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15 dignitaries address Human Rights Council on second day of high-level segment

MORNING

26 February 2013

On the second day of its high-level segment, the Human Rights Council this morning heard statements from 15 dignitaries who spoke about their concerns regarding the situation in Syria and Mali, and outlined some of the efforts their countries were undertaking in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Speaking were José Badia, Government Councilor and Minister for External Relations of Monaco; Miroslav Lajčák, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia; Edmond Panariti, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania; Salah Ali Abdulrahman, Minister for Human Rights Issues of Bahrain; Alberto Nkutumula, Deputy Minister of Justice of Mozambique; Mourad Medelci, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria; Toshiko Abe, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan; Yamina Benguigui, Minister Delegate for Francophony of France; Gennady Gatilov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; Karel Schwarzenberg, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic; Dominique Mamberti, Secretary of Relations with States of The Holy See; Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations of the United States; Neris Germanas, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania; Jean Asselborn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg; and Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.

During the meeting, many speakers expressed deep concern about the situation in Syria, which continued to pose a major humanitarian challenge for the international community. Concerns were also expressed about the ongoing situation in Mali and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Moreover, reference was made to the impact of the global economic crisis on vulnerable segments of the society, particularly to the problems facing women, girls and migrant workers. Other issues raised included the growth of hate speech, intolerance and xenophobia in society, the need to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women, and the abolishment of the death penalty.

Speakers praised the work carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the promotion and protection of human rights, and drew attention to the impressive results which had been achieved in recent years. Nevertheless, significant challenges remained, and in that regard the international community and the Council in particular could play a very important role.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 26 February at 3 p.m., when it will continue with its high-level segment.

High-level Segment

JOSE BADIA, Government Councilor, Minster for External Relations of Monaco, said that 2012 was a year of challenges for the United Nations and in particular the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council, with particular reference to the situation in Syria. Monaco appealed to the Syrian authorities to allow the members of the Commission of Inquiry to enter the Syrian territory, and allow humanitarian actors to provide relief to the people in need. It also called on all actors concerned to be open to dialogue to put an end to this conflict. 2012 was a year of challenges but also of effective action by the Human Rights Council. The fight against impunity had to be in conformance with the fundamental principles of justice and human dignity. In line with these principles, Monaco had long been involved in efforts to universally abolish the death penalty. Modern conflicts mainly affected civilian populations and in particular the most vulnerable, namely women and children. These vulnerabilities also made them victims in times of peace, especially with regards to discrimination and violence against women. The principles of universality, impartiality and full cooperation of all Member States without exception were the guarantors of the effectiveness of the unique mechanism that was the Universal Periodic Review, to which Monaco gave great importance.

MIROSLAV LAJČÁK, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, said that recent experiences showed that today’s world was vulnerable to events in which the very basic human rights standards and principles were at risk. Those were the occasions for the Human Rights Council to demonstrate its capacity to react to the most pressing human rights situations in a robust manner. The common effort of the international community was essential to address the persisting situations of the most vulnerable groups such as women, children and the socially disadvantaged. The Universal Periodic Review process had provided States with a unique opportunity to review their national human rights systems and identify ways to increase the level of the promotion and protection of human rights nationally. Slovakia welcomed the treaty bodies’ system review process as it was obvious that the burden placed on that system was too heavy and made it unsustainable. Mr. Lajčák expressed Slovakia’s respect for the treaty bodies’ independence and warned that, while proposed long-term solutions should indeed explore the use of existing internal resources, it should not be done at the expense of the quality of the work. Finally, Slovakia expressed its commitment to children’s rights and to the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and said that its support would be targeted at the global campaign for the ratification of the Optional Protocol, including through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.

EDMOND PANARITI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, said that Albania had signed the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, and the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The promotion of dialogue, tolerance, and non-discrimination were among the priorities of the Albanian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Southeast Europe needed a revitalization of its integrated policies on regional reconciliation, and at the heart of that process lay the practice of assuming responsibility for all violations committed against human rights. Albania believed that an extended dialogue between candidate and Member States of the Human Rights Council would contribute to strengthening the Council’s quality of work. Albania praised the progressive development of international law in the field of human rights and believed that the strengthening of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was an essential prerequisite to the fulfillment of its mandate. Albania, which had announced its candidacy to serve on the Council during 2015-2017, was committed to providing a unique national perspective in discussions and advocacy of human rights worldwide.

