Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick Head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and Ambassador Kevin E. Moley Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva respond to questions from the press outside the Commission on Human Rights Palais des Nations Geneva. April 24, 2003
AMBASSADOR MOLEY: We want to give you the US reaction to Secretary General Annan’s speech and there are a couple of things that we want to specifically comment upon. In the third paragraph of the speech which I think you all have a copy of there is a comment or a statement by the Secretary General “I hope the Coalition will set an example by making clear that they intend to act strictly within the rules set down by the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations regarding the treatment of prisoners of war..” We have not only made that clear by our words, more importantly we have made that clear from day one of this conflict through our actions, and quite frankly we find it odd at best that the Secretary General would feel that he had to bring this to our attention.
Secondly, and I’m sure that Ambassador Kirkpatrick is going to want to comment as well. The fourth paragraph begins: “The decision to go to war without specific authorization by the Security Council,”- and I’ll repeat – “The decision to go to war without specific authorization by the Security Council.” The Secretary General more than any single person should know that there is specific authorization. Specifically Security Council resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. And so this is an egregious misstatement of the facts of our going to war in Iraq. And Ambassador Kirkpatrick I’m sure may want to comment as well.
AMBASSADOR KIRKPATRICK: Yes, I do want to comment. I want to say that it is a misstatement, quite simply, as the Secretary General obviously knows. The Secretary General knows resolutions 678 and 687 and 1441. 687 contains the terms of the cease-fire which was negotiated at the interruption of the first Gulf War. And he is perfectly aware of the fact that Iraq has not ever fulfilled those terms of the cease-fire. The cease-fire was a conditional cease-fire. It has been the position of the United States from the beginning and it has been the position of the Secretary General as a matter of record that Iraq never fulfilled the terms of that cease-fire.
And on an earlier occasion when someone raised a question about the legitimacy of the US and the UK using force to protect the Iraqi Kurds by over-flights, the Secretary General himself it was authorized under resolution 687. Of course President George W. Bush affirmed this again during his initial presentation before the Security Council. The Security Council responded to that presentation by unanimously adopting resolution 1441, which described the material breach in which Iraq was engaged. So it is a serious mistake on the part of the Secretary General. One can only assume that he had reasons for doing it. He didn’t just say that, he said the decision to go to war without specific authorization by the security council “has created deep divisions that will need to be bridged if we are to deal effectively not just with the aftermath in Iraq but with other major challenges.” It is of course the US position — and my personal position — that the French created deep divisions when they announced that they would veto any resolution which was passed by the Security Council that dealt with the question of use of force in Iraq at that time. The French President Jacques Chirac reiterated this view several times, and effectively ended the use of the Security Council as an arena for negotiating some kind of settlement to that conflict. So I think this is very inaccurate and not consistent with views that the Secretary General himself has expressed on other occasions and not an accurate description of what actually transpired. I think this is very objectionable.
QUESTION: May I ask, why do you think the Secretary General said this and will there be any sort of repercussions by the United States against the United Nations. The US is not particularly happy with the UN role in this whole issue.
MOLEY: I would simply say that we are here to set the record straight in terms of the comments made by the Secretary General this morning here at the Human Rights Commission and any other reactions in respect to this would come from the White House or the State Department in Washington.
QUESTION: We have heard that perhaps the resolution on Iraq could be considered today. Will that take place, will there be any consideration…
MOLEY: I don’t believe that will be considered until tomorrow. Under the 24 hour rule which I believe was imposed and you will correct me if this isn’t the case, but I believe that the 24-hour rule would not permit it to be taken up until tomorrow.
QUESTION: What is the reason for the United States to try to limit the mandate of the special representative to just the crimes under Saddam Hussein and not any others that might have occurred since?
MOLEY: Well, I don’t think that is quite accurate. We are not in fact delimiting the mandate from the original resolution. And it is clear, common sense would tell you, that crimes of the regime that has been replaced were the crimes that have been the subject of the rapporteur. Even though this is the UN we must at times at least retain some degree of logic in our deliberations.
QUESTION: But does the US see any need for a special investigator given that Human Rights Watch is presently in Iraq trying to secure what they say are mass grave sites so that forensic experts can get in there and investigate. They would like to see human rights monitors on the ground to try and preserve some of the stuff and do a thorough investigation. Does the US see any role for such human rights monitors.
