Welcoming Remarks by Ambassador Terence P. McCulley: Human Rights Coffee at the CMR (February 13, 2014)

Ambassador Terence P. McCulley (Dpt of State)

Good evening.  Thank you very much for joining us here today for an opportunity to come together and discuss what has always been and remains an extremely pressing issue around the world – the issue of human rights.  Most of you here today represent some part of civil society and many of you are from an organization that is specifically dedicated to furthering human rights principles in Côte d’Ivoire.  I am happy to have you in my home this afternoon and I’d like to recognize and congratulate you for the hard work you do to advocate for a more equal and just society.

NGOs, religious groups and other members of civil society such as you are the guardians and watchdogs of human rights in a society.  Whether it is by assuming the role of observer of the government or by assisting the government in setting appropriate standards for protecting human rights, whether it is by stimulating and informing the public debate on human rights issues or by focusing attention on the needs of particularly vulnerable groups, it is your actions that make a difference.  However, it is not your task alone to monitor the human rights situation in a country.  All governments have an obligation to ensure that their citizenry is protected when basic rights are threatened or denied.  Anyone in a position to do so must do their part to speak up for those who have no voice.

Two of the most important rights, the rights that are fundamental in any democracy, are the freedom of expression and the freedom of association.  That these freedoms constitute two of the most basic human rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that they are fundamental in a democratic country like Côte d’Ivoire are not controversial concepts.  I think we can all agree that even when we do not agree with a certain point of view or belief, it is still imperative that those holding that viewpoint have the freedom to organize and defend their point of view in a peaceful manner.

I want to make one point clear, these rights – to association and expression – are not just part of the foundation of the United States, they are an expression of democratic values in the 21st centure.  And they are not simply American or western values or rights, they belong to all humankind.  Whether in Africa, Europe, Asia or the Americas, all governments have a responsibility to work together with civil society to protect and promote these rights.  That is why they are referred to as “universal.”

I was shocked to read recently of the series of events that infringed on these most fundamental freedoms when the offices of Alternative-Côte d’Ivoireand the home of one of its members were attacked, vandalized and ransacked.  Alternative works to support the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community, which is a particularly vulnerable group.  The refusal to strongly and collectively address violence committed against any group of people can create a culture of impunity where abuse is allowed to continue and to escalate.  I want it to be clear; we are not talking about agreement with a certain point of view.  What we are talking about is ensuring that all Ivoirians – regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, or birth status – enjoy the same basic rights and protections.

I encourage all of you to be vigilant of these abuses and to support your fellow human rights defenders, especially when they are the target of abuse that violates the fundamental principles of international human rights law which form the basis of your very important work.

Thank you again for your work in this cause and thank you again for joining us this evening.