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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

4 December 2009 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Bhutan this afternoon, during which fifty-three Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report of Albania, following the review of the country on Wednesday 2 December, and the report of Cyprus, following the review of the country on Tuesday 1 December. 

Presenting the national report of Bhutan was LYONPO KINZANG DORJI, Former Prime Minister and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Bhutan, who said Bhutan greatly appreciated the opportunity provided by the mechanism to reflect and assess, in a self-critical manner, achievements, as well as identifying existing gaps and challenges in the protection and promotion of human rights on the ground, and an occasion to share best practices and bring about further improvement through constructive dialogue and international cooperation.  The Constitution of Bhutan provided the overarching legal framework for the country and was based on the principle that every individual possessed the fundamental rights and freedom to secure equality and effective protection of their rights and dignity irrespective of ethnic origin, religion, gender or other status.  Domestic efforts to strengthen human rights had been further complemented by engagements and cooperation with regional and international agencies. 

Bhutan was fully committed to ensuring the equal rights of men and women to ensure the equal rights of women and men to enjoy all economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights, and also to eliminating discrimination against women in all its forms.  Bhutan was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country- these were sources of strength, and the diversity had served to enrich the society.   Bhutanese citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin, enjoyed equal rights and access to social services.  Freedom of religion was guaranteed by the Constitution and the Government continued to promote peaceful coexistence between the different religious groups in the country.  Underpinned by the spirit of tolerance, respect and the search for the middle path that prevailed in Bhutanese society, respect for the rights of not just humans but all sentient beings had always featured strongly in the Bhutanese consciousness, with the conviction that all human rights were indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. 

Bhutan was guided by the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness, which was much larger than the sum-total of contented individuals, going beyond the individual and embracing the obligations to society and humanity at large with its ideals of holistic development, sharing, mutual respect and tolerance.  As with many least developed countries, poverty remained one of the greatest impediments to the full enjoyment of human rights, and the present Government continued to adopt poverty alleviation as the main focus of the current Five Year Plan: without basic economic capacity, people could not be empowered to realise their most fundamental rights.  Respect for human rights was an intrinsic part of Bhutan's traditional, social, cultural and political fabric.  Despite the challenges faced, it was determined to continue the pursuit of the realisation of the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Bhutanese.  Bhutan had the required normative, development and political framework for its people to enjoy and pursue all fundamental rights, and sought the constructive support and cooperation of the international community in its efforts to further protect and promote all human rights in Bhutan. 

During the three-hour interactive discussion, delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review.  These included the peaceful political transition in 2008; the measures taken on efforts to guarantee the independence of judicial systems to ensure equality before the law and to ensure equal rights to all people; that the introduction of democracy in Bhutan was driven internally without any turmoil or violence; that the Constitution was the result of an extensive and inclusive process, right down to the grass-roots level; the inclusion of an entire chapter on Women and Development in the Five Year Plan; the establishment in 2007 of the Women and Child Protection Unit, which had been effective in providing a quick response in the case of violations of the rights of women and children, particularly with regards to situations of domestic violence; and the energetic steps taken by the Government to improve the legal and court system. 

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, what safeguards existed in the Constitution for human rights, as well as to protect individuals from violations of their human rights; the Government's efforts to reduce illiteracy and fight the spread of HIV/AIDS; what did Bhutan plan to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, particularly the reunion of women and children in refugee camps with their families and relatives in Bhutan; what was the Government's plan to enhance progress in the field of gender equality; what efforts the Government had undertaken to meet the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Committee; what steps was the Government taking to ensure a transparent and fully representative Government; and how did the Government plan to guarantee media freedom and the right to freedom of information, speech, and expression. 

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations.  These included: that Bhutan continue to work with the international community on the development of human rights; that it continue to work with its neighbouring countries to find a democratic and lasting solution to the illegal migration problem; that it examine the best practices of other least developed countries on the oversight mechanisms that served to protect and promote human rights with the aim of establishing its own, in keeping with domestic requirements; to pay more attention to the problem of domestic violence and the sexual exploitation of children for commercial purposes; to take further efforts to address the problems of unemployment, especially among young people; to consider drawing up a National Plan of Action for Children; that Bhutan consider sharing its best practices through the relevant development agencies; and that Bhutan seek the assistance of the international community to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. 