MOLEY: I think that is a subject for on-going discussion. I don’t think we are in the position at the moment to make that decision here.
KIRKPATRICK: I think that the United States has a very large interest in having the evidence concerning the crimes against humanity of the Saddam Hussein regime preserved and investigated.
QUESTION: Will you vote for this resolution?
KIRKPATRICK: We don’t have the final form of the resolution, so we can’t comment on whether we are willing to vote on something we haven’t seen in the final form.
MOLEY: We are in discussions with the EU and hopefully it will come to a successful conclusion as well as with others and we would hope that that would enable us to do so, but as the Ambassador has just said, it is not fully cooked yet.
QUESTION: You said earlier that you have made it clear from day one that you would respect the Geneva Conventions, the Hague etc, but a couple of weeks ago when (NAME INAUDIBLE) was asked questions at Central Command in Doha about the issue of occupying power, the response was, well we are not at that stage yet, it’s a liberating force.
MOLEY: You have mixed metaphors there. You asked me about the Geneva Convention and the Hague and I would reply as I did earlier, we have been fully, fully in conformity and intend to be since day one, not only by virtue of our words, but by virtue of our actions on the ground that demonstrate that.
QUESTION: So there is no separate occupying or liberating force category?
MOLEY: We are simply saying that the issue of an occupying power has not yet been dealt with. Once again the situation is still quite fluid. We will come to that, and presumably come to it quickly. But there should be no question — certainly no question in the mind of the Secretary General — that we need to make any clearer than we already have, and have been on the record repeatedly as being in conformance and wanting to be in conformance in every way with the Geneva Conventions.
QUESTION: I am just curious, can I ask you something generally about the Human Rights Commission? How has the US viewed this year’s session, because we have seen some countries escape censure, and at least human rights groups are quite upset about Zimbabwe and Sudan.
KIRKPATRICK: I’d like to say something about that if I may, speaking of human rights groups. I was very shocked this year to learn that Human Rights Watch has never occupied itself with Zimbabwe which is surely one of the deep broad problems in human rights violations in our times. And I mention this to suggest that it is often the case that serious persons and groups skip some and focus on others. Part of the reason for that is that there a good many serious human rights violations in the contemporary world and even very serious people often do not divide their time equally. We try to cover all the serious human rights violations in our discussions and our decisions and we did indeed address a good many of them this year.
MOLEY: In our State Department reports put out annually we do, country by country, an evaluation of their human rights conditions, so we take this very seriously. But let me say something that Ambassador Kirkpatrick can’t say and that is that our commitment to human rights should be demonstrated by the fact that the President chose to name one of our most distinguished diplomats and scholars Ambassador Kirkpatrick to be the head of our delegation here signaling our commitment as we return to the Human Rights Commission — as you know we were not on the Commission last year — so we have learned a few things and no doubt we will be looking at ways to improve the performance of this Commission in concert with other serious minded countries that are on the Commission. But there are a lot of countries on the Commission who are only on the Commission to protect themselves by virtue of their own egregious deplorable human rights situations in their countries. And I will specifically name Zimbabwe and Libya and Sudan and others in that category. And we have heard that North Korea is intending to be a candidate next month in May to become a member, which would be, as in the case of Zimbabwe, another outrage to the conditions of human rights around the world.
QUESTION: What about China? China has slipped through the cracks because some groups have said that the US just hasn’t put the pressure to bring China up this year. Is that because the US needs China for North Korea in the negotiations?
MOLEY: Let me say that there is no linkage in effect there. Certainly one looks at China’s position on the Security Council on other issues that have been of importance to the United States in recent times including Iraq and one would be hard put to suggest that there was any linkage. The fact of the matter is, in China’s case, as is reported in our State Department’s own country by country report, there are serious human rights violations taking place in China. There has been an on-going dialogue however between very high level State Department officials who are fully engaged with China. And there has been some progress. Not as much as we would like. We would like to see more. One of the interesting things and I commented on this the other day, with respect to the recent outbreak of SARS, we have seen just in recent days a change of position by the new government, and there is a new government in Beijing, headed by Hu Jintao, which has declared that they must be absolutely open. We hope that this kind of transparency will translate into further progress on the human rights front.
