September 28, 2021

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Remarks at the United States’ Third Universal Periodic Review

13 min read

Robert A. Destro, Assistant Secretary and U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan IssuesBureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

As Prepared

Good afternoon, Madame President.  I thank the President of this Council; the many states that participated constructively in the Working Group for our UPR; and Germany, the Bahamas, and Pakistan as members of our Troika.

We also thank the Secretariat staff and, in particular, our own civil society organizations whose hard work has made a significant contribution to our review.

Our report represents not just the work of the Department of State, but also the Departments of Interior, Justice, Homeland Security, Labor, Housing & Urban Development, Health & Human Services, Education, Defense, and others.

As you will see throughout our presentation, our system of government frequently prioritizes decision-making at state, tribal, territorial, and local levels.  This distribution of authority reflects the insight of our Founders that public servants who are closest to the populations they serve, best represent their needs, concerns, and interests.  This means that our state, local, tribal, and territorial laws vary, and reflect local needs and priorities.  We welcome that variance as a natural and powerful aspect of our democracy.

We are proud to participate on behalf of the United States today.  Our presence in this process demonstrates our nation’s commitment to human rights.  We appear not only to explain how our domestic policies and practices promote and protect the human rights of our own people, but also to advance the universal human rights that this body is intended to elevate.

Promoting human rights is a U.S. foreign policy priority that furthers our national interests of stability and democracy.  The United States is committed to using its voice and its position on the world stage to draw attention to violations and abuses of human rights, no matter where or when they occur.  We are committed to advancing human rights worldwide, as well as accountability for those who abuse those rights.

We are aware of challenges facing our country and the world at large.  We act to meet these challenges armed with the values and principles contained in the founding documents that have shaped our nation, as well as our commitment to the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the United States, our identity is fundamentally linked to the foundational freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, including especially freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and the freedom to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Americans are committed to the proposition that we are “endowed by our Creator” with certain unalienable rights.  It follows from these principles that the legitimacy of any government rests on the consent of its people, freely given in open and fair elections.  As a result, we do not hesitate to question our government’s actions.  We actively form civil society organizations to advocate for specific causes.  We participate actively and freely in our government, and insist that our local, state, and federal governments answer to the people – and not the other way around.

Our commitment to transparency and a free press, and our insistence on impartial justice, allow the world to witness our struggles and openly engage in our efforts to find solutions.  The United States has a long history of public debates, demonstrations, and activism that led to – and which will continue to foster – landmark improvements in human rights law and policy.

The aspiration to form the “more perfect union” referenced in the Preamble to our Constitution is real.  The United States is firmly committed to finding meaningful remedies that address claims of injustice in our society.  The demonstrations over the tragedy of George Floyd’s death this year have shown the world that Americans understand that they have the inherent right to raise their voices, individually and collectively, to demand that their government address their grievances.

And by adhering to our democratic principles, Americans are pursuing accountability for Mr. Floyd’s death through the criminal and civil justice systems, while also debating and discussing the claims of systemic injustice at the heart of our current discourse.

I would now briefly like to address two topics that arose during our review of recommendations from and engagement with U.S. civil society, which we view as an essential part of this process.

Regarding the issue of privacy:  The United States carefully addresses privacy concerns arising at the federal level in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws, all of which are consistent with applicable international obligations.  We recognize that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information.

We address privacy and digital freedom issues raised by the conduct of non-state actors, such as Google and Facebook, through the U.S. legal and regulatory systems, and via private litigation.  Some states have enacted or are considering their own privacy laws as well.

With regard to freedom of religion or belief for all:  In the United States, freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed by our Constitution’s ban on religious test for public office and the First Amendment and a variety of other federal and state laws.  Read together, all of these provisions demonstrate that the United States is, as a nation, fully committed to advancing this freedom.  We also vigorously enforce federal hate-crimes laws to protect members of religious groups and houses of worship from private threats and violence.  The federal government has protected, and continues to protect, the right of Americans to determine and practice their religion or belief.

I thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this important process.  The United States is proud of its own human rights record and of the role our nation has played in defending and advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.  We support the UPR process as an opportunity to reflect upon and listen to your suggestions on how we can improve our own human rights record.

We ask all member states to be equally open to both the process and to the suggestions we propose to them.  We sincerely hope that the UPR process will encourage a strong reaffirmation of the commitments that governments have made to protect the human rights and freedoms that are our common birthright.

Thank you for your time and attention.  It’s now my honor to turn our attention to a video by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Alexander Maugeri.

More from: Robert A. Destro, Assistant Secretary and U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan IssuesBureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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