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Human Rights Council concludes Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Council 
MORNING 

5 March 2013

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on human rights defenders.

Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in concluding remarks said the report emphasized human dignity and aimed to reduce cases of treatment without consent; it did not try to establish States’ obligation to allow or ban abortion, but was focused on the actual performance and conduct of medical staff that needed to ensure respect for human dignity.

Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in concluding remarks said with regard to how to strengthen national human rights institutions and human rights defenders that resources were important, as was the setting up of human rights desks and focus points to carry out investigations, giving a broad mandate to national institutions, and ensuring that the enforcement of recommendations was carried out by States.

The two Special Rapporteurs presented their reports on Monday, 4 March in the afternoon and a summary of their presentations can be found here.

In the interactive dialogue concerning torture, some speakers welcomed the focus of the Special Rapporteur on mistreatment in health-care settings, while others said that it fell outside his mandate.  Speakers welcomed the progress made in interpreting criteria to describe an act of torture or ill treatment, as well as the Special Rapporteur’s identification of groups particularly vulnerable to inhumane and degrading treatment.  Focus on persons with mental and psycho-social disabilities was an issue which had long been neglected and required close attention by the Council.  Sharing expertise in cases of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and illustrating some of the abusive practices in health-care settings would help in the promotion of a human rights-based approach. 

On human rights defenders, speakers condemned reprisals or threats against human rights defenders.  The role of human rights defenders was indispensable in any society based on democracy and the rule of law.  Speakers agreed that national human rights institutions in accordance with the Paris Principles could play an important role in the defence of human rights.  There was concern about legislative, administrative and other restrictions placed on human rights defenders in some countries.  Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on how national human rights institutions could monitor the situation of detained or incarcerated human rights defenders and how they could influence State institutions to ensure justice?

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Norway, Botswana, European Union, Uruguay, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation , Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Algeria, India, Republic of Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Togo, Egypt, Indonesia, Croatia, France, Estonia, Belarus, Austria, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Chile, Russian Federation, Germany, Brazil, United States, Poland, Thailand, Spain, Nepal, Belgium, Mexico, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Qatar, Slovenia, Netherlands, Cuba, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso and Czech Republic.  The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie also took the floor.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists, COC Netherlands, Human Rights House Foundation, Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Union of Arab Jurists in a joint statement, and Action Canada for Population and Development.

At noon, the Human Rights Council will begin a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. 

Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders

Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the African Group took note of the report presented by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on the role of national human rights institutions.  National human rights institutions should operate in conformity with the Paris Principles.  The African Group realized that staff of national human rights institutions faced challenges in a number of countries and regions of the world because of the absence of a clear definition of human rights defenders.  Human rights defenders and activists were regular citizens and as such should respect national legislation.  Since the adoption of the Robben Island Guidelines in 2003, African countries were committed to promote the role of public administrations in the prevention of acts of torture. 

Norway said that national institutions were in a unique position to hold Governments accountable to their human rights obligations and to enhance mainstreaming of human rights in public law and policymaking.   National human rights institutions could also play an important role as bridge builders between civil society organizations and Governments.   It was essential that national human rights institutions were adequately supported and protected by public authorities as necessary.  Norway also thanked the Special Rapporteur on torture for his report.  As the report pointed out, grave violations of core human rights were often underpinned by discriminatory norms against marginalized groups or individuals.  Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on what types of measures were needed in order to address and redress the lack of protection of marginalized persons inherently vulnerable to ill treatment in health care settings?

Botswana said that Botswana agreed with the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture on the importance of raising awareness of the different abuses that occurred in health-care settings and the role of the State in protecting its entire people against torture or degrading treatment, regardless of their mental or physical state.  Botswana also agreed that human rights education and information were very important in the prevention of abuses that occurred in health-care settings.   The report raised issues of concern but offered very little by way of recommendations or possible solutions.   For instance, no alternative model to determine legal capacity of concerned individuals was provided.  

