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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

11 May 2009 (morning)

For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Uruguay this morning, during which 46 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on New Zealand, following the review of the country on Thursday, 7 May.

· Presenting the national report of Uruguay was GONZALO FERNÁNDEZ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, who noted that the drafting process of the national report of Uruguay brought together several State actors together with civil society in its preparation. It was pointed out that subsequent to the submission of the national report in February this year, Uruguay ratified on 4 March the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and accepted the competence of the relevant Committee; likewise, in February, the State ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, it was recalled that in January this year the Government of Uruguay ratified the Optional Protocol to Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and, also in January, the Government began drafting the reports overdue by it to the United Nations’ Treaty Bodies.

Uruguay had made considerable advances in the area of human rights over recent years, he added. The Government of Uruguay had endeavoured to establish a national human rights institution and an office of the ombudsman. Among other things, there were laws on freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination of any kind; the Government was working towards approving a new press law to enhance the freedoms of all journalists in-country. In April this year, a new law was also enacted allowing for the better representation of women in political life. Following the economic crisis sparked in June 2002 in the region, the Government began placing extra emphasis on social policies, the Minister added. Among other things, there was a national integrated health system proving health coverage to 100% of the population; a new housing plan; a series of education reform measures; and a new tax system. All these initiatives were designed to transform the former system of social protection and to overcome constraints preventing the full exercise of all citizens’ rights. Since 2004, the access to drinking water and sanitation was also afforded to the entire population and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation was expected to visit the country in 2010. Moreover, education was universal and free from the age of four.

As regards human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship, which ended in March 1985, the Government had initiated and has been pursuing a series of initiatives, including reopening criminal trials of those allegedly responsible for these violations, which has led to the convictions of eight former police and military officers, for example. A number of other cases were also being investigated involving the two last dictators of Uruguay. The law on archiving of memories and the historical restoration of human rights’ violations was also enacted to determine what had happened to those who were detained or disappeared. A publication was subsequently issued thereafter in March 2009 providing detailed accounts. Moreover, on 4 May this year, the executive branch submitted a draft law to the Parliament aimed to compensate and reintegrate workers who were negatively affected by the military dictatorship. The Special Rapporteur on torture also visited the country in March 2009 who pointed to both advancements and challenges which remained. The President had subsequently initiated a new programme entitled ‘prison humanization’ aimed at improving prison conditions and rehabilitating inmates. Similarly, last week Uruguay was visited by the rapporteur on freedoms of the Inter American system.

Several advancements had been made in the area of women’s rights and in combating all forms of violence against women, another member of the delegation noted. As regard the harassments of children and adolescents, there were a number of centres to address these issues, as well as various measures to raise awareness and also unearth the root causes of this phenomenon. A number of precautionary measures were also in place to address cases of child abuse. It was further noted that over recent years extreme poverty had been reduced by some 60%.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the determined investment towards upholding human rights since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985; the extension of a standing invitation to United Nations Special Procedures; accession to all core international human rights instruments; the increase of public expenditure in the education sector; the integrated national health system; steps to improve the status of women and children, as well as other vulnerable groups; effective measures to address extreme poverty; the introduction of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation into national legislation; the action plan launched by the national Committee to Eradicate Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in 2007; steps to combat corruption; efforts to uphold the human rights of migrants; administrative and judicial reforms; the commitment of the Government to deal with the situation of minors in conflict with the law; and the enactment of the 2008 law that criminalized human trafficking.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, details of the national experience in the right to truth and memory; the outcome of the actions of the Government to confront the negative effects of the military dictatorship; the prospects for a popular consultation through referendum on cancelling the Expiry Law of the Punitive Powers of the State; the process of cooperation and dialogue with regional countries; the existence of a human rights education plan for civil servants; specific provisions to improve prison conditions; information on the juvenile justice system; whether there was a system of training of juvenile justice authorities; whether the Government provided free legal assistance; and the status of the national preventive mechanism as regards cases of torture.

Information was also sought on the plans of the Government to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both men and women; the functioning of the programme Health for Women and Gender of 2005; efforts to combat the negative effects of discrimination against women and, in particular steps to reduce and eliminate any discrimination between men and women in the labour force; steps taken to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; an assessment on the impact of the national plan to combat domestic violence; how the Government combated the inhuman treatment of children; and information on children born out of wedlock.

