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Human Rights Council holds separate interactive dialogues on the situation of human rights in Iran and in Myanmar

Human Rights Council 
MIDDAY/AFTERNOON

16 March 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues with Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said his report reiterated some concerns and presented emerging problems that may have further impacted the Government’s capacity to improve conditions.  Of particular alarm was the surge in executions documented during the past year.  The Government of Iran continued to harass, arrest, prosecute, and imprison members of civil society, who expressed criticism of the Government, on the grounds of “national security crimes.”  These concerns were further compounded by reports of malfunctions in the administration of justice. 

Iran, speaking as the concerned country, recalled that the Human Rights Council was established to rectify the prevailing malaise of double standards and politicisation, to avoid dividing the international community and to revive the duty of States to cooperate in the field of human rights.  However, it was lamentable to witness the old habits of politicisation of human rights by a few erode such hope and optimism.  The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran was appointed unjustifiably, bringing no fruitful results and instead furthering division and fragmentation at the very expense of human rights. The report devoted little space to the responses given by the Government.

In the interactive dialogue on Iran, some speakers highlighted the critical human rights situation in Iran, particularly the alarming level of executions, including juvenile offenders, attacks on human rights defenders, harassment of journalists, as well as intimidation, threats and violence against ethnic and religious minorities.  Other speakers warned that reports of the mandate holders should be based on primary sources and with active engagement of the country concerned, along with all stakeholders.  Iran had participated fully in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and had accepted many recommendations. 

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, France, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Italy, Venezuela, United States, Ireland, Belarus, Israel, Cuba, Germany, Eritrea, Russian Federation, Netherlands, Iraq, China, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, Sudan, Norway, Lebanon, Australia, Portugal, Syria, Myanmar, Canada, Belgium, New Zealand, Viet Nam, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Zimbabwe.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Baha'i International Community, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society, Association for Prevention of Social Harm, Women’s Human Rights International Association, International Educational Development Inc., and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
 
The Council also held an interactive dialogue with Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.  Ms. Lee said that 2015 was a tipping point for the reform process in Myanmar, with the prospect of democratic reforms to the 2008 constitution and the holding of free and fair general elections.  Despite some positive developments, the report described continuing challenges indicating worrying signs of backtracking on key human rights issues.  Examples included discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, abysmal conditions in camps for displaced Muslims,  alarming escalation of fighting last month in the Kokang region which had resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency, as well as recent reports of the use of excessive and disproportionate force against students and other civilians in Latpadan. 

Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said it was not possible to have a balanced report if its preparation process was not transparent and impartial enough.  The selectivity of the Special Rapporteur during her visit, meeting with some media and civil society organizations but leaving out others, had been surprising.  In light of the Rapporteur’s view on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it appeared clear that the human rights situation in Myanmar did not deserve the Council’s attention.  Comments by the Special Rapporteur on the State Constitution and on legislative norms, including some currently being debated, were intrusive and beyond her mandate.  

In the interactive dialogue on Myanmar, speakers shared the assessment of the Special Rapporteur that Myanmar had undergone significant changes and that extensive legislative reform efforts had been initiated.  However, a number of significant human rights challenges remained to be addressed.  Concerns remained about the situation of religious minorities, such as the Muslim minority Rohingya and the Government’s refusal to grant them citizenship rights.  Other States recommended that a balanced and constructive approach be taken with respect to Myanmar, noting that the far-reaching reforms in that country would only be successful if the social and political situation remained stable.  They also stressed that the intention of international stakeholders to engage with Myanmar in its electoral process had to be carried out in accordance with the principles of international relations, especially those of self-determination and non-interference.   

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, Viet Nam on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Norway, India, New Zealand, Iran, Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Japan, Russian Federation, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Viet Nam, Australia, France, United Kingdom, Ghana, Republic of Korea, Ireland, United States, Venezuela, Albania, Latvia, Cuba, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Estonia, Saudi Arabia, China, Denmark, Cambodia, and Belgium.

Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims, Human Rights Now, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Education Development, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship. 

Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council, said that he had received a letter from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, requesting the postponement of the presentation of the report to June 2015, and recommended that the Council request the Commissioners to present a short procedural update on 23 March 2015, and that the consideration of the comprehensive report as mandated in the operative paragraph 13 of the resolution S/21/1 be postponed to the twenty-ninth session in June 2015.  It was so decided.  Palestine briefly took the floor as well. 

When the Council next meets at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 March, it will hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. 

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed (A/HRC/28/70)


Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said he had focused his work over the past three years on the implementation of the 123 recommendations accepted at the outcome of Iran’s 2010 Universal Periodic Review.  His reports had presented developments in addressing concerns raised during that Review, reiterated some concerns and presented emerging problems that may have further impacted the Government’s capacity to improve conditions.  Of particular alarm was the surge in executions documented during the past year.   At least 753 executions in 2014 and 252 in the last 10 weeks, the highest total recorded in the past 12 years.  A majority of these executions continued to be for crimes that did not meet international standards of “most serious”; and at least 13 juveniles were executed in 2014, in violation of international law.  Executions for drug-related crimes, adultery, sodomy, alcohol consumption, and for vaguely worded national security offenses, such as corruption on earth, were illegal under international law.  Regrettably, Iran continued to harass, arrest, prosecute, and imprison members of civil society, who expressed criticism of the Government, on the grounds of “national security crimes.”  This logic had led to the imprisonment of more journalists than almost any country in the world, often on charges which did not meet international standards.  These concerns were further compounded by reports of malfunctions in the administration of justice.  Content in draft laws and policies currently under consideration that further limited economic opportunities for women and that segregated them in the workplace were also cause for serious concern. 