The European Union appreciated the efforts of the Special Rapporteur to examine the nexus between his torture mandate, the right to health and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities framework.   People with disabilities, women, persons living with HIV/AIDS, drug-users and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were more vulnerable to the abuses identified in the report.   The European Union was concerned about legislative, administrative and other restrictions placed on human rights defenders in some countries.   All States should encourage citizen participation and ensure that the necessary space was given to civil society.

Uruguay thanked the Special Rapporteur on torture for visiting the country last December.  Since her visit, new regulations had entered into force and education and training was now provided in detention centres.   These educational programmes were carried out to facilitate the reintegration of former prisoners.   Further improvements of the legislation concerning prison facilities were currently under consideration.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation agreed with the Special Rapporteur that national human rights institutions played an important role.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation stressed, however, that the staff of these institutions should always act within the law and should not be above the legislation of the country in which they operated.  The report of the Special Rapporteur on torture had focused on abusive practices in healthcare settings, which did not fall within the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to examine.  There were other mandate holders who could argue that this area was within their mandate, for example the Special Rapporteur on the right to health.  Efforts should be made to avoid similar duplication of mandate areas in the future.   

Argentina said that the report demonstrated that the Special Rapporteur on torture was making important strides forward.  Argentina welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s focus on specific groups identified as particularly vulnerable to inhumane and degrading treatment, such as persons living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, and persons with disabilities.  Would the Special Rapporteur research further specific cases and also look at the issue of accountability?  Argentina was establishing a national torture prevention mechanism with the participation of human rights organizations.  Various activities were being planned as part of that initiative.  

Australia said that Australia strongly opposed the use of torture and cruel or degrading treatment by any country in any circumstances and that it would study the Special Rapporteur’s report and his recommendations carefully.  The protection of human rights defenders as strong, impartial institutions was paramount to the promotion and protection of human rights.  The Australian National Human Rights Institution played a leading role in the promotion of human rights by making them part of everyday life and language.  It was also mandated to receive and take action on discrimination and human rights complaints and to work on policy and legislative development.  

Denmark welcomed the plans of the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit several countries in the coming months and thanked him for his report.  Denmark shared the concerns expressed in the report that persons with disabilities, women, persons living with HIV/AIDS, drug-users and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were more vulnerable to the abuses identified.  The definition and scope of torture and ill treatments, as defined in the report, were also welcomed.  Denmark noted the Human Rights Council resolution on human rights defenders and asked the Special Rapporteur how he viewed worrying reports that civil society organizations were increasingly facing restrictions on their operations and ability to raise funds.

Algeria said that the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture were very useful to eradicate torture in health-care settings.  However, the question of alleged acts of torture against migrants in Algeria was not within the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  In addition to the cooperative and inclusive approach towards civil society in Algeria, the Government had consolidated the independence of the national human rights commission.  Algeria noted the absence of a specific definition of human rights defenders.

India said that national institutions played an important role to prevent human rights violations on the ground.  Human rights defenders needed the support of national human rights institutions.  The National Human Rights Commission in India could review the safeguards provided by the constitution or any law concerning the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.  The Commission could also intervene in any proceedings involving an allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court, with the approval of such courts.

Republic of Moldova commended the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on her report focusing on the role of national human rights institutions and said that human rights were a priority for the Republic of Moldova.  The report’s recommendations were taken into account and a number of areas were currently under review and reform in order to ensure that the country’s national human rights institution would attain A status in accordance with the Paris Principles.  Improving human rights and personal freedoms legislation was one of the priorities of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova.  Civil society was being closely consulted in the process.  Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate further on ways of strengthening national human rights institutions? 

Sri Lanka said that Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission had powers to entertain complaints regarding human rights violations of individuals or groups of persons and to investigate complaints of alleged violations or imminent violations.  In Sri Lanka all persons were equal before the law and persons who wanted to complain about human rights violations had recourse to a number of effective remedies.  Fundamental rights could also be exercised by human rights defenders within the limits of the law.  Sri Lanka acknowledged the important role played by civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights, and strongly condemned reprisals or threats against human rights defenders.  

