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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

8 December 2009 (morning)
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 Brunei Darussalam this morning, during which fifty-four 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 Portugal, following the review of the country on Friday 4 December.

Presenting the national report of Brunei Darussalam was PEHIN DATO LIM JOCK SENG, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Brunei Darussalam, who said the report summarised the approach in terms of the various aspects of the Government's policy towards enhancing the welfare of the people. It also contained challenges for the future. Brunei Darussalam was an old Malay Kingdom, where Islam was the official religion and way of life for the people of Brunei. As such, the activities of society revolved around the Malay culture and Islamic faith- however, the non-Muslim could practice their religions in peace and harmony, and this provision was enshrined in the Constitution. History in Brunei Darussalam depicted a very harmonious inter-religious relationship. 

Education remained one of the top priorities of the Government, and a total of twelve per cent of the national budget had been allocated thereto. Providing universal access to education had always been a fundamental objective of Brunei's education policy, and this had led to Brunei having one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. The percentage of women's participation in education had also increased. On health, the provision of a comprehensive free health care system for the people was a priority, and this service was not only available in urban areas, but also in rural areas. The target was to attain "Health for All"- the emphasis had been given to the development of a health care system that was based on primary health care, aimed at providing a wide range of preventive, promotion, curative and rehabilitative health care and support services to meet the needs of the population.

Housing was one of the basic needs of the people, and under the National Housing Programme, the Government aimed to realise its policy in terms of providing citizens with home ownership and proper accommodation in a pleasant environment. On the environment, the Government had been very far sighted. According to the 2007/2008 United Nations Human Development Report, Brunei was ranked in thirtieth place out of 177 nations. The Millennium Development Goals had also provided additional impetus for national efforts, and Brunei Darussalam placed a high priority on meeting the targets set in the Goals. The Government saw it as crucial in its efforts to fulfil the prime responsibility to ensure the people would be confident in the future. Brunei would continue in its efforts to achieve national harmony, unity, stability and prosperity, based on ensuring equitable socio-economic development. 

During the three-hour interactive discussion, delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the great effort made by Brunei Darussalam in enhancing democracy, and protecting and promoting human rights; Government measures in the fields of education, health, and promoting the rights of the elderly and disabled persons; the good practice of integration of human rights education at primary and secondary levels of education; the determined efforts to eradicate poverty through policies aimed at raising the standard of living for all Bruneians; the significant progress that had been made for the protection and promotion of human rights, especially in the fields of economic and social agenda of all spheres; the creation of a system of the material conditions and human capital to ensure welfare of the people; and the considerable progress made by the Government in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, particularly for the reductions of prenatal and infant mortality rates as well as the maternal mortality ratio. 

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, if the Government had plans to consider the establishment of a national human rights institution; what measures were being considered to adjust the minimum age of criminal liability, currently seven years of age, to international human rights standards; what measures were being taken to secure a larger share of women in senior management positions in the civil service; how representatives of civil society were involved in the reporting process and how would they be included in the process of follow-up to the recommendations; a request for clarification of steps Brunei Darussalam was taking to ensure that all citizens could practise their religion freely; what measures was the Government taking to protect migrant rights; what were the practical measures taken to combat trafficking in human beings; and concerns for restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, as, according to law, it was an offence to criticise the Government, the Sultan, and his family, as well as reports of self-censorship of the country's two largest newspapers. 

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These
included: to continue to strengthen economic, political and social development with full participation of the population; to continue to cooperate with United Nations and other international organisations to strengthen human rights; that Brunei Darussalam consider ratification of the core international human rights instruments to which it was not yet a State Party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; that Brunei Darussalam revise its Penal Code so as to criminalise all acts of rape without exception and irrespective of the marital status and the gender of victim; to repeal or amend the relevant section of the Penal Code so as to ensure that it did not discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals; and to repeal or amend all provisions in the Immigration Act that criminalised migrant workers for administrative offences so as to allow imprisonment only in narrowly-defined circumstances.

Other recommendations included: to repeal or amend all provisions in domestic laws which provided for caning, whipping, or any other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and to legally prohibit any form of corporal punishment of children and adolescents; to extend an open and permanent invitation to the United Nations human rights Special Procedure mandate holders; to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty; to continue efforts to combat ill-treatment of children and to design policies and programmes to address these practices; to continue efforts aimed at strengthening the roles, functions and capacities of national institutions and mechanisms responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms; intensify efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, inter alia through advocating and promoting women's empowerment, capacity building, gender sensitivity training as well as public awareness building activities; and that Brunei Darussalam continue to promote human rights education and training for both Government officials and the general public in order to further nurture a human rights culture within the country. 

Responding to questions and issues raised and in final comments, Mr. Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng said with regards to the Millennium Development Goals, Brunei Darussalam was now on the last step to achieve these before 2015. A lot of speakers addressed the issue of international Conventions which Brunei Darussalam had not yet ratified or acceded to, but the Government was currently examining five of these in particular. With regards to a national human rights institution, there was an inter-agency consultative mechanism to ensure protection and promotion of human rights in the country, and NGOs and civil society were also represented therein. The Government had made great efforts to ensure that the welfare of all citizens was taken care of. There was legislation in place to protect both children and women's rights. Should there be any request for a country visit by a United Nations mechanism, then Brunei Darussalam would welcome this. 

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

Observer States participating in the discussion were Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar, Algeria, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Belarus, Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Iran, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Morocco, Portugal, Bhutan, and Syria. 

The sixteen-person delegation of Brunei Darussalam consisted of representatives from the Attorney-General's Chambers; the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade, of Education, of Religious Affairs, of Home Affairs, and of Culture, Youth and Sports.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Portugal are Zambia, France, and Indonesia.

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 Brunei Darussalam can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Brunei Darussalam on Friday 11 December.

Adoption of report on Portugal: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Portugal are Qatar, Belgium, and Hungary. Introducing the report, KLARA TUNYOGI AKOTS (Hungary) said Portugal had accepted seventy-one recommendations, of which twenty-one had been accepted with qualifications, and had signalled its intention to consider the possibility of accepting another seventeen. The Troika wished to recognise Portugal's commitment to presenting a fair and accurate account of its human rights situation and its dedication to future improvements. Representing the State under review, FRANCISCO M. XAVIER ESTEVES, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Portugal was fully committed to the protection and promotion of all human rights and to the Universal Periodic Review process, and the process had proven its added value, both as a stock-taking exercise and as an instrument to improve the internal coordination efforts. 

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m., it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Costa Rica.

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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