The second cycle of Iran’s Universal Periodic Review had provided an opportunity to improve rights protections in the country.  High priority should be placed on considering a moratorium on capital punishment and on reconsidering the use of the death penalty for acts not considered to be either criminal offenses or “most serious” crimes as defined by international human rights law.  Taking these steps would likely reduce the number of executions in Iran by more than half.  Furthermore, every effort should be made to amend or rescind laws that restricted the press and criminalized other forms of expression, limited access to information and gave rise to the ongoing arrests of civil society actors and members of vulnerable groups, including religious and ethnic minorities.  The Special Rapporteur regretted that he was not granted access to Iran, and underlined that country visits would allow for greater access to engage with more stakeholders, including civil society actors and government officials and would strengthen his capacity to document a wider range of views. 

Statement by the Concerned Country

Iran, speaking as the concerned country, recalled that the Human Rights Council was established to rectify the prevailing malaise of double standards and politicisation, to avoid dividing the international community and to revive the duty of States to cooperate in the field of human rights.  However, today it was lamentable to witness that such hope and optimism were eroded by the old habits of politicisation of human rights by a few, whose attempts resulted in challenging the authority and credibility of the Human Rights Council.  The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran was appointed unjustifiably, bringing no fruitful results and instead furthering division and fragmentation at the very expense of human rights.   Even though the Government of Iran provided the Special Rapporteur with full and detailed response in due time, he neglected some important points.  The report devoted little space to the responses given by the Government, and it did not properly reflect on the policies that promoted human rights in Iran.  As for the death penalty, in Iran it was clearly defined by law and was handed down only for the most serious crimes, including premeditated murder and large-scale trafficking of drugs. Finally, the report did not mention the negative impact of the unlawful, inhumane and unjust sanctions against the people of Iran. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

European Union underlined the critical human rights situation in Iran.  It noted with deep concern the alarming level of executions, including juvenile offenders, and how many of them did not meet the threshold of “most serious crime” under international human rights law.  The European Union welcomed the release of political prisoners, but remained concerned about the treatment and execution of political prisoners as well as the high number still detained. 

France would support the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and called on Iran to fully cooperate with him.  France voiced its greatest concern regarding the number of executions in Iran, including of human rights defenders and juvenile offenders.  Many of these executions did not meet international standards.  France was also concerned about human rights defenders, harassment of media professionals, and that certain bills under consideration could further limit the rights of women. 

Denmark was particularly concerned about intimidation, threats and violence against minorities, and recommended that Iran ensure the principle of non-discrimination for religious minorities.  Denmark was also concerned about the widespread use of torture and arbitrary detention.  Denmark asked  for further information about the draft bill under consideration that sought to further limit the rights of women and their position in Iranian society.

Kazakhstan said that the reports of the mandate holders should be based on primary sources and with active engagement of the country concerned, along with all stakeholders.  The mandate holder had to carefully consider the customs, traditions and specific religious background of the concerned country.  Kazakhstan noted Iran’s cooperation with the Human Rights Council’s human rights mechanisms, and its active engagement in the Universal Periodic Review process. 

Switzerland deplored the fact that Iranian authorities denied access to the Special Rapporteur to the country.  The Special Rapporteur had noted that serious human rights violations persisted in Iran, such as the application of the death penalty, arbitrary detentions, and arrests of journalists.  Ethnic and religious minorities suffered from discrimination and lived under constant threat.  Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how States could better support his efforts to access Iran.

Italy said that the situation in Iran remained a matter of concern, mostly due to the application of the death penalty, violations of freedom of expression, arrests of journalists and political opposition members, and restrictions on the rights of persons belonging to minority communities.  Italy strongly encouraged Iran to further enhance its efforts in respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably by repealing laws and fighting practices that restricted human rights. 

Venezuela said the policy of imperial aggression and attacks against some countries left no room for genuine cooperation in the field of human rights.  Country-specific mandates undermined the credibility of the human rights system, and were used to serve the political agendas of some countries.  The imposition of these should be eradicated, and human rights questions had to be addressed without politicization or double standards.

United States remained concerned about restrictions of freedoms in Iran, arbitrary detention and violence against religious minorities.  The United States was alarmed about the situation of human rights defenders and the press in Iran, and was also concerned about the use of the death penalty, which did not meet international standards of due process.  The United States stressed that women remained discriminated against in Iran, and underlined that religious and ethnic minorities faced widespread discrimination.
 
Ireland noted with particular concern that a number of draft laws and policies that would further deteriorate the human rights situation in Iran were currently being considered.  Ireland continued to have serious concern about the high number of executions, particularly in light with other concerns regarding fair trial standards.  Ireland noted with concern cases of arbitrary detention of members of the Christian minority.  

Belarus emphasized that human rights issues should be examined without any bias, and in respect of national sovereignty.  Country reports presented one-sided and subjective information, without paying attention to the country’s economic and social reality.  For example, the discussed report of the Special Rapporteur did not mention the negative effects of the sanctions imposed against Iran.

