Statement on Human Rights during the General Debate of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 7, 2020


Thank you.

The United States is committed to protecting and promoting the fundamental human rights of all, including ethnic, religious, and other minorities. We take every opportunity to advance equality for women and girls, and we will always proudly defend life and human dignity.

We are gravely concerned that authoritarian governments are using the COVID-19 pandemic to justify unwarranted crackdowns on their citizens and on civil society. You know, I cannot help but remember Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for trying to warn the world about a troubling cluster of infection in Wuhan, and later succumbed to the coronavirus. The systemic repression of freedom of association, assembly, and expression, stunts the capacity of society to respond to COVID. Indeed, the Chinese Communist Party’s stifling of such freedoms transformed a local epidemic into a global pandemic which threatens to set back decades of developmental and economic gains. The Chinese people simply deserve better.

The United States leads in humanitarian assistance for COVID-19, having contributed more than $9 billion globally. While we acknowledge significant donors, we cannot and should not do this alone. More donors must share in this responsibility.


The United States is deeply concerned by many governments’ ongoing abuses of fundamental human rights, including those which will be detailed in subsequent interventions on Myanmar, the DPRK, Nicaragua, Cuba, Belarus, Yemen, and Cameroon.

In regard to the People’s Republic of China, we are disappointed by Chinese attempts to divert attention from its horrendous disregard for human rights and paint mounting global concerns – as expressed by 39 countries yesterday – as a bilateral issue, accusing the United States of lying, when the world sees Beijing’s cruelty on display. More than 50 independent UN experts have called for collective action to ensure China abides by its human rights obligations. We are alarmed by the Chinese Communist Party’s continued arbitrary detention of over one million Uyghurs and other minority groups in internment camps in Xinjiang. The Chinese government’s claim it provided so-called “vocational training” to nearly 7.8 million workers in Xinjiang in the last six years is concerning, given the pervasive nature of state-sponsored forced labor schemes in Xinjiang. We are also deeply disturbed by the reports that the Chinese Communist Party is using sterilization, forced abortion, and coercive family planning as part of its continuing campaign of repression. The Chinese Communist Party has eroded autonomy and liberty in Hong Kong and perpetrated a wide range of human rights abuses against members of minority communities, including Africans and Tibetans, as well as lawyers and human rights defenders across China.

The United States condemns the wide-scale human rights abuses committed by the Assad regime in Syria. The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry has documented thousands of credible cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of international humanitarian law that have led to 6.6 million Syrians being displaced inside the country, 11 million in need of humanitarian assistance, and 5.5 million registered as refugees in nearby countries. The regime’s decade-long barbaric campaigning of killing, torture, detention, and impunity must end immediately.

The United States remains gravely concerned by gross human rights violations in Iran, including death sentences imposed following unfair trials and forced confessions reportedly obtained through torture. Impunity for the killings of up to 1,500 protesters in November 2019 and the continued repression of members of religious minority groups must end now.

Venezuelan citizens suffer as the corrupt, illegitimate Maduro regime enriches its officials, commits extensive human rights abuses, and blocks the holding of free and fair elections needed to restore democracy. In September, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission assessed there are reasonable grounds to believe the regime has committed crimes against humanity.

In Russia, we are troubled by continued threats, harassment, and violence against the press, independent civil society, religious and other minority groups, and the political opposition. The United States is also alarmed by reported cases of enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings, particularly in Chechnya. We condemn Russia’s ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine and its invasion of Crimea. We call on Russia to implement its Minsk agreement commitments.


*The remainder of this statement below, not delivered by Ambassador Kelly Craft due to time constraints, together with the as-delivered Oral Statement above, is being entered into the official written record.

In Nicaragua, the government engages in killings, threats and intimidation to quash dissent. We urge Nicaraguan authorities to heed citizens’ calls for democratic rule, and to hold free and fair elections in 2021.

The Cuban regime continues its pattern of repression; economic exploitation and mismanagement; and human rights violations and abuses against prisoners of conscience, political dissidents, and journalists. We condemn its support for the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela and its role in undermining democratic institutions in the Western Hemisphere.

In Yemen, we condemn the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by multiple parties to the conflict, especially the Houthis. We remain deeply concerned by reports of Houthi-affiliated militias targeting civilians; using civilians as human shields; confiscating humanitarian supplies; and abducting activists, journalists, and members of religious minority groups.

