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Human Rights Council discusses Technical Assistance and capacity-building

Human Rights Council 
MORNING

12 June 2013

Hears Reports on Technical Assistance Efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner, South Sudan, Mali and the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation

The Human Rights Council this morning heard the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights present reports on best practices, lessons learned and challenges in technical assistance and capacity-building efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and country reports on South Sudan and Mali.  The Council also heard the presentation of the annual report of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights and then started its general debate on technical cooperation and capacity-building.

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Universal Periodic Review Trust Fund enabled the Office to conduct needs assessment to better define modalities for delivering the required advice and capacity building.  The focus was on advancing women’s human rights and integrating a gender perspective, increasing the capacities of national institutions to adhere to international human rights standards, on sexual violence and on the participation of women in the identification of reparation measures that were gender-sensitive and had the potential to transform patterns of discrimination.

The Deputy High Commissioner said that human rights observers in Mali documented human rights violations committed by Malian security forces and by members of armed groups, including ethnically motivated violence, summary executions, sexual violence and recruitment and use of children.  Retaliatory violence committed by the Malian forces and the local population against Tuareg and Arabs remained significant.  The appointment of an Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali would enable the Council to remain seized of the situation.

Ms. Pansieri said that the report on South Sudan identified a number of factors which had a serious impact on the human rights situation in the country, notably the continuing political tensions with Sudan, as well as internal conflicts and ethnic tensions, which had severely undermined efforts and institution building.  The situation in South Sudan remained precarious.  The Government had been struggling to protect civilians from violence and human rights abuses, including by its own security forces, and weaknesses in the justice system had given rise to serious human rights violations.

Christopher Sidoti, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, highlighted a number of key components of effective technical cooperation, which was based on the indivisibility and universality of all human rights, and focused on institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, including independent human rights institutions and independent courts.  The Fund’s resources were decreasing and its reserves were almost depleted in 2012 due to increased expenditure and a growing lack of donations.

South Sudan and Mali spoke as concerned countries.

South Sudan said that in addition to the challenges outlined in the report of the High Commissioner, it faced severe economic difficulties due to the shutdown of oil production after the deterioration of relations with Sudan; the loss of oil revenue had negatively affected the provision of basic social services to the people.  Undertaking the dual task of nation and state building was not easy and South Sudan was still grappling with insecurity caused by inter-communal conflicts, hostile activities of foreign-backed armed rebel groups, criminal activities of armed groups, lack of discipline among security forces and unabated cattle rustling.  This situation was further compounded by weak governance structures. 

Mali said that in the face of a conflict two attitudes were possible, either giving in to a blind and naïve optimism, or an attitude of cynical realism; Mali was mid way between these two extremes.  When the conflict broke out it did its best to avoid excesses and where these occurred all efforts were undertaken to avoid impunity and recurrence.  Mali accepted all sorts of compromises including to disengage the army from the north, allowing trafficking of all kinds.  Mali stressed that it was not at war against any ethnic groups, race, religions or region and said it would continue to live up to all of its human rights commitments and obligations.

In the ensuing general debate speakers urged countries in transition such as South Sudan, Myanmar and others to be open to assistance through mandates of country offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and welcomed the decision by Colombia to extend the mandate of the country office for another three years.  Delegations were concerned by violence against civilians and discrimination and abuses against women and girls in South Sudan and said that it was imperative to maintain focus on this country.  The international community should support the organization of elections and the establishment of an inclusive dialogue in Mali, while the mandate on the human rights situation would assist the country in reconciliation and post-crisis recovery processes.

Speaking in the general debate were Ireland on behalf of the European Union, Argentina, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Canada on behalf of the Groupe Francophone, Algeria on behalf of the Arab Group, United States, Montenegro, Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, Thailand, Maldives, Kuwait, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, China, United Kingdom and Morocco.

The next public meeting of the Human Rights Council will be at 3 p.m. when the Council will conclude its general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.
 
Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the progress of technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights for South Sudan (A/HRC/23/31).

The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Mali (A/HRC/23/57).

The Council has before it a note verbale dated 31 May 2013 from the Permanent Mission of South Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/23/G/4).