Tunisia said that the Special Rapporteur’s report had been very useful and highlighted legislative and administrative measures which were being taken in order to bring Tunisian legislation in line with the provisions of relevant international instruments.  These measures were taken in response to the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and in response to public opinion and national civil society demands.  Concerning detention in particular, 11 different types of detention were identified in the legislation.  The use of programes for harm reduction was a controversial issue and was already governed by a number of international conventions to which Tunisia was a party.    

Togo congratulated the Special Rapporteur on torture for the relevance of his report and announced that acts of torture soon would be criminalized in the Togolese legislation.  Turning to the report on human rights defenders, Togo said that national institutions played a key role in protecting human rights defenders and that it would implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the funding of non-governmental organizations.

Egypt said that the report aimed at redefining the scope of the crime of torture.  However, the Convention against Torture defined torture clearly.  The link between torture and medical misconduct was not clear; the report did not comply with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  This approach could be counterproductive.  On human rights defenders, Egypt shared the view of the Special Rapporteur that national institutions played a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights.  At the same time, national institutions had to be in line with national legislation.

Indonesia said that the definition and criminalization of torture had been included in its Criminal Code, which was currently being amended.  Indonesia noted the lack of an internationally agreed definition of human rights defenders.  Indonesia had a vibrant civil society and strong monitoring institutions.  A new mechanism channelled the complaints of citizens directly to the relevant ministries. 
    
Croatia said that the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture was comprehensive and its recommendations should be taken seriously into consideration and implemented.  Croatia considered the implementation of appropriate measures to combat torture as a sign of maturity and a measure of success of any society.  The Special Rapporteur’s report highlighted in particular the severity of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, so more work was needed to prevent discrimination against them.  What was the Special Rapporteur’s opinion on the influence of traditional and modern media on torture?

France said that national human rights institutions needed a more clearly defined mandate and greater resources in order to carry out their work more effectively.  While France supported the methods and best practices which the Special Rapporteur had recommended as a means of strengthening the work of national institutions, nevertheless it was primarily the responsibility of States to protect their citizens.  All laws authorizing the invasive and cruel treatment of vulnerable persons should be stopped immediately.  Persons living with HIV/AIDS should have adequate access to healthcare, and women should have access to services such as abortion whenever necessary.

Estonia said that it believed that sharing expertise in cases of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and illustrating some of the abusive practices in health-care settings would help in the promotion of a human rights-based approach.  Estonia supported the view that health-care services should be provided only with the consent of the patient.  Health-care providers needed to respect the personal autonomy and dignity of clients regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, disability or religion.  Appropriate awareness-raising initiatives should target different age groups in society, focusing on teenagers in particular.

Belarus welcomed that the Special Rapporteur had taken up the situation in Western countries.  It could be said that the situation in Western Europe was far from ideal and that a country like Ireland should first clean up its act before criticizing others.  Belarus recalled the CIA’s secret prisons in Europe and deplored that no inquiry had been carried out in the countries concerned.  Belarus noted that during the last Universal Periodic Review’s session, the Czech Republic refused the recommendation to investigate the issue of CIA’s secret prisons in the country.  The Special Rapporteur should make use of the open invitation to Special Procedures and address the situation in the Czech Republic.

Austria thanked the Special Rapporteur on torture for his latest report exploring mistreatment in health-care settings.  Austria concurred with his analysis that the application of the torture framework to abuses in health-care settings could help to make clear that there could neither be justification nor impunity for the violation of the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture.  The topic of the report of the Special Rapporteur was in line with his mandate and the focus on vulnerable people was timely.  Torture was forbidden under international law and perpetrators should be brought before the law.  On human rights defenders, Austria thanked the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders for her detailed recommendations.  It was of utmost importance that States strengthen the protection of human rights defenders.
      
