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Human Rights Council hears statements from 18 dignitaries as it continues its high-level segment


25 February 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon continued with its high-level segment, hearing statements from 18 dignitaries who spoke about their concerns regarding the situations in Syria, Mali, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and outlined some of the efforts their countries were undertaking in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Speaking were Ali Zeidan, Prime Minister of Libya; Igor Luksic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro; Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil; Edgars Rinkevics, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia; Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Qatar; Radoslaw Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland; Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Zalmai Rasooul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan; Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia; Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam; Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico; Jesus Manuel Gracia Aldaz, Secretary of State for International Cooperation and Latin America of Spain; Reinhold Lopatka, Secretary of State for European and International Affairs of Austria; Andrei Popov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova; Mustapha Ben Jaafar, President of the National Constitutional Assembly of Tunisia; Khalaf Khalafov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan; Gry Larsen, State Secretary of Norway; and Bozo Cerar, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia.

During the meeting, many speakers expressed concern about the situation in Syria, which posed a moral and humanitarian challenge to the international community. One speaker said that the failure of the international community to address the crisis had only aggravated the problem. Concerns were also expressed with regards to the situation in Mali and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Speakers also referred to the impact of the global economic crisis on the enjoyment of human rights, the importance of gender mainstreaming, the impact of technologies on human rights, among others, and outlined some of the efforts underway in these respects.

Other speakers said that the Council’s preventive capacity should be strengthened and that the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be upheld. The Council had been an effective mechanism to protect and promote human rights around the world, by adopting a holistic and balanced approach towards all human rights. Yet, formidable challenges remained around the world.

At the end of the meeting, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea spoke in a right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 26 February at 9:15 a.m., when it will continue with its high-level segment.

High-level Segment

ALI ZEIDAN, Prime Minister of Libya, said that the country was still hurting from the consequences of the dictatorial regime, two years after the revolution. The Government of Libya was still rebuilding the infrastructure, thanks to the help of the international community. He thanked the United Nations Office in Libya, which was instrumental in providing technical assistance. The enormous efforts made by this Office had contributed positively to recent developments in Libya. Among different measures taken in the aftermath of the regime change, provisions had been adopted to set up a constitutional congress. Libya had ratified several human rights international instruments, notably the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. An agreement had been reached with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the provision of technical assistance. All judicial bodies were being restructured. National reconciliation and transitional justice mechanisms were also put in place. During 2012, Libya witnessed a number of institutional changes. A human rights commission was created and all laws that restricted the enjoyment of human rights had been repelled. Libya was seeking to spread a culture of human rights through a policy of democracy and empowerment of women. The Government supported the vulnerable people, including persons with disabilities and children. In conclusion, Mr. Zeidan expressed his gratitude to the United Nations system for its contribution to peace in Libya.

IGOR LUKSIC, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, said that States had to set an example and fight for the rights and liberties of every human being. Efforts should be stepped up to support nations which were in the process of building their own democratic future, even if the process was sometimes slow. Montenegro shared the grave concern expressed by other States at the situation in Syria and Mali. The recent history of the Balkans had demonstrated that in crises it was important for all sides involved to put an end to violence and for the international community to respond to such crises without distinction of any kind. Mr. Luksic stressed that no act of violence could be justified under any circumstances. The global economic crisis had affected human rights everywhere, but that should push the international community to work harder and with stronger instruments in order to protect human rights. Montenegro strongly advocated a post-2015 development agenda based on human rights with full incorporation of a gender perspective, and actively demonstrated its ongoing commitment to respecting the protection of human rights at the highest standard.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil, said that eliminating poverty had been made a national priority in Brazil and that with the new measures, including the extension of the Bolsa Familia programme, some 40 million Brazilians would be lifted out of extreme poverty within a decade. Brazil was convinced that in a multilateral body such as the Council, it was possible to protect and promote human rights without selectivity, politicization and North-South schisms, in a manner that enhanced human dignity throughout the world. Human rights could not be enforced from outside, least of all through resorting to military force. Armed conflicts were the breeding grounds for human rights violations and there was an international consensus on the need for coordinated efforts to face situations where Governments failed to protect their own populations; it was also necessary to recognize that the international community had been lacking the political will to effectively deal with the fundamental questions concerning the adequate protection of civilian populations. The “responsibility to protect” must be accompanied by “responsibility while protecting”, in particular when military intervention was authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Brazil called the attention of the Council to the situation in Syria and the lack of progress in dealing with the situation between Israel and Palestine, and said that the attention of the Council could help minimize the threat of violence against civilians in many other situations throughout the world.

