Human Rights Council
10 March 2014
The Human Rights Council this morning held a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Juan Ernesto Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said that sadly, some States had not abided by principles that were necessary to prevent and eradicate torture and cruel treatment. The prohibition of torture and ill treatment was absolute and not rescindable. The main report focused on the use of torture-tainted information and the exclusionary rule and its fundamental role for upholding the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The report established that the rule of exclusion applied to military justice proceedings, immigration boards and other administrative or civil proceedings.
Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said that claiming and defending human rights today remained highly dangerous in many parts of the world and the space for civil society and human rights defenders was shrinking. Defenders and their families were often intimidated, harassed, subject to enforced disappearances and sometimes even killed by both State and non-State actors, while impunity for those acts prevailed. Concern was expressed about reprisals against human rights defenders who engaged with international human rights systems. Primary responsibility to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders lay with States.
Ghana, the Republic of Korea and Togo spoke as concerned countries. The National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea also spoke.
In the discussion that ensued, speakers said that the focus of the report on torture on the scope and objective of the exclusionary rule in judicial proceedings and in relation to acts by executive actors was very timely and relevant, and expressed concern regarding non-compliance with international standards on detention and the lack of capacity building in the institutions responsible for safeguarding the prison population. The importance of eradicating torture, particularly in the context of the combat against terrorism, while ensuring respect for human rights, was reiterated. Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on the role of mechanisms with regard to preventing and discouraging States from using evidence obtained under torture or other ill-treatment?
Speakers noted that unfortunately the situation of human rights defenders was deteriorating in a number of countries and this was not acceptable. One could not ignore the difficult situation and significant challenges that women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues were facing in many regions of the world. Could the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders elaborate on targeted and deliberate efforts needed to protect human rights defenders? How could State authorities and national human rights institutions more efficiently protect the rights of human rights defenders in the world and how could impunity be combated in the case of violations against them?
Speaking in the discussion were the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, Djibouti, Montenegro, Algeria, Belarus, Egypt, Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, United States, Estonia, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Nepal, Morocco, Thailand, Burkina Faso, Uruguay, France, China, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Spain, Costa Rica, Poland, Armenia, Cuba, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Honduras, Argentina, Ireland, Russia, Switzerland, Angola, Germany, Venezuela, Austria, Australia, Paraguay, Mexico, Indonesia, Slovakia, Albania, Botswana, South Africa, Lithuania, Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, Latvia, and India.
International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, World Organization against Torture, Human Rights House Foundation, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Eastern Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders’ Project, Canadian HIV Legal Network in a joint statement with International Lesbian and Gay Association, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Federation for Human Rights League, and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada also took the floor.
The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today. At 2 p.m., the Council will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the right to food and on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living. Time allowing, a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Experts on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, will be held during its afternoon meeting.
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment (A/HRC/25/60).
The Council has before it an addendum the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment on his Mission to Ghana (A/HRC/25/60/Add.1).
The Council has before it an addendum the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment of observations on communications (A/HRC/25/60/Add.2).
The Council has before it an addendum the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment on a follow-up report (To be issued: A/HRC/25/60/Add.3).
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya (A/HRC/25/55).
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya on her Mission to the Republic of Korea (A/HRC/25/55/Add.1)
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya on her Mission to Togo (A/HRC/25/55/Add.2)
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya on her Mission on observations on communications (A/HRC/25/55/Add.3)
Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders
JUAN ERNESTO MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said that a number of practices by States had been included in the report. Sadly, some States had not abided by principles that were necessary to prevent and eradicate torture and cruel treatment. The prohibition of torture and ill treatment was absolute and not rescindable. The main report focused on the use of torture-tainted information and the exclusionary rule and its fundamental role for upholding the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In principle, the practice was not always abided by. In the context of judicial proceedings, some progress had been made. Forced confessions were still admitted in court. Judges had to carry out measures to determine the plausibility of torture. To ensure the defense could challenge all evidence presented, legal presentation and oversight had to ensure that the rule of exclusion had been respected.