The Council has before it the report of the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights (A/HRC/23/16); and a corrigendum to the report (A/HRC/23/16/Corr.1).

Presentation of the Reports

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the report on best practices, lessons learned and challenges in technical assistance and capacity-building efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Office had been supporting efforts at the national and regional levels in different areas.  The Universal Periodic Review Trust Fund enabled the Office to conduct needs assessment to better define modalities for delivering the required advice and capacity building with all stakeholders.  The focus was on efforts to advance women’s human rights and to integrate a gender perspective in laws, policies, and institutional frameworks.  Advice and support had been reinforced through addressing specific human rights issues through the formulation of norms and interventions on the ground, and strengthening the Office’s country presences’ own capacity to integrate gender in all field activities.  Increasing the capacities of national institutions to adhere to international human rights standards was another focus of the Office.  The Office continued to be an active player in efforts to promote accountability for sexual violence.  Women’s participation in the identification of reparation measures that were gender-sensitive and had the potential to transform patterns of discrimination had been an important focus of the technical support provided.

One common feature of all these actions was that whether addressing a specific women’s human rights concern, or using a gender-integration methodology to advance equality goals, these efforts ensured compliance with all human rights standards contained in international human rights instruments as well as the implementation of specific recommendations from various human rights mechanisms.  It was hoped that the experience gathered around the world would equip the Office to have a growing impact, not only on the way gender and women’s rights were fully integrated into the technical cooperation and advisory services, but also in its capacity to better respond to the increasing demand. 

On the human rights situation in Mali, observers were able to confirm some of the data collected by the November 2012 mission concerning human rights and international human rights law violations committed by armed groups and the Malian defence and security forces, and investigated additional alleged violations committed since March 2013.  In particular, the mission documented cases of extrajudicial killings, ethnically motivated violence, forced disappearances, torture, illegal arrest and detention committed by Malian security forces.  There were also confirmed cases of summary executions and extra-judicial killings, and documentation of sexual violence against women and girls allegedly committed by members of armed groups, and reports of recruitment and use of children by all the armed groups in the north of Mali.  The report also stressed that instances of retaliatory violence committed by the Malian forces and the local population against Tuareg and Arab communities remained significant.  Some of the commitments made by the Malian authorities had not yet been sufficiently translated into concrete actions.  The appointment of an Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali during this session would enable the Council to remain seized of the situation.

Concerning technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights for South Sudan, the report acknowledged the daunting challenges faced by the Republic of South Sudan as a new State, including a legacy of conflict and underdevelopment.  It identified a number of factors which had had a serious impact on the human rights situation, notably the continuing political tensions with the Sudan, as well as internal conflicts and ethnic tensions, which had severely undermined efforts and institution building.  The situation in South Sudan remained precarious.  The Government had been struggling to protect civilians from violence and human rights abuses, including by its own security forces, and weaknesses in the justice system had given rise to serious human rights violations such as prolonged periods of pre-trial detention and poor detention conditions.  Recommendations to the Government included the development of a robust legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, and the strengthening of institutions throughout the country, to uphold the rule of law and protect civilians. 

CHRISTOPHER SIDOTI, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, said the Voluntary Fund was the second largest fund administered by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and provided technical support to help build national capacities for improved national implementation of human rights standards.  The Board became fully operational in 1993 and its role had evolved since.  From 2003 onwards the Board had stepped back from micromanagement and had been offering advice to the High Commissioner and her Office on policy orientation and strategy in strengthening technical cooperation in the field of human rights.

Mr. Sidoti said that the thirty-seventh session of the Board was held in the field, in Mauritania and Tunisia.  The field visits, which gave the Board an insight into the actual and potential uses of the Voluntary Fund, had been very fruitful and the Board would continue to make visits to other countries in other regions.  Through participation in strategic planning the Board offered its view and advice on ways of strengthening technical cooperation.  Mr. Sidoti highlighted a number of key components of effective technical cooperation, which, he said, had become evident in recent years.  Effective technical cooperation was based in the indivisibility and universality of all human rights, and focused on institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, including independent human rights institutions and independent courts.  It also reflected national development objectives to ensure the highest levels of sustainability and was formulated and implemented with the broadest possible participation of all elements of society, including civil society and national human rights institutions.  Moreover, follow-up on the implementation of recommendations made, for example, through the Universal Periodic Review process were essential for effective technical cooperation.

