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Human Rights Council holds general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON

15 March 2017

Hears Presentation of Reports of the Forum on Minority Issues; Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law; Social Forum; and the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms after hearing the presentation of the reports of the Forum on Minority Issues; Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law; Social Forum; and the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures. 

Presenting the report of the Forum on Minority Issues, Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, reported that the Forum on Minority Issues had successfully conducted its ninth annual session in November 2016, with the thematic focus on minorities in situations of humanitarian crisis.  Minorities were disproportionately affected during massive displacement crises and in their aftermath.  The recommendations of the Forum addressed a wide range of crisis situations, some of which affected not only minorities, but also the broader population.  More targeted strategies and increase of aid and security investments were needed to better meet the specific needs of minorities.

Presenting the report of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, Daniiar Mukashev, Permanent Representative of Kyrgyzstan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, explained that the discussions at the first session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, held on 21 and 22 November 2016, had addressed four thematic areas related to youth participation: creating an enabling environment for the effective participation of youth in public decision-making; moving from formal to transformative participation of youth; the participation of youth in sustainable development, and human rights protection in specific contexts; and moving the global youth agenda forward and the role of youth in shaping the agenda of the United Nations and regional organizations.

Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, explained that two new mandates had been welcomed into the system in 2016, one on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and another on the right to development.  It was unfortunate that the Council had reduced the time dedicated to Special Procedures in its programme of work; with the speaking time limited to one minute per report, it was almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion on Special Procedures’ reports.  Special Procedure mandate holders had also faced difficulties in the way their reports had been processed, in particular in relation to their editing and translation. The Special Procedures called on the United Nations system, including the Council, to rely more on their expertise.

Ayush Bat-Erdene, Officer-in-Charge of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the report of the 2016 Social Forum of the Human Rights Council, explained that the Social Forum had consisted of 10 panels and a roundtable discussion on key issues and themes concerning the human rights of persons with disabilities.  Participants had requested States to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making processes, including by providing them with unconditional support, capacity building, technical assistance and promotion of self-advocates.

In the ensuing general debate, delegations shared the alarm over the growing number of reprisals and cases of intimidation against individuals or groups who had cooperated with the United Nations.  All States should take all necessary measures to prevent reprisals, including through raising awareness, and by investigating and ensuring accountability and effective remedy for such acts, whether perpetrated by State or non-State actors.  It was observed that minorities were often disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises.  Delegations stressed that good governance and the rule of law at the national and international levels were essential for sustainable growth and development and for the eradication of poverty.  They were also concerned about severe budgetary constraints faced by the High Commissioner’s Office and the capacity constraints of the Human Rights Council.  Some delegations noted that the functioning of the Forum discussion bodies was facing serious problems, the main one being the lack of clear rules for their work, including accreditation, membership and rules for conducting discussions.

Russian Federation spoke in a right of reply.

Speaking were Hungary on behalf of a group of countries, Malta on behalf of the European Union, Romania on behalf of a group of countries, Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, Cuba, China, Venezuela, Iraq, Latvia, Belgium, Togo, Republic of Korea, United States, Tunisia, Russian Federation, Iran, Pakistan, Maldives, Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, International Development Law Organization, Austria, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Benin and Morocco.

The following non-governmental organizations also spoke in the general debate: Jssor Youth Organization, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, African Regional Agricultural Association, World Environment and Resources Council, United Schools International, International Association for Democracy in Africa, OCAPROCE International, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association, Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights, Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, Association pour l’Integration et le Développement Durable au Burundi and Prahar. 

The Council will resume its work on Thursday, 16 March at 9 a.m. when it will consider the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Reviews of Togo, Syria, Venezuela, Iceland, Zimbabwe, Lithuania, Uganda, Timor-Leste and the Republic of Moldova. 

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Forum on human rights, democracy and the rule of law (A/HRC/34/46).

The Council has before it the Report of the Forum on Minority Issues (A/HRC/34/68).

The Council has before it the Report on Social Forum (A/HRC/34/69).

The Council has before it the Annual report of the special procedures (A/HRC/34/34).