Israel expressed concern about the fact that 2014 had seen the highest number of executions recorded in the past 12 years.  A person was executed in Iran on average every twelve hours.  Iranian authorities also had not shown any mercy to 160 juvenile offenders, who had committed their crimes when under the age of 18.  Israel also continued to be concerned about the failure to address violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriages, marital rape and domestic violence. 

Cuba said that the interactive dialogue was a clear example of bias, which unfortunately had taken ground in the Council.  The establishment of the Special Rapporteur for Iran was a political decision.  Such appointments were in particular directed against the countries of the South.  Imposed mandates, without the consent of the concerned country, were doomed to failure.  The Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate mechanism to analyse human rights situations in Member States.

Germany welcomed Iran’s participation in the second Universal Periodic Review cycle, and called for the implementation of the recommendations and for cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.  Germany was concerned about the use of the death penalty in violation of internationally recognized minimum standards.  Freedom of expression continued to be severely restricted, and journalists and bloggers were being arbitrarily detained.  The situation of ethnic and religious communities remained a concern. 

Eritrea reiterated its position that country specific mechanisms undermined the credibility of the Council.  It noted that Iran had participated fully in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and had accepted many recommendations.  In this context, international cooperation and capacity building had to be the priority of the international community, which should engage with Iran through constructive dialogue and in a spirit of non-confrontation.  

Russian Federation welcomed Iran’s constructive cooperation with treaty bodies and its openness during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.  The Russian Federation opposed confrontational approaches against Iran as well as the imposition of unilateral sanctions against it, which did not serve the cause of human rights.   

Netherlands remained concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, especially about the growing number of executions and reports of violations of national and international fair trial standards.  It emphasized the importance of freedom of expression, both online and offline.  It asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review on the death penalty and capital punishment for juvenile offenders, as well as on progress in granting citizenship to the Baha’is.

Iraq stressed the need for international cooperation in order to uphold human rights in Iran.  It noted that the international community should seek to do so in an objective fashion and without any attempts to use human rights for political purposes.  It was noted that the Iranian Government had made efforts to protect and promote human rights and that fact should be mentioned in the report.

China appreciated the progress that Iran had achieved in the promotion of the economic, social and cultural rights of its citizens, as well as in the protection of minorities.  It expressed hope that the international community would take an unbiased approach to the assessment of the human rights situation in Iran, including the challenges that it was experiencing.  China called on the international community to stress the need for technical cooperation with Iran.

Tajikistan noted progress made by Iran, including the strengthening of institutions for the protection of human rights.  Iran was committed to advancing human rights, including cultural rights, the right to education and detention conditions.  Constructive dialogue with Iran would improve the human rights situation in the country. 

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia remained concerned with the overall situation of human rights in Iran, and with the high number of executions, including of juvenile offenders.  The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was concerned about the situation of minors in detention and about acid attacks against women.  It finally expressed concern about the situation of human rights defenders and journalists. 

United Kingdom remained concerned about the increasing number of executions in Iran, and fully supported the call for a ban on the execution of juvenile offenders.   Non-governmental organizations should be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of assembly freely.  Authorities had to investigate allegations of torture and prosecute and appropriately sentence all officials found responsible for illegal detention. 
 
Sudan welcomed the positive steps taken by Iran to promote the political and social status of women, especially the increase of resources allocated to departments of women and family affairs, and the legislation to protect women against violence.  Sudan encouraged the Council to conduct its work guided by the principles of objectivity, and to refrain from politicisation and selectivity.  Consent and cooperation between the mandate holder and the concerned State was a major pillar for achieving positive results on the ground.

Norway was particularly concerned about the deplorable application of capital punishment on juvenile offenders in Iran.  While welcoming Iran’s expressed will to create a more open society, Norway was far from convinced by the developments in the country.  It was also concerned about arrests and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, and the systematic targeting of religious and ethnic minorities.  All those challenges underlined the importance of the Special Rapporteur’s work. 

Lebanon reasserted the importance of the work of the Council and the need to preserve its credibility through unbiased work.  It was important for any mandate holder to use information based on facts on the ground, and credible sources, as well as to take into consideration the country’s cultural specificities and security concerns.  Given Iran’s participation in the Universal Periodic Review, and acceptance of its recommendations, there was a clear indication that Iran sincerely intended to cooperate with the Council. 

Australia welcomed Iran’s cooperation during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, but remained deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Iran, and urged it to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  Australia welcomed the release of some prisoners, and called for the release of all prisoners of conscience.  Australia was concerned about violence and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and urged Iran to take steps to ensure women’s equality both in law and in practice. 

Portugal welcomed Iran’s cooperation during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and the release by Iran of several prisoners of conscience.  Portugal remained concerned regarding the human rights situation in the country, and urged Iran to allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur.  Portugal was extremely worried about reports on the use of the death penalty in Iran, and called for the implementation of a moratorium on it. 

Syria regretted that the Special Rapporteur was still ignoring progress made in Iran, and had focused instead on misconceptions based on false facts to advance politically-motivated agendas, in contradiction with the code of conduct for Special Procedure mandate holders.  Any outcome for this report would be counterproductive and would not achieve any goal.  The mandate should not be renewed.  

Myanmar said that country-specific mandates were counter-productive because they did not create a conducive environment for a genuine dialogue and constructive cooperation between the mandate holders and the concerned countries.  The work of the Council should be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.

