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Human Rights Council concludes debate on its subsidiary bodies, holds debate on Universal Periodic Review

MIDDAY

21 March 2014

The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting concluded its general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms and held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review.

During the general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms, which started on 19 March, speakers addressed a wide range of issues. Concern was expressed about the situation in a number of countries where religious minorities faced serious problems in the exercise of their rights. Some speakers said that more coordination was needed by the United Nations to react to reprisals against human rights defenders with firmness, urgency and alacrity. It was essential that the United Nations appoint a focal point on reprisals against rights defenders, who could help mainstream efforts within the United Nations system.

Speaking in the general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms were Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, International Buddhist Relief Organization, Organization to Defend Victims of Violence, World Barua Organization, Liberation, United Nations Watch, International Muslim Women’s Union, Article 19-International Centre Against Censorship, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, Agence Internationale pour le Developpement, Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, World Muslim Congress, International Association of Schools of Social Work, Indian Council of South America, and Amnesty International.

Morocco and Algeria spoke in right of reply under this agenda item.

Alberto Pedro D’Alotto, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, on behalf of the Human Rights Council, reiterated that the Council strongly rejected any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals and groups who cooperated or had cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. States were urged to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts.

The Council then began its general debate on the Universal Periodic Review.

During the general debate on the Universal Periodic Review, speakers expressed their strong commitment to the Universal Periodic Review which had proved to be a truly unique and universal mechanism in the United Nations. The importance of preserving the mechanism and ensuring its effectiveness as a space for dialogue and constructive interaction which required impartiality and avoidance of politicization or instrumentalisation for purposes other than human rights was underlined. The Review process should ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders, and the participation of civil society was essential to provide an accurate picture, data and plural perspectives. All participants should be able to participate openly and without fear of retribution or reprisals.

Speaking in the general debate on the Universal Periodic Review were Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, Greece on behalf of the European Union, Yemen on behalf of the Arab Group, Morocco on behalf of a Group of Countries, United States, Ireland, Czech Republic, South Africa, China, Romania, Sierra Leone, Estonia, Sudan, Libya, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Poland, Uruguay and Syria.

The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Ireland took the floor, as did the following non-governmental organizations: UPR Info in a joint statement, International Commission of Jurists, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco in a joint statement, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

China, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Syria spoke in right of reply under this agenda item.

The Human Rights Council concluded its work at 3 p.m. today and will resume its work on Monday, 24 March, at 9 a.m., when it will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

General Debate on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy supported the new priorities identified by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee in its last session and said that it was unfortunate that the issue of caste-based discrimination was not sufficiently addressed by international law. This issue should be brought to the agenda of the Advisory Committee.

International Buddhist Relief Organization said that peasants were equal to all other people and should be free from any form of discrimination in the exercise of their rights. Two thirds of small holder farmers continued to live on remote and marginal lands, and were often threatened by weather conditions, while large numbers worked as tenant farmers and had little security of possession.

Organization to Defend Victims of Violence said that minorities were guaranteed of the protection of the right to life and freedom without any form of discrimination. However, the Shia minority in the world suffered discrimination and the violation of their human rights, including the right to life.

World Barua Organization drew the Council’s attention to violations of the rights of the urban poor in India, particularly slum dwellers who lived in a sullied environment that took a toll on their physical, mental and moral health. It was a pity that the growing economic giant India was not able to distribute its economic benefits to a large mass of its population who continued to live in debt bondage.

Liberation drew the Council’s attention to increasing racist attacks on people from the north-eastern states of India living in Delhi and other cities of India. The case of a young student, Mr. Nido Tania, was a manifestation of deep-rooted racial prejudice towards the racially and culturally distinct peoples of the north-east. Liberation was happy that India was investigating the concerns but called on the Council to urge India to promptly repeal racist laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

United Nations Watch said one year ago more than 50 States joined in delivering a cross-regional statement opposing reprisals against those cooperating with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms, but today the same issue of reprisals was just as real. More coordination was needed by the United Nations to react to reprisals against human rights defenders with firmness, urgency and alacrity.

International Muslim Women’s Union said that human rights defenders were not allowed to give voice to victims of Indian State terrorism in occupied Kashmir. All those who had met with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on extra judicial killings during their visits to Srinagar had been harassed by the State authorities.

Article 19-International Centre against Censorship, in a joint statement, said that the criteria for the candidates for the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression included the recognized expertise in responding to development and challenges in the field, in particular how new technologies impacted those rights globally.

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme was concerned about the situation in a number of countries where religious minorities faced serious problems in the exercise of their rights. In Sri Lanka, there had been a surge of attacks on religious minorities, Muslims, Hindus and Christians. Tamils were a distinct people with their own culture, language and a sense of nationhood who had faced discrimination in all walks of life for nearly seven decades.