Presentation of Reports

 RITA IZSÁK-NDIAYE, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, presenting the report of the Forum on Minority Issues, said that the Forum had successfully conducted its ninth annual session in November 2016, with the thematic focus on minorities in situations of humanitarian crises.  Ongoing and protracted conflicts were leading to massive displacement crises, and there were unprecedented numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons in the world.  Minorities were disproportionately affected during the crises and in their aftermath.  The recommendations of the Forum addressed a wide range of crisis situations, some of which affected not only minorities, but also the broader population.  The recommendations highlighted that all measures taken should, to the fullest extent possible, be developed, designed and monitored in cooperation with, and with the effective participation of, minorities.  Participants in the Forum had discussed how to bridge gaps between international standards and national legislation for increasing the accountability of international humanitarian actors.  Participants had examined how the disproportionate effect on minorities could be avoided through thorough and participative planning and contingency plans.  More targeted strategies and increase of aid and security investments were needed to better meet the specific needs of minorities.  Considerations had also been given on how minorities could best lead and participate in the decisions affecting them, including through mediation and complaints mechanisms.    

Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye stressed that it had been a real privilege to guide the work of the Minority Forum over the past five years.  The Forum had not only served to continually highlight challenges faced by minorities all over the world, but had continued to elaborate and expand the existing international standards.  It had grown far beyond expectations.  It would be desirable to extend the session for more than two days and to bring the Forum into various regions of the world.   It would be important to foster the ownership of the Forum’s agenda by minorities themselves and to encourage focused and constructive participation of States and minority representatives.   

JOAQUÍN ALEXANDER MAZA MARTELLI, President of the Human Rights Council, recalled that the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law had been established pursuant to Council resolution 28/14.  The purpose of the Forum was to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to the relationship between those areas, and to identify and analyse best practices, challenges and opportunities for States in their efforts to secure respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  The first session of the Forum was held in November 2016 under the theme “Widening the Democratic Space: the role of youth in public decision-making.”

DANIIAR MUKASHEV, Permanent Representative of Kyrgyzstan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report on the first session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, held on 21 and 22 November 2016, said discussions during the session had addressed four thematic areas related to youth participation.  The first one was creating an enabling environment for the effective participation of youth in public decision-making.  There was a need to promote youth participation without discrimination through the design, implementation and evaluation of laws, policies, programmes or strategies affecting their rights.  The second theme referred to the process from formal to transformative participation of youth.  The forum participants had recommended introducing quotas for youth with adequate gender balance, and to align the minimum voting age and the minimum age of eligibility to run for office.  The third theme discussed was the participation of youth in sustainable development, and human rights protection in specific contexts.  Responding to the multifaceted drivers and conditions contributing to the emergence of violent extremism, including among youth, had also been identified as crucial.  The fourth theme of the forum was about moving the global youth agenda forward and the role of youth in shaping the agenda of the United Nations and regional organizations.  The discussion had focused on measures to improve the participation of young people in the work of the United Nations and regional organizations, and the need to mainstream youth rights in the work of human rights mechanisms, including the Council. 

YANGHEE LEE, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, presenting the report of the twenty-third Annual Meeting of the Special Procedures, said it aimed at presenting the Council and other stakeholders with a comprehensive overview of what the Special Procedures system had achieved in 2016.  Two new mandates had been welcomed into the system in 2016, one on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and one on the right to development.  Two more States had issued standing invitations to the Special Procedures.  Non-cooperation by States was still a serious challenge, and she called on the Council to assist mandate-holders in getting full cooperation from all States.  Civil society was also a key player for mandate holders and there should be full and unhindered access to the United Nations and its mechanisms for civil society representatives.  Combatting reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperated with mandate holders was a priority.  It was unfortunate that the Council had reduced the time dedicated to Special Procedures in its programme of work; with the speaking time limited to one minute per report, it was almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion on Special Procedures reports.  Special Procedure mandate holders had also faced difficulties in the way their reports had been processed, in particular in relation to their editing and translation.  The Special Procedures called on the United Nations system, including the Council, to rely more on their expertise.  The Coordination Committee played an interface role between the Special Procedures system and all other stakeholders.  She expressed hopes that the report would be the basis for a thorough discussion about the contribution of Special Procedures.