In Cameroon, we remain concerned by ongoing allegations of human rights violations and abuses by the government and armed groups, including reported extrajudicial killings and torture, particularly in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions, with limited efforts towards accountability.

Since the onset of the pandemic in Azerbaijan, authorities have arrested political opposition members and others for exercising fundamental freedoms. Many detainees have been held without timely access to lawyers, family members, and independent medical experts – lending credibility to allegations that several have been tortured.


As the UN and member states mark the 75th anniversary of the UN Charter which emphasizes equal rights for all, the United States joins others in upholding the human rights and fundamental freedoms for women and girls. We must unite around strategies to protect women and girls against oppression and discrimination and strengthen their capacities to effect positive change. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women reminds us that there is still much to do to realize full women’s empowerment. Similarly, the twentieth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, “Women, Peace, and Security,” commits us all to promote women’s active involvement in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and the political life of their societies. More and more nations are joining the United States to advance the Women, Peace, and Security agenda around the world.

There is broad consensus that enabling women to thrive economically improves conditions for themselves and their families, and ultimately leads to more stable and prosperous nations. This is especially important as we collectively seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the United States launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) in 2019, multiple federal agencies committed to economically empowering women in developing nations. During its first year, W-GDP has already benefitted 12 million women. Our goal is to reach 50 million women by the year 2025.

W-GDP is focused on three key pillars: vocational education for women, empowering women to succeed as entrepreneurs, and eliminating barriers that prevent women from fully participating in the economy.

Most recently the United States has focused on W-GDP’s Pillar Three. Removing legal and regulatory barriers which impede women’s full participation in the economy is critical, as it leads to positive institutional reforms.

At the U.S.-hosted side event following UNGA high-level week, twenty-eight member states signed on to the “Call to Action on Women’s Economic Empowerment.” In joining the core group, countries took bold action to expand economic opportunities for women and to support women’s full and free participation in the economy. Since then, more countries have joined the call to action, bringing the total number of cosponsors to 37 countries.


The United States places a high priority on promoting and protecting the human rights of all children, including girls who are among the most vulnerable, and those living in the midst of humanitarian crises. As we stated at the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s adoption 31 years ago, the United States continues to support and believe in the goals of protecting and promoting the rights of the child that underpin it. We also reaffirm this support as a State’s party to two of the Convention’s optional protocols.

It is clear that the role parents and families play in children’s lives is indispensable as families are the bedrock of our communities, and ultimately our societies as we seek to achieve our common aspirations to improve the quality of their lives. Parents and families across the globe play a critical role in empowering children and creating a loving, nurturing environment that promotes their healthy development. Communities and civil society also play an important role in promoting the safety and well-being of children, even in the face of formidable threats and challenges.

The United States invests hundreds of millions of dollars in the development, care, dignity, and safety of children and their families. We have invested in efforts to improve nutrition for malnourished children in WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene services) programs in over 40 countries, and in pre-primary to higher education in more than 50 countries. In our global partnerships, the United States continues to prioritize the welfare of children. Through the DREAMS (Determined, Responsible, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) partnership, the United States continues its efforts to reduce HIV infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa, where girls and young women account for almost 75 percent of new HIV infections. We have also invested in child protection programming from the onset of humanitarian crises to ensure that the most vulnerable children impacted are protected and safe in their communities, their families are empowered to provide a nurturing home environment, and that every child and young person has the opportunity to reach their full potential and to live a life free from violence.

Through the Department of State’s Child Protection Compact Partnerships, the United States partners bilaterally with other countries on strengthening national efforts to effectively prosecute and convict child traffickers; providing comprehensive trauma-informed care for child victims of these crimes; and preventing all forms of child trafficking. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs works to combat child labor and forced labor around the world through research, awareness raising, policy engagement, and technical cooperation to help build capacity to address these issues and provide support to vulnerable children and families. The Department publishes three reports on international child labor and forced labor that serve as valuable resources for research, advocacy, government action and corporate responsibility, and provide tools such as the Comply Chain app for companies seeking to combat such exploitation in their supply chains. Since 1995, the Department has helped rescue nearly two million children from child labor. Currently, the Department funds 45 projects in 41 countries, for a total of over $239 million of active programming to combat child labor and forced labor.

Over the last 31 years, we have seen progress in realizing the human rights of all children, but we still have a long way to go. We call upon other member states, the UN, civil society, families, parents, academics, and other stakeholders to continue addressing environmental, societal, and attitudinal barriers, and create a world where every child can thrive and reach their full potential with dignity.


