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Human Rights Council establishes Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice

Human Rights Council
MORNING 1 October 2010

Decides to Hold Panel on Human Rights in the Context of Action Taken to Address Terrorist Hostage-Taking and the Responsibility of States

The Human Rights Council this morning adopted a resolution in which it established for a period of three years a Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practise, and a decision in which it decided to hold a panel discussion on human rights in the context of action taken to address terrorist hostage-taking with a special focus on the primary responsibility of States.

A proposed amendment on the draft resolution on discrimination against women by Saudi Arabia, to include a reference to international legislation, was thoroughly discussed by speakers, and finally rejected. The sponsors of the resolution hastened to point out that there had been full consultations on the text, and felt that the proposed amendment introduced limitations, and said that the Council could not accept a caveat or a reservation along the proposed lines when what it was talking about was discrimination against women. Speakers in favour of the amendment said that the protection and promotion of human rights was ultimately the task of national Governments, in accordance with their commitments under international law to protect and promote women's rights and eliminate discrimination, and therefore the amendment should be included. The Council then adopted the original text without a vote.

In the resolution on discrimination against women, the Council called upon States to fulfil their obligations and commitments to revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice, taking into account that those laws violate their human right to be protected against discrimination. It decided to establish, for a period of three years, a Working Group of five independent experts on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practise.

In the decision on human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking, the Council decided to convene a panel discussion at its sixteenth session on the issue of human rights in the context of action taken to address terrorist hostage-taking with a special focus on the primary responsibility of State to protect and promote human rights for all in their jurisdiction, on the strengthening of international cooperation to prevent and combat terrorism and on the protection of the rights of all victims of terrorism involved.

Introducing texts were Colombia, Mexico and Nigeria.

Speaking in general comments were Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Norway, Mauritania, United Kingdom, Libya, Qatar, China, United States, Nigeria, Djibouti, Pakistan, Bahrain, Mexico, and Jordan.

Speaking in explanations of the vote before the vote were Belgium on behalf of the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The next meeting of the Council will be at noon when the Council will adopt the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Reviews of Guinea-Bissau and Kiribati.

Action on Resolution and Decision Under the Agenda Item on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Action on Resolution on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

In a resolution (A/HRC/15/L.15) regarding the elimination of discrimination against women, adopted without a vote, the Council calls upon States to fulfil their obligations and commitments to revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice, taking into account the fact that those laws violate the human right of women to be protected against discrimination; recognizes that women’s inequality before the law has resulted in the lack of equal opportunities for women in education, access to health, economic participation, access to labour markets and disparities in salaries and compensation, public and political participation, access to decision-making processes, inheritance, ownership of land, financial services, including loans, and nationality and legal capacity, as well as increased vulnerability to discrimination and violence, and that all countries face challenges in these areas; emphasizes the significant role that women play in economic development and in the eradication of poverty, and stresses the need to promote equal pay for equal work or work of equal value and for promoting the recognition of the value of women’s unremunerated work, as well as for developing and promoting policies that facilitate the reconciliation of employment and family responsibilities; calls upon States to pay particular attention to discrimination against women in situations of vulnerability, such as women living in poverty, migrant women, women with disabilities, and women belonging to minorities; decides to establish, for a period of three years, a working group of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation, on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice; requests the working group to contribute to the provision of technical assistance or advisory services by the Office of the High Commissioner to better promote the elimination of discrimination against women; requests the Secretary-General and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide all the necessary human and financial assistance to the Working Group for the effective fulfilment of its mandate; and decides to continue consideration of this question in conformity with the annual programme of work of the Council.

ALICIA VICTORIA ARANGO OLMOS (Colombia), introducing draft resolution L.15, said that this draft resolution reaffirmed the obligations of States to take the necessary measures to protect the rights of women, to work towards the elimination of discrimination against women and to promote women’s participation in national economies. Colombia recognized that while all States faced challenges on this particular issue, many had also made important advancements. In New York, earlier this year, during the Summit on Millennium Development Goals, it was reiterated that States had an important role to play in promoting equality of rights, especially for vulnerable groups such as women and girls. Colombia commended the important work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its efforts in promoting women’s rights. However, there was a need to speed up these efforts and the draft resolution aimed to increase the power of these mechanisms. Colombia concluded by hoping that the draft could be adopted by consensus.

