Ambassador Robert Yamate’s Speech – “Human Rights and Law of Armed Conflict”

Distinguished members from the Malagasy government and military, Leaders from the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for taking the time to commit to this vital training.  The safeguarding of human rights has been central to the United States since our establishment over 200 years ago.  Today the promotion of respect for human rights is at the forefront of our domestic and foreign policy and a key component of our security cooperation and assistance program.  The importance of human rights globally was underscored in then Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s 2005 address to the UN Commission on Human Rights, when he stated clearly that:

We will not enjoy development with security, or security without development…we will enjoy neither without universal respect for human rights.

The promotion of human rights is also central to the mission of our Embassy here in Madagascar today.  Working in partnership with the government, civil society, and other stakeholders, the U.S. strives to guarantee human rights for women, children, minorities and vulnerable populations throughout Madagascar.

The protection of human rights is best achieved in the kind of stable democratic state towards which the government of Madagascar is working.  Since my arrival, I have publicly expressed support for the national reconciliation process championed by President Rajaonarimampianina.  I am firmly convinced that an open, transparent and durable national reconciliation process will help Madagascar put many of the problems of the past behind it.  Reconciliation will  enable Madagascar to achieve its full potential, attain political stability,  and work towards the kind of economic development that will improve the lives of the millions of Malagasy who live in poverty.

The active safeguarding of human rights by a well-trained Malagasy military will also prevent new wounds from opening that could again retard Madagascar’s growth and stability.

As part of this overall objective, the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) will present a seminar showing how military and civilian security officials can effectively achieve their mission while adhering to international human rights law and staying within the boundaries of the law of armed conflict.  The success of their work here, however, depends on each of you.  This week you will be given the opportunity to present your own agency’s roles and the challenges which you face in achieving national goals.  Through these presentations and subsequent discussions, the DIILS team will highlight ways in which you can meet those challenges and enhance inter-agency cooperation amongst Madagascar’s military, law enforcement and security agencies, while respecting the basic human rights of all Malagasy citizens.    It is up to you to be frank in these discussions, and to be committed and dedicated in implementing the enhancements you and the DILS presenters develop.

Through our security cooperation program, the United States is committed to working with the Malagasy National Defense forces to increase Madagascar’s ability to contribute to both national and regional security.  A key element in that is increasing the ability of the government to build a maritime safety and security capacity for this island nation.  Such a long-term maritime security capacity means that we must broaden our focus beyond equipment and technical training.  It means helping the government and the Defense Forces continue the process of bringing Madagascar back into the fold of democratic states.  This seminar will provide some the tools that can help participants better understand the traditions, conventions and treaties that democratic nations have agreed to follow.  For instance, by analyzing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the seminar will build Madagascar’s institutional capacity in the international law of military operations and maritime law enforcement.  There will be comparisons between the law of armed conflict and maritime law enforcement, and between the rules of engagement and rules on the use of force.  You will discuss critical issues such as detention standards, piracy, and the responsibility of commanders for offenses committed by their subordinates.   Ultimately, all this information will enable the whole of Malagasy government to ensure an effective flow of commerce, prevent pollution and illegal dumping, preserve its marine environment, and protect against illegal fishing.

Two weeks ago, some of you gathered here attended our seminar on enhancing human security in Madagascar.  The planning of these two seminars in succession was purposeful.  The first seminar emphasized that the preservation of human security—that is, the security of the Malagasy citizenry—can only be achieved through close cooperation between government, security forces, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the international community.  This seminar narrows the focus further to the military and security forces that are serving each Malagasy citizen.  Ultimately, I hope that you  take from this training an understanding that modern, professional military and security forces can only be effective to the extent that they comply with international legal norms, are accountable for their activities, and engender trust among civilian authorities and the citizens they ultimately serve.  A key output of this understanding will be the establishment of a credible system of accountability for security force abuses allegations in the coming year.  The United States remains committed to partnering with Madagascar in these efforts and working to find increased opportunities for cooperation.