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U.S. Statement for Civil and Political Rights

U.S. Statement for Civil and Political Rights

Mark P. Lagon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization
Affairs
Remarks to the 61st Commission on Human Rights, UN Geneva
Geneva, Switzerland
March 31, 2005

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

To advance civil and political rights as the very heart of the Commission's work, the United States is tabling or co-tabling resolutions before this body on, " Promoting the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association" and on "Democracy and the Rule of Law." We urge all members of the Commission to join us and our fellow democracies in voting in favor of these resolutions. Let me focus on these two crucial pillars of the advancement of civil and political liberties.

First, regarding the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association -- these rights enshrined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The importance of these values is demonstrated by the thousands of Lebanese who are rising up to demand their sovereignty and democratic rights and the thousands of Ukrainians who demanded that the Government respect freedom and human rights.

A free society respects the rights of individuals to assemble peacefully and to associate freely -- for political advocacy, a free and independent press, literary expression, trade union activities, religious belief and practice, and for individuals who may espouse minority or dissident religious or political beliefs.

A free society supports legal protection for individuals exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Only in such a system, can people fully flourish as free human beings, exercising their rights. Both freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association foster the growth of democracy.

Second, more broadly, democracy is the best guarantor of the inalienable human rights the Commission exists to protect and extend.

This is why last year at the Commission, the U.S. co-tabled with Romania, Peru, and Timor Leste a resolution empowering the High Commissioner to coordinate U.N. programs to promote rule of law and democracy on the ground in transitioning nations. The United States gave a sizable contribution last year to fund the Office's "focal point" on democracy established by this resolution.

Credible elections meeting international standards are a crucial element of democracy. But democracy encompasses so much more then elections. The independence of the judiciary and the accountability of members of the legislature and the executive are essential to a vibrant democracy.

People in the society must be aware of the opportunity to resort to the legal system when their rights are infringed or deprived. The principles of equal protection under the law and before the courts must be respected within the legal system of each country. Democracy affords access to the judicial system by members of disadvantaged groups, and due process of law.

Mr. Chairman, we are encouraged by the developments in several countries around the world where free elections took place for the first time, where positive constitutional changes were enacted and where democratic institutions were strengthened.

As President Bush recently reminded us, "Today, the Iraqi people are taking charge of their own destiny. In January, over eight million Iraqis defied the car bombers and assassins to vote in free elections.... Iraq's Transitional National Assembly convened for the first time. These elected leaders broadly represent Iraq's people and include more than 85 women. They will now draft a new constitution for a free and democratic Iraq.... Today, Iraqis can take pride in building a government that answers to its people and honors their country's unique heritage."

In December 2004, municipal elections were held in the West Bank for the first time since 1976. International observers deemed the elections for president of the Palestinian Authority to be generally free and fair. In November and December 2004, tens of thousands of Ukrainians peacefully protested fraud in the first and second rounds of the country's presidential elections. The well-organized, non-violent nature of the protest emboldened Ukrainians to demand self-determination. We salute the Ukrainian people, their bravery, their determination to live in freedom.

In Afghanistan in October 2004, 18 candidates for the presidency contended for the vote of 10 million citizens who had registered to vote, more than 40 percent of whom were women. Afghans chose their own leader for the first time. Indonesia, now the world's third largest democracy and home to the world's largest Muslim population, held a series of free and fair national elections in 2004, including their first-ever direct Presidential election. The people of these countries demonstrate that the struggle for human rights is intrinsically linked to the quest for democracy.

As were the successes registered in these past elections, the world will judge coming polls in Togo and Zimbabwe by internationally accepted criteria.

Mr. Chairman, freedom is on the march around the world. This commission should live up to its original vision and its potential, and redeem its record by helping to advance that march, not stand in its way. The President of the United States has spoken of the bigotry of low expectations. To suggest that some cultures do not long for civil and political liberties, and for democracy as their best guarantor, or are not ready for them, is a form of that bigotry. Let us take practical steps on free assembly and democratic institutions to advance the values which all of human kind desires and deserves.

ENDS

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