26 February 2013
The Human Rights Council this afternoon continued its high-level segment and heard addresses from 13 dignitaries who underlined the need to address the crisis in Syria, welcomed the positive developments in Myanmar and outlined some of the efforts their countries and organizations were undertaking in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Speaking were Alfonso Nsue Mokuy, Deputy Prime Minister for the Social Sector and Human Rights of Equatorial Guinea; Tharcisse Karugarama, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Rwanda; Mariyam Shakeela, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights of Maldives; Luvsanvandan Bold, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia; Urmas Paet, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia; Julie Prudence Somda-Nigna, Minister for Human Rights and Civil Promotion of Burkina Faso; Franklyn Bai Kargbo, Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone; Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Khattra, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society of Mauritania; Joško Klisović, Deputy Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia; Alexei Volkov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan; Ovidiu Dranga, Secretary of State for Global Affairs of Romania; Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Speakers said that the conflict in Syria was increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war, torture and death of children in detention and the sexual abuse of very young girls and boys. Many speakers underlined the importance of ensuring accountability for crimes committed, including through the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was one of the most difficult in the world and there were calls for the creation of a country-specific mechanism to assist the country on the path to democracy and human rights. The global community should continue to support efforts surrounding the peace process in Darfur to ensure that the region remained on the path of peace and development.
Dignitaries spoke about persistent and remaining global human rights challenges which needed to be addressed, such as poverty and the impact of the economic crisis on vulnerable groups, armed conflict, discrimination and freedom of expression. Women were the largest group of victims in military and political conflicts and more needed to be done to ensure their protection. The international community must be vigilant and combat violence against children and their recruitment into armed forces, female genital mutilation, early marriages, child labour and exploitation, and child prostitution. The Human Rights Council could make an important contribution to ensuring that the rights of children and women received proper attention and focused funding in Syria, in Mali, in South Sudan, in Afghanistan and wherever those rights were jeopardized.
At the end of the meeting, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Japan spoke in right of reply.
The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 27 February at 10 a.m., to continue with its high-level segment.
ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Deputy Prime Minister for the Social Sector and Human Rights of Equatorial Guinea, expressed, on behalf of the President of Equatorial Guinea, sincere wishes for peace and solidarity in defending and promoting human rights around the world. He also expressed determination to maintain cooperation with the United Nations system on human rights. The subject of human rights had been addressed systematically and positively since the “coup for freedom” of August 1979. The ratification of various international human rights mechanisms positively reinforced developments in that respect. The procedures that judges had launched in terms of human rights were numerous. New constitutional bodies had been set-up. The Council of the Republic advised the President of the Republic during his term of Office, with organic and functional independence. The National Council for Economic and Social Development was a body that dealt with economic and social programmes and legislation of a fiscal nature, and would certainly have a real impact on the promotion of economic and social rights. A parliament for children had been created as a forum in which children and adolescents could meet to discuss issues that affected them and, through dialogue, find and present recommendations to the National Committee for the Rights of the Child.
THARCISSE KARUGARAMA, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Rwanda, said the Council had succeeded in establishing itself as the main body for the promotion and protection of human rights within the United Nations. Although not a member of the Council, Rwanda stood ready to cooperate and had extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures and had received the visits of a number of mandate holders. Rwanda had passed a number of laws that had ensured an independent and impartial judiciary that met international fair trial standards, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had transferred a number of cases to Rwandan jurisdiction. The abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda had been a landmark decision that ensured the promotion and protection of human rights and also fostered national unity and reconciliation. Rwanda had also amended the law governing the National Human Rights Commission to make it more independent and more in line with the principles enshrined in the Paris Declaration. The legacy of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda continued to pose challenges to the region and the failure to address the presence of various negative forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo had resulted in cycles of violence. Rwanda remained committed to playing a role of the framework agreement for a comprehensive peace in the region signed in Addis Ababa on 24 February 2013.
