Thank you so much, Kay. And thank you to the
Heritage Foundation. Itís
great to be back, and I thank you so much for the work that happens in
Iíve spent my entire public life using the power of my voice to push for
action -- and trying to help others do the same. I learned early on that
I was not good at sitting back and staying quiet. If something needs to
be said and done to improve the lives of people, we have to take a
stand. And thatís what Iíve spent my life doing.
For the past 18 months at the United Nations, Iíve been inspired to use
the power of my voice by one of my predecessors.
Jeane Kirkpatrick once
said that (quote), ďspeech is action, and important actionĒ
(unquote). She didnít seek
out confrontation with her fellow delegates at the UN, but she didnít
hesitate to speak her mind and stick to her guns when American values
and interests were at stake. Many times that meant that Ambassador
Kirkpatrick found herself nearly alone -- sometimes, completely alone --
in the positions that she would take for the United States.
After 18 months in this job, I can tell you I feel her pain.
United Nations was founded for a noble purpose
-- to promote peace
and security based on justice, equal rights, and the self-determination
of people. But it has many member nations whose leaders completely
reject that purpose. When that happens, many well-meaning countries
adopt a position of neutrality in the hope of coming to an agreement
with these nations.
They effectively allow dictatorships and authoritarian regimes to
control the agenda.
Resolutions get watered down until they are meaningless -- or they become
objectively anti-democratic. Moral clarity becomes a casualty of the
need to placate tyrants, all in the name of building consensus.
In such a situation it is imperative for the United States to use the
power of our voice to defend our values. Thatís as true today as it was
Cold War -- maybe even more so.
We are a special nation with a special message for the world. We are a
country founded on human dignity; on the revolutionary idea that all men
are created equal with rights including, but not limited to, life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you take this truth seriously
-- as Ambassador Kirkpatrick did, as I do -- it is non-negotiable. You
donít sell out to appease those who deny it. And itís not a political
chit to be traded for something of greater value.
If you take it seriously, you use your voice. You fight for it, even if
that means you fight alone.
The United States was instrumental in creating the United Nations Human
Rights Commission precisely because we believe in the inherent dignity
of all women and men. It was meant to be, in the words of its first
chairman, Eleanor Roosevelt, ďa place of conscience.Ē When it has served
this function, the
Human Rights Council, as it is now known, has
provided a voice for the voiceless. It has brought the injustice
suffered by political prisoners to international attention. It has put a
spotlight on crimes committed by Syriaís Assad and the Kim dictatorship
in North Korea.
But these have been the exceptions, not the rule.
More often, the Human Rights Council has provided cover, not
condemnation, for the worldís most inhumane regimes. It has been a bully
pulpit for human rights violators. And the Human Rights Council has
been, not a place of conscience, but a place of politics. It has focused
its attention unfairly and relentlessly on Israel. Meanwhile, it has
ignored the misery inflicted by regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe,
Judged by how far it has fallen short of its promise, the Human Rights
Council is the United Nationsí greatest failure. It has taken the idea
of human dignity -- the idea that is at the center of our national creed
and the birthright of every human being -- and it has reduced it to just
another instrument of international politics. And that is a great
tragedy. I donít come to this conclusion happily, or lightly.
The Obama Administration decided to join the supposedly ďreformedĒ Human
Rights Council in 2009. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed
that the United States could improve the Council by working from the
By the time I became the U.S. Ambassador eight years later, it was clear
that this strategy had failed. There are lots of problems with the Human
Rights Council, but two stuck out for me when I came to the UN.
The first was the Councilís membership. When I arrived, and still today,
its members included some of the worst human rights violators. The
dictatorships of Cuba, China and Venezuela all have seats on the
Council. Not only was Venezuela a member, but in 2015 the Council
invited its dictator, Nicholas Maduro, to speak to a special assembly.
He got a standing ovation, which was not surprising given that 62
percent of the Human Rights Councilís members were not democracies.
The other major sign that the United Statesí presence had failed to
improve the Council was the continuing existence of the notorious Agenda
This is the permanent part of the Human Rights Council agenda that is
devoted exclusively to Israel. No other country -- not Iran, not Syria,
not North Korea -- has an agenda item devoted solely to it. Agenda Item
Seven is not directed at anything Israel does. It is directed at the
very existence of Israel.
It is a blazing red siren signaling the Human Rights Councilís political
corruption and moral bankruptcy.
For these reasons and others, there were voices in Congress and
elsewhere encouraging the Trump Administration to withdraw from the
Human Rights Council immediately when we took office. We could have
easily done that. But instead, we made a good-faith effort to see if we
could fix the Councilís problems.
We engaged in a public campaign. President Trump called for changes to
the Council in his speech before the UN General Assembly last fall, and
we also worked relentlessly behind the scenes. We spent the year making
the case for reform; meeting with more than 125 Member States and
circulating drafts of reform resolutions.