Switzerland supported the recommendations that national torture preventive mechanisms should have access to health facilities.  This measure should be extended to other monitoring mechanisms, especially in countries which had not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.  Switzerland was committed to ensure that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were respected and regretted the acts of ill treatment against them in health facilities.  Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders about the role that national human rights institutions could play to promote the work of human rights defenders and support the Universal Periodic Review.

United Kingdom said the report on torture in health institutions contributed to ensuring that those responsible were held to account and that practices were independently scrutinized and challenged for preventive purposes.  The United Kingdom asked the Special Rapporteur how the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture could be used to prevent torture in health care-settings.  Turning to the situation of States which limited the ability of human rights defenders to undertake important activities, the United Kingdom asked about constructive engagement with such States to ensure their compliance with the Paris Principles and respect for human rights defenders.

Chile recalled that torture was an absolute violation of human rights and welcomed the focus on health-care settings by the Special Rapporteur and in particular on persons suffering from psychological illnesses and on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  The focus on torture and other cruel or degrading treatment required coordination not only on national levels but also on international levels between different United Nations agencies.  Chile welcomed the focus on national human rights institutions in the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and said that the Human Rights Institute of Chile had broadened its mandate, thus allowing it to protect human rights defenders.

Russian Federation said that the mandate of the activities of national human rights institutions was multi-faceted and that the Paris Principles, which had been applied for over 20 years, had proved to be effective.   The Russian Federation did not agree with the introduction of a new set of recommendations aimed at changing the work of national human rights institutions.  Human right defenders should not have immunity in carrying out their duties because that was preferential treatment.  The Russian Federation noted that the Special Rapporteur’s report was full of contradictory and unsubstantiated medical concepts, which fell under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on health.  

Germany welcomed the importance which had been placed on national human rights institutions and the work of human rights defenders, and agreed with the observation that there was a trend in many countries to restrict the space for human rights activities.  Could the Special Rapporteur explain why the work of human rights defenders did not undermine the internal political process but helped to enhance it?  Which role could the national human rights institutions play in facilitating access to international human rights mechanisms by human rights defenders?  Could national human rights institutions help to protect the human rights defenders from reprisals?

Brazil welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s focus on persons with mental and psycho-social disabilities, an issue which had long been neglected and required close attention by the Council.  Brazil had enacted a bill aimed at replacing mental hospitals with centres for psycho-social care, which were community-based services customized to persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities.  Brazil had given priority to strengthening its programme of protection of the physical integrity and activities of human rights defenders, and sought to address the structural causes behind existing threats against human rights defenders. 

United States noted the important role that national human rights institutions could play in defending human rights and echoed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that such institutions must be strong, independent and effective.  The United States strongly agreed that the participation of civil society with such institutions was essential for their credibility and effectiveness.   The United States agreed with many of the conclusions of the Special Rapporteur on torture.  At the same time, the United States disagreed with some of the legal conclusions drawn by the Special Rapporteur, including that the definition of torture was “evolving” and that bad private action in health care should be considered torture or cruel or inhuman treatment. 

Poland said that Poland appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s hard work on the cause of human rights defenders.  Poland was fully aware of what risks staff of national human rights institutions must take to act independently while being exposed to different kinds of attacks or threats.  After years of fighting for civil and political rights during the communist regime, Poland was now happy to have its own independent human rights institution.  Poland fully agreed that national human rights institutions members and staff did play the role of human rights defenders and that there was a need to strengthen institutions’ mandates to secure their protection.   As a new State party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Poland deplored the reported mistreatment in health-care settings.  What action could the Human Rights Council take to prevent such mistreatments?

Thailand shared the view of the Special Rapporteur that the free consent of patients was of paramount importance to avoid mistreatment in health-care settings.  Was paragraph 39 of the report related to article 1 of the Convention against Torture?  Thailand noted that the Special Rapporteur on torture would visit the country in 2013.  The House of Representatives was currently considering the amendment of the relevant legislation.  Turning its attention to human rights defenders, Thailand said that national human rights institutions could be seen as human rights defenders to some extent.  It was timely that a draft declaration on human rights defenders would be considered by the Council at the present session.