SALAH ALI ABDULRAHMAN, Minister of Human Rights Issues of Bahrain, reaffirmed how essential it was to respect rights within the primacy of law and rejecting violence. The progress towards the promotion of human rights continued de jure and de facto. Bahrain had reason to be proud because of the tolerance and the open approach and acceptance of self-criticism as a means to face any obstacles in the move towards democracy. The sad events of 2011 were regrettable. An independent commission of inquiry and truth had been set up, which led to recommendations that had all been accepted and of which the majority had already been implemented. Bahrain was one of the pioneers in terms of launching initiatives and projects in all areas, in particular in the areas of human rights. The Ministry for Human Rights Issues was working towards the promotion of a human rights culture in society, to ensure it was a social culture and not an elite one. The Constitution was the basis for a great number of laws in the areas of freedom and rights. Bahrain was determined to strengthen cooperation with non-governmental organizations. This should not be based on erroneous or unreliable sources that may be inspired by interests which were not necessarily human rights interests. Those would be obstacles to a path of national dialogue. Bahrain had also willingly decided to provide a voluntary report on the implementation of the recommendations.

ALBERTO NKUTUMULA, Deputy Minister of Justice of Mozambique, noted that over the last years the Human Rights Council had emerged as a global forum for deliberations on pressing human rights issues, and through its regular and special sessions it had demonstrated the capacity of resilience and addressing ongoing and emerging human rights situations. In Mozambique, the right to development had become a moral and legal imperative as the eradication of poverty could bring about fundamental changes in the enjoyment of human rights by all and must be at the top of the development agenda. Mozambique had accepted over 90 per cent of the recommendations made during its Universal Periodic Review process and would ensure that the positive lessons learned through this process were focused on the improvement of the human rights situation in the country. A well functioning Human Rights Commission was in place and other constitutional bodies, including the Ombudsman, had been established. Mozambique had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Migrants and Members of their Families last year and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment this month. Situations of conflict and instability were of concern to Mozambique which supported the efforts aimed at normalizing the political, economic and social situations in affected countries, particularly in Mali and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

MOURAD MEDELCI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Algeria, said that the Algerian Constitution enshrined the values of democracy and human rights. Algeria was undergoing rapid changes, which had created a number of challenges. The global economic crisis threatened the most vulnerable segments of society, such as women, children, the unemployed and migrant workers, who in addition were facing xenophobia and discrimination. Greater efforts and political and diplomatic consultations were needed to protect the rights of vulnerable groups. Algeria rejected the use of force by all countries involved in conflicts because military action often led to the loss of human lives. Algeria was seriously concerned about the violations committed against the people of North Mali, and urged the international community to put an end to human rights violations which jeopardized the integrity and peace in Mali. Mr. Medelci said that the recent terrorist attack in South Algeria was a reminder that terrorism remained a topical issue in the region. Combating terrorism was part of the fight for human rights. Having suffered from foreign occupation itself, Algeria was sensitive to the Palestinian issue, recognized the State of Palestine, and believed that the creation of a Palestinian State was vital for achieving a lasting and fair peace in the Middle East. Israeli actions in the area were tantamount to crimes against humanity and the Council must take a stance on those issues. A resolution of the Western Sahara problem was needed in order to allow its people to exercise their rights. Algeria renewed its commitment to human rights and called for support of its candidacy for membership of the Council during 2014-2016.

TOSHIKO ABE, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, said that the international community needed to continuously take coordinated action regarding Syria in order to end all violence immediately and restore the humanitarian situation as soon as possible. Japan highly valued Africa’s own initiatives in the Sahel region, including Mali, to improve the human rights situation as a foundation for peace and stability. Turning to Asia, Myanmar had made significant efforts in advancing political and economic reform on the human rights front and steadily implementing the release of political prisoners and the prohibition of censorship. It was deeply regrettable that the dire human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remained unchanged, such as with regards to political prisoners. It was truly regrettable that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had failed to implement any of the recommendations it had received during its Universal Periodic Review. It had also failed to address with sincerity the abduction issue, which was a violation of the basic human rights and sovereignty of Japan. Japan, along with the European Union, would jointly submit to this session of the Council a resolution including the establishment of a new inquiry mechanism on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Japan would continue to earnestly address recommendations by human rights treaty bodies and suggestions from the international community.