Other recommendations included:  to continue to improve indicators on such matters as maternal health, education, access to water and other situations in cooperation with the international community; that it continue and strengthen its efforts in environmental conservation and protection, which contributed significantly to global efforts to safeguard the common heritage of mankind, and that Bhutan consider sharing its experiences in the pursuit of environmentally sound and balanced sustainable development, while promoting economic and social development; to continue efforts to fight poverty with the support and encouragement of the international community; that special programmes be put in place to encourage and support the education of women, particularly in rural areas; that the Government adopt the necessary legal framework and launch appropriate policies to guarantee the indiscriminate access of the Nepalese minority to the same enjoyment of human rights as the other Bhutanese citizens; and to create an oversight mechanism for children in alternative care, such as in monasteries.  

Responding to some of the questions posed, LYONPO THAKUR S POWDYEL, Minister of Education, joint leader of the delegation, said that considerable efforts for education had greatly increased voter participation, and considerable efforts were afoot to encourage women to vote in the upcoming elections of 2010.  Only two political groups had filled the criteria for the first elections, a process which had been described as free, fair, and within international standards.  The delegation said, with regards to other questions and issues raised, Bhutan took its international obligations very seriously, but needed to first build the necessary legal, political and social institutions, but needed to first build development in the country.  The National Commission gave high priority to protecting the rights of women and children and addressing violence committed against them.  On human trafficking, Bhutan was minimally affected, but was undertaking dedicated efforts to address this crime against humanity effectively.

Member States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Qatar, China, Brazil, Philippines, Cuba, Bangladesh, Egypt, Netherlands, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Slovenia, Italy, Pakistan, Chile, France, United Kingdom, Japan, United States of America, Bahrain, Norway, Argentina, and Slovakia.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Singapore, Cambodia, Nepal, Canada, Austria, Germany, Malaysia, Serbia, Algeria, Thailand, Turkey, Iran, Viet Nam, Brunei Darussalam, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Spain, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Poland, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

The twelve-person delegation of Bhutan consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Mission of Bhutan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Mission to Belgium and the European Communities; the Ministry of Education, the National Commission of Women and Children, the Gross National Happiness Commission, the Permanent Mission of Bhutan to the United Nations in New York, and the Office of the Attorney Generel.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Bhutan are India, Madagascar, and Uruguay.

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 Bhutan can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Bhutan on Tuesday 8 December.

Adoption of report on Albania:  The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Albania are United States of America, Mauritius, and the Russian Federation. Introducing the report, JOHN MARIZ (United States of America) said the presentation made it clear that Albania was committed to using the Universal Periodic Review process to further protect and promote the rights of its citizens, and demonstrated a cooperative spirit during the discussions.  Representing the State under review, SEJDI QERIMAJ, Permanent Representative of Albania, said the Universal Periodic Review allowed each and every State to take stock in detail of the human rights situation in their country, and the interactive dialogue made it possible to see clearly how the national picture was perceived by the international community, and to go on and make a new evaluation in terms of international standards, and Albania had taken due note of all recommendations and suggestions made.

Adoption of report on Cyprus:  The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Cyprus are Senegal, Philippines, and the Netherlands. Introducing the report, DENIS Y LEPATAN, (PHILIPPINES), said the troika had consulted intensively with all relevant actors to explore all possible options to overcome difficulties.  As Cyprus was of the view that the report contained non-United Nations terminology, it was not present in the room when action was taken.  In concluding remarks, Alex Van Meeuwen President of the Council noted that the Universal Periodic Review was a cooperative intergovernmental mechanism which framework and modalities were agreed on by all on the basis of the rules and regulations of the General Assembly.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work on Monday 7 December, it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Dominica.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp

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