The United States supports enhancing the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in UN bodies, as this would introduce new perspectives and thus enrich the debate.
Consistent with the parameters of the Secretary-General’s report (A/75/255), enhanced participation should focus specifically on indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions. NGOs working on indigenous issues can use the existing NGO accreditation process to participate at the UN. Because indigenous representatives and institutions differ from NGOs in that they self-govern and have elected or traditional leaders accountable to constituencies, the United States supports a separate category of participation for indigenous representatives and institutions.

On venues of participation, although there is considerable support for enhancing participation of indigenous representatives and institutions in United Nations bodies, there is no consensus on supporting a new status for indigenous institutions across all UN bodies. A sudden and categorical change would raise complex legal and policy concerns, and it is unwise to impose such changes to the entire UN system. A more gradual and targeted approach would allow for assessing the effects of any proposed and actual changes. Stakeholders could begin by looking at selected UN bodies whose charters and procedural rules could accommodate the change, and which have governing bodies likely to approve the change. Our initial thoughts are that ECOSOC and the ECOSOC subsidiary bodies are good candidates for this. Measures could be introduced on a pilot basis and reviewed by member states, indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders. If the steps result in more meaningful participation by indigenous representatives and institutions and do not raise significant concerns, stakeholders can reflect on whether they could be expanded to additional UN bodies.

On participation modalities, the new procedures should enable indigenous representatives to attend selected UN sessions, submit written input, and make oral statements in accordance with the rules of procedure of a particular UN body. The United States does not support indigenous representatives and institutions taking part in drafting or negotiating sessions or having a vote on resolutions, as we see these as member state responsibilities. We do not oppose the current practice of indigenous institutions and NGOs communicating their ideas to member states on draft texts in progress.

On selection criteria, these criteria could build upon but would be more selective than those established by ECOSOC for PFII participation. Questions would include whether an indigenous representative is an elected or traditional leader, as that could indicate whether the person has a constituency which accepts him or her as a leader. Other questions would be what are the main objectives, programs and activities, membership size, and governance structure of an indigenous institution.

On the selection or accreditation process, the United States favors establishing a new body composed of representatives of both member states and indigenous peoples. A new body – separate from the NGO Committee – is needed, rather than using an existing body such as the Permanent Forum or EMRIP. Those bodies already have multiple, varied responsibilities and, in their present forms, will likely have difficulty handling additional duties. We support such a new accreditation body being based on geographic representation of the seven indigenous cultural regions. We do not support having states use a non-objection procedure to decide on accreditation. This would potentially exclude indigenous representatives and institutions that states do not recognize, or whose views do not coincide with that of specific states.

On other relevant factors, State recognition of an applicant should be taken into account, but not be the determining factor for whether the applicant acquires enhanced participation privileges. Unlike the United States, some countries lack a system of government recognition of a tribe or analogous entity. Self-identification as an indigenous institution would be essential, but the criteria would not be so broad as to accommodate those who self-identify as indigenous persons without also satisfying general, agreed-upon criteria, such as a shared history, distinct language, or culture.


The United States remains committed to addressing issues of racism and racial discrimination, both within our borders and around the world.

No one should be denied their fundamental freedoms and human rights simply because of their race or ethnicity. It is important to continue to use the international system to address authoritarian regimes’ use of racial discrimination as a tactic of enhancing their own power, and to bring to justice those who systematically oppress others on the basis of race or ethnicity.

We remain gravely concerned by China’s state-sponsored, targeted campaign of human rights abuses against members of ethnic and racial minorities, including Uyghur Muslims, ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang and throughout the country.

We recognize that countering racism and racial discrimination is an ongoing, evolving effort. And there are many places around the world that do not have their own laws, structures, or systems in place to address systemic racism.

In the United States, we continue to aggressively combat hate crimes that target individuals because of their race, color, national origin, or other prohibited grounds.

Under its Hate Crimes Enforcement and Prevention Initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice is implementing a plan to address hate crimes to better protect the rights of all in the United States. The plan has three primary components: (1) enhancing data collection and reporting; (2) increasing training and guidance; and (3) strengthening enforcement. An outreach and engagement program has also been developed for Department of Justice field offices entitled “United Against Hate: Cultivating Community Partnerships,” which is currently in the pilot stage.