JUAN JOSE GOMEZ CAMACHO (Mexico), also introducing draft resolution L.15, called attention to the broad support for this draft resolution. The text that was being presented today incorporated to the maximum extent all of the contributions and opinions made in the preparation of the draft. Fifteen years on from the Beijing Conference, there was still a need to remedy the persistence of discrimination against women. There was no country in the world that was free from discrimination against women, either in law or in practice. Inequity before the law had adverse effects on all human rights. It was therefore important to continue strengthening legal measures that protected women’s rights and enforced gender equality. Through intensive consultations, the co-sponsors of this draft resolution, along with Mexico and Colombia, had decided to change the idea of having an Independent Expert on this topic and instead decided to establish a Working Group, in order to incorporate a wider base of opinions and perspectives. It was also important to try to avoid any duplication with work being done by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The draft text reaffirmed the obligations incumbent on States to protect the rights of women and to enact laws in this regard. Mexico echoed the hopes of Colombia that the draft would be adopted without a vote.

ABDULWAHAB ATTAR (Saudi Arabia), speaking in a general comment, said Saudi Arabia suggested a small amendment of the Operational Paragraph 1 to the draft resolution L.15. “We call upon States to take all appropriate measures in accordance with their international commitments under international human rights law to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization, or enterprise”. The paragraph had been approved in many past resolutions and Saudi Arabia was merely requesting an addition that had been approved by the Council on earlier occasions.

JUAN JOSE GOMEZ CAMACHO (Mexico), speaking in a general comment, said, in response to the suggestion of an insertion to the text by Saudi Arabia, the co-sponsors had fully understood the concerns of all the regions that were expressed, and had tried to take them on board in a spirit of full responsibility, bearing in mind the ultimate objective of the resolution, to eliminate discrimination against women. It was the view of the co-sponsors that the draft already reflected these concerns in an appropriate way, and the co-sponsors were unable to accept this proposal.

BENTE ANGELL-HANSEN (Norway), speaking in a general comment, said that Norway was pleased to be among the large numbers of co-sponsors. Norway thanked Mexico and Colombia for the excellent and inclusive way in which they conducted consultations on this draft resolution. The issue of discrimination against women was incredibly important and this draft resolution would be an important step in addressing discrimination against women and girls. Everywhere, women and girls enjoyed fewer rights than men. This was not confined to one region and there would be no changes until laws were enacted to protect women’s rights. Norway was conscious of the tremendous gains that could be made when women were given the opportunity to contribute to society and the economy in an equal fashion. Norway said that this resolution represented a decisive moment in the history of women’s rights and hoped that this draft resolution would be adopted by consensus.

CHEIKH AHMED OULD ZAHAF (Mauritania), speaking in a general comment, said Mauritania had been among the delegations that supported the draft resolution which would fight discrimination against women. However, since Mauritania had not participated in drafting of the text, and because the amendment to the draft resolution offered by Saudi Arabia had not been discussed during the drafting process, Mauritania withdrew its name from the list of co-sponsors.

PETER GOODERHAM (United Kingdom), in a general comment, said with regard to the proposed amendment, the United Kingdom's position was that extensive consultations had taken place, and the text was extremely balanced, the product of exemplary consultations on the part of the sponsors. The language currently in operative paragraph one was taken from last year's resolution, and therefore the United Kingdom was against the amendment. On the resolution as a whole, the United Kingdom recognized that women and girls continued to suffer from multiple forms of discrimination, that countries still had laws that discriminated against them, and that countries failed to support women's empowerment, giving rise to a lack of equal opportunities and increased vulnerability to violence. Tackling women's empowerment was a top priority for the United Kingdom. This resolution established an important mechanism to tackle these important issues. While the United Kingdom was clear in its support for the Special Procedure, it believed the costs should be found from within existing resources.

IBRAHIM A.E. ALDREDI (Libya), speaking in a general comment, said that Libya did not believe that any Member of the Council would wish to discriminate against women. They were our wives, mothers and daughters. Libya felt that the amendment was in line with the draft text and the position of all co-sponsors and Libya hoped that it could be accepted in order to proceed with the adoption of the draft resolution.

