UN Association Annual Leadership Conference
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Thank you for that kind introduction. I am very pleased to host the United Nations Association’s leadership from the across the United States for a day of consultations here at the State Department. I’m a supporter of the UN Association, and since taking up my current position in the Obama Administration, I’ve met with chapters across the country, from California to Florida.
Each spring, we also collaborate on the Department’s largest and finest Model UN activity, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Karen Mulhauser and her Global Classrooms team for their terrific work. And I want to congratulate your two newest chapters, in Detroit and New Orleans.
The UN Association works hard to tell the positive story of the UN’s vital work worldwide. We in the U.S. Government appreciate the need to engage and combat the misconceptions out there, and explain that although the UN system is far from perfect, it is in America’s national interest – for national security, foreign policy, and economic reasons – to engage deeply and broadly with the UN.
We start this conversation from a common point of departure, that is, we all believe U.S. multilateral engagement advances U.S. foreign policy and produces real, on the ground results, and reinforces our unique global role.
So today, rather than preach to the choir, I wanted to offer an update of some of the Administration’s key multilateral priorities, including some real successes as well as some serious ongoing challenges.
Syria is obviously on everyone’s minds right now, where despicable, outrageous violence against civilians continues. Just this morning, Joint Special Envoy Annan raised concern about recent shelling and use of mortars in towns with trapped civilians. Ten days ago, the Human Rights Council held its latest special session, to address the ongoing human rights violations and the massacre in Houla, which left more than 100 Syrian civilians, including children, dead. With nation after nation condemning the worsening situation, the HRC called for an in-depth investigation by the independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The commission of inquiry was previously established by the Human Rights Council, and has cast light on the gross human rights violations being committed by the Assad regime, as a result helping to increase pressure on Assad. We hope the Commission of Inquiry will be granted access.
Even as the commission of inquiry continues its work, we continue to support the efforts being made by Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy. But this latest atrocity only reinforces our view that further action by the Security Council is needed if the international community stands any chance of pressing Assad to end his assaults on civilians, and if we are to retain any prospect for a peaceful end to the crisis in Syria.
Now, all of you who’ve followed the relative stalemate on Syria in the Security Council know that getting harsher measures approved will continue to be difficult. Russia and China supported the establishment of the UN military observer mission, but they also twice have vetoed targeted Security Council sanctions. The Russian government continues to deny the clear facts on the ground and the responsibility of government forces for the killing of Syrian civilians, somehow claiming a false equivalency between the regime and the opposition.
So we’ll continue to engage the Russians and others as we look at a way forward. In the meantime, in addition to the Human Rights Council action I just mentioned, we’re also taking a number of other steps to put pressure on the Syrian regime to end the violence, and to address its serious humanitarian consequences. Last month, the United States and a number of other countries, working in coordination, further isolated the Assad regime by expelling Syrian diplomats. Two weeks ago, the Treasury Department expanded U.S. sanctions against Syria by freezing the assets of another Syrian banking institution, to tighten the economic pressure on the regime.
And to date, the United States has contributed more than $40 million to international efforts – primarily, as you know, undertaken by UN agencies, funds, and programs – to address the humanitarian needs of approximately one million Syrians inside the country, and the more than 78,000 refugees who have fled.
This approach of broad engagement – as the President has said, of mobilizing the international community to take collective action – has been part and parcel of how the Obama Administration has taken on a number of other foreign policy challenges as well.
Look at one of the most important issues we face today – nuclear nonproliferation – and at Iran, one of our most difficult nonproliferation challenges.
We’ve succeeded, over the past three years, in building a strong international coalition that is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We’ve worked with our P5+1 partners on a dual track, using pressure – including unprecedented UN Security Council sanctions – to encourage Iran to fulfill its international obligations, while at the same time seeking to engage Iran to find a solution.
We applaud the monitoring and analysis being undertaken by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But we will measure success ultimately by Iran’s actions, and whether it addresses the international community’s serious concerns in a transparent way.
The tensions between Sudan and South Sudan remain on the Security Council agenda. In Sudan, we’ve seen recent positive developments as the forces of South Sudan have completely pulled out of Abyei. We think it is important for the North to complete the withdrawal of all of its police elements, including the oil police, a point also made by a number of colleagues in the Security Council. We also welcome the fact that the two parties have returned to the negotiating table as of late May, and while there are several very difficult issues that remain there is potential for progress in these talks.