Recent Department of Justice hate crimes prosecutions include federal charges filed against a Virginia man for lying to federal agents about his involvement in burning a cross on the front lawn of an African American woman’s home; the conviction of a man in Maine for conspiring to – and committing – hate crimes by brutally assaulting two black men; and federal hate crimes and firearms charges filed against a Texas man in connection with the August 2019 murder of 22 people and attempted murder of 23 others at a store in El Paso, Texas.

We also recognize that racism must be combatted in various social contexts. We all acknowledge that a safe, stable home is part of the foundation for opportunity for all individuals. In the U.S., the U.S. Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The Department of Justice actively enforces the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

With respect to recent events in the United States, Attorney General Barr stated: “the outrage about what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is real and legitimate. Accountability for his death must be addressed, and is being addressed, through the regular process of our criminal justice system, both at the state and federal level…Justice will be served.”

As the Attorney General also noted, Mr. Floyd’s death jarred the United States and forced Americans to reflect on longstanding issues regarding the relationship between law enforcement and members of the African American community in the United States.

We recognize more work must be done to ensure fairness to all individuals, particularly members of the African American community.

The United States remains committed to ensuring that all levels of our nation’s state and federal justice systems operate fairly and effectively for all – irrespective of race. The United States also remains committed to complying with its relevant international legal obligations, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

We will continue to share the lessons learned from our own history to underline the need to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all.


Today, almost 168 million people need humanitarian assistance, more than 90 million people receive food assistance, and global displacement has been growing for eight consecutive years, particularly as conflicts grow longer and are more complex. Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 pandemic is severely exacerbating these needs and further limiting access.

The United States remains committed to leading the world in humanitarian assistance. Deputy Secretary Biegun hosted a high-level UN General Assembly side event in September, recognizing top donors, highlighting humanitarian leadership and shared principles, and promoting burden sharing. As Commissioner Grandi stated in his remarks at that event, humanitarian assistance cannot come only from the top donors. All donors, including new donors, need to step forward to share this work, which falls so heavily on the countries hosting refugees and displaced populations. We must build off of the momentum of the first-ever Global Refugee Forum last December by meeting our commitments and pledges, focusing on the strategic use of funds, providing more flexible contributions, and strengthening refugee protection worldwide. The United States remains committed to promoting burden sharing with our partners, and ensuring greater efficiency, transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of our humanitarian assistance.

The United States and UNHCR remain strong partners in our effort to protect and find durable solutions for the millions of refugees, stateless persons, internally displaced persons, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern around the world. The United States supports UNHCR’s continued reform efforts with these key principles in mind as well as its focused efforts to engage with the larger humanitarian system in a more comprehensive and coherent manner. We commend UNHCR on achieving its Grand Bargain commitment to double the proportion of its assistance provided through cash by 2020. We also commend UNHCR for establishing an indicator framework to track progress towards the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees. We support joint efforts between UNHCR and the World Bank to improve the gathering and analysis of data, which contributes to the effectiveness and efficiency of our response. We welcome UNHCR’s updated policy on internal displacement and look forward to stronger coordination and operational delivery by UNHCR for the internally displaced persons under its responsibility.

In line with the U.S. National Security Strategy, we are working to assist refugees and other displaced people as close to their homes as possible until they can safely and voluntarily return to rebuild their lives, their communities, and their countries.

We have seen a disturbing rise in attacks on the workers who seek to help the world’s most vulnerable. The year 2019 surpassed all previously recorded years in the number of major attacks committed against humanitarian workers. We encourage UNHCR to ensure that it has the systems in place to help mitigate and address foreseeable risks to its own staff and partner staff.

As stated in UNHCR’s report, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected challenges for the protection of refugees and negative socioeconomic impacts with serious implications for the displaced. The pandemic has also further highlighted the differentiated needs of vulnerable groups such as women and girls. In addition, ongoing conflict and displacement also continue to add to the risk of refugees resorting to desperate and dangerous journeys in search of safety. The United States is committed to supporting UNHCR in its efforts to address the immediate and long-term impacts of this pandemic and to strengthen protection space in places of origin and along migration routes.

As the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees approaches and one per cent of humanity now lives in forced displacement, we would like to express our appreciation for UNHCR’s work in addressing multiple global crises. To UNHCR leadership and staff, we applaud your devotion to serving others during unprecedented times.