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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

12 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 Vanuatu this morning, during which 24 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 Chile, following the review of the country on Friday, 8 May.

· Presenting the national report of Vanuatu was ROLINE LESINES, Vice Chairperson of the Vanuatu UPR Committee, who, while noting that Vanuatu was a democratic country with a population of approximately 235,077 habitants, said since its independence her country, as a Small Island Developing State and a Least Developed Country in the South Pacific, has always tried its utmost best to respect and promote the rights of its people. The fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu. Given its commitment and recognition to all Human Rights Principles, the Government has ratified the following International Instruments: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol; the Convention on the Rights of Persons Living with Disability (CRPD); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The State had also ratified a number of ILO conventions. In order to compile the UPR report the Government has appointed a committee made up of Government Departments' representatives. This Committee was tasked to consult the relevant Government Departments on human rights issues. Two Government Officials who were part of the NGO committee that has prepared the NGOs report.

Vanuatu was an archipelago that comprised of 83 islands, stretching 1,300 kilometers from north to south, covering a land area of 12,190 square kilometers. Vanuatu’s economy and the livelihood of its people are shaped by climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Vanuatu was a State Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and took an active part in the initial negotiations in the development of the Convention through its affiliation with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Small Island Developing Countries (SIDS). Vanuatu was currently facing climate change impacts. Climate change no doubt has impacts on the human rights of the people of Vanuatu. With regards to natural disasters, the most vulnerable people in these circumstances are women and children. At present, the Government, through the Department of Meteorological Services, the National Disaster Management Office and Geo-Hazards Section, was working hard to find possible ways to save the population and address these threats. However, Vanuatu urgently needed scientific studies to identify future climate change threats and natural disasters and to advise the Government accordingly in order for it to take drastic steps to address the climate change and upcoming disasters in a timely manner instead of going with the current trend of reacting to disasters when they strike the country.

The head of delegation noted that Vanuatu recently faced serious problems in its detention centres and in response the Government, with the assistance of New Zealand, recently renovated the State's detention centres to meet the International Standards. In the promotion of equal access of women, men and young people in employment sector, Vanuatu, with the technical support of the ILO, has recently launched a Decent Work Country Programme, the priorities of which focused on the Labour Legislation Reform; the application of the international labour standards; the promotion of decent employment opportunities; capacity building of tripartite partners and improvement of social dialogue; and the increase of social protection. Vanuatu has also progressed positively in the protection of women's rights by passing the Family Protection Act. The Ministry of Justice and Social Welfare of Vanuatu via the department of Women's Affairs was at the moment working on a draft conceptual framework on the implementation of the Act. Next year, though some institutions like the Police academy were already being trained on handling domestic violence cases and sexual assaults, the Ministry of Justice and Social Welfare will push for better infrastructure and services to be set in place so that justice can easily be accessed and afforded by women. Another major task for the Government was to compile existing legislation regarding family issues such as matrimonial act, child maintenance, family maintenance, property rights and maintenance after divorce, Family protection Act (which focuses only on temporary domestic violence orders) into one consolidated Family Law for Vanuatu. To promote and uphold the Children's access to education, the Council of Ministers has recently made a decision that in 2010, Education will be free for all Children from grade 1 to 8.

Before closing, the head of delegation informed the Working Group that Vanuatu had decided to extend a standing invitation to the United Nations Special Procedures. Moreover, on behalf of her Government, she also extended an open invitation to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Nations to provide it with technical assistance and capacity building in order for it fully meet its human rights obligations, as well as to set up a national human rights institution, as it intended to do. Moreover, she also extended an invitation to the international community to assist her country to continue its efforts to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and how they affected the realization of human rights.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included efforts towards gender equality; child protection measures; the passage of the Family Protection Act; positive steps taken towards the elimination of domestic violence against women and children; accession to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the decline in infant mortality; the improvement of immunization coverage; the setting up of the Office of Child Protection; progress made regarding the right to education; steps taken to encourage more leadership roles for women; the announcement to extend a standing invitation to the United Nations Special Procedures; the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman; and the steps being taken by the Government to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and natural disasters.

· 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, measures intended to improve conditions of detention for minors and plans to set up juvenile detention centres; the status of the study by the Commission of Inquiry tasked with examining poor living conditions and denial of access to medical and legal professionals for detainees; steps to ensure that all nationals were able to exercise the right to vote; plans to improve the accountability and transparency in the public sector; plans to modify patriarchal attitudes and cultural practices and stereotypes that allowed violence against women; plans to establish a mechanism to ensure the full implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; steps to address the problem of violence against women; and steps being taken or considered to address the issue of limited participation of women in politics.