These talks facilitated by the AU’s High Level Implementation Panel recently concluded. During this time, the parties convened important sessions of the Join Political and Security Mechanism and the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. The Africa Union High-Level Implementation Panel has tentatively set a date to reconvene on June 21.
Finally, we remain gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. There has been no progress in terms of the government of Sudan allowing open humanitarian access, including into rebel areas.
In places like Sudan, few sights are more welcome to men and women in countries recovering from armed conflict than UN peacekeepers. But in addition to their critical contribution to global security, we also recognize that UN peacekeepers make an important contribution to U.S. national security, one that has increased as their roles have grown more difficult and complex. We are, of course, saddened by reports that seven UN peacekeepers were killed in Cote d’Ivoire last Friday.
UN peacekeepers today have addressed some of the world’s hardest and most challenging security situations – Darfur, Congo, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire. By protecting civilians and working to prevent and end armed conflicts, they bring stability to parts of the world that for too long, have known too little of it. And because they do this at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. troops, we need not choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing.
The United States is the largest supporter of UN peacekeeping activities, just as we are the largest contributor to the UN budget more generally. And over the past three years, we’ve worked hard to help enhance the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping.
We use our influence to ensure that peacekeeping operations have the full political support of the Security Council, especially when they face challenging deployments or hostile host governments. We work to ensure that peacekeeping missions are given mandates they can achieve, and that they have the personnel and equipment needed to achieve those mandates. And we train thousands of peacekeepers every year, and supported partner country training efforts of even more.
Even as peacekeeping missions face continuing challenges – we are especially concerned about Sudan and South Sudan at this point – we believe firmly that this investment reaps excellent returns for global security, and with it the national security of the United States.
In so many cases, UN peacekeeping missions are deployed after conflict has subsided, and oftentimes, after terrible atrocities have been committed. And so, we want to strengthen U.S. internal organization to respond to potential conflicts. So President Obama has taken action – including by establishing the high-level Atrocities Prevention Board— to lay the foundation for a stronger, better-organized response by the United States and the international community when we get early warning of mass atrocities and genocide.
A core tenet of this Administration’s leadership on atrocity prevention is the importance of working with partners in the international community – especially the United Nations system – at all stages of the conflict spectrum. The State Department’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, emphasizes preventing and resolving armed conflict, and we are working across the UN system to explore new ways to promote those goals.
Of course, we will continue our long-held support for accountability for international crimes, but our aim with this new emphasis on atrocity prevention is to present policymakers with better prevention options before the costs of action rise, and before the killing begins.
Alongside our improved efforts to prevent the most heinous crimes, we’ve also broadened our support for human rights worldwide, including through robust engagement at the UN Human Rights Council. We see our multilateral engagement with the HRC as an important means of advancing universal values that Americans hold dear.
And since we won our first seat on the HRC in 2009, we’ve helped transform the Human Rights Council to a far more effective body, one that can respond to pressing human rights situations in real time, with concrete action and a unified voice. Just since 2011, we’ve had a significant number of successes at the Human Rights Council.
We launched commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations, in Syria, Libya, and Cote d’Ivoire. The HRC appointed a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on human rights violations in Iran. And last June, the Human Rights Council took a historic first step in recognizing the continuing challenge of securing human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, who in too many parts of the world continue to be denied their fundamental human rights.
Given the Administration’s commitment to LGBT rights, we will continue to work with partners around the world to take further measures in the UN system to truly protect the human rights of all men, women, and children, regardless of their sexual orientation, because we believe in everyone’s right to the fullest measure of dignity and rights.
The HRC’s Universal Periodic Review, or UPR process, has been one of its most significant innovations. The UPR requires every country in the UN system – whether or not they are HRC members – to present their human rights records every four years. Other member states pose questions, and state concerns. It’s the first international mechanism whereby even the most repressive countries subject themselves to open scrutiny.
Now that we are in the second round of UPRs, it’s an important juncture for the Human Rights Council. Making sure that the UPR process is used to maximally advance human rights – to ensure countries implement the recommendations made during their first UPRs – is one of the many reasons why we’re running for a second term on the Human Rights Council.