Agence Internationale pour le Developpement said minority communities in all regions of the world faced serious threats, discrimination and racism, and spoke in particular of women and girl members of minority communities in India, and students from Kashmir and north-east India. The Council was urged to ask the Government of India to take effective measures to end discrimination against minorities.

Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik spoke about violations of the human rights of minorities in Iran, where ethnic and religious minorities suffered from growing discrimination and intimidation, unfair trials and severe punishments based on unclear charges. Iran was not fully addressing the concerns and communications of Special Procedures of the Council.

World Muslim Congress said human rights defenders, particularly in conflict zones and territories under foreign occupation, continued to be harassed, intimidated and even killed. It was essential that the United Nations appoint a focal point on reprisals against rights defenders, who could help mainstream efforts within the United Nations system.

International Association of Schools of Social Work felt that humans moved towards altruism in times of urgency and crisis as evidenced by the selfless dedication of countless individuals to the suffering of victims of man-made and new natural disasters. Urgent attention should also be given to those living in poverty and extreme poverty.

Indian Council of South America reminded that in 1977 a large delegation of Indians from across the Americas came to Geneva to lay claim to their rights as first nations and ancestral owners of their land. The core Indian claims were not met in the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The approach had reduced Indians to mere national minorities.

Amnesty International remained deeply concerned about human rights defenders, including families of the disappeared, as the Government of Sri Lanka continued its crackdown on dissent, which appeared to be aimed at intimidating and punishing those who attempted to communicate concerns about human rights violations in Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

Right of Reply

Morocco, speaking in a right of reply, complained that Algeria had interrupted its statement denouncing the human rights situation in that country five times. However, Morocco realized that there were extenuating circumstances, given the censorship the Algerian delegation faced back home. Algeria’s comments about the situation in Western Sahara were derogatory to Morocco. Algeria must stop its verbal aggression against Morocco and concentrate on its own human rights situation. Morocco had adopted progressive legislation to regularize tens of thousands of African migrants in the country, and was allowing Syrian and other refugees to come over the border from Algeria, but Algeria seemed unable to adopt similar legislation.

Algeria, speaking in a right of reply, said Algeria continued to affirm the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, a right protected by the United Nations. Morocco law considered it an act of treason for someone to call for self-determination in Western Sahara - how many people from Western Sahara had paid with their lives, been tortured or imprisoned by Morocco, just for claiming that right? Other rights violations in Morocco included the arrest of journalists, including a blogger from the Western Sahara, the sexual exploitation of children and more – that was how Morocco actually was.

Morocco, speaking in a second right of reply, made three clarifications. Morocco was in favour of self-determination and provided for that principle in its settlement plan, as agreed with the Security Council. People in Algeria were being killed on a daily basis, being persecuted – you just had to watch the news to see that. Everybody in Morocco had the right to protest peacefully, unlike in Algeria where the police stopped people expressing their opinions.

Statement on Reprisals against Anyone Cooperating with the Council

MAURIZIO ENRICO SERRA, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, made a statement on behalf of the Human Rights Council in which he reiterated that the Council strongly rejected any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals and groups who cooperated or had cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. He urged States to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts.

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the operations of the Voluntary Fund on participation in the Universal Periodic Review (A/HRC/25/36).

General Debate on the Universal Periodic Review

Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the African Group attached great importance to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. The mechanism enabled the Council to assess the achievements, best practices and challenges of all States in their responsibilities to respect and ensure the respect of human rights for all. The African Group expressed its firm commitment to the underlying objectives and principles of the Universal Periodic Review.

Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reiterated the European Union’s strong commitment to the Universal Periodic Review which had proved to be a truly unique and universal mechanism in the United Nations, applicable to all Member States without discrimination or distinction. The European Union called on all Member States to continue ensuring that universal participation was maintained. Meaningful participation had to be followed by action on the ground.

Yemen, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, underlined the great attention the Arab Group accorded to the Universal Periodic Review as an innovative mechanism. It underlined the importance of preserving the mechanism and ensuring its effectiveness as a space for dialogue and constructive interaction which required impartiality and avoidance of politicization or instrumentalisation for purposes other than human rights. It was extremely important to exchange experiences and best practices.

Morocco, speaking on behalf of a Group of States, recalled that the Universal Periodic Review process should not be overly burdensome and should be conducted in a constructive atmosphere. The Group of States proposed to uphold the following measures to improve the process: to exercise restraint in the number of recommendations in order to bring recommendations to a more manageable level; to offer high quality recommendations, ensuring they were practical, forward looking, and implementable; and to provide follow-up reports. T

United States said that the review process should ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders, and the participation of civil society was essential to provide an accurate picture, data and plural perspectives. Non-governmental organizations often spoke for those who lacked a voice. All participants should be able to participate openly and without fear of retribution or reprisals, no individuals should feel threatened for participating, and States must respect the rights of those contributing with the Council.