The report established that the rule of exclusion applied to military justice proceedings, immigration boards and other administrative or civil proceedings. In the context of the war against terrorism, executive agencies were under pressure to obtain information to protect their citizens and many States refused to subject the work of their intelligence and security agencies to scrutiny or international oversight. The fact that torture and ill treatment occurred outside of the State did not mean that the State was not responsible for these acts. It was hypocritical of States to condemn these practices elsewhere while they took place in their own territories. States should not resort to diplomatic guarantees as a safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. These did not absolve States of their responsibility. On Ghana, in the detention centre for minors, 7 minors had been abused and beaten. There was no comprehensive legal assistance programme and few crimes gave rise to bail. Prison sentences and pre-trial were too long. Concerning Tajikistan, although efforts were clearly heading in the right direction, substantial changes were still required to ensure that many of the legal measures and policies adopted worked to effectively prevent and eliminate torture and mistreatment in Tajikistan.
MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said she took office in March 2008 and would be stepping down in a month from now, so this was the last time that she would address the Council as Special Rapporteur. Claiming and defending human rights today remained highly dangerous in many parts of the world and the space for civil society and human rights defenders was shrinking. Defenders and their families were often intimidated, harassed, subject to enforced disappearances and sometimes even killed by both State and non-State actors, while impunity for those acts prevailed. Ms. Sekaggya expressed concern about reprisals against human rights defenders who engaged with the international human rights systems, which were ongoing in Bahrain, China, Cuba, Israel, Kenya, Russia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Primary responsibility to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders lay with States which had to put in place a legal, institutional and constitutional framework, access to justice, a strong and independent national human rights institution, policies and attention to women human rights defenders and groups at risk, and unhindered access to the international justice system.
During the visit to the Republic of Korea, the Special Rapporteur had observed that the environment in which defenders operated was quite polarised and not always conducive to the defence and promotion of human rights, which stemmed from the lack of trust between defenders and authorities, significant shortcomings in the legal framework, the legislation pertaining to national security and the complex geopolitical situation in the peninsula. Turning to her visit to Togo, the Special Rapporteur noted with satisfaction the improvement in the situation of human rights defenders since her last visit in 2008, which was linked to important steps taken to address impunity for past violations, foster national reconciliation and strengthen judiciary. Important challenges still remained and the Human Rights Council had an important role to play in ensuring that defenders could operate in a safe and enabling environment in this country.
Statements by Concerned Countries
Ghana, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for his visit to Ghana in November and took note of the positive aspects of the report, which would encourage the Government to do better. The Government had already taken steps to address some of the shortcomings identified in the report: the prison officer responsible for canning an inmate at a juvenile correctional facility had faced disciplinary procedure. Ghana was a State party to the Convention against Torture and was committed to discharging its treaty obligations and was part of international initiatives to promote the universalisation of the Convention. Though Ghana had not yet ratified the Optional Protocol, Ghana’s independent human rights commission as well as civil society were allowed unfettered freedom to visit and monitor places of detention. Since the return to constitutional democratic rule in January 1993, Ghana had not relented in the promotion of a culture of respect for human rights.
Republic of Korea, speaking as a concerned country, valued the opportunity to have a constructive dialogue on the achievements and challenges regarding the overall environment for human rights. The Republic of Korea reminded the Council that it faced a unique security situation in the Korean Peninsula. Due to this fact, certain rights could be restricted, however, the fundamental freedom and rights of the people would not be violated under any circumstances. The Government was committed to the protection of the freedom of expression online and offline, recognizing the value of freedom of expression as a fundamental right and cornerstone of democracy. The Republic of Korea was pursuing efforts to preserve the Internet as an open and reliable space for all, and believed that freedom of peaceful assembly was itself a fundamental right. The national security act was strictly applied when it was necessary to safeguard national security and maintain fundamental democratic order.
National Human Rights Commission of Republic of Korea, said it would elaborate on some points in the report of the Special Rapporteur. Regarding paragraph 59 in the report, it was not true that the Commission dealt with complaints from activists differently from other petitions in a discriminative manner. In addition, cases of dismissal and rejection were strictly based on the provisions of the National Human Rights Commission Act and the delay in decisions was due to the annual increase in the number of incoming complaints. Concerning paragraphs 60 and 61, the Commission had been renting its premises since its establishment and a separate company was in charge of managing the building, thus the Commission had no access to electricity and heating systems; moreover, restrictions of access to activities to prevent diffusion of a sit-in protest were inevitable, since such a protest in the offices of a state organ would be illegal.