Canada said that the mandate provided the Iranian population and the international community with access to independently collected information and the assessment of human rights in Iran.  The human rights violations identified by the international community during Iran’s 2010 Universal Periodic Review persisted, including the execution of juveniles.  Canada was deeply worried by legislative restrictions on women’s rights and attacks on women throughout the country.

Belgium agreed that Iran should give high priority to amending laws and policies that violated international standards, including the death penalty, and asked about the plans to abolish the death penalty for drug-related crimes, which accounted for nearly half the executions in 2014.  Belgium regretted that Iran had not yet joined the nations that had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and expressed concern about the situation of minorities, such as the Baha’i.

New Zealand welcomed Iran’s increased engagement with the international community on human rights, including its engagement with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the P5 negotiations.  New Zealand remained concerned about the persecution of religious minorities and institutionalized discrimination against women.  New Zealand was also seriously concerned about the high number of executions in Iran.

Viet Nam welcomed progress made in Iran in relation to women’s rights and access to education and health.  Challenges remained, and there was room for further improvement.  Viet Nam hoped Iran would continue towards overcoming them, and underlined the importance of dialogue and international cooperation towards that end.  It welcomed the cooperation of Iran with human rights mechanisms, which was an encouraging sign. 

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea commended Iran for its efforts to protect and promote human rights.  The Special Rapporteur’s mandate had been created by Western countries aimed at interfering in Iran’s internal affairs and imposing change on the pretext of human rights, in violation of the principle of States’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The Council should eliminate all country-specific mandates.  

Zimbabwe said in principle it did not subscribe to the imposition of country-specific Special Procedure mandates, which tended to be prosecutorial, politicized and selective.  Iran had already participated in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and therefore should be allowed space to work towards the implementation of the recommendations that it accepted.

Baha'i International Community expressed deep concern about incitement to racial hatred against members of the Baha’i faith in Iran.  Campaigns of slander originated from Government-sponsored actors and their associates, and were on the increase, for example posters on subways denouncing it as a sect, and demonstrations.

Südwind, speaking in a joint statement, thanked the Special Rapporteur for bolstering the case of human rights defenders in Iran but expressed concern about the number of serious and systematic violations.  It noted that the number of executions had risen to 750 last year and that many prisoners of conscience were routinely denied access to medical care.

Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society said that the most vital issue in traditional rules around the death penalty rules was to ensure forgiveness by the families of victims and so save the lives of those convicted.  Any hasty reform of the death penalty legislation would risk the lives of the convicted and those with political and sectarian goals could annihilate the saving of human lives.

Association for Prevention of Social Harm said that drug addiction was the second leading cause of death in the country and was on the increase.  There were eight drugs-related deaths every day, which meant eight families without a head of family.  The subject of drugs was complex for Iranian society.  The trafficking of drugs was an organized crime and a curse.

Women’s Human Rights International Association expressed strong support for the renewal of this mandate because of the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.  More than 800 persons had been executed in the 2014, and Iran had the highest execution rates per capita, and the number of executions was increasing rapidly.  Most of the executions in Iran were politically related and in many cases, drug-related charges had been fabricated.

International Educational Development Inc. spoke about the disappearance of Kurdish citizens who were on death row in Iran, particularly 17-year-old Saman Naseen, and the conviction of political prisoners for the crime of ‘enmity against God’.  Just two weeks ago 7 children aged 7 to 11 years old stepped on landlines in a Kurdish region, two of whom had died.  Iran should ratify the Anti-Landmine Convention and allow United Nations de-mining organizations access.

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said Iran remained one of the few countries on earth where consensual same-sex relations between two men were punishable by death.  Iran’s new criminal code not only penalized sex between two men or two women but made it illegal for individuals to be “homosexual”.  The Commission asked the Council to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

Concluding Remarks by the Concerned Country
 
Iran, speaking in concluding remarks, thanked the States which had appreciated its efforts in the field of human rights despite obstacles caused by the inhuman sanctions against its innocent people, in clear defiance of basic principles of international human rights law.   The representative of Iran made three points.  First, the broad spectrum of contradicting observations from Member States clearly indicated that there was not one point of concern shared by all and demonstrated how shaky the foundation was upon which the unjustifiable Special Procedure stood.  Second, the report’s ignorance of positive developments in Iran was a questionable attempt to put aside all of Iran’s positive efforts and its commitment to the better promotion of human rights.  Third, today’s meeting demonstrated that the most workable way of addressing human rights issues was through constructive dialogue and cooperation through well-devised mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review. 

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
 
AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in his concluding remarks, thanked Iran for the cooperation extended to the mandate in Geneva and said that this dialogue had enriched his understanding of the situation.  Human rights belonged to individuals and the focus must be on the most vulnerable, stressed Mr. Shaheed, adding that the report had noted many positive developments in the country, such as the increased expenditure on women’s rights, or efforts to counter some negative trends concerning domestic violence.  The Special Rapporteur stressed that he had not yet received the feedback on the case of Mr. Nasim, a juvenile offender who suffered unfair trial and alleged torture, nor did he know his fate.  It was important to ensure that there were no reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations that had extended cooperation to the United Nations human rights mechanisms.  The dialogue today was evidence that countries were interested in what was going on in Iran and that they were interested in hearing what Iran had to say.  It would be important to use the Human Rights Indicators Manual to assist with the integration of human rights principles in the measures taken to implement the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review.   The Special Rapporteur was concerned about some laws that were being drafted which would push women’s rights even further back.  Another source of concern was the impact of sanctions on Iran, which had been an issue of one of his previous reports.  Iran should be encouraged to abide with article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to give people free choice in the elections.  With regard to the death penalty, the Special Rapporteur said that there was no evidence that executions resulted in the improvement of the addiction rates or trafficking in drugs, and stressed that human rights must be applied when it came to the death penalty.