EDGARS RINKĒVIČS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, said Latvia would continue to support the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a view to preserve its independence, as the cornerstone for its impartiality and effectiveness. Latvia was firmly committed to the importance of the work of the Special Procedures, and had made longstanding efforts to advocate for standing invitations to all Special Procedures. The number of countries that had extended standing invitations had increased to 92. Mr. Rinkēvičs urged the Council to continue to raise demands for the immediate halt of the violence in Syria. The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry should be extended during this session of the Council and the International Criminal Court should be seized. At the national level, Latvia was strongly committed to the promotion of gender equality in law and practice and was implementing a gender mainstreaming approach in every policy, legislation, planning, and decision-making process. As a member of the UN Women Executive Board and its President for 2013, Latvia reaffirmed its commitment to further increase women’s political participation both at the national and international levels. The protection and promotion of internet freedom was also a priority. People should enjoy the same protection of human rights online as they did offline. In conclusion, the Minister announced that Latvia had put forward its candidature for the Human Rights Council elections in 2014.

KHALID BIN MOHAMMAD AL-ATTIYAH, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said that Qatar had sought to cooperate with all other States to promote human rights and find solutions to the problems and challenges facing humanity in the context of the promotion and protection of human rights. Qatar had been keen to implement all its international obligations, which was reflected in the Qatar National Vision 2030 and the National Development Strategy 2011-2016. Qatar also provided support to developing and least developed countries to help them achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, Qatar continued to support the Doha agreement on climate change and remained committed to the pursuit of international efforts in the hope of achieving positive results. The massacres and atrocities committed by the Syrian regime and its loyalist forces by the use of heavy weapons were a matter of grave concern, while the failure of the international community to address the crisis only aggravated the problem. Qatar called upon the Security Council to assume its moral and legal responsibilities to stop the humanitarian disaster in Syria and to bring all those responsible to justice. Qatar also condemned incidents of intolerance, discrimination, religious hatred, and violence against Muslims as well as the abuse and distortion of Islam and its symbols.

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, said that this was the first time Poland chaired the Council and it had walked a long, hard road to achieve that distinction. It had taken time for Polish citizens to obtain the basic human right of electing its leadership. A full two decades after the end of the Cold War, the battle for basic human rights had not been won. Belarus was oppressing its citizens who were demanding their legitimate political rights, and the situation was disappointing and anachronistic. Poland had learned that the best results required a healthy pragmatism, even under extreme provocation. It was impossible to be invariably consistent. The Human Rights Council could not wave a magic wand to solve the world’s human rights problems. On the impact of technological change on human rights issues, these changes created a new sense of global community and shared global responsibility. It was one thing to identify a moral case for intervention. It was another to know what to do for the best and then do it wisely in the way that did not make a bad situation even more difficult. This was the shared professional dilemma. On the one hand action could be bad, while on the other hand inaction could be worse. Poland knew that it was possible and vital to pursue and achieve rightful outcomes by rightful methods. That was why it had proposed to the European Union the creation of a European endowment for democracy.

NIKOLA POPOSKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that the Human Rights Council was living up to the best expectations. Grave situations around the world continued to give rise to serious concern and should mobilize joint efforts for their resolution. A group of countries, including the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had addressed the Security Council this January, urging it to send an unequivocal message that such gross violations of human rights would not be tolerated. The Council’s preventive capacity should be strengthened. The independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be upheld. Special Procedures, both country-specific and thematic, played a commendable role in drawing the attention of the Council to human rights issues that required its consideration and action. In that context, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures in 2004. The major priorities of the Government, in terms of human rights, were the advancement of the rights of women and children; the fight against discrimination; the protection of the rights of minorities; and the freedom of religion. Several action plans had been built and implemented over the last year, regarding gender equality, cooperation with civil society, domestic violence, and the rights of the child. The Government established in 2012 an Intersectoral Commission for Human Rights, tasked with coordinating the national human rights policy and following up on the recommendations of the treaty bodies.