MARIYAM SHAKEELA, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights of Maldives, said that Maldives’ approach to human rights issues was forward-looking, progressive, and based on the fundamental principles of human rights and dignity for all. Maldives was also in the process of formulating a national strategy to strengthen compliance with international instruments. Maldives believed in the right of all to live in a peaceful society and a safe environment, the right to be free of torture and degrading treatment, and the right to live in a democratic society. Maldives also attached great importance to the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. In view of the remaining and emerging challenges in the area of human rights, Maldives was going to seek election to the Council for the period 2014-2016. As a result of the recent transfer of presidential power in Maldives, institutions in the country had been weakened and its democratic fabric had been affected. Ms. Shakeela stressed that climate change was emerging as a major issue of concern to Maldives, as all of its islands were eroding, homes and livelihoods were affected, and ground water was contaminated. Maldives believed that more work needed to be done in order to address climate change and relating issues, not only seen through an economic and scientific lens but also from the point of view of human rights.
LUVSANVANDAN BOLD, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, said that the protection and promotion of human rights and of human dignity were among the cornerstones of Mongolia’s foreign and domestic policies. Mongolian citizens freely travelled inside and outside their country, expressed their opinions without fear, and elected their representatives and leaders through fair and free elections. Over the past 20 years Mongolia had been carrying out extensive legal reforms aimed at bringing the national law in line with the best international standards and practices. Amendments to the existing legislation included steps leading to the permanent abolition of the death penalty, while efforts were also focusing on gender issues, particularly women’s rights. Moreover, as Mongolia had recently started exploiting its vast mineral resources, attention was paid to the impact of businesses on the enjoyment of human rights in order to maximize positive effects and minimize negative effects. Remaining global human rights challenges included poverty, discrimination, religious intolerance, armed conflict, arbitrary executions, and the impact of the economic crisis on vulnerable groups. The ongoing conflict in Syria was a matter of deep concern, said Mr. Bold.
URMAS PAET, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, said that internet access was of key importance to achieve good governance and for Estonia, supporting freedom of expression online was just as important as all other activities related to the protection and promotion of human rights. However, a recent discussion on internet freedom had taken a worrying turn in the Council, with too many countries focusing on censorship and the limiting of freedom. Other priorities included the rights of indigenous persons, and the rights of women. In today’s world, women were still the largest group of victims in military and political conflicts. In relation to the rights of the child, the world’s approach had too often been reactive and more emphasis was needed on preventing crimes and other problems. The question of children in armed conflict also continued to require attention and it was very important that mission mandates included the aspect of child protection. The crimes committed in Syria had drawn dramatic attention to the need to prevent and respond to such problems. The international community had witnessed a number of positive developments in Myanmar. Unfortunately, such progress remained to be seen in countries that ranged from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Belarus. Human rights were an opportunity, not a means to punish the governments of developing States, and it should not be forgotten that human rights needed constant attention in developed countries too.
JULIE PRUDENCE SOMDA-NIGNA, Minister of Human Rights and Civil Promotion of Burkina Faso, said that this session took place in a particularly fraught socio-economic situation for most States. Burkina Faso hoped that the international community would continue to support efforts in Africa and in particular surrounding the peace process in Darfur to ensure that the region remained on the path of peace and development. Burkina Faso remained concerned about the situation in Northern Mali and the risk of destabilisation for the region, and welcomed the joint statement by France and African States to assist Mali to recover its territorial integrity. Burkina Faso remained willing to work for a lasting political solution in Mali, alongside the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Mr. Blaise Compaoure, President of Burkina Faso, had received the mandate from the Community to engage in a difficult mediation process to create a favourable environment for dialogue among actors in the Malian crisis. Following the grave social crisis experienced by Burkina Faso in 2011, a commission on political reform had been established to carry out national consultations for the implementation of consensual measures to ensure peace and social cohesion. Burkina Faso continued to pursue efforts, including on access to basic services, and a number of actions to reinforce human rights affected the areas of youth employment, persons with disabilities, gender related legislation, public finance and a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.