Mr. Sidoti concluded by saying that the Fund’s resources were decreasing and its reserves were almost depleted in 2012 owing to increased expenditure and a growing lack of donations.  He therefore encouraged States and other bodies to contribute to the Fund, and appealed for donations and other contributions.  Many projects were currently suffering from decreased funding, and, if this trend continued, the Board would soon be unable to provide advice on technical cooperation.      

Statements by Concerned Countries

South Sudan, speaking as a concerned country, said that in addition to the challenges outlined in the report of the High Commissioner, South Sudan faced severe economic difficulties due to the shutdown of oil production after the deterioration of relations with Sudan; the loss of oil revenue had negatively affected the provision of basic social services to the people.  South Sudan needed external technical assistance and capacity building to overcome those challenges, but stressed the primary duty of the Government in the promotion and protection of human rights.  The transitional Constitution and the Bill of Rights which embodied fundamental human rights and freedoms had been promulgated in 2011, while the National Council of Ministers had approved the ratification of a number of core international human rights instruments.  Undertaking the dual task of nation and state building was not easy and South Sudan was still grappling with insecurity caused by inter-communal conflicts, hostile activities of foreign-backed armed rebel groups, criminal activities of armed groups, lack of discipline among security forces and unabated cattle rustling.  This situation was further compounded by weak governance structures.  Measures to combat violence against civilians included security sector reform, deployment of more security forces in the states affected by inter-communal conflict, a general and unconditional amnesty to all rebel groups, and others.  In addition, the Government had undertaken a number of measures to address corruption and was establishing shelters for victims of domestic violence and early marriages to address the serious problem of violence against women.

Mali, speaking as a concerned country, said that it had taken note with great interest of the information that had been fleshed out in the report and that shed significant light on the human rights situation in Mali.  In the face of a conflict two attitudes were possible, either giving in to a blind and naïve optimism, or an attitude of cynical realism.  Mali was mid way between these two extremes.  When the conflict broke out it did its best to avoid excesses and where these occurred all efforts were undertaken to avoid impunity and recurrence.  Mali accepted all sorts of compromises even in so far as compromising its principles such as through its agreement to disengage the army from the north, allowing trafficking of all kinds.  Mali was not at war against any ethnic groups, race, religions or region.  Soldiers had gone through refresher training sessions before going to the front on international humanitarian law principles.  Every day national television appealed for unity and harmony.  Mali had systematically used the practice of opening up inquiries and had withdrawn from the operational sphere.  The institutional crisis period was currently being closed with elections to be held in July this year.  Mali would continue to live up to all of its commitments entered into in accordance with the relevant provision of the various human rights legal instruments to which it was party and restated that the country would continue to engage in frank and authentic cooperation with all United Nations bodies. 

General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity-Building

Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the presence worldwide of regional offices representing the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provided normative guidance and ensured that law and policies complied with international human rights laws and standards.  The European Union welcomed the decision by Colombia to extend the mandate of the country office for another three years and encouraged other countries to benefit from closer cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner.

Argentina said that it was important not only to identify cooperation actors and recipients of cooperation but also to include information on the thematic areas involved in the cooperation process.  Argentina proposed the creation of a website which would serve as a Database for International Cooperation.  Information from States would be provided subject to their wish and would be automatically entered into the database, to which all interested parties would have access. 

Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the Council must redouble its efforts to provide cooperation assistance and capacity building in order to bridge gaps in the implementation of human rights.  The protection of human rights was still primarily the responsibility of States, but technical assistance and enhanced cooperation with human rights mechanisms should be provided at the request of concerned States and in accordance with their priorities.  Gabon would welcome the publication by the Office of the High Commissioner of a handbook on technical assistance.   

Canada, speaking on behalf of the Groupe Francophone, welcomed the initiative of the Economic Community of West African States to settle the crisis in the Central African Republic and the decision of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a fact-finding mission to this country.  The Groupe Francophone expressed concern about the deterioration of the security situation, human rights violations and humanitarian consequences of the crisis, and called on the authorities to combat impunity and to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations were held accountable.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed the importance of technical assistance and capacity and said that those must be firmly among the goals of this Council.  Several Arab countries were important donors to the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation.