YAMINA BENGUIGUI, Minister Delegate for Francophony of France, expressed concern about the increasing violence, disastrous humanitarian situation and human rights abuses committed by the parties to the conflict in Syria and supported the call to seize the International Criminal Court to try the perpetrators of the most serious crimes in this country. The recent report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had confirmed the extent of violations being committed in Mali since 2012 and France called for the setting up of a follow-up mechanism for Mali in the United Nations Security Council and for the swift deployment of observers in accordance with the Security Council resolution. The protection of civilians and the fight against impunity were priority areas of action for France and its European partners on the ground in Mali and such training would be provided to the Malian forces, including on the respect of human rights in conflict situations. At stake was the future of the nation and its ability to live in security, tolerance and peace, and that was why France expected a strong resolution by the Human Rights Council on this situation. Abolishment of the death penalty meant to protect the indivisibility and inalienability of all human rights. Women and girls were subjected to violence and discrimination all over the world, while their participation was a pre-requisite to development, peace and democracy. Finally, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were victims of the most serious human rights violations including murder, with total impunity, and France would convene a regional conference for Europe on 26 March to focus on efficiently addressing those hateful acts.

GENNADY GATILOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that the Council had managed to achieve important results and stressed that new problems facing mankind could only be resolved through concerted efforts. While the primary responsibility for observing human rights lay with the State as the main guarantor of human rights in its territory, solutions had to be found to ensure democratic procedures in domestic and international affairs and to unleash the creative potential of civil society. The United Nations should become the main forum for enabling that process through constructive dialogue and cooperation. Mr. Gatilov stressed that the specificities of each State should be taken into account, so as to promote mutual respect and understanding. It was important for each State to look over its past and identify particular human rights problems facing it instead of giving lessons to others. Mr. Gatilov expressed concern at the discrimination which Russian-speaking minorities faced in a number of countries, where the disgraceful phenomenon of statelessness was widespread even among persons who were born and worked in those countries. The growing trend to resolve problems through the unauthorized use of force, for example in the Middle East and North Africa, was also a matter of deep concern. Supporting efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, the Russian Federation advocated the respective cooperation between the government and the opposition in Syria.

KAREL SCHWARZENBERG, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, said that all over the world civil society contributed to the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights. Civil society actors worked for a better future and shared the common goals of justice, equality and human dignity. While respect of human rights and freedoms was the primary responsibility of States, those very States were constantly tempted to trespass on the rights and freedoms of individuals. Civil society represented an independent and necessary check on society. When a country failed to protect civil society actors, the international community had a shared responsibility to support and protect them. Sadly over the past several years there had been a disturbing and growing trend of backlash against civil society. This was unacceptable and a big mistake. No Government that had a sincere respect for human rights could afford to neglect civil society. The Czech Republic, two decades later, was still fighting the legacy of repression of civil society. States had to succeed in maintaining the polarity of voices in their societies. What had already been done by the Human Rights Council in that respect was welcome, and it was hoped that there would be further action.

DOMINIQUE MAMBERTI, Secretary of Relations with States of the Holy See, said that recent attempts to reinterpret the meaning of some critical terms in basic documents like in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the introduction of ambiguous expressions and ideological positions weakened the successes already achieved. The Human Rights Council had an important role to play in three areas: to monitor respect for human rights and ensure they became a universal standard of achievement for all peoples and nations, to promote international respect for human rights in fostering both duties and rights at the same time, and to protect and adhere to the principles of universality and indivisibility of human rights to resist the slide of human rights into a rhetorical void, an ideology or an instrument of power for imposing a political agenda. One of the urgent concerns today was freedom of religion, which remained one of the most frequently and widely denied and restricted rights in the world. Confronted by conflicts in various regions of the globe today, the international community was struggling to find new ways to ensure peaceful coexistence. No lasting peace could be achieved without true recognition of the dignity of every human person. Key to the search for international peace in a globalized world included defending human life, protecting the rights of the child, defending the rights of persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees, combating discrimination based on sex, religion, race and colour, and combating violence against women.