QUESTION: The Secretary General in his speech did seem to indicate and criticize I believe the Human Rights Commission for being weak and that it should be stronger. How do you react to that?
MOLEY: Well I would add our voice to that of the Secretary General and in fact the High Commissioner Sergio Viera de Mello who in an article in the Wall Street Journal on April 22 himself decried the fact that the Human Rights Commission did not seem to be taking the issue of human rights serious, and I am paraphrasing, you will have to go to his own remarks for a direct quote. But he was very, very critical of the performance.
KIRKPATRICK: I must say that we also addressed this issue and predicted that we would be unhappy with the final outcome across the board because there are so many countries who are members of the Human Right Commission who are not themselves serious practitioners of respect for human rights in their own countries and their own policies. That was a major emphasis in the first speech that I delivered here, the US opening speech at the Human Rights Commission.
QUESTION: Some NGOs are accusing the United States of not having any leadership this year and of, after your absence last year, failing to pass resolutions not only on China but to have been more proactive as far as Chechnya is concerned…
KIRKPATRICK: I want to say something about that too. Anyone who imagines that the United States is not being proactive when we do not ourselves sponsor a resolution is making a mistake. It is often the case inside the United Nations, not only on Human Rights issues, but on many issues, that it is more effective to cooperate with other countries and to sometimes let them take the lead. Sometimes it is better for them to take the lead, sometimes it is better for us to take the lead. We have to make judgements about that issue by issue and year by year. But I think it is a mistake to imagine that because we didn’t take the lead on the resolution that we did not act. We were, for example, very active on Sudan. And we did not take the lead. We ended as one of the sponsors of the resolution. And we worked actively on it. So don’t fall for that line. That is just not an accurate way to judge.
MOLEY: And we did take the lead in some cases that were unique to us in our position on the Commission. Belarus is an example. We are not saying our performance has been perfect either, but the fact is we are back on. We have made a serious commitment and we worked hard and we are going to work hard next year as well.
QUESTION: I am just curious. I see that Sudan today is asking the US to be removed from the list of terrorist countries. I don’t know if you can comment on whether the White House…
KIRKPATRICK: The list of terrorist countries is, you know, it does not depend on what a nation requests. There would not be a list of states sponsoring terrorism if it depended on the requests of the governments concerned. I think the United States would like very much to see the government of Sudan improve its behavior. We would like to see it improve its behavior in a number of domains. And so far we have not felt that it has done so. I would repeat, if you want to know the US position on a given country, the best thing to do is to go to our human rights country reports. They are serious, they are good, and they are up-to-date. They are revised on an annual basis. So look there.
QUESTION: Could I just ask you one question, it may be a little out of the range, but there has been a lot of criticism of the United States in terms of the deterioration of human rights law, international law specifically, with Guantanamo Bay and so forth, and the…
MOLEY: We don’t accept that characterization at all, not at all.
QUESTION: The question is that the US has always been held up as a model of the rule of law and propriety and has been an encouragement to smaller states to follow this model and there is a feeling that there is an erosion of that by the behavior of the United States.
KIRKPATRICK: I think that that is a misplaced feeling. It is a feeling and not an informed opinion. I know one thing. I know the prisoners in Guantanamo are being treated under the laws of combatants. And that is quite different from the Geneva Conventions. They were arrested in the course of seeking to kill Americans in an ongoing war.
MOLEY: Specifically I would suggest that if someone thinks we should be
treating them differently they would in fact be making up law or misapplying the law. The fact of the matter is that these are illegal combatants, unlawful combatants. And they are being treated as such. If someone wants them treated otherwise they are in fact misapplying the law. And so I would suggest that the fact is that we are in compliance in the strictest sense with humanitarian law, with the law of war, and accept our responsibilities as such. As a consequence we remain the model. We are not without fault, but we are the model.
KIRKPATRICK: I’d like to make a point because of the role in the Human Rights Commission of Cuba. You know Cuba does not permit the Red Cross or any other objective international group to visit prisoners in its prisons. The United States on the other hand gives the Red Cross broad access to the prisoners that we hold in Guantanamo. There is only one part of Cuba that there is any access for an international humanitarian agency, and that is Guantanamo Bay and the prisoners held there.