As the year progressed, our case for reform only grew stronger. In
October, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was elected to a seat on
the Council. The Congo is the setting for atrocities that shock the most
hardened international aid workers. They were discovering mass graves in
the Congo even as the General Assembly approved its bid to the Human
In December and into this year, the Iranian people took to the streets
in peaceful protest against their horrendous regime. The government
responded with beatings, arrests, and killings. The Human Rights Council
And throughout the year, Venezuela descended further and further into
misery and dictatorship. But the Council didnít address the massive
abuses in Venezuela for the reason Iím sure youíve guessed by now:
Venezuela sits on the Human Rights Council.
In the end, the United States couldnít convince enough countries to
stand up and declare that the Human Rights Council was no longer worthy
of its name. Why this happened is telling. The first and most obvious
reason is that authoritarian regimes are happy with the status quo.
Many seek membership to protect their own and their alliesí human rights
records from scrutiny. Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt -- they all benefit
from making a mockery of the Human Rights Council. So itís no surprise
that they openly resisted our efforts to reform it.
What was more baffling was the resistance we received from groups and
countries that should know better -- from those who believe in human
rights and human dignity.
First, there were the nongovernmental institutions, or NGOs -- the
private groups that usually do good work on behalf of human rights. They
agreed with the need to keep human rights violators off of the Council.
So you can imagine our surprise when they came out publicly against our
reforms telling other countries to vote against us. Groups like Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch sided with Russia and China on a
critical human rights issue. And Iíll let you be the judge of their
The NGOs were afraid that opening up the Human Rights Council to changes
would result in hostile amendments in the General Assembly that would
make the Council even worse.
Think about that for a second. Their view is that a bad situation canít
be improved because it could get worse?
This is yet another example of the worldís worst human rights regimes
calling the shots at the United Nations.
These NGOsí unwillingness to challenge the status quo also comes from
their institutional comforts. They have big staffs and lots of
relationships with the UN bureaucracy. Change is threatening to them. If
we approached everything with their attitude, nothing would ever improve
and complacency would rule the day.
Even more troubling was the pro-human rights countries that refused to
speak up. These are countries that, in quiet, off-the-record
conversations, share our embarrassment and concern with the actions --
and inactions -- of the Council. They told us in confidence that they,
too, are disgusted with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, Saudi Arabia
and the Congo serving on the Council, as well as the constant attacks on
We gave them opportunity after opportunity. But after months of agreeing
with us on all of the flaws of the Human Rights Council, they would not
take a stand unless it was behind closed doors, and out of public view.
These countries share our belief in the inherent dignity of every human
being, and yet they lack the courage to make a difference.
They have a voice. They just refused to use it.
On June 19th, Secretary Pompeo and I made
an announcement that the
United States was withdrawing from the Human Rights Council. Many of our
friends urged us to stay for the sake of the institution. The United
States, they said, provided the last shred of credibility the Council
But that was precisely why we withdrew.
The right to speak freely, to associate and worship freely; to determine
your own future; to be equal before the law -- these are sacred rights.
We take these rights seriously -- too seriously to allow them to be
cheapened by an institution -- especially one that calls itself the
ďHuman Rights Council.Ē
No one should make the mistake of equating membership in the Human
Rights Council with the support for human rights. To this day, the
United States does more for human rights, both inside the UN and around
the world, than any other country. And we will continue to do that. We
just wonít do it inside a Council that consistently fails the cause of
We have already begun to make the case for human rights, and that it
should be addressed in the UN Security Council in New York.
Last year, during the U.S. presidency, we held the first ever Security
Council session dedicated to the connection between human rights and
peace and security.
The fighting and instability that has spilled over the borders of
countries like Syria and Burma began with extreme or massive violations
of the human rights of the people of those countries.
Human rights violators deserve our condemnation on their own terms, but
they also often lead to conflicts which threaten the peace of an entire
region. When we act to protect human rights, we act to prevent conflict.
Just this month, we successfully fought back Russian and Chinese efforts
to drastically reduce the number of UN peacekeepers dedicated to human
rights protection and promotion.
And the United States has taken the initiative to do what the Human
Rights Council refused to do. Despite protests orchestrated by the
Venezuelan government, the United States organized an event on Venezuela
outside the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This January we had a
Security Council session on human rights violations of the Iranian
regime. And just last week the United States led a historic effort in
the Security Council to impose an arms embargo and sanctions on the
combatants in South Sudan, which has been the scene of enormous
suffering and human rights abuses in the countryís short life.
And as I have said before, our withdrawal from the Human Rights Council
does not mean that we give up our fight for reform. On the contrary, any
country willing to work with us to reshape the Council need only ask.
Fixing the institutional flaws of the Human Rights Council was, is, and
will remain one of the biggest priorities at the UN.
I have traveled to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Congo, Turkey, and Jordan.
I have met with mothers that have been scarred by trauma. I have seen
battered, aimless children lost to ignorance and extremism. Their
memories will always haunt me. As long as we have a voice, we must use
it to advocate for these mothers and children. I will use my voice. Not
just because I am a mother. Not just because I am an ambassador. But
because I am an American. And America can no more abandon the cause of
human rights than abandon itself.
It is who we are.
It is who we are proud to be. And it is who we will always be.
Thank you, and God bless you.