Togo, speaking as a concerned country, said that Togo had paid particular attention to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Her visit to Togo in October last year had allowed for a frank, open and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders. The mission had allowed the Special Rapporteur to assess progress made in national reconciliation and institution-building, among other areas. On the exercise of freedom of the press, a law on the press and communications code, with all the amendments, established the legal framework. Amendments made it possible to decriminalize press offenses. Monitoring was entrusted to an independent, administrative body. Exercising these freedoms had to take place whilst respecting other people, complying with public order and respecting legal standards. Communicators had to bear in mind that they had a responsible mission to inform and spread democracy and essential values, and respect for citizens and institutions, values without which the freedom of the press would itself be threatened. The Government had developed a National Justice Policy together with an Action Plan.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue
European Union said that the focus of the report on torture on the scope and objective of the exclusionary rule in judicial proceedings and in relation to acts by executive actors was very timely and relevant and asked the Special Rapporteur to further elaborate on his recommendation to States to elaborate a rule that protected legitimate state secrets adequately and at the same time did not prevent a thorough the examination of whether torture or cruel treatment had taken place. Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the importance of domestic legislation and administrative measures in the protection of human rights could not be overemphasized, and stressed that States sometimes had to take extraordinary measures in extraordinary situations. Human rights defenders were citizens of a state and had full legal rights as others and also responsibilities and it was vital for civil society to abide by the laws of the land like all other citizens.
Ethiopia, on behalf of the African Group, while agreeing with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on the obligation of States to protect judges, lawyers and journalists in the exercise of their functions, stressed that those categories were not necessarily regarded as human rights defenders. Human rights defenders must at all times respect the law, act with professionalism and respect the ethical values of the society they operate in. Djibouti welcomed the report by Mr. Mendez which provided great outlines for the interpretation of the exclusionary rule, its implications and a rethinking of the prohibition of torture in a transnational context, and reiterated that cooperation was more than ever critical, particularly in the context of counterterrorism. Djibouti acknowledged the importance of a firm legal framework for the work of human rights defenders and agreed with the Special Rapporteur on the potential for constructive cooperation and collaboration between human rights defenders and the State.
Montenegro shared concerns expressed by the Special Rapporteur on torture regarding non-compliance with international standards on detention and the lack of capacity building in the institutions responsible for safeguarding the prison population, and asked about his views on the better use of technical assistance offered by the United Nations in strengthening national capacities and overcoming challenges of resource constraints. Algeria said that lack of a clear definition and notion of human rights defenders represented an obstacle to protecting their work and stressed that defenders were fully-fledged citizens who must protect the legal foundations of the country. Turning to the report by the Special Rapporteur on torture, Algeria stressed the importance of the exchange of experiences for the creation of professional, independent and representative national preventive mechanisms, capable of visiting places of detention and making recommendations to the authorities.
Belarus noted the fact that the Special Rapporteur had given attention to so-called developed democracies. Belarus asked the Special Rapporteur about the Justice and Security Act in the United Kingdom and requested the mandate holder to request an appointment to see Julian Assange and to investigate the existence of property leased to the Central Intelligence Agency as a secret prison in Poland. Egypt reiterated the importance of eradicating torture, particularly in the context of the combat against terrorism, while ensuring respect for human rights. Egypt reaffirmed its commitment towards the eradication of torture and noted that under its constitution, there was no statute of limitation for the crime of torture. Egypt lamented that the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders focused on certain notions falling outside of universally agreed rights. Tunisia recalled that Tunisia would not forgive any abuse and that the war on terrorism would not signify a return to despicable methods employed in the past. The Tunisian constitution prohibited any form of moral and physical torture; a national forum to prevent torture was being established and Tunisia looked forward to the visit of the Special Rapporteur concerning recommendations made in 2011. Tunisia would continue to work with the mandate on human right defenders to continue to implement recommendations.
Côte d’Ivoire welcomed the focus on the exclusion rule in the report of the Special Rapporteur against torture and agreed that States had to cooperate to implement the Convention, including by undertaking preventive measures. Concerning the exclusionary rule, Côte d’Ivoire stressed that the inadmissibility of information or confessions obtain under torture was crucial to ensure fair trails. A safe and enabling climate for human rights defenders, including protection for high risk groups, was also necessary, including women rights defenders. It was crucial for defenders to achieve a higher degree of professionalism. Denmark recognised the work of the Special Rapporteur and hoped that the Council would unanimously support the extension of the mandate on torture. Denmark recalled that the resolution on torture would be bi-annual in order to spend more energy on implementation. Along with other States, Denmark was working toward the universalisation of the Convention and hoped that the Special Rapporteur would participate in achieving this end. How could States and the mandate support each other? Denmark also highlighted the importance of the exclusionary rule in judicial proceedings. United States expressed concerns about the stigmatisation of women human rights defenders and asked the Special Rapporteur about the best ways to provide technical assistance to ensure a safe and enabling environment for right defenders. The United States asked both Special Rapporteurs to elaborate on the concerns expressed regarding the situation in Venezuela; and whether the situation of political prisoners or prisoners of consciousness seemed to be worsening in any particular regions or countries?