ABDULLA FALAH ABDULLA AL-DOSARI (Qatar), speaking in a general comment, said Qatar supported the proposal of Saudi Arabia and did not believe there were any justifications for refusing the proposed amendment. The amendment was very important and the legal specificities of each State must be respected, Qatar concluded.

QIAN BO (China), in a general comment, said China fully agreed with earlier speakers and supported the amendment put forward by Saudi Arabia, as China believed that the protection and promotion of human rights was ultimately the task of national Governments, in accordance with their commitments under international law to protect and promote women's rights and eliminate discrimination. Governments should not only act in line with international agreements, but also in line with the consensus agreed upon in the international community to protect and support the rights of women.

EILEEN CHAMBERLAIN DONAHOE (United States), speaking in a general comment, said that the United States and the international community had long recognized that discrimination against women was a priority issue. This draft resolution would be an important tool in the promotion and protection of women’s rights. Men and women were equally entitled to the full enjoyment of human rights. With UN Women becoming operational in 2011, this draft resolution was even more critical and appropriate. UN Women would strengthen other United Nations efforts in combating discrimination against women. When women were given access to education and health care, societies flourished. The United States wholeheartedly supported this initiative and hoped that other States would provide their backing as well. The United States concluded by commending Mexico and Colombia for their outstanding efforts in bringing so many co-sponsors, of which there were over 70, to the table to coalesce on this particular issue.

OSITADINMA ANAEDU (Nigeria), speaking in a general comment on behalf of the African Group, said that it was possible to hold negotiations and make amendments on texts until the last minute so the text satisfied all needs. Mexico and other States that had engaged in intensive negotiations on this draft resolution had done wonderful work on the text as evidenced by a number of amendments already incorporated in the draft text. Nigeria wanted to have something in the text that would give it strength. The African Group would not want to have a vote on this draft resolution and expected it would be accepted by consensus.

MOHAMED SIAD DOUALEH (Djibouti), speaking in a general comment, said Djibouti was a co-sponsor of this text, which re-stated a position of principle it had always defended. The text before the Council today contained solid provisions to considerably contribute to the protection of a fair and noble cause. During the negotiating procedure, there had been solid reservations expressed at the beginning, with greater flexibility in the text now. The amendment tabled by Saudi Arabia did not harm the text and its underlying objectives, and should therefore be taken into account. The preference of Djibouti was that the Council adopt this fundamental text on the basis of consensus. If not, and the draft amendment was not taken into account, then Djibouti would have to withdraw from the list of co-sponsors.

AFTAB KHOKHER (Pakistan), speaking in a general comment, said that elimination against all forms of discrimination against women was an incredibly important issue for the Government of Pakistan. What was being debated, however, was not the relevance of the issue but the amendment. Pakistan said that it supported the proposed amendment made by Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani delegate said that unlike the speaker from Nigeria who had six sisters, he only had four but he nonetheless fully supported all initiatives in support of women’s rights.

MUNA ABBAS RADHI (Bahrain), speaking in a general comment, said combating discrimination against women was one of the main issues Bahrain attached importance to. Bahrain wanted the amendment offered by Saudi Arabia to be taken into consideration, with the view of adopting this draft resolution. This would enable the Council to speak with one voice in combating discrimination against women.

JUAN JOSE GOMEZ CAMACHO (Mexico), speaking in a general comment, said Mexico had been listening closely to what had been said by previous speakers, and it appeared that it would be more than appropriate to take the floor and explain further what was the situation, and why the co-sponsors could not accept the proposed amendment. Mexico had the impression that perhaps there was some confusion regarding the value and aims of this specific paragraph, and this needed to be clarified. If Mexico understood correctly from some of the statements, Mexico, Colombia, and the more than 60 co-sponsors could not accept any interpretation that the consultation procedure was not sufficiently open or extensive. It would be hard to find a resolution that had gathered as much consultation and negotiations. The co-sponsors were not able to accept the proposed amendment. It was true that in previous resolutions similar forms had been accepted, and there were caveats to the application of certain rights that were not absolute rights. The Council had accepted a formula relating to obligations which were internationally accepted by States. The problem was that in this specific paragraph, the subject was discrimination against women, full stop. It was not a discussion of norms or of distinct ways of implementing laws. The Council could not accept a caveat or a reservation along the proposed lines when what it was talking about was discrimination against women. For reasons of principle, the proposed forms of words could not be accepted. There was no single law that could prevent discrimination against women, and this was why there could be no weakening of the rights of women by using the form proposed. The Human Rights Council could not accept reservations, limitations or caveats which would mean that it was questioning the absolute right women had to not be discriminated against, be it under the law or in any other fashion. The concerns of those supporting the resolution were fully reflected in the resolution and in the mandate of the Working Group.