AYUSH BAT-ERDENE, Officer-in-Charge of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the report of the 2016 Social Forum of the Human Rights Council, said that the Social Forum had taken place in October 2016, and had considered the promotion and full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disabilities.  The Social Forum had consisted of 10 panels and a roundtable discussion on key issues and themes concerning the human rights of persons with disabilities.  The Social Forum had strongly recommended universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol and the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.  Participants had requested States to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making processes, including by providing them with unconditional support, capacity building, technical assistance and promotion of self-advocates.

It had also been recommended that the United Nations system should adequately consider the rights of persons with disabilities in all its work and increase internal coherence and cooperation with country teams in that regard.  National human rights institutions needed to be independent and well resourced, while States and other stakeholders had been called upon to develop a disability network on media and to contribute to the implementation of article 8 of the Convention.  Academic and research institutions had been encouraged to adopt a human rights-based approach to research.  The Council was called on to take due note of the conclusions and recommendations of the Social Forum, and to call upon all States and relevant stakeholders to consider those conclusions and recommendations in moving forward with the agenda on the rights of persons with disabilities at all levels.   

General Debate on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

Hungary, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, shared the alarm over the growing number of reprisals and cases of intimidation against individuals or groups who had cooperated with the United Nations and invited Member States to cooperate with Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour to assist him to fulfil his mandate.  All States should take all necessary measures to prevent reprisals including through raising awareness, and by investigating and ensuring accountability and effective remedy for such acts, whether perpetrated by State or non-State actors.

Malta, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reiterated the pivotal role of an independent Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in promoting and protecting human rights.  The European Union remained concerned about severe budgetary constraints faced by the High Commissioner’s Office and the capacity constraints of the Human Rights Council.  States should make full use of the Universal Periodic Review.  The European Union reaffirmed its strong opposition to reprisals against individuals and civil society for their cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

Romania, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, welcomed the report on the first session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of law which had focused on the role of youth in decision making, and stressed that good governance and the rule of law at the national and international levels were essential for sustainable growth and development and for the eradication of poverty.  Following the first session of the Forum, the core group had committed to present a new resolution on the role of Parliaments as promoters of the rule of law and democracy.     

Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, welcomed the fact that the first session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, held in November 2016, had provided a platform for youth to raise awareness of the challenges they faced.  The African Group firmly believed that youth had a crucial role to play in shaping the future, and the continent’s Agenda 2063 emphasized the importance of youth for the realization of its goals on development, peace and security.

Cuba noted that the Social Forum was a unique space for open dialogue and exchanging views, providing room for all stakeholders to contribute and express their views.  The broad participation in the event had underlined the importance of the theme.  Cuba believed that Special Procedures were important, and they had to have high human and professional qualities, and should avoid interference in the exclusive internal responsibilities of States. 

China believed that the subsidiary fora should promote exchanges on issues of importance to all.  In the past, some individuals had abused those bodies to promote separatist and political discourses.  China supported the participation of civil society actors in the work of the Human Rights Council.  China was committed to the cooperation with Special Procedures, but Experts were urged to strictly follow codes of conduct and to respect the paths of development chosen by individual States.

Venezuela said it had followed with interest debates in the Forum on Minorities and the Social Forum and the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law on topics of particular interest to the Council.  Venezuela shared the view that the Council had to adopt necessary means to contribute to the implementation of the Social Forum’s recommendations on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Venezuela would continue to actively participate in the sessions of those important mechanisms.

Iraq remained committed to international human rights treaties and pacts.  It believed in the effectiveness of the treaty bodies and it would continue to support the work of such mechanisms and the Council.  The Government had ratified eight out of nine international treaties and had mainstreamed them into national legislature.  Iraq had submitted timely reports to the treaty bodies, and had maintained active cooperation with the United Nations mission in the country.

Latvia commended the valuable work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and underlined the need for its independence.  The Special Procedures were one of the most important tools of the international human rights system.  Latvia was concerned about acts of reprisals against persons who cooperated with mandate holders, adding that such occurrences had to be addressed. 

Belgium recalled the importance of Special Procedures as the eyes and ears of the Council, allowing it to address human rights situations on the ground.  It regretted that several States had not answered requests for visits from Special Rapporteurs.  Belgium also drew attention to reprisals against civil society and human rights defenders that cooperated with the Council.    

Togo said young people made up 33 per cent of the country’s population, and there was a need to ensure young people’s civic participation.  As of 2011, the Government had initiated a national youth forum.  The aim was to allow the participation of young people in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country.  Youth should be dynamic participants and true agents of development. 