ESTHER BRIMMER, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations of the United States, said that the Council had to work to attain universality, dialogue, principles, and truth. In today’s networked world hate, insulting and intolerant speech could be marginalized and defeated only by encouraging positive and respectful expression. The pursuit of an honest, open dialogue among Member States was one of the themes which the United States had pledged to pursue and would continue to do so in the coming years. The Council’s creation of a working group on discriminator impediments to women’s human rights demonstrated its commitment to combating continuing gender bias in all its forms. By formally recognizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women enjoyed the same rights as everyone else, the Council helped advance the true universality of human rights worldwide. Nevertheless, significant challenges continued to face the Council, including the outrageous attacks launched by the Assad regime on innocent civilians in Syria, the ongoing violation of human rights in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka falling short of implementing the recommendations of its own Reconciliation Commission, and the unfair singling out of Israel, the only country with a stand-alone agenda item. The unfair and unacceptable bias to which Israel was subjected had to cease so that progress could be made towards establishing peace among Israelis and Palestinians.

NERIS GERMANAS, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, said that this year would be of particular importance for Lithuania as it would hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time. By assuming this important role it would continue to pay attention to the areas which were identified as priorities in the European Union Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy. It would also continue to pay particular attention to national human rights institutions that played an important role in the human rights architecture at the national level. With regards to Syria, Lithuania condemned in the strongest terms the widespread and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, unlawful killings, sexual violence, appalling torture, imprisonment and abductions. Serious violations of human rights by any party could not go unpunished and those who committed them had to be held accountable. It was regrettable that despite numerous efforts the international community had not yet found an agreement on a roadmap out of this crisis. Serious concern was also expressed about the serious human rights violations and abuses committed by both the armed groups and the Malian army. Lithuania called on Mali to undertake effective and impartial investigations into all reports of extrajudicial executions, torture, other ill-treatment and violence. The decision by the International Criminal Court to open an inquiry was welcome. There was concern that the Council’s actions were often undermined by the unwillingness of States to cooperate and lack of respect and all countries were urged to cooperate with the Special Procedures mandate holders in order to allow the Council to implement its mandate effectively.

JEAN ASSELBORN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, said that human rights were one of the main pillars of the foreign policy of Luxembourg. Regrettably, there was a long path that needed to be followed to ensure human rights for all, such as women and children affected by conflict, and the plight of civilians in Syria. A swift response to this crisis must be found and political dialogue needed to open the path to transition. Assistance must be available to all who needed it in Syria, regardless of their affiliations. Those responsible for grave human rights violations and war crimes committed in Syria would one day be held accountable and that was why Luxembourg had joined those requesting that the situation in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court, which was a strong signal that there would be no impunity. It was important today for Israel and Palestine to show courage and determination to achieve lasting political solutions. Putting a stop to Israeli settlement activities was also important; they were illegal and presented an obstacle to a viable political solution to this conflict that had lasted too long. The situation in Mali was of concern and the international community could not remain indifferent; the rapid deployment of human rights monitors to prevent abuses and reprisals was necessary. Luxembourg outlined priorities for future action such as combating discrimination against women in law and practice, fighting sexual violence particularly in conflicts, protecting women and children affected by armed conflicts, and eradicating poverty.

THORBJØRN JAGLAND, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, highlighted the role of the Council of Europe in implementing United Nations standards in Europe and said that the European Convention on Human Rights was unprecedented in history. Mr. Jagland said that the three main challenges facing the Council of Europe were the fight against corruption, which was a threat to democracy and seriously undermined the trust of citizens in the rule of law, combating intolerance and hate speech, which was a source of violence, and the protection of minorities, particularly of the Roma people who lived in appalling conditions and faced violence, racism and segregation. A number of Council of Europe human rights treaties, including treaties on the rights of the child, trafficking in human beings, and violence against women, complemented United Nations standards and formed an effective legal framework to protect human dignity. Those treaties were open to accession by non-European Member States. Mr. Jagland stressed that human rights were natural, universal rights and should be upheld by everyone. The complete abolishment of the death penalty globally remained a challenge. The United Nations and the Council of Europe had to work together to reform and reinforce the existing human rights system not only in Europe but worldwide.
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