By working with governments across the world, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council can help create a future “that is much brighter than the present or the past,” Secretary Kerry told representatives at the opening of the council’s 28th session in Geneva March 2.

At a time when human rights violations by some extremist groups and regimes “have reached levels that stagger the imagination and shock the conscience,” the United States continues to support the council because it believes in its mission and possibilities, he said.

“The moral standard that summons us all here and unites us in common action does not belong to any one nation or continent. The fundamental struggle for dignity has been a driving force in all human history worldwide, and what drives us are a set of universal values and aspirations,” Kerry said.

“Too many people in too many places are facing unbearable realities. We cannot accept that — we, all of us collectively — and we do not accept that,” he said.

Kerry said the council has a mandate to do these things to make the world a better and safer place:

  • Provide a valuable means for reminding every nation of its commitments and obligations.
  • Hold countries accountable when they fail to meet international standards.
  • Help countries respond successfully to domestic human rights challenges.
  • Advance global norms such as LGBT rights.
  • Offer methods for self-evaluation to individual nations, including through the universal periodic review process.

“The more the international community understands about specific human rights violations, the greater the pressure will be on bad actors to change course.  And eventually — not always overnight, but eventually — that pressure often translates into the kind of change that saves lives and expands freedom,” Kerry said.

The secretary also criticized the council for devoting so much of its attention to Israel. “When it comes to human rights, no country on earth should be free from scrutiny, but neither should any country be subject to unfair or unfounded bias,” he said.