Czech Republic enquired whether the Special Rapporteur against torture could elaborate on the role of regional mechanisms with regard to preventing and discouraging States from using evidence obtained under torture or other ill-treatment. It strongly condemned all forms of attacks against individuals defending human rights and fundamental freedoms and expressed concern about continued reprisals against those who tried to or did engage with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Nepal held the view that the basic principles of fair trial must be adhered to regarding the admissibility of evidence, including statements in all circumstances. Nepal criminalized the acts of harassment, threats, attacks, detention, torture, denial of freedom of movement and expression, and retaliation against human rights defenders in the course of exercising their constitutional and legal rights. Estonia supported the view that inadmissibility of unlawfully obtained confessions and other tainted evidence was not only one of the essential means of preventing torture and other ill-treatment, but was also crucial to fair trial guarantees. How could State authorities and national human rights institutions more efficiently protect the rights of human rights defenders in the virtual world and how could impunity be combated in the case of violations against them?
Norway said that unfortunately, the situation of human rights defenders was deteriorating in a number of countries, which was not acceptable. What future steps could be taken by Member States to ensure that guidance for the implementation of recommendations was provided? Norway noted that it was a matter of great concern that national security should never be a pretext to weaken the absolute prohibition of torture or ill-treatment. Slovenia said that one could not ignore the difficult situation and significant challenges that women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues were facing in many regions of the world. What international standards may apply should State authorities fail to react in accordance with existing national legislation? Netherlands said that the shrinking space, increased criminalization, reprisals against human rights defenders, and the specific challenges and concerns of women human rights defenders, were of particular concern to it. Could the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders elaborate on targeted and deliberate efforts needed to protect human
Morocco agreed with Mr. Mendez on the key role of forensic medicine in the application of the exclusionary rule and in the administration of justice and the contribution it could make in the investigation of allegations of torture or harsh treatment. Further, Morocco agreed with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders that they themselves could improve their working environment through a professional and ethical approach in the exercise of their functions. Thailand said that the exclusionary rule should be applied with all types of evidence and that the use of torture-tainted information should be strictly prohibited under any circumstances. The dissemination of international human rights standards, awareness raising and the necessary training for law enforcement officers and prison personnel were vital for the prevention of torture.
Burkina Faso took note of the concerns raised in the reports by the two Special Rapporteurs and outlined the measures taken in the country to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture, including spot-checks of places of detention, police training and dissemination among the different branches of Government and civil society. Uruguay noted with concern the difficulties the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders experienced in the implementation of her mandate due to resource constraints, particularly in following-up on her country visits. France commended the work of human rights defenders who sometimes put their security at risk and called on all States to create an enabling environment and put an end to impunity. It was more and more difficult to combat torture, and France asked the Special Rapporteur about examples of good practices in the application of the exclusionary rule. China said it had in place a vigorous anti-torture system which included the prohibition of obtaining confessions under torture. China rejected the accusations of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and said that those protecting human rights must abide by the law.
Sierra Leone said that issues concerning the use of torture-tainted information, as well as questions regarding the exclusionary rule, were of great importance for the international community, and hoped that the findings of the mandate holder would assist in devising effective responses. Sierra Leone took note of the Special Rapporteur’s comments, on paragraph 61 of the report, concerning the creation of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, and emphasised the need for a dialogue between rights defenders and the State. Brazil pointed out that issues highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on torture, promotion and protection of rights while combating territories, extraterritoriality of human rights, and concerns regarding the work of intelligence operations, were of great importance to Brazil. The exclusionary rule was of great importance for the combat of torture. Spain said that many challenges remained ahead and welcomed the work of the Special Rapporteur with civil society and regional and international mechanisms to ensure the framework for the work of human rights defenders was adequate, and highlighted her efforts to help those working with vulnerable groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. What could regional organizations and States do to ensure that the recommendations were implemented? Spain expressed support for the extension of the mandate of the mandate on torture, as a necessary complement of the work of the Committee and Sub-committee for the prevention of torture.