Organizational Matter on the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, said that he had received a letter from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, requesting the postponement of the presentation of the report to June 2015, and recommended that the Council request the Commissioners to present a short procedural update on 23 March 2015, and that the consideration of the comprehensive report as mandated in the operative paragraph 13 of the resolution S/21/1 be postponed to the twenty-ninth session in June 2015.  It was so decided.

State of Palestine said that, in the view of the continued hindrances by Israel, the postponement of the presentation of the report was welcomed.  The State of Palestine urged all to allow the visit by the Commission of Inquiry and hoped that attacks against the Commission would not be renewed.


Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee (A/HRC/28/72)

The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee (A/HRC/28/72/Add.1)

Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, first expressed her deepest sadness at the sinking of the ferry last Friday near Sittwe.  Her first address to the Human Rights Council came at a pivotal time in the reform process in Myanmar: 2015 was a tipping point for the reform process, with the prospect of democratic reforms to the 2008 constitution and the holding of free and fair general elections.  Despite some positive developments,  the report described continuing challenges indicating worrying signs of backtracking on key human rights issues.  Ms. Lee acknowledged the very good cooperation she had received from the Myanmar Government during her missions, and said she was therefore disappointed by references by the Government that her visit could leave the people of Myanmar with discord, distrust and incitement.  The Special Rapporteur  said her only priority was to be able to work with the Government and other stakeholders to contribute to the enjoyment of human rights for all. 

The Special Rapporteur said she was very disturbed by recent reports on the use of excessive and disproportionate force against students and other civilians in Latpadan, in the largest crackdown by police on protesters since the clashes at Letpadaung copper mine in 2012.  Ms. Lee emphasized the dangers of using irregular personnel in law enforcement functions if they were not adequately trained and fully accountable.  She welcomed the release of some protesters and called for the immediate release of all the others.  Ms. Lee welcomed the Government’s efforts to reform media governance but expressed concern that journalists were still being interrogated and arrested, and that 10 journalists were imprisoned in 2014.  A worrying trend that had a chilling effect on civil society activities was the regular surveillance of human rights defenders, said Ms. Lee.  She welcomed the release of political prisoners Dr. Tun Aung and U Kyaw Hla Aung, but expressed concern at the number of political prisoners who continued to be detained.

The situation in Rakhine State remained dire, said the Special Rapporteur, expressing concern about discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.  The use of the term ‘Rohingya’ continued to be met with strong resistance.  The Government’s justification for the confinement of Muslims in camps ‘for their own protection’ was troubling.  Ms. Lee said conditions in camps for displaced Muslims that she had visited were abysmal.  The people there said they had only two options: “stay and die” or “leave by boat” – a choice nobody should face.  Concern was expressed about the alarming escalation of fighting last month in the Kokang region which had resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency, the reported death of more than 100 people and the displacement of tens of thousands.  Humanitarian access was still limited in some areas with large displaced populations, including in non-government controlled areas in Kachin State.  The Government was commended for the significant steps it had taken to eliminate the use of child soldiers, including the identification and release of 553 children, but the recruitment of child soldiers continued both within the military and non-state armed groups.  

Statement by the Concerned Country

Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, expressed its disappointment with the late circulation of an addendum that included its observations to the report by the Special Rapporteur.  It underlined that it was not possible to have a balanced report if its preparation process was not transparent and impartial enough.  The selectivity of the Special Rapporteur during her visit, meeting with some media and civil society organizations but leaving out others, had been surprizing.  Myanmar expected as much transparency and independence as possible from the Special Rapporteur and respect to the Code of Conduct.  In light of the Rapporteur’s view on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it appeared clear that the human rights situation in Myanmar did not deserve the Council’s attention.  Myanmar had undertaken reforms enabling people to better enjoy human rights, and challenges still faced were not uncommon.  Comments by the Special Rapporteur on the State Constitution and on legislative norms, including some currently being debated, were intrusive and beyond her mandate.  Myanmar regretted that all its progress to prevent the recurrence of violence in Rakhine State had been ignored by singling out isolated incidents.  Myanmar did not recognize the Rohingya terminology.  Concerning the recent student protest, the Government had exercised maximum restraint since the unlawful marching started in January 2015.  The breakup of the protest by the authorities in March had been unavoidable  because protestors had become non-peaceful.  The protest ended without serious injury, and people detained had now been released.   

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
 
European Union shared the assessment of the Special Rapporteur that Myanmar had undergone significant changes and that extensive legislative reform efforts had been initiated.  However, a number of significant human rights challenges remained to be addressed.  It was important to widen and further protect the democratic space in the coming months to ensure inclusive, credible and transparent elections.  The European Union asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on aspects of the political process that would be important to follow before the elections, and on what could be done to facilitate the nationwide ceasefire and peace process in the country.

