Today the U.S. officially took its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, after being elected in June.  This is the first time the U.S. has chosen to participate in the revamped Council, created to replace the UN Human Rights Commission in 2006.

The highlights of Asst. Secretary of State Esther Brimmer’s remarks:

The charge of the Human Rights Council ties closely to the United States’ own history and culture. Freedom of speech, expression and belief. Due process. Equal rights for all. These enduring principles have animated some of the proudest moments in America’s journey. These human rights and fundamental freedoms are, in effect, a part of our national DNA, just as they are a part of the DNA of the United Nations. And yet, we recognize that the United States’ record on human rights is imperfect. Our history includes lapses and setbacks, and there remains a great deal of work to be done.

Building on those bedrock foundations, the United States’ aspirations for the Human Rights Council encompass several key themes. The first is universality. The principles contained [in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] are as resonant today as they were when Eleanor Roosevelt led the Commission that enshrined them. We can not pick and choose which of these rights we embrace nor select who among us are entitled to them. These rights extend to all, and the United States can not accept that any among us would be condemned to live without them.

The second is dialogue. The Human Rights Council is unique in its ability to draw together countries for serious, fact-based and forward looking debate on human rights abuses. [T]he United States will be an active and constructive participant. We will not resolve our differences overnight, nor end abuses with the wave of a hand or even the passage of a resolution. We approach this mindful of the long-haul, ready to devote the time it takes to build understanding and shared will to act.

The third is principle. We have come together as Human Rights Council members on the basis of shared principles. Our challenge lies in taking these principles – reflected in the Universal Declaration and many other broad based human rights instruments – and applying them in an even-handed way to situations that defy easy resolution. Defending our core principles from compromise and applying them fairly under all circumstances will require steadfastness and courage from all of us.

The fourth is truth. Make no mistake; the United States will not look the other way in the face of serious human rights abuses. The truth must be told, the facts brought to light and the consequences faced. While we will aim for common ground, we will call things as we see them and we will stand our ground when the truth is at stake.

More after the jump.

The HRC is designed to offer a forum for governments to address difficult issues, and it is vitally important that we find ways to work together on these themes. The United States believes that governments have a responsibility to condemn hateful speech and to promote respect and tolerance. We also believe fundamentally that that the best way to fight intolerance and hate is through open and free debate and discussion of ideas – in such an open environment hateful and racist remarks are held up to bright light of public scrutiny and seen for the scourge they are.

We will ask others to stand with us in supporting the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose stature makes her an indispensible voice on human rights issues worldwide. The United States is proud to be the OHCHR’s top donor. The OHCHR, working through its local and regional offices, serves as an “early warning system” ringing alarm bells to draw attention to human rights abuses. The United States is dedicated to ensuring the operational independence of the OHCHR and will continue to support its technical assistance activities across the globe.

As the United States seeks to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms across the globe, we embrace a commitment to live up to these ideals at home and to meet our international human rights obligations. Along these lines, the United States looks forward to the upcoming UPR process, which is an opportunity for both self-reflection and transparency. We anticipate a thought-provoking process with our colleagues on the Council and in civil society that culminates in a review that demonstrates progress as well as areas of unfulfilled potential.

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