MUHIB MAHMOUD AHMAD NIMRAT (Jordan), speaking in a general comment, said that Jordan supported the amendment made by Saudi Arabia and hoped that the draft resolution would be adopted by consensus.

IBRAHIM A.E. ALDREDI (Libya), speaking in a general comment, said Libya believed that under all religions women enjoyed their rights and were respected and valued. Libya would fully support the amendment and said that everyone should understand the relativism of some concepts; there might be divergences in cultures and religions and it was the diversity that made the world what it was. No country should have anything imposed on them without that country being a party to a particular international instrument, Libya concluded.

ALEX VAN MEEUWEN (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said this initiative was a decisive step in the long-standing commitment of the Human Rights Council to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women, and the European Union reiterated its unequivocal support for a strong, independent mechanism focusing on discrimination against women in effect and in practice. The mechanism should have a continuous dialogue with States on laws that were discriminatory in nature or in impact. The Working Group should be able to identify best practices and make recommendations on legislation and the improvement of the law. The mechanism would contribute to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the new UN-Women body, and to others, and the European Union would vote against the proposed amendment.

The Council then voted on the proposed amendment, with 18 in favour, 22 against, and 4 abstentions. The amendment was therefore rejected.

ABDULWAHAB ATTAR (Saudi Arabia), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote on behalf of several countries, said that they took note of the result of the vote on the amendment and they would continue to support efforts to eliminate the discrimination of women in the framework of the instruments they had ratified under international human rights law. Saudi Arabia said that it would get back to the Council in due course with respect to the manner in which they would engage with the new mandate.

Action on Decision on Human Rights and Issues Related to Terrorist-Hostage Taking

In a decision (A/HRC/15/L.20) regarding human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking, adopted without a vote as orally amended, the Council decides to convene, within existing resources, a panel discussion at its sixteenth session on the issue of human rights in the context of action taken to address terrorist hostage-taking with a special focus on the primary responsibility of States to protect and promote human rights for all in their jurisdiction, on the strengthening of international cooperation to prevent and combat terrorism and on the protection of the rights of all victims of terrorism involved; requests the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to liaise with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and all concerned parties and stakeholders, including relevant United Nations bodies and agencies, with a view to ensuring their participation in the panel discussion; and also requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the outcome of the panel discussion in the form of a summary.

OSITADINMA ANAEDU (Nigeria), introducing the draft text L.20, said that the title was now “Human Rights and Issues Related to Terrorist Hostage-Taking”. The draft decision was aimed at convening a panel discussion during the sixteenth session of the Human Rights Council to reflect on the action taken to address terrorist hostage-taking, which was an ongoing phenomenon of human trafficking affecting an increasing number of direct and indirect victims. The ultimate objective of this panel discussion was to find ways to help save the lives of many expatriate hostages of terrorist groups and to avoid the recurrence of terrorist hostage-taking in the future. Another objective was to find ways to free expatriate hostages while avoiding providing the terrorist groups with substantial resources that could be used to continue spreading terror and threatening the lives and enjoyment of local populations. There was no obvious solution to these conflicts, hence the necessity to organize a panel to see how contradictions could be addressed and suggestions made on how to enrich the debate and provide guidance to the international community on this critical issue. Finally, Nigeria concluded by asking the Council to adopt this text by consensus.

EILEEN CHAMBERLAIN DONAHOE (United States), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said the United States shared great concern regarding kidnapping by terrorists and firmly supported the effort to end the practice of ransom payment. However, while the United States was not calling for a vote on this resolution, the United States did not consider the Human Rights Council to be an appropriate forum for counter-terrorism. The United States would pursue the issue in other more appropriate United Nations bodies and would continue to engage in dialogue to end this practise. The United States regretted the lack of time for the consultations on this resolution, which would have produced a more polished text.

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