Viet Nam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, welcomed the progress in Myanmar and the commitment of the Government to enhance socio-economic development, improve the livelihood of the people, promote good governance and democratic practices, strengthen the protection of human rights, and achieve peace and national reconciliation.  ASEAN remained confident of Myanmar’s continued commitment in its democratization and reform process, and it encouraged the international community to take a constructive approach to Myanmar and avoid any politicisation.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,  welcomed the work of the Special Rapporteur and called on her to pay attention to the plight of all Muslims in Myanmar, especially of the Rohingya Muslim minority.  It also condemned the sexist attack on the Special Rapporteur during her visit to Myanmar.  It urged the Government of Myanmar to accelerate its efforts to address the issues of governance, rule of law, discrimination, violence, displacement and economic deprivation affecting members of ethnic and religious minorities.

Norway noted the progress in democratization, national reconciliation and development, as well as the efforts to bring about reforms for the improvement of the human rights situation.  Concerns remained about the situation of the minorities, especially Rohingya, and Norway called upon the Government to ensure the safety of journalists and human rights defenders and ensure their freedom to perform their activities.  In the face of the approaching elections, the Government should ensure fundamental freedoms and space for civil society.

India regretted that the overall tone in the report did not give the rightful credit to Myanmar in its democratization process.  Myanmar needed further support in its path to democracy, especially in the face of the upcoming elections, particularly in the form of technical assistance and capacity building.  The international community must acknowledge Myanmar’s genuine will for a constructive engagement with human rights mechanisms.

New Zealand welcomed the work of the National Human Rights Commission and encouraged it to continue its good efforts for all the people in the country.  New Zealand recognized the complexity of the significant human rights challenges, such as the situation in Rakhine State, and expressed support for the call for improved access to health, education and humanitarian services there.  Myanmar should ensure that the new “race and religion” bills were consistent with the international human rights standards that Myanmar had committed itself to.

Iran said that it opposed the politicization of human rights issues, including country-specific human rights issues.  The promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue, and be aimed at strengthening the capacity of Member States to comply with their human rights obligations.  Selective approaches in the Human Rights Council undermined cooperation as the essential principle to effectively promote and protect all universally recognized human rights. 

Netherlands condemned attacks against the Special Rapporteur, and noted that reforms in Myanmar had significantly improved access to information and freedom of expression.  The Netherlands remained concerned about the ongoing armed conflict, the situation in Rakhine State, increased pressure on religious freedom, and the detention of political activists.  The Netherlands asked the Special Rapporteur how the use of force by law enforcement officials could be investigated promptly. 

Poland welcomed important progress in the field of human rights, democratization, national reconciliation and development.  Concerns remained, however, about continued discrimination against ethnic minorities in Myanmar.  Countering hate speech and incitement to hatred and intolerance should be a priority for Myanmar.  It was worrisome that freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and the right to privacy remained violated. 

Switzerland encouraged Myanmar to persevere in its efforts to achieve reform, democratization and development, and said the guarantee of freedom of expression, peaceful demonstration and association were essential in that regard.  Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur  what the obstacles were to the opening of an office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Myanmar, and what role she could play in tackling the incitement to violence. 

Czech Republic regretted that the space for civil society and freedom of the press had been shrinking since the Special Rapporteur’s last visit and expressed concern about reports that there were not only political prisoners still in detention but new prisoners of conscience as well.  It urged Myanmar to refrain from the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and to enact the necessary constitutional and electoral reforms to enable free, fair and inclusive elections.

Japan appreciated Myanmar’s efforts towards democratization such as eliminating pre-publication censorship and building a cooperative relationship with journalists.  Japan recalled the launch last year with Myanmar, the United States, Denmark and the International Labour Organization, of the ‘Initiative to Promote Labour Rights in Myanmar’.  It also expressed concern about the situation of minorities, especially those in Rakhine State, and increased tension in Kokang self-administrated zone.

Russian Federation recommended that a balanced and constructive approach be taken with respect to Myanmar.  The far-reaching reforms in that country would only be successful if the social and political situation remained stable.  It was necessary to lift restrictions on the media in Myanmar and to promote all other human rights.  The heightened attention to the situation of human rights in Myanmar was not helping, and constructive dialogue with the Myanmar authorities would be more constructive.

Lao People’s Democratic Republic reiterated that country-specific human rights resolutions did not help to address human rights issues in any country.  The Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate forum to discuss and review the human rights situation in any country on an equal basis.  Hence that process should serve as the most constructive dialogue on human rights issues.  Myanmar was commended for its engagement and cooperation with human rights mechanisms, the United Nations agencies and other international and non-governmental organizations to address human rights issues in the country.

Viet Nam said that the people and the Government of Myanmar had yielded fruitful results in the protection and promotion of human rights.  The most remarkable achievements were in economic development, ever open space for democratization, enhancement of gender equality, and better protection of vulnerable groups.  The intention of international stakeholders to engage with Myanmar in its electoral process had to be carried out in accordance with the principles of international relations, especially those of self-determination and non-interference.

Australia said that Myanmar should be acknowledged for the progress made in the installation of civilian leadership and noted the need to address the outstanding challenges.  The citizenship status of all people of the country should be resolved, including the Rohingya and the white card holders.  The Government should reduce restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, and ensure that genuinely free elections were held. 