Other issues and questions posed to the delegation of Vanuatu pertained to efforts to bring national legislation into line with Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Convention on Rights of the Child standards; plans to accede to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; measures being taken to foster human rights education; the Education for All Plan and the Gender Equality in Education Policy; measures being taken to address the problem of the lack of responsibility of parents to send their children to school; policies to address the issue of the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation; and how climate change impacts affected the enjoyment of core rights in Vanuatu including the rights to life, food, housing, self-determination and means of subsistence.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to continue working towards improving prison conditions; to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a prisoner in custody in March 2009 and take appropriate measures; to put in place a strategy to ensure that the rights of women were upheld by the justice system; to consider acceding to the Convention against Torture; to further enhance the capacity, neutrality and independence of the judiciary; to ensure a thorough and timely investigation by the Ministry of Justice and Social Welfare of the allegations in the Board of Inquiry report on the conditions of detainees; to review legislation on the minimum age of criminal responsibility; to adopt a proactive approach to implement recommendations aimed at protecting the rights of detainees; to support further human rights training for law enforcement officials; to combat corruption; to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption; and to accede to the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Other recommendations included: To consider the possibility to accede to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination; to continue to take necessary measures to reduce discrimination against women, particularly in the job market and in public life; to put in place a comprehensive strategy to modify or eliminate cultural practices and stereotypes that discriminate against women; to address the problem of social disparities in the delivery of and access to quality basics social services; to take the necessary measures to ensure that discrimination on the basis of disability, economic status, sexual orientation or living with HIV/AIDS was prohibited; to amend the Constitution to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; and to strengthen efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Additionally, Vanuatu was encouraged to raise public awareness to combat domestic violence; to provide legal aid to victims of domestic violence; to adopt a "no drop" policy to ensure that all cases of domestic violence were properly investigated; to continue efforts to allocate sufficient resources to ensure the effective implementation of the Family Protection Act; to strengthen efforts to combat discrimination against women and to ensure equality for women on the ground; to continue to implement the recommendations of Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to ensure gender equality through legislation; to follow up to recommendations by the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and to eradicate the practice of corporal punishment.

Vanuatu was also encouraged to pursue efforts to guarantee access for all children to free and compulsory primary education; to put in place free primary school education for all and to make primary education compulsory; to invest more efforts to keep children in school, particularly girls; to enhance the national education plan so as to increase the attendance rates to secondary school by girls; to promote awareness raising programmes on the importance of education of children; to consider applying sanctions for parents who failed to send their children to school; to ensure secondary education was available in rural areas; to consider acceding to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; to continue with efforts to improve health services, combat diseases, improve maternal health and reduce child mortality rates; and to provide employment opportunities for youth and people living in rural areas.

Additionally, State recommended that Vanuatu allocate more funding to the Ombudsman to allow for more aggressive prosecution of corruption cases; and continue efforts to set up a national human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles and for the international community to assist in this regard. States also called on the international community and United Nations agencies provide Vanuatu with technical and financial assistance to enable Vanuatu to fulfil its human rights obligations; and also for the international community to provide assistance to Vanuatu to fulfil its human rights obligations by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels that were consistent with the full enjoyment with human rights.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were France, Brazil, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Ghana, Italy and the Philippines.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Australia, Algeria, Austria, Turkey, New Zealand, Morocco, Maldives, Latvia, the Czech Republic and the United States.

· The four-person delegation of Vanuatu consisted of representatives of the Labour Department of Vanuatu, the State Law Office, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Lands.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Vanuatu are Chile, Djibouti and India.

· 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 Vanuatu can be found here

· Adoption of report on Chile: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Chile are Senegal, Qatar and Cuba. Introducing the report JUAN ANTONIO FERNÁNDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba) said the interaction by the troika with Chile was characterized by openness, flexibility and cooperation and that the draft report met the required guidelines for UPR reports. Representing the State under review, CARLOS PORTALES, Permanent Representative of Chile to the UN Office at Geneva, said Chile had accepted virtually all the recommendations made and the Government was committed to implement them. Moreover, Chile would continue to do its utmost to fulfil its human rights obligations. He also recalled that Chile had extended an invitation to the Special Procedures, as voiced by the head of delegation on Friday, and that the State endeavoured to set up a national human rights action plan by the end of this year.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Vanuatu on Friday, 15 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 the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Viet Nam.

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