Spain said Spain was deeply committed to the abolishment of the death penalty and was keeping a close eye on the developments in this regard.  The role of human rights defenders was indispensable in any society based on democracy and the rule of law.  Unfortunately, they were often subjected to violence, danger and torture.  Recent legislation on human rights defenders in many countries seemed not to be in line with international norms.  Spain supported the proposal of the Special Rapporteur to establish a focal point and wished to hear more about this.  What public policies could be used to protect human rights defenders nationally and regionally, particularly women human rights defenders who ran additional risks because of their gender. 

Nepal said that strengthening the capacity of national human rights institutions was a prerequisite to establishing effective promotion and protection of human rights on the grounds.  The Nepalese national human rights institution enjoyed full independence under the Constitution and was accredited with A status by the International Coordinating Committee.  The Government was committed to provide it with sufficient resources to ensure its smooth functioning and also intended to support other human rights organizations in the country.  A national policy to enable the safety and security of human rights defenders was being considered.

Belgium was particularly struck by the description of abuses of reproductive rights in health-care settings, particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and supported the appeal of the Special Rapporteur to respect the dignity and integrity of all human beings.  Belgium welcomed the description of the role that national human rights institutions could play in combating impunity in Ms. Sekaggya’s report and the importance of strengthening cooperation of regional networks with regional and United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Belgium was particularly interested in regional arrangements and asked how this cooperation could be reinforced.

Mexico said that the Special Rapporteur’s focus on degrading treatment in healthcare fell well within his mandate.  Ignorance of how to treat persons with mental disabilities was a complex issue in Mexico, where the Federal Government had trebled its expenditures on mental healthcare in recent years.  Provisions were also made to allow for external observers to evaluate current practices.  Priority was given to registering the chronically ill and providing them with appropriate documents in order to make them less vulnerable.  Further inter-State cooperation was needed on issues in which certain States had considerable experience.

Costa Rica thanked the Special Rapporteur for his recommendations, which would be a valuable tool for all concerned.  Costa Rica believed that raising awareness and providing education and human rights training were key channels for the promotion and protection of human rights.  Costa Rica did not allow abortion and therefore could not support the recommendation made by the Special Rapporteur in paragraph 49 of his report, which should have stipulated that abortion should be made available only in countries where it was legal.  Costa Rica called on States to accept the request made by the Special Rapporteur to visit them.

Paraguay noted the progress which had been made in combating torture, which allowed a number of areas of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to be given central focus in his report.  In Paraguay access to healthcare could not be denied on any grounds, and refusal of healthcare services on the basis of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and physical or mental state was strongly condemned.  Paraguay had made enormous progress in the prevention of the cruel treatment of vulnerable persons.  That was reflected in a number of measures taken, including the establishment of a Programme of Special Care for Indigenous Peoples. 

Qatar noted that national human rights institutions in accordance with the Paris Principles could play an important role in the defence of human rights.  In 2002 the National Commission of Human Rights in Qatar was set up.  The Commission aimed to enshrine human rights principles in Qatar and enjoyed financial and administrative independence.  It had been given A status by the International Coordinating Committee in charge of national human rights institutions accreditation and was moving forward decisively along the path giving it a remarkable role nationally, regionally and internationally.

Slovenia said that one could not ignore the challenges that human rights defenders, particularly those working with women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and other issues, were facing.  Slovenia stressed that the main responsibility to protect human rights defenders and to ensure there was no impunity for human rights violations against them lay with State institutions.  Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on how national human rights institutions could monitor the situation of detained or incarcerated human rights defenders and how they could influence State institutions to ensure justice?

Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie said that it welcomed the progress made in interpreting criteria to describe an act of torture or ill-treatment. The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie was committed to combating torture and had stepped up its advocacy and awareness raising work.  Forty-four out of seventy-two countries that had signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture were members of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.  On human rights defenders, French speaking countries were committed to creating and spreading national human rights institutions.  The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie stressed the basic support role played by the French-speaking association of national institutions for human rights.
 