Even as we’ve fought to expand human rights protections to all peoples, we also are working to advance global health. We provide roughly 40 percent of total global development assistance for health, and historically, no country has done more to advance the health of men, women, and children across the globe than the United States – from working to eradicate smallpox, to providing nearly 4 million people last year with life saving anti-retroviral treatments through the PEPFAR program, to bringing life-saving vaccines to children across the globe.
President Obama has been committed to expanding on that historical leadership on global health. So we’re building on existing successes, programs like PEPFAR and the President’s Malaria Initiative – but we’re also taking these and other programs to the next level, by addressing the entire health picture, including maternal and child health, infectious diseases, nutrition, neglected tropical diseases, safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. To make these programs effective and sustainable, we’re combining best practices with an emphasis on country ownership.
American leadership on global health reflects core values that we all hold dear – the desire to save lives, and help people no matter where they live to give themselves and their children a better life. Highlighting that American benevolence through action on global health contributes to U.S. global leadership and to advancing our foreign policy.
But given how interconnected our world has become, the Administration’s leadership on global health also helps protect Americans. Every day, thousands of people step off an airplane and enter the United States. By working to build a global, comprehensive system for monitoring health threats and coordinating international responses, we help keep Americans safer from infectious diseases that pay no heed to national borders.
Advances in global health also help strengthen fragile states – which might otherwise prove cauldrons for transnational challenges from international crime to refugee flows. And a healthy citizenry promotes economic development and global economic growth, since a sick population cannot live up to its economic potential – a fact that is even more important when it comes to encouraging women’s full participation in all aspects of economic, social, and political life.
On the issue of global health, our work in multilateral organizations has been crucial, because although we may have a limitless number of global health challenges, we don’t have limitless resources. And given the irrelevance of borders to infectious disease and the growing challenge of non-communicable diseases across the developed and developing world, partnership is key to solving contemporary health challenges.
That’s why we have placed such an emphasis on working multilaterally on public health, just as we have on other foreign policy challenges. We remain the largest donor at the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We have shown strong leadership at the World Health Organization, as it works on infectious disease outbreaks and response, pandemic threats, and coordinating health efforts in emergency and disaster situations.
And we have pressed the international community, following the high-level session at last year’s UN General Assembly, to address the increasingly important challenge posed by non-communicable diseases, like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes, and cancer. NCDs are responsible for more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide – more than 35 million people annually, 80 percent of whom are in developing and middle-income countries.
We’re working across the U.S. Government and with partners worldwide to translate the high-level political support generated back in September into global concerted action. In the UN system, we’re engaging not only WHO on NCDs, but also other UN specialized agencies as well. We’re focusing on radiation technologies for cancer at the International Atomic Energy Agency, infant and child health at UNICEF, and promoting healthy local food at the World Food Program, just to name a few.
Similarly, the Administration also has taken global leadership on food security. Not only is it the right thing to do; additionally, promoting global food security benefits U.S. security and our economy. And our $3.5 billion “Feed the Future” food security is helping to leverage a greater global effort to address the root causes of poverty.
There are so many other areas where the Obama Administration has worked through the UN system to advance important U.S. interests, with direct and positive benefits for the American people. If you’re going to make a cellphone call, you’ll benefit from our hard work at the International Telecommunication Union. If you’re getting on an international flight, our work at the International Civil Aviation Organization will help keep you safe and secure. And the list goes on.
Given the importance of all this work, we’ve also exerted global leadership on reform and enhancements across the UN system. We’re aiming to ensure that the United Nations and UN agencies can be as strong as we need them to be. We’re helping improve oversight, accountability, and transparency, and making certain that our contributions are used efficiently and effectively. Much remains to be done to help the UN system catch up to the fast pace of change in today’s world, but the United States has been a committed partner for UN reform.
I’ve mentioned today, a number of foreign policy challenges where the Obama Administration has employed a multilateral engagement to advance U.S. interests. That approach for achieving our immediate foreign policy goals increases our influence and ability to achieve future goals down the line. The U.S. emphasis on engagement, on seeking shared solutions to common challenges, has been one of the key means by which we have restored confidence in America’s global leadership, and with it increased our ability to advance U.S. foreign policy goals on difficult and complex issues.
And that is why we appreciate your hard work, and look forward to continued collaboration with the UN Foundation to persist in building understanding of and support for the ideals and work of the UN among the American people.
Thank you all so much for coming here today. I’d like to stop there and hear some of your thoughts.