FRANKLYN BAI KARGBO, Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone, said that Sierra Leone was attending its first session as a full-fledged member of the Council. The country was taking steps to address its international obligations. The “Agenda for Prosperity” had as its main objective the eradication of poverty. A constitutional review which aimed to strengthen democracy was in progress. Over the next two years the country would be submitting all outstanding human rights reports and signing human rights treaties to which it had not yet acceded. There were also plans to set up an independent Police Complaint Body, prisons were being transformed into correctional services in line with international standards, efforts were being made to reduce the backlog of pending legal cases and the overcrowding in prisons, and a new legal framework was now in place within which sexually based violence could be prosecuted. A Disability Commission had also been established, and for the first time a person with disabilities had been appointed Minister of Government. Sierra Leone also aimed to strengthen the rule of law, improve access to justice, and remove political influence from the courts. Concern was expressed about the human rights situation in Syria. Sierra Leone fully supported the efforts made by the Council to address the problem.
MOHAMED ABDALLAHI OULD KHATTRA, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society of Mauritania, said that the world still faced the denial of human rights in a continued manner. Such a denial was attributed to numerous elements that helped the continuation of violations of the basic rights of mankind, therefore threatening peace and security. The global financial crisis and climate change compounded these. Despite challenges and constraints, Mauritania had embarked on the path of constructive change and had taken important steps in the field of human rights. Combating poverty was at the forefront of the Government’s priorities, as well as the fight against corruption. It had cooperated with United Nations human rights mechanisms and steps had been taken to reflect the solidarity of that cooperation. Mauritania had ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The importance of the Universal Periodic Review was reaffirmed and all Member States were called upon to positively deal with it. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be provided with the necessary financial resources to carry out its tasks as best as possible.
JOŠKO KLISOVIĆ, Deputy Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, said that the international community had faced important human rights challenges last year which had tested the capacity and determination to address them adequately and responsibly. The increasingly deteriorating human rights situation in Syria was distressing, with increasing levels of violence and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law which might amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Syria must remain high on the agenda of the Human Rights Council and all those responsible for the crimes must be brought to justice, including through referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea represented one of the most difficult human rights situations in the world and urgent responses were needed to put the country on the path to democracy and human rights. This could not be done by the mere adoption of resolutions in the United Nations; the creation of a specific country mechanism was needed. Croatia commended the progress achieved in Myanmar in improving the human rights situation and increasing cooperation with the United Nations. Violence against children and their recruitment into armed forces, female genital mutilation, early marriages, child labour and child prostitution must be vigilantly combated by the international community.
ALEXEI VOLKOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, said that Kazakhstan was proud to be elected to the Council, which it regarded as a global body that ensured constructive monitoring of human rights situations. Mr. Volkov stressed the importance of monitoring implementation and of identifying achievements and challenges in the Council’s work. Efforts made at the national level could not succeed unless the outside environment supported them too. Kazakhstan had consistently supported the strengthening of the global architecture of human rights bodies. A critical analysis of developments and events which had taken place at regional, national and global levels was necessary so as to safeguard society from political, economic, religious, and military extremism. The Universal Periodic Review was especially important in that regard. The Council should strengthen the confidence of Member States in its activities and advance equal dialogue. Kazakhstan supported the view of rationalizing the Council’s programme and agenda, and continuing a multifaceted dialogue on existing development problems, including democracy and human rights.
OVIDIU DRANGA, Secretary of State for Global Affairs of Romania, said that meetings of the Human Rights Council in Geneva were an opportunity to reflect on what could be done to make sure that it could fulfill its mandate. The responsibility in this respect was even higher this year, the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Conference and the Vienna Declaration. The principles that constituted the fundamental orientation of the Council’s action such as non-selectivity and impartiality in addressing human rights or the fact that human rights were interdependent, interrelated, indivisible and most of all universal, found their mirror in the Vienna Declaration. Romania also believed that promoting and respecting the right to education was indispensable to sustainable development and the prosperity of nations. The Human Rights Council had become a strong and credible institution, able to address human rights violations in a timely manner. While it still lacked a specific early warning mechanism, if fully exploited, its current mechanisms and tools could play such a role. With regards to Syria, Romania supported an extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and hoped that the Council would be able to reach a consensual decision on the issue. Moreover, it hoped that other United Nations fora would reach a decision, so that the conflict could come to an end as soon as possible. With regards to Mali, the restoration of a legitimate authority and the building of a democratic society were the necessary prerequisites for the construction of the country. Debates on thematic human rights issues were also essential and developments on such issues were made possible due to the work of the Special Procedures of the Council, which was highly appreciated.