Ireland noted that it had distributed an interim report on the recommendations made during its previous Universal Periodic Review cycle, many of which related to prison conditions. Ireland was taking a number of actions to improve conditions and avoid prison crowding and the imprisonment of children. A referendum to amend the constitution to include the rights of children had passed and Ireland hoped that this change would soon be effected, providing additional protection. A new state agency dedicated to children and the family represented a response to protection failings and service provision.

Czech Republic said unfortunately the openness of the Universal Periodic Review process vis a vis civil society stakeholders was under attack, and there had been highly-disturbing reports of persecution, harassment and criminalization of people involved in it. The Czech Republic was appalled by the harassment, arrest and recent death in jail of Ms. Cao Shunli in China and called for a prompt and independent investigation into her death. The Czech Republic tried to be constructively critical in its statements and expected the same from other States.

China firmly rejected any attempt by a country or non-governmental organization to use the Universal Periodic Review to achieve politicized objectives, such as naming and shaming a country. Such politicization ran contrary to the principles of the Universal Periodic Review, especially if certain non-governmental organizations used the time allocated to them to engage in activities that were contrary to the rules of procedure and the Universal Periodic Review itself. Such a confrontational act was an affront to the principles of the objectivity and transparency of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.

Romania spoke about how parliaments could contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and briefed the Council on a seminar it held on translating international human rights commitments into national human rights realities, including the role of national parliaments in the Universal Periodic Review process. Romania was especially happy that the Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and members of civil society took part in the seminar.

Sierra Leone expressed appreciation for the Universal Periodic Review process, which allowed all Member States of the United Nations to have their human rights records examined in a non-confrontational manner and to determine realistic implementation schedules based on their specific situations. This had yielded positive results in the area of human rights in all countries.

Estonia valued the Universal Periodic Review as an excellent tool to keep track of constant work with human rights. Its purpose was to create a system where every country was a stakeholder in developing and safeguarding human rights in the world. Every country needed an honest look in the mirror. Giving recommendations should be the result of careful, comprehensive analysis, free of political bias, whereas accepted recommendations should be implemented in good faith.

Sudan recalled the importance of the role of the Universal Periodic Review as a tool to promote and strengthen human rights in all States. Sudan thought that exploiting the Review and using it as a tribunal for politicization and for achieving different goals could harm its reputation and credibility. Sudan warned against the creation of legal requirements, when countries did not accept these, as this could damage the enthusiasm of countries to act efficiently and implement recommendations.

Libya welcomed the discussion on the Universal Periodic Review, one of the major achievements of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. It was important to keep a global approach, ensuring non-selectivity and equal treatment of all States in order not to undermine the process. Libya was committed to addressing these challenges and to continue to participate in the Review process. Libya called on international organizations, States and non-State organizations to participate seriously in this process.

Organisation International de la Francophonie said that they had been involved in institution building and the implementation of the Council’s mandates since 2006. The fourth Francophone seminar on the Universal Periodic Review would take place from 11 to 12 April 2014 in the Republic of Moldova. The seminar would take place at the midpoint of the second cycle and hoped to contribute experiences and good practices concerning the implementation of recommendations emanating from the first cycle.

Poland said it had presented the voluntary mid-term report on the implementation of recommendations proposed to Poland during the last cycle of the review. The Universal Periodic Review constituted an essential tool for ensuring respect for human rights through dialogue and cooperation. It helped to identify gaps and challenges, as well as progress in this regard. Poland had taken significant steps in order to implement the recommendations it had received. With a view to strengthening the Review process, a number of measures had been taken and the report proved Poland’s commitment to the process.

Uruguay, speaking on behalf of a Group of 58 Countries, said having witnessed the very constructive participation of civil society and non-governmental organizations in the Universal Periodic Review process, the mechanism had been enriched by their contributions. The Group of Countries expressed deep concern for those cases in which civil society had been threatened in various ways – everyone had the right to communicate with and access the United Nations. All States should refrain from, prevent and prosecute any act of intimidation or reprisal against anyone who cooperated with the United Nations, or their families.

Syria reaffirmed the importance of the Universal Periodic Review as the only means by which human rights in individual countries could be considered, as it guaranteed equal treatment for all countries. From time to time it was good to recognize one’s mistakes and the Universal Periodic Review was the ideal mechanism to do that. It could be used as an instrument to deal with humanitarian issues, instead of a way of disseminating incorrect information.

Australian Human Rights Commission, in a video statement, introduced themselves as Australia’s “A status” national human rights body and spoke about developments and achievements in a number of areas, including the National Action Plan on Human Rights, commencement of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and appointment of the first National Children’s Commissioner. One of Australia’s biggest human rights challenges was the ongoing mandatory immigration detention and transfer of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, to third countries for processing.

