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The Ambassador's Remarks to the Committee on Human Rights

Ambassador Killion's remarks to the Committee on Human Rights

Ambassador Killion was invited to address the Human Rights Committee jointly sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine on May 3, 2011. The Human Rights Committee works to defend human rights across the world, particularly those of scientists, engineers and health professionals.

Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening.  I am looking forward to exchanging views with you on two areas where the United States can show real leadership at UNESCO, science and human rights.

The Science Sector at UNESCO is led by a dynamic American, Assistant Director General Gretchen Kolonji.  Dr. Kilonji has already made a significant impact on the UNESCO's program and I am working closely with her on a number of new initiatives.

For instance, in January we hosted a reception to announce the launch of The World Library of Science, a joint collaboration between UNESCO and Nature Publishing Group, which will offer free, online educational resources in the life and physical sciences to secondary students around the world. It is a program with great potential, especially in the developing world, which all too often suffers from a lack of quality science textbooks and teaching materials.

Last month, I visited the SESAME Research Center in Jordan, created under the auspices of UNESCO.  I was pleased to see how much progress has been made. SESAME is now in the critical, final fundraising stage, but once operational, it will be, at its core, a shining example of "Science Diplomacy" -- a place where scientists from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Iran, Cyprus, Turkey, The United States, and many other diverse nations can sit down and work together over the neutral bridge of science.

We have also been exploring U.S. interest in the Global Geoparks Network, and at the same time UNESCO has been looking at formalizing their role with respect to the program. It is still at an early point on both issues, but do stay tuned.

There are hundreds of other important science initiatives at UNESCO worth talking about; however, given the time that I have tonight, it's probably best that I turn my discussion now towards another great interest of mine -- UNESCO's work on human rights cases.

The role that UNESCO plays in this area is not high profile.  The Committee that considers these cases meets behind closed doors and its records are confidential.  Its work can best be described as "quiet diplomacy".  It doesn't "name and shame". It doesn't make a splash, but it makes waves- and gets results.

The "104" Procedure , as it is commonly called after the resolution that established it in 1978, has as its goal to improve the situation of alleged victims of  human rights violations related to UNESCO's field of competence (rights to: education, benefit from scientific progress, participate freely in cultural life, and information).  

As you know, the Committee examines allegations and enters into a serious dialogue with representatives of the states claimed to be responsible for violations of human rights.  I note, in this regard, that even states which are reputed to be egregious human rights abusers engage seriously in this dialogue with the Committee at the Ambassadorial level.

Is it effective?  The statistics in your letter speak volumes. Let me congratulate you and thank you for the essential role that you have played.  Without your hard work, dedication and perseverance, year after year, those 47 individuals whose cases have been "resolved successfully" might still be suffering.

Just recently, two individuals who had been incarcerated since 2003 and 2004, were released.  Although these releases were the direct result of an agreement negotiated by two western governments, the authors of the communications (both science associations) informed the Committee that they believed the appeals from UNESCO contributed significantly to the release of the incarcerated individuals!

The Procedure works.  It gets results and it is effective.  This is not good news for repressive regimes and some have sought in recent years to introduce "reforms" which would have significantly undermined it and given violators a veto.  

For example, some proposed changes which would have allowed the alleged violator to participate in the Committee's deliberations on the outcome of the case.  Currently, the representative of the concerned state is only present during the fact finding phase.

The U.S. and other states sponsored a resolution that focused on practical measures to enhance the procedure and raise its profile.  Faced with sure defeat of their proposals to weaken the "104 Procedure", the enemies of free exercise of human rights joined in the consensus adoption of the resolution (185 EX /22).  This was a happy ending for the "104 review".

Your letter asked how better use can be made of this procedure?  Keep up the good work and use your extensive international network to spread the word that it is available and effective!

UNESCO's website explains how to proceed but many are not aware that it is an option.  You have made it a "best practice" for your group and you have an impressive record.  Share your expertise in preparing cases and in identifying cases for referral.  Your efforts in this area can be a service not only for science but also for humanity.  Thank you!
Finally, let me say a word about the proposed Obiang Prize in the Life Sciences.  I know many of you are aware of our efforts to abolish or at least freeze this prize, which should never have been established by UNESCO.   I'm glad to say the current UNESCO leadership opposes this prize, as do a majority of the delegations at the Executive Board, including many of the African delegations, though they are reluctant to admit this publicly.

At UNESCO's last Executive Board meeting in October of 2010, we adopted a resolution by consensus freezing implementation of the prize until consensus could be reached - which is to say never.  While it is true that President Obiang continues to try to put pressure on the African delegations to put this back on the agenda, I am reasonably confident we can avoid that.

That said, I would appreciate your continued support and vigilance to make your opposition to this prize known if this becomes an issue again.  The voice of the human rights community was critical in getting us to the resolution that froze the prize.

Thank you so much for your attention and I look forward to hearing from you on your views and questions.