United States said that the Council provided countries that asked for it with much needed expertise in the promotion of human rights and building of the institutions and said that several countries had benefitted from mandates established under the agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building, i.e.  Somalia, Colombia, Tunisia, Yemen and others.  The United States urged countries in transition such as South Sudan, Myanmar and others to be open to assistance through mandates of country offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Montenegro said that it followed closely the challenges that South Sudan faced as a new State emerging from decades of war.  It was highly concerned about information regarding civilians living in conflict-prone areas that continued to suffer from intimidation and violence, and information concerning discrimination and abuses against women and girls was particularly worrisome.  Montenegro also remained concerned about the situation regarding the death penalty.  It was imperative to maintain focus on South Sudan.

Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, said cooperation in its community had pride of place and was a fundamental instrument if States were to succeed in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Its community had made further headway with the adoption of several strategic plans on health and gender equalities, among others.  It was important to strengthen cooperation and enhance the capacity of States to rise up to their challenges in terms of human rights and this should be the central concern of the Council. 

Thailand saw the need for the Council to not only address urgent human rights situations faced but to also go further and take a proactive approach to assist countries to overcome their human rights challenges according to respective countries’ needs.  It proposed that an international clearing house be established as a mechanism to exchange information among countries on technical cooperation which could take many forms and at many levels, including South-South cooperation.

Maldives said that it was grateful for the technical assistance which it received.  The Maldives had repeatedly raised the issue of the challenges faced by small island nations, particularly in terms of the lack of technical expertise and financial resources which impacted on the fulfillment of their obligations under international human rights mechanisms.  The Council should increase capacity building and technical cooperation assistance to small islands, most of which did not even have representation in Geneva.

Kuwait said that it fully supported the efforts made by Somalia to achieve national reconciliation after a long period of unrest, which had devastated social conditions in the country and led to a deterioration of human rights.  The international community should help Somalia achieve development and proceed with reforms.  Kuwait had adopted all the relevant resolutions on technical assistance, and called for an international dialogue on technical assistance offered to Somalia. 

Sierra Leone said that, as a major beneficiary of technical assistance on human rights issues, it recognized the importance of assisting States to meet their human rights obligations.  Sierra Leone was aware of the challenges faced by new States emerging after decades of war, such as South Sudan, and supported international efforts to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in those countries.  The protection of civilians, particularly women and girls, should be an important concern of the international community.

Côte d’Ivoire welcomed the liberation of strategic towns in Mali, especially Timbuktu and Gao, and deplored the heavy loss of life and continued hostilities.  The mandate on the human rights situation in Mali would assist the country in reconciliation and post-crisis recovery.  Côte d’Ivoire recommended that Mali return to constitutional order and commit to the path of inclusive dialogue and national reconciliation.

Algeria shared the analysis of the human rights situation in Mali in the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and expressed hope that the measures undertaken so far would assure better protection of the local population and allow the return to normalcy.  Algeria called on the international community to support the major initiatives of the Government of Mali, including the organization of elections and the establishment of an inclusive dialogue.

China said that technical assistance played a significant role in helping countries to enhance their capacities for the promotion and protection of human rights and said that in delivering this assistance, the international community must consult with countries and not use it as a means to impose one model for the promotion and protection of human rights.  China hoped that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would treat all countries equally and provide constructive technical assistance to countries, particularly developing ones.

United Kingdom was concerned by the increased allegations of human rights violations by security forces against civilians in South Sudan.  It urged the Government to investigate all allegations fully, report on findings, and bring the perpetrators to justice.  It was disappointed that the visit by the Special Rapporteur on torture to Bahrain had been postponed for a second time and urged the Government to announce a new date as soon as possible.

Morocco said that the Malian authorities had taken major measures to combat impunity and called on the international community to support these efforts.  It likewise appealed for the same for South Sudan which had made major achievements to lay the foundations to respond to the needs of its population.  Morocco was aware of the vital importance of issues related to justice reform and it saluted the work and technical cooperation and capacity building assistance of the Office. 
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