinizes Israel, which you insist should get a free pass. Finally, you invoke the "founding values of our nation," when your entire foreign policy is premised on the neo-con revival of British imperialism.
Orrin G.
United States
March 5, 2015
Under Bush and Obama we have seen the return of the Ugly American: a foreign policy that is arrogant, condescending, completely insincere, increasing desperate, and so lacking in integrity that the use of military force is generally the only perceived option.
Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
March 5, 2015
Too be honest, I 'am tied of hearing about all of the horrible things people do to each other on the news. It seems like everyday, there is some new, and horrible thing happening in the world today. I would like to wake up and hear, we are resolving our problems without having to resort too, threats of violence ,socialite destruction or delaying socialism in another country.
Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
March 5, 2015
I figure if every leader now in power and new leader who comes into power has to re-up his nation's and government's commitment to abide by the UN charter and the Declaration of Human Rights ( and other treaties and obligations), on an annual basis publicly... before that government may assume a seat in the UNGA or on any council of the UN; then the present dysfunctional nature of human affairs may well be improved upon in large measure as a global tradition in foreign affairs becomes established ...of necessity. EJ 3/5/15


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