Costa Rica said that it supported the work of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders but deplored that not all Member States had cooperated with her, appealing to all States with pending communications and invitations to respond, demonstrating their commitment to human rights and the Council. Concerning the report on torture, Costa Rica reiterated that the exclusionary rule was absolute and non-derogable in all circumstances; it should form part of customary law and should be applicable in all States. Poland welcomed the attention given to the issue of exclusionary rule and reiterated the view that the exclusionary rule was absolute, non-derogable and should be observed in all circumstances. The Polish penal code contained an explicit prohibition on torture. Concerning the work of the mandate holder on human rights defenders, Poland noted that genuine cooperation with States was a key element in the work of a Special Rapporteur and inquired about best practices in dealing with pending requests and invitations. Armenia recalled that its legislation on human rights had been amended in 2008 in order to recognise the Human Rights Defender as the national preventive mechanism; a torture prevention expert council had been set up in 2011 and included a wide range or representatives of the civil society appointed by the Defender. Over 300 visits had been carried out in penitentiary institutions, police departments and military units, with the aim of revealing and preventing possible cases.
Cuba was thankful to the Special Rapporteur on torture for having raised such a complicated issue, an issue abused during the so-called war on terror. Cuba was struck by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders who continued to leave out the misuse of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration. Cuba was also struck by her participation in a September 2013 event organized by Freedom House. Conclusions had been made without looking at the circumstances.
Ecuador recognized the importance of the scope and purpose of the exclusionary rule and supported the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions. Ecuador reiterated its concern in the light of the use of torture by security services of some States under the guise of national security. It was also deeply concerned about the lack of investigations of serious reports of torture and ill-treatment made by non-governmental organizations and witnesses.
United Kingdom said that it strongly supported the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on torture. It had long held that torture was an abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity and that its impact on societies and individuals was devastating. The United Kingdom strongly supported the role that human rights defenders had in promoting human rights and holding Governments and others to account. Honduras said that it agreed it was the duty of the State to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and that it was fundamental to tackle impunity. Honduras, in complying with recommendations, was working towards incorporating the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders in its legislation. The risks and challenges faced by human rights defenders and those working on human rights and gender issues were underscored.
Argentina thanked the Special Rapporteur on Torture for broaching the exclusionary rule, which it said was part and parcel of the fight against terrorism. Argentina believed terrorism should be combatted within the framework of the rule of law and human rights. Argentina agreed that States had a responsibility to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work and develop their activities. Ireland said there must be no exceptions in safeguarding the rights and dignities of all, and agreed with the Special Rapporteur on Torture that the exclusionary rule should not have any exceptions. Ireland voiced concern that the burden of proof of evidence in torture-related trials often lay with the defendant not the State. The protection of human rights defenders traversed all human rights and they should be able to work free from intimidation and danger.
Russia queried the status given to human rights defenders as a vulnerable group that required special protection and the creation of separate preferential regimes for them, saying it was difficult to consider the limits of their vulnerability. It asked the Special Rapporteur what rights and capabilities she believed human rights defenders should have in relation to ordinary citizens. Russia could not agree with the proposal to give human rights defenders a separate slot to participate in the Universal Periodic Review. Switzerland encouraged all States to allow visits of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. As chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for 2014, Switzerland was determined to put torture at the top of the agenda. Switzerland said it had published its own guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders; it was essential to end the climate of impunity.
Angola said it had signed six international protocols against torture. It reiterated the importance of the work of human rights defenders across the world, who should be able to carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of being subject to acts of harassment, intimidation or violence. However, Angola condemned political activists who wished to undermine the work of the Government in the reconciliation process or its work with United Nations mechanisms. Germany said if they did not defend human rights defenders then they could not defend human rights. Germany was alarmed by the use of so-called legislation to restrain, restrict and even criminalize human rights defenders, by the tightening of funding restrictions on them and particularly by the treatment of those defending lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
Venezuela said that in 2013, it had adopted a law preventing torture and had in place the Truth Commission to investigate allegations and identify and bring to justice those responsible. Collaboration between human rights defenders and State institutions in charge of the promotion and protection of human rights was key and Venezuela was concerned about the use of foreign funding to politically destabilize democratically elected governments. Austria said that reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders could not be tolerated and asked about the key challenges facing Ms. Sekaggya’s successor. Austria agreed that statements made as a result of torture could not be used as evidence and asked the Special Rapporteur on torture about evidence on the prohibition of torture by intelligence-sharing agreements between States.