France noted the progress in the county, particularly in legislation and Constitutional reform, and said that freedom of expression and protection of journalists must be guaranteed.  Women and national minorities must participate in the democratization and national reconciliation, said France and shared the concern about the humanitarian and human rights situation in Rakhin State.  It was vital to devise a strategy to promote reconciliation based on integration and not separation of communities.

United Kingdom remained concerned about the infringements on civil and political rights and the violence in ethnic States, as well as the ongoing conflict in Kachin State and the reports of sexual violence.  The Government should investigate human rights violations while working towards national reconciliation, ensure full access to Rakhine State for humanitarian agencies, and find a solution to the citizenship of the Rohingya.

Ghana noted the remarkable achievements made by Myanmar in the rule of law and accountability, minority and gender-based discrimination, and political participation in the electoral process, and congratulated Myanmar on the strides it had made in human rights.  Ghana encouraged the Human Rights Council to use its good offices to provide Myanmar with technical and material assistance to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections later this year.

Republic of Korea said as a strong supporter of political reform and democratization in Myanmar, it found the Special Rapporteur’s assessment noting “signs of backtracking” of great concern.  The Republic of Korea paid special attention to the findings of the report regarding a shrinking democratic space, the deteriorating conditions of camps in Rakhine State, and the use of hate speech.  It found it worrisome that the Special Rapporteur had received a personal verbal attack during her visit.

Ireland said the root causes of tensions in Rakhine State between the ethnically-distinct Muslim Rohingya population and the Buddhist Rakhine population must be addressed.  Recalling the Council’s Presidential Statement adopted at its twenty-third session urging Myanmar to grant full citizenship rights to the Rohingya in Rakhine, Ireland asked whether any commitments had been made to that end.    

United States reiterated serious concern about the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State.  Members of the Rohingya minority continued to face systemic discrimination and structural human rights violations.  The recent announcement that “white cards” would be invalidated was troubling as it would reduce political participation by white card holders who had previously been allowed to vote.  There were also reports of abuses by security forces, including torture, arbitrary arrests and sexual violence. 

Venezuela underlined the politicization of country-specific mandates, and the imbalance in the mandate and report by the Special Rapporteur, which did not reflect Myanmar’s willingness to advance human rights as well as the negative impacts of unilateral sanctions against the country.  Dialogue, assistance and cooperation were essential for achieving the full enjoyment of human rights, including the right to development.  Venezuela urged members of the Council to reject the country-specific resolution, which violated the sovereignty of Myanmar. 

Albania welcomed steps to consolidate democracy in Myanmar, and underlined that freedom of expression and association were crucial elements of a democracy.  Albania was concerned about conflicts between ethnic groups and police forces, and called on Myanmar to undergo dialogue with ethnic minorities.  Albania deeply regretted that the human rights of the Rohingya minority had seen no improvement, and demanded that their right to self-determination be respected.  Albania would support the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. 

Latvia said that Myanmar had faced many challenges over the last years.  Latvia welcomed the efforts to implement the joint action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  Latvia was concerned about hate speech addressed at the Special Rapporteur and encouraged the Government to disassociate itself from and strongly condemn all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.  Latvia asked about practical steps to facilitate the engagement of women in decision-making processes.

Cuba was categorically against country specific mandates and stressed that it was only through constructive dialogue that progress on human rights could be reached.  Imposed mandates without the agreement of the States concerned were doomed to fail.  The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was the ideal tool to develop and facilitate international cooperation between States.

Spain recognized the progress made in Myanmar and expressed concern that for the second consecutive year reforms had halted or even regressed in some sectors.  It was necessary to establish a legal and political framework to ensure human rights and democratic reform.  Discrimination against women, intolerance and incitement to hate and violence were other issues of concern, as was the conflict in various ethnic zones, and Spain inquired about the steps the international community could take to address the new conflicts.

Sri Lanka welcomed the important progress made by Myanmar, notably in creating more space for people to express their views peacefully through public demonstrations, and the release of some long-term political prisoners.  Considering the country was still in the early stages of its democratic transformation, a more appropriate mechanism than successive country-specific resolutions would be the Universal Periodic Review. 

Thailand said it was following the situation in Rakhine State closely and believed the root causes of the conflict had to be addressed.   Thailand welcomed all the progress achieved and believed the Council should re-examine the need to address the human rights situation in Myanmar under this agenda item as well as the need to have an annual country-specific resolution on it.

Belarus said country-specific mandates were counter-productive and that subjective and one-sided assessments of the situation in countries, such as the Special Rapporteur’s report, could not support real progress on the protection, promotion and monitoring of human rights. 

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said country-specific resolutions without the consent of the State constituted an unjustified intervention in the internal affairs of the State and a breach of the principle of sovereignty.  All country-specific resolutions and mandates, including those on Myanmar, should be repealed.

Estonia welcomed Myanmar’s cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, and encouraged further reforms and democratization, as well as efforts relating to the peace process.  Estonia underlined the importance of the right to freedom of expression and assembly, particularly in light of the forthcoming elections.  Estonia encouraged the Government of Myanmar to resume fruitful cooperation with the international community and civil society, and to accelerate efforts to open a country office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Saudi Arabia deeply regretted continued human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, as well as the authorities’ decision to strip white card holders of their rights.  Myanmar should do more to promote harmony within the country, provide assistance and build infrastructure in the concerned areas. 

