Start of Main Content

An Interview with Ambassador Michèle Taylor

Ambassador Michèle Taylor, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, speaks with the media outside the Council chamber following a discussion of Russia's aggression against Ukraine March 31, 2023. —Eric Bridiers, US Mission Geneva

As part of Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month, we spoke with Ambassador Michèle Taylor, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Ambassador Taylor is a lifelong human rights activist and a daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She was a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council and served on the Museum’s Committee on State Sponsored Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, as well as the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide’s advisory body, the Committee on Conscience.

Can you talk about your personal connection to the Holocaust and how that influenced your involvement in human rights work and atrocity prevention? 

The Holocaust has left an indelible mark on my family's history, shaping my understanding of the consequences of unchecked hatred, prejudice, and discrimination. As the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I have witnessed the long-lasting effects of this unimaginable tragedy on what is left of my family.

My mother and her parents, who endured the horrors of the Holocaust, were fortunate enough to escape certain death during Kristallnacht in 1938, thanks to the bravery and kindness of others who helped them hide from the Nazis. Despite surviving the Holocaust, the trauma they experienced left a lasting impression on their lives. My mother, who was only three years old at the time, was haunted by memories of a family member being shot in front of her. The weight of this trauma has shaped the lives of my family members for generations. 

By sharing my family's story I hope to honor their legacy, as well as the millions of other victims who suffered during the Holocaust. I also do so by working tirelessly to promote human rights and prevent atrocities. I believe it is my duty to ensure that their sacrifices and the lessons of history are not forgotten, and to use my personal connection to the Holocaust as a driving force in my efforts to create a more just, inclusive, and compassionate world.

I grew up witnessing the emotional scars left by the Holocaust and because I so deeply understood where it can lead I felt a strong sense of responsibility to dedicate my life to fighting against bigotry in all its forms. I recognized that the horrors my family endured were the result of deeply ingrained prejudice and hatred, and I knew that it was my duty to work to prevent the precursors that allow such atrocities to occur again. 

This commitment to human rights and atrocity prevention has manifested in various ways throughout my career. From championing women in STEM education and combating gender based violence to addressing modern day forms of genocide, Holocaust denial, and antisemitism through my work with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and as Ambassador to the Human Rights Council (HRC), I have consistently sought to promote a more just and equitable world. My appointment as Ambassador has also given me an unparalleled opportunity to advocate for universal human rights and protect human rights defenders on a global scale. It is a hard job and the issues I deal with at the HRC break my heart every day. But I cannot imagine a greater honor or purpose to my life. 

My personal connection to the Holocaust has also instilled in me a deep appreciation for the power of education and remembrance in preventing future atrocities. By ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust remains a powerful force for good, we can inspire others to stand up against antisemitism and all other forms of hatred and discrimination. This dedication to education and remembrance has been a driving force behind my support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and its efforts to develop tools and resources for combating antisemitism worldwide.

In conclusion, my personal connection to the Holocaust has been a guiding force in my life and my career. It has inspired me to dedicate myself to human rights work and atrocity prevention, and it serves as a constant reminder of the importance of our collective efforts to combat hatred and discrimination. I am committed to using my voice and my platform as the US Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council to promote a more inclusive and just world, informed by the lessons of the past and driven by the hope of a better future for all. 

What is the role of HRC in protecting Rohingya from further violence and creating a safe environment for them to return home to Burma (Myanmar)? 

Like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Secretary of State determined that Burma’s military committed genocide against Rohingya. The Secretary also determined that crimes against humanity were committed. The plight of Rohingya is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention from the international community. Their lives, human rights, and dignity cannot be ignored. Protecting Rohingya from further violence and ensuring their safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return home is a goal that requires the involvement of the HRC. 

The HRC has a crucial role in condemning human rights abuses and promoting accountability for perpetrators. HRC Council resolutions mandated a Fact-Finding Mission that documented human rights abuses and violations, established an Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes for potential criminal proceedings, and created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar to ensure that human rights abuses are documented and brought to light.   

Furthermore, HRC resolutions and special procedures can play an important role in supporting efforts to create a secure environment for Rohingya to return home. This includes international efforts calling on the Myanmar government to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights of all of its citizens, including Rohingya, and allowing access for humanitarian assistance to those who have been affected by violence. 

Ultimately, the HRC is a forum where the international community can listen to the voices of victims and survivors and call for actions that contribute to building a more peaceful, stable, and democratic Myanmar, where all citizens are treated with respect and dignity. This is not only a moral imperative, but also a strategic one. A peaceful and stable Myanmar is in the interest of its people, the region, and the international community as a whole. 

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the Rohingya crisis. The international community, through the HRC and other mechanisms, must continue to act with urgency and determination to protect the human rights of Rohingya and support their safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return home. I am personally committed to seeing that the United States is a leading voice in this effort. 

Twelve years into the Syrian conflict, what is the HRC doing to keep international attention focused on the ongoing atrocity crimes, and support Syrian victims and survivors seeking justice and accountability for these crimes? 

It is critical that the Human Rights Council keeps international attention focused on the ongoing atrocities and supports Syrian victims and survivors seeking justice and accountability for these atrocities. The fact that Syria remains on the agenda of the HRC at every session demonstrates the ongoing commitment of the international community to addressing the grave human rights abuses and violations taking place in the country. When I hear talk of fatigue regarding Syria at the Council, I push back. Imagine the fatigue that the brave people of Syria who live with constant human rights violations are experiencing. 

The recent renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria by the Council is particularly significant in this regard. The COI is an essential mechanism that documents and reports on the human rights situation in Syria, and supports efforts to ensure that all perpetrators of abuses and violations, which may include those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, are identified and held accountable. The COI's work is critical to ensuring accountability for those responsible for these atrocities and providing some measure of justice to the victims and survivors of these crimes. 

However, despite these efforts, the human rights situation in Syria remains dire. The regime's violent suppression of peaceful protests in 2011 sparked the conflict, and since then, the situation has deteriorated significantly. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and repeated bombings are just some of the violations and abuses that have been documented. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Syrians remain arbitrarily or unjustly detained or missing, and the majority of them are held by the regime. 

Therefore, it is crucial that the HRC and the international community continue to support Syrian human rights defenders who are documenting and fighting back against these egregious abuses and violations. Furthermore, we must continue to call for unhindered and sustained humanitarian access to those in need throughout the country. We must also continue to support efforts to establish a mechanism to determine the fate of missing persons and support survivors. 

In conclusion, the renewal of the COI's mandate demonstrates the international community's continued commitment to addressing the abuses and violations taking place in Syria. However, much more needs to be done to hold those responsible accountable and provide justice to the victims and survivors of the innumerable atrocities that have taken place in Syria. The Council must continue to focus on Syria, and the international community must continue to support the brave Syrian human rights defenders and those affected by the conflict. We have not forgotten what brought Syrians to the streets to peacefully demonstrate 12 years ago, and the Council should not either. We must show the Syrian survivors that we are aware of the violations and abuses committed in Syria, some tantamount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The United States remains committed to supporting the documentation of these violations and abuses, standing in solidarity with the survivors, and promoting accountability.