Australia strongly opposed the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by any country or under any circumstances and noted the detailed assessment of State responsibility and complicity in acts of torture contained in Mr. Mendez’s report. The protection of human rights defenders was paramount to the protection of human rights. Australia asked the Special Rapporteur about addressing negative public perceptions of national human rights institutions in connection to their work. Paraguay agreed that the exclusionary rule was key in the fight against torture and Paraguay had in place a number of tools to assist the detection of statements extracted under the use of torture. Mexico said that the work of human rights defenders was essential to strengthening democracy and providing accountability and said that the observations in the report by Mr. Mendez would assist States in preventing, sanctioning and eradicating torture.
Indonesia thought that high standards of professionalism and ethical behaviour in human rights activities would contribute to the application of accountability and transparency in the conduct of human rights defenders. Indonesia asked the Special Rapporteur on torture about an effective oversight mechanism that could ensure the effective control of exclusionary rule, bearing in mind that a State also had the duty to maintain public order. Slovakia shared the conclusions and recommendations by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and asked which areas of their work required urgent attention of the United Nations.
Albania expressed concern that some States continued to practice crimes such as torture, ill-treatment and degrading punishment. Albania had established a system of governmental and civil society structures for the monitoring, protection and prohibition of torture. Albania deeply regretted that human rights defenders and their families continued to suffer reprisals and sometimes death for their work. Botswana welcomed the focus of the Special Rapporteur on Torture on the exclusionary rule, which formed part of the general absolute prohibition of torture. Evidence, including real evidence secured through legal means as follow-up on information obtained through torture and other ill-treatment, should not be admissible in any proceedings. Botswana was concerned that in some countries human rights defenders and their families were faced with violations including arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearance and sometimes death.
South Africa asked how the Special Rapporteur on Torture could assist States in maintaining a balance between their obligations to prevent torture and their responsibility to maintain State security, as increasingly State security was being invoked as a pretext for avoiding scrutiny of human rights violations committed by States, particularly within the context of the so-called war on terror which was yet to be defined in international law. South Africa thanked the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders for her work in carrying out her mandate. Lithuania said access to justice and an end to impunity for violations against human rights defenders should be guaranteed, with special attention paid to the needs of women defenders and their protection from any sort of discrimination. Lithuania regretted that in many parts of the world freedom of speech was under attack, the right to assemble peacefully was being denied, journalists were being silenced and human rights defenders were being attacked.
Organization Internationale de la Francophonie spoke about human rights defenders and saluted the work of the Special Rapporteur to bring visibility to the risks faced by them every day. The Organization spoke about its work to support French-speaking States in creating a safe and enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders. The Organization asked what form technical assistance to States could take. Latvia noted with concern the instances of increasing restrictions towards human rights defenders that constituted a serious drawback in the protection of human rights, and agreed with the Special Rapporteur that cases of reprisals targeting human rights defenders and those cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms should be promptly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. What were the most effective safeguards to end impunity against human rights defenders?
India said it was inspired by the analysis of the Special Rapporteur on the importance of the exclusionary rule as a fundamental principle for preventing torture. Regarding human rights defenders, India said it took note of the Special Rapporteur’s proposals to create a safe and enabling environment for them. There were reports of human rights defenders being used by motivated groups for political ends – could the Special Rapporteur provide guidelines for such human rights defenders to avoid that?
International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights supported the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in her call on States to provide national human rights institutions with broad and solid mandates, ensure they were adequately resourced and publicly acknowledge and support their role, including in protecting human rights defenders and fighting impunity. The International Service for Human Rights shared the concern about the trend of legislation to restrict the activities of human rights defenders and to criminalize them and asked the Special Rapporteur about the role and responsibility the Council had when States were unable or unwilling to prosecute threats or attacks against human rights defenders. Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, in a joint statement, called the attention of the Council to cases of torture in prisons in Argentina, where it was part of prison life and a way to manage and govern the prison population. World Organization against Torture said that judges and prosecutors had a crucial role to play in ensuring compliance with the exclusionary view and called the attention of the Special Rapporteur to the principle of procedural immediacy in Mexico.