ZALMAI RASSOUL, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, said that Afghanistan attached special importance to the cause of human rights and the work of the Council. Armed conflict, terrorism, and impoverishment in the region meant that many persons, including women and girls, continued to experience violations of their rights. In the past decade Afghanistan had transformed dramatically in a number of different areas and, as the values of democracy had taken roots, the people of Afghanistan had started enjoying a better life. The country was now in the midst of a number of efforts that were central to its success in terms of building a democratic, sovereign State. Important to the transition process was the gradual withdrawal of all North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops and other international forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. To further consolidate the democratic process, the Afghan people were due to go to the polls in April 2014 to elect a new president. Afghanistan remained committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and in particular those of women, girls and children. To that end, a National Action Plan on women, peace and security had started being developed to serve as a prime tool for ensuring the meaningful participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, and in security sector reform. Despite the many challenges that both men and women continued to face in Afghanistan, significant progress had been made and today women occupied one fourth of government jobs, including 9 per cent at decision-making levels.

BANDAR BIN MOHAMMED AL-AIBAN, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, said that more than ever before, the international community needed to address the phenomenon of violence, religious and racial bigotry and the proliferation of extremism and hatred among nations and peoples. Saudi Arabia reiterated its call for the adoption of a United Nations resolution making it a criminal offence to malign divinely-revealed religions and their prophets and messengers, and prescribing deterrent penalties for such acts in view of the increasing phenomenon of defamation of religions and their symbols by persons exploiting freedom of opinion and expression as a means to attack divinely-revealed religions without any moral or legal deterrent. With regards to the Palestinian people who had been suffering under occupation for more than six decades, Saudi Arabia wished to reaffirm the view that the relevant United Nations resolutions had to be put into effect and the resolutions of the Council had to continue to express the Palestinian people’s aspirations to achieve freedom, and exercise their right to self-determination, as well as to secure the lifting of the blockade. The ongoing situation in Syria was a result of the Syrian regime’s persistent use of instruments of death and destruction against the Syrian people and this posed a moral and humanitarian challenge to the international community. Given the ever-increasing burdens that the United Nations human rights mechanisms were shouldering, Saudi Arabia had deemed it appropriate to increase its voluntary contributions.

PHAM BINH MINH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, said that unprecedented progress had been realized in the field of human rights over the last decades. Yet, formidable challenges remained in all corners of the world. Poverty, malnutrition, epidemics, illiteracy, and environmental degradation continued to take their toll, first and foremost on women, children, persons with disabilities, the poor, the elderly, migrants, and minority groups. The Council had been an effective mechanism to protect and promote human rights around the world, by adopting a holistic and balanced approach towards all human rights. Within the ASEAN framework, efforts had been carried out to promote human rights cooperation, particularly through the creation of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted last November. Viet Nam was a party to most human rights international treaties and implemented the agreed recommendations received during the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. Bilateral dialogues regarding human rights had also been extended with many countries. Viet Nam was still a developing country striving to build a State ruled by law. Therefore, it had to deal with many challenges in the field of human rights and was poised to work even harder in order to protect people’s economic, social, civil, and political rights. Viet Nam had presented its candidacy for the Human Rights Council for the term 2014-2016 and was committed to active, constructive and responsible participation in the work of the Council.

JOSÉ ANTONIO MEADE KURIBREÑA, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said that Mexico maintained the policy of opening to international scrutiny and the President had set out five goals upon his taking the office, including working on achieving a peaceful, inclusive, equal and prosperous Mexico. The human rights agenda of the Government included strengthening public policies on human rights and strengthening institutions in charge of their implementation, protection of journalists and human rights defenders, and protection of the rights of migrants. The Government had increased the standards of protection with the new Law on the Protection of Victims, and had developed the National Crusade against Hunger which was a strategy for national inclusion targeting people living in multi-dimensional and extreme poverty. In February, a Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples had been established to ensure the respect for indigenous rights, including the right to autonomy and the right to self-determination. The Human Rights Council would continue to be a useful tool to promote national advances for all its members and must become one of the three pillars underpinning the United Nations system. It must aspire to lead change and not merely react to events. It must provide coherence and consistency to the exercise of making human rights universal in all activities aiming to build security and development in the world. Critical situations would define the strengths of the Human Rights Council but in addition to responding to emergencies, it should support all States to develop their preventive capacities and act rather than react.