Irish Human Rights Commission said insufficient progress was being made by Ireland on the establishment of the new human rights and equality commission. The Constitution perpetuated stereotypes against women. There had been no progress on a consolidated legislative framework on migration and asylum issues. Steps had not been taken on considering travellers as a minority. There were no proposals on a national action plan for human rights, on human rights education and training, or on racism. Poor hygiene facilities and crowding continued to be features of prisons in Ireland.

UPR Info, in a joint statement, said that while the universality of the Universal Periodic Review was undeniable, they called for a qualitative leap regarding the precision of recommendations. There was concern that without a specific action contained in a recommendation, it was hard for a State under review to understand what was required from it.

International Commission of Jurists said Nepal had failed to take concrete action to implement key Universal Periodic Review recommendations, including on the right to effective remedy and reparation, on transitional justice, and on impunity. Nepal had failed to take meaningful measures to investigate human rights violations and abuses that arose during the armed conflict.

Colombian Commission of Jurists said that a year ago two States had presented recommendations for Colombia concerning the protection of human rights defenders and to ensure justice. However, attacks had only increased. Every four days, on average, a human right defender was murdered in Colombia. The trials often ended in impunity for the perpetrators. While social protests often concluded with agreements, States often targeted the leaders, which meant that the right to peaceful assembly was not respected.

Amnesty International said that follow-up and implementation in-country were essential if the Universal Periodic Review process was to live up to its potential, and welcomed the presentation of mid-term reviews in this regard. The involvement of the international community and recommending States should not end after an examination in Geneva. National human rights institutions should assist Governments to live up to their commitments and to facilitate the involvement and contributions from civil society.

Organization for Defending Victims of Violence highlighted some weaknesses of the Universal Periodic Review process, such as the selective approach used by some States; one sided reviews of targeted countries; the lack of assessment of implementation; and the lack of political will of some States to participate in the Review, such as Israel’s refusal to participate, which undermined the universality and the mechanism. The Council should consider imposing penalties to discourage this kind of behaviour.

Institute International Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco, speaking on behalf of a coalition of 13 non-governmental organizations, emphasized among the challenges raised by the second Universal Periodic Review cycle, the importance of systematically monitoring the implementation of previously accepted recommendations. The Universal Periodic Review was a cyclical mechanism meant to build on the success of previous years. Another precondition for its success was the involvement of civil society.

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme expressed its support to the moment of silence called for by its civil society colleagues during the consideration of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of China. It was very concerned about harassment, arrest and reprisals against members of the non-governmental organizations who wished to cooperate with Human Rights Council mechanisms.

Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said one way the Universal Periodic Review could be improved was the availability of States’ reports. As part of the procedure States could select to respond to some recommendations in “due time” but that term had been frequently misused by States to be able to answer as late as possible. Instead of using vague terms such as “due time” the Council should set a definite deadline. Additionally, Sudwind was concerned that some States provided their answers in just one language in order to escape from well-prepared observations.

CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that civil society played an integral role in ensuring that the Universal Periodic Review process was transparent and inclusive. Despite the explicit acknowledgement of this role, Governments around the world attempted to obstruct civil society from effectively participating in the process.

Right of Reply

China, speaking in a right of reply, said that the constitution of China guaranteed the right to freedom of expression and reiterated that citizens should exercise their rights within the legal framework. China attached importance to the participation of non-governmental organizations in the Universal Periodic Review process and it guaranteed the rights of those detained, including the right to legal representation and adequate medical care. Cao Shunli died of her illness despite the medical care provided and it had nothing to do with China’s Universal Periodic Review.

Nepal, speaking in a right of reply, said that it was important to provide a correct picture of a situation and reiterated that the Universal Periodic Review was the most important mechanism of the Human Rights Council. Nepal remained committed to the implementation of the recommendations it had accepted during its Review. The recommendations had already been mainstreamed in the National Action Plan for human rights and reforms to several legal bills had already been offered to Parliament. The Government attached great importance to the Special Procedures and would welcome their visits at the earliest appropriate time.

Saudi Arabia, responding to allegations concerning the lack of respect for immigrants in Saudi Arabia, said it had denied them during the Review. Saudi Arabia took its Universal Periodic Review report very seriously and reiterated its sovereignty in the context of addressing these issues and upholding human rights.

Syria reaffirmed its advice to Saudi Arabia to read its national report and all related documents concerning its Review and recommendations, and to implement them. Syria hoped that Saudi Arabia would not transmit the deplorable culture of silence and untruths.

Saudi Arabia speaking in a second right of reply, pointed out that it had debated its report, examined the recommendations and adopted them unanimously during the Universal Periodic Review.

Syria, speaking in a second right of reply, said that there was a proverb that said that ‘if we have difficulties we should probably keep a low profile’. Saudi Arabia should not maintain a position that was counter to the truth.

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For use of the information media; not an official record