Human Rights House Foundation said that there was a worrying trend against the freedom of expression for human rights defenders. If human rights defenders were to carry out their legitimate work, States needed to ensure an independent judiciary and respect the rule of law, avoiding the use of unreliable evidence, unwarranted investigations and procedural delays in cases against human rights defenders. Lawyers for a Democratic Society appreciated the report of the Special Rapporteur on her recent visit to the Republic of Korea. It shared the Special Rapporteur’s concerns over the Government’s abuse of certain laws to limit the activities of human rights defenders in the Republic of Korea. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy echoed concerns on the impact of strained relations between the two Koreas on the legal, political and institutional frameworks related to the legitimate activities of human rights defenders in the Republic of Korea. It was disturbed by the Government’s tendency to vilify the legitimate work of defenders as pro-Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which had been used to restrict civil society space.
Eastern Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders’ Project said that the work of defending human rights remained a dangerous activity in the Horn of Africa and renewed activity was needed to ensure that human rights defenders worked in a safe environment. Throughout the region, their work was hampered by formal and arbitrary restrictions on their work. Canadian HIV Legal Network, in a joint statement with International Lesbian and Gay Association, said that in all countries of the world intersex children were subjected to surgical and hormonal procedures without their consent and medical need to ‘normalise’ the external appearance of their genitalia and other features. The Special Rapporteur should pay attention to ensure human rights defenders working on such issues could be protected. Conectas Direitos Humanos drew attention to the serious situation of torture in the Brazilian prison system. In January, video footage at the Pedrinhas prison complex showed numerous parts of dead prisoners’ bodies scattered across the floor in pools of blood. The Brazilian State had not demonstrated its ability to manage the crisis.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development urged States to follow up on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. A number of Asian States were yet to implement Council Resolution 22/6, and the Forum said they were increasingly concerned by various restrictions placed on defenders in countries including Indonesia, India, Republic of Korea, Myanmar and Bangladesh. International Federation for Human Rights League commended the work of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders over the last six years, and expressed concern about the number of States not cooperating with her mandate. The Federation voiced deep concern about restrictive laws on the funding of non-governmental organizations passed in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ethiopia, India and Russia. The whereabouts of human rights defenders in Mexico, Sri Lanka and Syria remained unknown. Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Lawyers for Lawyers, speaking in a joint statement, highlighted in particular reprisals against defenders who cooperated with the United Nations, and those working on environmental issues. The organizations spoke about specific cases of harassment against human rights defenders in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
JUAN ERNESTO MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, answered questions raised by States during the dialogue. Regarding the need for States to have secrets, and therefore closed legal procedures, for security reasons, the Special Rapporteur said he saw a need to strike a balance but was concerned that on many occasions that balance was destroyed because the idea of protecting State secrets took precedence. It was important that the balance was based on the right to defence, the right to challenge evidence and the obligation to investigate cases of torture. No State secret should protect human rights violations. Regarding examples of best practices in oversight of intelligence and security organizations, the Special Rapporteur referred States to the 2010 report by the Special Rapporteur on Terrorism, which he was developing. It was important to ensure South-South cooperation as there were so many useful experiences in those countries, in addition to Western countries. The Special Rapporteur said the exclusionary rule was a procedural rule not contingent on proving torture had taken place but to show statements were admissible. The Special Rapporteur concluded by supporting the proposals for universal ratification of the United Nations Convention against Torture.
MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, encouraged the Republic and Korea and Togo to use the recommendations in the report and thanked them for their progress reports. Concerning the issues raised during the discussion, including on reprisals, Ms. Sekaggya highlighted the importance of the United Nations system-wide focal point to ensure a coordinated response from the Secretariat concerning reprisals. Concerning the situation of women human rights defenders, Ms. Sekaggya referred to her report on this topic, about twelve thematic reports on issues touched upon during the discussions were also available; there were also resolutions, such as on the issue of the criminalisation of offenses against human rights defenders. International instruments were also very clear, and Ms. Sekaggya hoped that the Council would be able to find some harmony and that in its work the Council would be able to uphold these international standards. The Universal Periodic Review process should be used as a follow up mechanism and the Council should also use regional and domestic mechanisms. Frank La Rue had issued a report regarding the use of the Internet. Several questions concerned the contributions by non-state actors and Ms. Sekaggya referred to an existing report on this matter, including concerning the role of the Council in the prosecution of offenders against human rights defenders. Ms. Sekaggya also referred to efforts to challenge constitutionally anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender laws in Uganda, her own country, and encouraged lawyers working on this issue to get the Constitutional Court to pronounce itself on this law, and reiterated that national laws should comply with international standards.
For use of the information media; not an official record