Netherlands said that it was essential to protect the rights of human rights defenders and the strategy of the new Minister for Foreign Affairs included the concept of establishing The Hague as a shelter city for human rights defenders in need.  The Netherlands provided a safe haven to intimidated activists and offered them a three-month permit.  National human rights institutions should inform the Government of the impact of the new legislation on human rights defenders and to do it effectively, the staff of those institutions should be able to do it without fear of reprisals and of Government interference.  The Netherlands asked about mechanisms which could ensure independence for national human rights institutions.

Cuba recognized the challenges outlined by the Special Rapporteur on torture and noted the omission of the consideration of the gap in development between rich and poor countries and the denial of the right to health to millions.  The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders did not say anything as to the existence of other institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, in addition to national human rights institutions.  Special Rapporteurs were important tools as long as they were guided by high standards of conduct.  An overly hasty presentation of facts without having them checked presented a breach of authority and credibility; full implementation of the Code of Conduct was not an option but an obligation.

Senegal noted that certain passages in the report by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders gave orders and were difficult to reconcile with the idea of independence of national human rights institutions.  What was the value added of the proposal to have national human rights institutions acting as human rights defenders and would this only include institutions accredited under the Paris Principles?   Turning to the report by the Special Rapporteur on torture, Senegal said that the possible link between the theme of torture and breaches that might be identified in the medical field was little studied until now.

Sierra Leone said that it had ensured the prohibition of torture by enshrining it in Chapter 3 of its Constitution.  In addition, Sierra Leone had adopted several administrative policies and ordinances.  Guided by Article 1 of the Convention, the list of possible perpetrators of torture did not exclude the police, the army, prison officers, the judiciary or other persons involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.  In Sierra Leone human rights defenders were not under threat, nor had any human rights defenders or journalists been imprisoned in recent years.    

Democratic Republic of the Congo said that a clear improvement had been made in its legal and institutional structures to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of the rights provided for in the Constitution.  A special protection unit for human rights defenders monitored possible human rights violations.  The process of adopting a law to protect human rights defenders was currently going through parliamentary consideration.  Journalists were not harassed and no person was imprisoned for their political opinions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Training courses on the protection of civilians were regularly organized for journalists, media professionals, and members of the civil society.

Burkina Faso congratulated both Special Rapporteurs on their reports and praised their work.  Burkina Faso was aware of the importance of having all public and private players active in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Associations, non-governmental organizations and other unions were free to exercise their activities, and those who were responsible for upholding human rights were able to be critical.  Burkina Faso spared no effort in its work to promote and protect human rights and, to that end, in 2001 it had set up a National Human Rights Commission in line with the Paris Principles.

Czech Republic noted with concern that a number of the Special Rapporteur on torture’s requests for invitation had been pending for years, which could not be considered a sign of a satisfactory cooperation by the respective Governments.  The Czech Republic highlighted the recommendation concerning access of women to emergency medical care, saying that this was very valid as denials of legally available healthcare services continued to be reported from all regions, including its own.  Through which means could national institutions support non-governmental organizations with respect to the protection human rights defenders?

International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights echoed calls for States to follow the Paris Principles and the advice provided by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation to ensure that institutions were strong, independent and effective partners in the promotion and protection of human rights.  States should refrain from unduly interfering with the independence and autonomy of national human rights institutions, and ensure that any instances of intimidation were promptly investigated with perpetrators brought to justice and a remedy provided to victims.

International Service for Human Rights said that in many situations human rights defenders were said to misuse the label of human rights defenders, because they belonged or were said to belong to political opposition parties.  How could the Human Rights Council ensure that human rights defenders expressing political opinion or associated with political parties were guaranteed the full protection of international law?

International Commission of Jurists said that the human rights situation in South Africa continued to worsen; the authorities were failing to protect human rights defenders and there was a steady increase in attacks on them, typically by the police or intelligence agents who were acting with impunity.  The situations in Zimbabwe, Angola, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were of particular concern as those States were failing to adhere to the commitments established in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. 