JESUS MANUEL GRACIA ALDAZ, Secretary of State for International Cooperation and Latin America of Spain, said that Spain’s commitment to human rights was unwavering. It had always made human rights a centerpiece of its policy and it had expanded social, economic and cultural rights, and was a country that had worked to increase the level of rights enjoyed by its citizens. The situation in Spain had been affected by the global economic crisis and the priority had been to reduce Spain’s public deficit. One of the main goals had been to shield citizens from an impact on their rights. Spain was among the ten countries that had already ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The economic crisis would pass but in the meantime Spain had to tackle problems that would inevitably impact the rights of its citizens. It was adopting innovative measures to tackle this, particularly with regards to youth employment. Education was a cornerstone of the Government’s public policies and a law was being drafted to provide better education, also with a view to better job opportunities. Irregular migrants also had access to healthcare. Spain recalled that the abolishment of the death penalty should be one of the issues addressed as a matter of priority, among others. Spain also emphasised the importance of the Universal Periodic Review.

REINHOLD LOPATKA, Secretary of State for European and International Affairs of Austria, said that the world was currently facing human rights violations on a massive scale, amongst others in Syria. He called on the Syrian authorities to immediately end the brutal assault on their own people and allow for a political solution at the negotiating table. The Vienna Declaration made it clear: every State should provide an effective framework of remedies to redress human rights violations. The alleged serious human rights violations in Mali during the last year had to be investigated thoroughly. The Council should agree on a mechanism to reinforce monitoring and investigation. Austria presented last year to the Council the first ever resolution on the safety of journalists. The safety of journalists was a fundamental pillar of the universal, inalienable right to freedom of expression, offline and online. Austria had made the respect of freedom of religion a priority of its work in the Council. A resolution on the rights of minorities would be presented to the Council during its present session. The protection of children was also a top priority for Austria. The Council had made significant progress in addressing both thematic challenges and an increasing number of urgent situations. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) faced an increasing number of tasks. States should enable OHCHR to carry out its mandate without compromising. In conclusion, the Austrian Government would convene an expert conference in Vienna on 27 and 28 June of this year, which would provide an opportunity to examine the relevance of the Vienne Declaration and Programme of Action in light of today’s challenges in the global promotion and protection of all human rights.

ANDREI POPOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, said that preserving the credibility and viability of the Council was a shared responsibility and that human rights were increasingly relevant to peace and security, development and humanitarian efforts. There was a need to increase the flexibility of the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and ensure its financial stability. The deployment of short-term missions for human rights, for example to Syria, demonstrated the potential of this format to contribute to the protection of civilians and provide realizable information. Each nation was entitled to freely exercise its right to development within its recognized borders, but the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity could by no means justify disrespect for human rights and a sense of impunity for those who systematically abused them. The Republic of Moldova called for an early, lasting and peaceful solution to the Transnistrian conflict based on the respect for the territorial integrity of the country and said that the recent report on the human rights situation there by the Senior Human Rights Expert nominated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasized the imperative to improve the human rights situation in this part of the country. The Republic of Moldova welcomed the entering into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and reiterated its support for the ongoing treaty bodies’ system reform, the Special Procedures mechanism and the Universal Periodic Review process.