Other issues and questions pertained to the measures to combat human trafficking and to address the needs of victims; the ways in which the interagency commission proposed by the Government on human trafficking will address the needs of the victims; steps being taken to improve supervision of law enforcement and border security agents in view of cases of human trafficking; measures to ensure a balanced distribution of resources to alleviate disparities among the different groups in the country; measures to provide free drinking water and sanitation to vulnerable communities; steps being taken to encourage young people to continue their education; and examples of actions and best practices to prevent school drop-out rates and social exclusion.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to study measures with a view to implementing the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women as regards equal remuneration for men and women and overall gender balance; to amend discriminatory provisions vis a vis women in keeping with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to draw up comprehensive strategies and actions plans to eradicate human trafficking; to increase law enforcement efforts to stop trafficking offenders; to take measures to investigate, prosecute and penalize those law enforcement agents who accepted bribes or otherwise facilitated trafficking; to expand anti-trafficking training for judges and law enforcement personnel; to increase efforts to implement the new anti-trafficking law; to increase human rights victims services and protection efforts; to take further structural measures to protect women and children from domestic violence; to set up protective measures to assist victims of domestic violence; and to criminalize marital rape.

Other recommendations included, for Uruguay to amend the civil code to increase the minimum age of marriage from 12 and 14 for girls and boys, respectively, to 18 years; to eliminate discriminatory legal provisions in matters relating to family and marriage; to take specific steps to address the problem of street children and sexual exploitation of children; to step up efforts to address the problem of high school drop outs and continue to invest in education; to step up a national action plan to focus on making the family the fundamental base of childcare, reducing the number of street children and child labour, and to ensure the right to education for children; to improve the conditions of juvenile detention centres; and to ensure that there were adequately trained professionals and adequate infrastructure to support juvenile justice systems.

Additionally, Uruguay was encouraged to abolish the Expiry Law of the Punitive Powers of the State to allow for thorough investigation and prosecution of all human rights violations of the past; to examine measures needed to expedite trials and judgments; to ensure that the National Preventive Mechanism was compliant with the OPCAT and that sufficient resources were granted to it; to develop a long-term plan to address challenges in the area of incarceration; to make necessary regulatory adjustments to guarantee that non-convicted prison inmates were separated from convicted ones; to continue to reform and improve the prison system; and to continue to allocate sufficient resources aimed at improving prison conditions.

Participating States also recommended that Uruguay speed up the establishment of a national human rights institution accredited by the International Coordinating Committee on National Institutions (ICC) in accordance with the Paris Principles; ensure that national NGOs were fully involved in the follow-up to the review; set up a committee with representatives of civil society and government to discuss the implementation of human rights polices; take steps to fully incorporate the core treaties ratified by the Government into domestic legislation; study the possibility of designing a national plan to combat discrimination against people of African descent; and consider acceding to the UNESCO Convention on education and discrimination.

Other recommendations included: To continue with plans to accommodate the basic needs of the population in view of the current economic crisis, including through its poverty reduction schemes; to improve the overall quality of education for children; to take measures to address the high drop-out levels in school; to conduct more public prevention and awareness-raising campaigns on protection measures against HIV/AIDS; to continue to scale up national efforts to reduce poverty, with the assistance of the international community; and to consider signing the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights when it opens for signatures in September this year.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Cuba, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, India, Japan, Mexico, Chile, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Djibouti, Nicaragua, Italy, Ukraine, China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Germany, Slovenia, Bolivia, South Africa and the Russian Federation.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Sweden, Turkey, Colombia, Paraguay, Holy See, Venezuela, Finland, Guatemala, Nigeria, Peru, Portugal, the United States, Spain, Syria, the Dominican Republic, Belgium, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka and Ecuador.

· The 12-person delegation of Uruguay consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Uruguay are Nigeria, Jordan and Argentina.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Uruguay can be found here

· Adoption of report on New Zealand: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on New Zealand are the Philippines, Italy and Mauritius. Introducing the report ERLINDA F. BASILIO (the Philippines), after thanking the State under review and Secretariat for its assistance in drafting the report, remarked that New Zealand decided to take note of all the recommendations made by delegations during the course of the interactive dialogue, and shall provide its responses during the adoption of the report by the Human Rights Council plenary at its 12th session. Representing the State under review, WENDY HINTON, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the UPR had lived up to her country’s expectations and provided it with greater knowledge of its own human rights situation. With regard to the 64 recommendations received, New Zealand would respond to all of these before the 12th session of the Council on September.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Uruguay on Wednesday, 13 May.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work on this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Yemen after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Afghanistan.

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