Paper Tiger: State Dept. Speech Texts Include Tough Talk, but Speeches Didn't

The Obama administration has fallen into an unfortunate habit in its desperation to burnish strong foreign policy credentials: claiming its representatives have made robust statements to an international audience, when they have not.

On June 18, the State Department posted what was alleged to be a hard-nosed speech delivered by UN Human Rights Council Ambassador Eileen Donahoe in Geneva at the opening of the Council’s latest session. Here is what the State Department claims Obama’s ambassador said:

The United States demands an end to the Assad regime’s outrageous crimes against the people of Syria. Those who committed these atrocities must be identified and held accountable.

She did not include this. Here is another passage from the posting that Donahoe did not actually speak:

Some believe that the Human Rights Council should not address country-specific situations. We disagree. The credibility of the UN’s human rights machinery depends on its capacity to address urgent and persistent human rights situations where and when they emerge; to make a difference in the lives of the people who suffer under oppressive governments; and to protect those around the world who work to advance the cause of human rights.

This isn’t the first time the speech record has been doctored. In September 2010, two months after a series of systematic mass rapes began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an informal meeting on the subject was held during a Human Rights Council session lunch break. Deliberately, it was not a meeting of the Council itself: there was no advertisement in the UN bulletin, no webcast, no recording service, and no UN press release on the event. Yet the U.S. mission to Geneva issued a press release with the title: “United States Welcomes Engagement by Human Rights Council on Abuses in DRC.”

The press release included a large file photo of a full meeting in the Council chamber -- the “informal dialogue” had purposely not been scheduled in that chamber. The press release also quoted Ambassador Donahoe as saying:

Today’s meeting demonstrated that the Council can react to events in real time.

A few days later, Donahoe wrapped up the Council session with praise:

I also recognize the forward movement made on other important human-rights issues this session. … I welcome the council’s engagement on the issue of the mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This showed the council’s ability to react to real events in real time and to contribute its voice to this important issue.

Not only is two months later not “real time,” but the Council itself had not reacted at all.