COC Netherlands welcomed the recognition paid by the Special Rapporteur on torture to abuse committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and asked about steps could States take to change the culture of abuse against them.  What could States do to ensure that cultural norms, religions and traditional values were not used to justify attacks on human rights defenders working on gender issues and rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?

Human Rights House Foundation echoed the concern of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders about the recent legislative developments in a number of countries which were not in compliance with international human rights standards and did not contribute to a conductive working environment for human rights defenders.  The Human Rights Council needed to take strong action to ensure that such legislation on human rights defenders should be in line with international standards.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights said that human rights civil society organizations and defenders were increasingly subjected to a range of repressive laws and practices designed to isolate them and destroy their ability to exist.  In Egypt, the proposed legislation on civil society would represent the most restrictive ever seen in the country and would establish a direct role for the security apparatus in approving or rejecting the activities on non-governmental organizations.

Union of Arab Jurists, in a joint statement, recalled that an outstanding invitation to Iraq had been mentioned by the Special Rapporteur, and the Union of Arab Jurists underlined the urgency of this visit.  The situation in Iraq had deteriorated, particularly concerning ill-treatment, and prison conditions were among the worst in the world.  The Union of Arab Jurists urged Iraqi authorities to make all efforts possible to schedule the visit as soon as possible, and for investigations to be carried out on human rights violations since 2003.

Action Canada for Population and Development urged States to take into account the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur with regards to informed consent on disability, to recognise the bodily integrity and choice of each women in regard to her own body, and to decriminalize sex work, consensual same sex behaviour, abortion, and to remove discriminatory laws among others, which resulted in multiple vulnerabilities.  

Concluding Remarks

JUAN MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in his closing remarks said that the issues brought to the Human Rights Council in his report were indeed controversial.  To the question about a consultative approach in the preparation of the report, Mr. Mendez said that he had carried out all the consultations he could with the modest budget he had, and this included international organizations and experts working on health issues.  The main purpose of the report was to assist States in developing legislation that was aligned with the new Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities and ensure free and prior consent of patients.  The intention was not to expand the definition of torture as recognized by international law; it dealt with the intention of inflicting suffering which was important as the mandate included not only torture but also other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  States needed to revise the relevant legislation to ensure the prior and free consent of the patient.  The report emphasized human dignity and aimed to reduce cases of treatment without consent; it did not try to establish States’ obligation to allow or ban abortion, but was focused on the actual performance and conduct of medical staff who needed to ensure respect for human dignity.  Preventing and punishing impunity was the responsibility of States and it was necessary to ensure that prohibited conduct was enshrined in the legislation.

MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in concluding remarks said she appreciated the interaction and thanked Honduras, Tunisia and Ireland for agreeing to implement recommendations put before them.  A number of issues had been raised during the discussion.  Carrying out country visits, one encountered very sensitive issues and mistrust was sometimes found.  In some countries there was stigmatization and polarisation but States were always called upon to publicly recognise the role of national human rights institutions and human rights defenders.  On how to strengthen national human rights institutions with regards to human rights defenders, resources were important, as was the setting up of human rights desks and focus points to carry out investigations, giving a broad mandate to national institutions and ensuring that the enforcement of recommendations was carried out by the States.  The question of immunity of the officials of these institutions was raised.  The Sub-Committee of the International Coordinating Committee recommended that they be immune while carrying out official duties and this should be taken into account.  On protection, Ms. Sekaggya agreed that the Government had the primary responsibility to protect human rights defenders.  Other means could be used, using regional mechanisms, as well as international mechanisms.  The issue of reprisals had come up, and national institutions should carry out awareness-raising on how international human rights mechanisms could work and how defenders could be protected, and documentation of complaints should be ensured.  The issue of legislation was very important, and it was emphasized that national institutions should ensure that legislation passed at local levels complied with international standards, and issues of legality, proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination should be taken into account by States. 
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