China commended Myanmar for its judicial and legal reform and the progress achieved in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Myanmar was entitled to choose its own development road and human rights protection model and China called upon the international community to respect its sovereignty and its particular circumstances.  Myanmar needed more time and patience, and enhanced technical assistance and capacity building to promote the national reconciliation process.

Denmark said that recent developments called for further attention and expressed concern about draft legislation on race and religion; the adoption of those laws would be a major set-back for the protection of human rights, particularly for women and national minorities.  The increasing intolerance in the form of hate speech was deeply worrying and, if not addressed, would challenge the very fabric of society and threaten the reform process and the stability in the country.  

Cambodia welcomed significant change and progress in the democratic process in Myanmar, including the continued commitment to the reform process and constructive cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.  In light of Myanmar’s commitment and the significant progress achieved, the human rights situation in this country no longer merited the particular attention of the Human Rights Council.

Belgium said that the sexist, insulting language used against the Special Rapporteur by an influential religious figure during her visit was an absolutely unacceptable outburst of hate speech which the Myanmar authorities should unequivocally condemn, not only because it was a vicious attack against a United Nations-appointed independent expert but also because it fed into an atmosphere of distrust and hostility.  Belgium also voiced conflict-related concerns, in particular regarding sexual violence by the armed forces and the situation in Rakhine State.

Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims said Myanmar Muslims had been deprived of their fundamental human rights for decades, and had to spend their lives in camps either out of fear for their security or lack of authorization.  The health situation for some 140,000 Muslims living in camps in western Myanmar, as well as a further 700,000 vulnerable people living in isolated villages, was dire. 

Human Rights Now welcomed positive developments in Myanmar but expressed grave concern over the human rights situation, particularly the brutal police crackdown on a student protest on 10 March 2015 and the continued imprisonment of political prisoners.  It also expressed concern about the continued use of rape as a weapon of war by the State army, mainly in the resource-rich Kachin and Shan States. 

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development echoed the Special Rapporteur’s concern over the increasingly restrictive democratic space in Myanmar, and strongly condemned indiscriminate and violent attacks in Letpadan against peaceful student protests, including journalists and paramedics.  Besides violations of freedom of assembly and association, new media laws continued to impose undue restrictions on freedom of expression.  The Government of Myanmar had to immediately repeal or amend those laws. 

International Education Development said they had submitted numerous written statements on the human rights situation in Myanmar, namely on the treatment of ethnic nationalities.  It expressed two major concerns.  The so-called peace processes with the ethnic nationalities were extremely fragile as those groups had little or no incentives to wholeheartedly join the State, and they were unlikely to abandon their right to self-determination.  The second concern was the premature embracing by the international community of the so-called reform Government in Myanmar. 

Human Rights Watch concurred with the Special Rapporteur’s key findings and recommendations.  Restrictions on the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression had increased, as well as excessive use of force.  The deteriorating situation was exacerbated by anti-Muslim violence and parliament’s consideration of four laws that would seriously curb religious freedoms and the rights of women.  The dire conditions of the Rohingya Muslim minority had not improved.

Amnesty International said it had submitted two written statements on Myanmar to the Council, one which focused on extractive industries.  It spoke about an incident around the Monywa copper mining project which demonstrated the unwillingness of the Government of Myanmar to monitor and regulate companies and to provide remedies.  It asked the Special Rapporteur if she planned to examine corporate human rights abuses in Myanmar. 

International Federation for Human Rights said the recent violent crackdown on student demonstrators showed that repression of peaceful dissent and a culture of impunity remained a reality in Myanmar and that the last year had been marked by a human rights backslide.  It expressed serious concern over the detention conditions of over 10,000 inmates serving part of their sentence in labour camps across the country.  

Article 19 expressed concern over the deterioration of the rights to freedom of expression and of the media, and said ensuring the public had access to independent and plural perspectives, including critical views ahead of the elections, required the Ministry of Information to relinquish its control over the media.  It asked the Special Rapporteur how independent investigations into police and paramilitary conduct against student protesters could be ensured. 

Concluding Remarks by the Concerned Country

Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said the Government could not be held accountable for abuses by citizens in their individual capacity, including on social media.  Opening a country office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was a matter between the country and OHCHR, and agreement remained to be reached.  Myanmar’s democracy was only four years old, and Myanmar was not alone to face challenges.  Myanmar should therefore not be treated differently than other countries. 

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
 
YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, emphasized that her report was guided by the principles of transparency and non-selectivity, and based on facts from reliable sources.  Commenting on legislation and constitutional reform was part of her mandate.  Current holders of white identity cards would have to give up their identity as Rohingya, and what would happen during this process was a matter of concern.  The Office of the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur could play a complementary role, and their mandates would not be duplicative.  Strong humanitarian needs resulted from human rights violations in Rakhine State.  It was crucial to strengthen peace efforts to restore harmony there.  In terms of the peace process and the resolution of conflicts, she recalled Security Council’s resolutions on the importance of involving women.  The current training of law enforcement personnel was not enough, and technical assistance was needed.  Women and children had to run away from conflict zones to escape sexual violence by armed groups and the military forces that were supposed to protect them.  The forthcoming elections would mark the future of Myanmar, and it was regrettable that some would not be allowed to vote and take part in that process.  The international community should continue calling on Myanmar to abide by its international human rights obligations.  Respect for the rule of law was vital for economic progress.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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