MUSTAPHA BEN JAAFAR, President of the National Constitutional Assembly of Tunisia, said that there was a dire need for more solidarity and joint work to establish a global society, to overcome the enormous and complex situations witnessed worldwide, and to collectively and resolutely address human rights violations. The Tunisian revolution had been a special moment in history and a reflection of the deep accumulation of awareness in society and culture that had been entrenched over generations of values of justice, among others. It had taken a long struggle and many groups and elites of political activists that fought in order to build a democratic State where the law had the upper hand. The new Tunisian Constitution was based on the deep belief in the realization of the objectives of the revolution and the establishment of a democratic system. The Committee on Rights and Freedoms, since its inception, had set up a collaborative vision and accepted all proposals and was keen to study all international instruments. Civil society had played an active role. The Council had approved the independent high level body for elections, and now candidatures were being received for members of this body. The Constitution would build a balance between authorities and other various components of the executive power, and would be based on basic principles of law. Its establishment was an operation of dialogue between all the components of society. The Palestinian people had undergone some of the most heinous violations of their human rights in front of the whole world and an appeal was made for an end to be put to their plight.

KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, commended the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her effective work. Today, the world had stepped in a new phase of its evolution, when democratic principles of governance of the State had become the primary requirements for the establishment and development of the rule of law and ensuring human rights. Azerbaijan was committed to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council, especially its Universal Periodic Review procedure. As one of the founding members of international anti-corruption bodies, Azerbaijan actively participated in the fight against this scourge. Among other measures, he mentioned the establishment of a single State agency that provided all administrative services to citizens. Mass human rights violations were still the main disease of the twenty-first century. In many parts of the world, armed conflicts went hand in hand with human rights violations. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was still an obstacle to peace in the region. Twenty per cent of the Azerbaijani territory was still occupied by the Armenian forces. In conclusion, Mr. Khalafov called upon the Human Rights Council to establish a Special Commission to review and assess the annihilation of the Azerbaijani population in the city of Kholajy.

GRY LARSEN, State Secretary of Norway, said that the death penalty was cruel and inhumane and its abolition was central to the protection of human dignity. Norway was proud to co-sponsor the Fifth World Congress against the Death Penalty in Madrid in mid-June 2013 and invited all States and the top five executioners: the United States, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, to participate and announce new commitments to the global fight against the death penalty. The rapid expansion of hate speech, often targeting minorities and other vulnerable groups, was an issue of concern and it was important to examine how to prevent extremism and harassment of minorities while at the same time promoting openness and a culture of dialogue. Reactionary forces were seeking to reverse every inch of progress achieved over the last four decades in the area of women’s rights and gender equality and there was an increased need to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Proposed legislation to criminalize public discussion on homosexuality in Ukraine, Uganda and Russia was another issue of concern. Norway noted the positive developments in Myanmar over the last couple of years and believed that the international community should engage in supporting capacity building efforts to promote human rights in the country. Norway noted with regret that in Egypt, the constitutional process had polarized the society rather than united it, and called on the Government to take immediate steps to investigate all allegations of human rights abuses and to prepare the ground for a comprehensive security sector reform. The situation in Mali should be monitored and all measures must be taken to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations were held accountable.

BOZO CERAR, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, recalled that human rights, security and development were inextricably linked. Progress and prosperity were possible only through the simultaneous strengthening of all three pillars of the United Nations system. In Syria, according to expert assessments the violations of human rights had surpassed the threshold of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Slovenia was convinced that the crimes committed in Syria should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. Like many other States it had called upon the Security Council to refer the situation to the Court. There was also concern about the reports of violations of human rights in Mali, particularly about the recruitment of children by armed groups, and Slovenia urged all sides to respect international human rights and humanitarian law. Slovenia also expressed its support for the international intervention in Mali, which was necessary to preserve the country’s integrity and sovereignty, especially from the point of view of the common responsibility for the protection of the civilian population. Also of great concern was information regarding the systematic and grave violation of the rights of religious minorities in many countries. Slovenia deeply regretted the cases of non-cooperation with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and urged all States to set an example to others by upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and fully cooperating with the Council and its mechanisms.

Right of Reply

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, said that it was no secret that the members of the European Union referred to the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for political reasons. It was widely acknowledged that the resolutions concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were part of a conspiracy against the country. He unequivocally denounced the declarations of the members of the European Union that mentioned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia were widely spread in the territory of the Member States of the European Union. The killings of thousands of civilians by the United States’ armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan had never been addressed by the Council. The latter should not apply double standards and selectivity.


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