September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Statement by Ambassador Kevin E. Moley Head of the U.S. Observer Delegation to the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; March 20, 2002

Statement by Ambassador Kevin E. Moley Head of the U.S. Observer Delegation to the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Item 4: Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Follow-up to the WCAR Geneva, March 20, 2002

As Delivered

Mr. Chairman:

It is an honor for me to address the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as the Head of the U.S. Observer Delegation. All of us here today are particularly aware of the importance of this session -- the first since the terrorist attacks in the United States and the end of despotic rule in Afghanistan.

This meeting marks the last occasion where we will have the participation of High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson. As only the second person to hold this position, Mrs. Robinson has helped define the scope of duties and the role of the High Commissioner. We wish to call particular attention to her efforts to ensure that human rights are "mainstreamed" in all United Nations activities. She will leave behind an organization with an improved ability to promote and protect human rights.

Let me begin my comments on the High Commissioner's report by stressing the continued, unshaken commitment of President Bush to the cause of human rights. As he declared in his State of the Union speech last January, "America will always stand firm for non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance."

My government therefore studied with interest the High Commissioner's paper asserting a human rights-based "unifying strategy" to combat terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by the Al Qaeda network. Unfortunately the paper does not focus on Al Qaeda's aims, essence, and ideology. Indeed, it has more to do with counter-terrorism than with terrorism itself. Nonetheless the report does note UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which is not only an important framework but a fundamental affirmation of the right to self-defense and the coalition's ongoing efforts to defeat and destroy the terrorist threat to international peace and security.

Following the leadership of the Security Council, other United Nations bodies took action in their spheres of responsibility, from civil aviation to the postal system. As these actions demonstrate, our response to terrorism as a practical matter must be multi-faceted. Respect for human rights must be central to our efforts at all levels.

Commentators have characterized the attacks in a wide variety of ways. In the report under discussion today, they have been defined not only as criminal, but also as "crimes against humanity." However characterized, terrorism is best addressed directly by states and in the appropriate UN fora that deal with terrorism. We urge member states to cooperate fully with the anti-terrorist requirements established in UN Security Council resolutions 1368 and 1373, to consider acceding to all 12 of the United Nations conventions on terrorism, and to work cooperatively in the UN Sixth Committee on combating terrorism.

The High Commissioner's paper has also addressed the obligation of governments to ensure that in combating terrorism their actions are consistent with human rights obligations. While true, it is important to recall that the treatment of prisoners in times of conflict is governed by international humanitarian law. The construction and interpretation of humanitarian law has generally been the responsibility of states, taking into account the contributions of the International Committee of the Red Cross. While the Commission has indeed made reference to humanitarian law in some of its past resolutions, the direct application of humanitarian law is primarily the responsibility of states.

In her paper, the High Commissioner asserts that the Durban outcome provides an antidote for terrorism. We do not share that view. The High Commissioner also urges nations to address "human security" as part of a global strategy to defeat terrorism. We believe it is essential here to draw a clear distinction between terrorists and the environment in which they can flourish, and that we must be careful not to allow the ills of the world to be used to justify terrorism or support for terrorist organizations. Attacking these ills on all fronts is necessary, and the promotion of tolerance, including religious and ideological tolerance, is a moral imperative. But let us be under no illusion that our necessary commitment to human rights will be a compelling argument with the terrorists themselves. For the fact is that societies that promote tolerance, pluralism, and individual freedoms are precisely those that the terrorists most revile and whose openness they seek to exploit.

Finally, let me note my delegation's profound hope that at this moment of maximum peril in the Middle East this Commission will do nothing to inflame tensions but rather promote balanced resolutions that support the urgent efforts of President Bush's Special Representative to bring the violence to a halt.

Mr. Chairman, as we have done at every session of the CHR since 1948, my country and delegation look forward to this meeting as an opportunity for the international community to reinforce personal freedoms and human rights everywhere. This is a task that demands our urgent and undivided attention. I look forward to close cooperation with CHR members and observers at this session in a shared effort to make this meeting a success. Our collective stake in the universal application of human rights and democratic freedoms has never been greater.

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