ERIKA FELLER, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that refugees and stateless persons were victims of a deficit of human rights as they were unable to avail themselves, on the long term, of the protection of their own Governments. The resolutions and decisions of the Human Rights Council, and the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review process, were contributing to the protection of persons of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The situation inside Syria and in the surrounding host States had become most complex and challenging. The humanitarian impact of the two years of the crisis was enormous: close to one million Syrian refugees and over two million internally displaced persons inside the country. The pressure on host countries would soon start to overwhelm their capacities and the resources available were not enough; burden-sharing needed urgent reflection. The conflict in Syria was increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war, and there were reports of torture and death of children in detention and the sexual abuse of very young girls and boys. The Human Rights Council could make an important contribution to ensuring that the rights of children and women received proper attention and focused funding, in Syria, in Mali, in South Sudan, in Afghanistan and wherever those rights were jeopardized. The Council had been an important part of the momentum to address statelessness through its resolutions on the right to nationality and the right to birth registration, and through the Universal Periodic Review recommendations on nationality and statelessness.
PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that the Council had already carried out a considerable amount of work during its short lifespan but a lot remained to be done. The loss of human life as a result of various situations of violence worldwide was unacceptably high. Armed conflicts sadly perpetuated the most serious kinds of atrocities. While mechanisms and procedures had developed to protect and promote human rights in situations which were of concern to the International Committee of the Red Cross, it was also important to increase the understanding of politics, of social affairs and development, of the causes and consequences of conflicts, and of peace-keeping, and to step up efforts to achieve justice and to restore the rule of law. The association between the Council and other bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross should grow so as to enforce the rule of law and ensure that nobody was deprived of protection. Mr. Maurer stressed that women, men and children who could have been saved were dying every day because they had no access to medical care, which was caused by a lack of security. Therefore, he urged States to protect medical personnel and facilities in the territories under their jurisdiction.
Right of Reply
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, said that Japan had arbitrarily been initiating resolutions with the European Union out of hostility and of a political, manipulated and confrontational nature. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would consistently reject that resolution, especially with regards to the inquiry mechanism. It denounced in the strongest terms the United States’ allegations made in continuation of a hostile policy aimed at eliminating the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s socialist system that was chosen by its own people. The United States was urged to address all its human rights violations, including the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sri Lanka, speaking in a right of reply, said it strongly rejected any unfair, biased, unprincipled and unjust approach that may be adopted by the Council towards the protection and promotion of human rights in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was of the firm view that the Council should not embark on or encourage or debate any country-specific resolution by virtue of a singled out process which would run counter to the founding principles mentioned above. Sri Lanka was thus surprised by a statement made by the United States drawing disproportionate attention to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should be encouraged in its endeavour for the reconciliation process being implemented, rather than singled out.
Japan, speaking in a right of reply, said that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea should respond to concerns expressed by the global community about the ongoing serious human rights violations in the country and take steps to address them, particularly in relation to the right to food. Japan reiterated that the abduction issue had already been settled by the parties.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, rejected Japanese allegations and said that Japan could not justify its unjust ritual of initiating resolutions on other countries. It was up to Japan to resolve the issue of abductions of Koreans and identify their whereabouts. Japan should urgently address the war crimes committed during the occupation of Korea when it had abducted 8.4 million Koreans.
Japan, in the second right of reply, said that it was regrettable that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had not responded to the concerns of the international community with concrete action and in a constructive manner.
For use of the information media; not an official record