Republic of Korea expressed appreciation to the panellists for their advice, and added that the theme of the first session met the purpose of the establishment of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.  People including youth and minorities should participate in political processes.  The active participation of youth in the political process was important in the Republic of Korea’s democracy.  Growing youth unemployment resulted in decreasing political power.   

United States said it had supported and would continue to support those around the world who struggled to fulfil their democratic aspirations, yet expressed alarm at the trend of governments adopting laws that restricted civil society participation.  The Council was asked what the current greatest global threats were to democracy and what the international community could do to protect civic space from governments that were trying to restrict it.

Tunisia was proud to be among the sponsors of resolution 28/14, which had created the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.  The participation of youth and civil society in the Forum was welcomed.  The Forum had stressed the importance of enabling an environment for youth to participate in the public space.  Only that way could poverty be alleviated and extremism combatted.  Education was an important element to help children think in a constructive manner and to become aware of their own and others’ human rights.  The Forum should continue to empower young people.

Russian Federation gave great importance of the dialogue mechanisms of the Human Rights Council.  The functioning of those bodies was facing serious problems, the main one being the lack of clear rules for their work, including accreditation, membership and rules for conducting discussions.  That also discredited the Human Rights Council as a whole.  Russia had repeatedly made requests to the Special Rapporteur on Minority Rights to put things right in the respective Forum.  A Council resolution on regulating the work of those bodies might be necessary.

Iran said that minorities were often disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises such as violence due to a conflict or a damage destruction caused by natural or man-made disasters.  International cooperation played a crucial role in ensuring that all human beings were able to fulfill their potential in dignity and equality.  The international community had a moral and legal duty to share the global responsibility with regard to the flow of refugees and migrants caused by crises around the world. 

Pakistan was committed to promoting and protecting the rights of all Pakistani citizens, including minorities, who had immensely contributed to the development of Pakistan.  Minorities had 10 seats reserved for them in the National Assembly, four in the Senate and 23 in provincial assemblies.  The new Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony worked for harmony in society and was formulating the National Interfaith Harmony Policy. Hate speech had been criminalized.

Maldives gave high priority to investing in youth projects to ensure increased opportunities for education, skills-based learning and vocational training.  Maldives was proud to have achieved close to 100 per cent literacy rate and gender parity in education.  The Gender Equality Act ensured that women had the same opportunities as men.  Maldives was committed to work towards strengthening existing international mechanisms and exploring new avenues for addressing challenges facing youth.

Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf emphasized the importance of youth, and then urged the use of the Council’s internal consultations procedures to guarantee integrity.  The transparency of Special Procedures was extremely important.

International Development Law Organization said that the rule of law was key to closing the gap between human rights aspirations and the reality and commended the creation of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.  The rule of law operationalized human rights though constitutional and legal protection, an independent and impartial judicial system, effective legal remedies, and competent institutions.  It was necessary to ensure the participation of youth in all institutions.

Austria said that because of their pre-existing vulnerability or lack of inclusion in planning, minorities were often disproportionately affected during crises.  The United Nations institutions, funds and programmes must be prepared to constructively contribute to the protection of minorities in humanitarian crises and therefore should explore the possibility of a more efficient mainstreaming of minority issues into all United Nations bodies. 

Organization of Islamic Cooperation said the first Organization of Islamic Cooperation Young Leaders Summit had adopted recommendations regarding the need to ensure the greater participation of young people.  Regarding the rights of persons with disabilities which had been discussed at the Social Forum, there was a lack of appropriate policies on the need to promote and safeguard the well-being and social security of the elderly and people with special needs in the Islamic world.

Benin welcomed the holding of the first session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, which had highlighted the need for governments to highlight the participation of youth.  Benin supported the aim of the global programme, and was working with the international community to ensure youth participation.  There was a need for youth empowerment as well as education.  Effective implementation of the recommendations from the Forum was essential.

Morocco agreed with the report’s recommendation that States should take steps to protect the right to education.  Morocco was in favour of improving human rights education at all levels.  In light of the results of the first Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, the second session of the Forum was wished every success.  Morocco was of the view that minorities who were displaced, including refugees, should be supported without discrimination to enjoy their rights.   

Jssor Youth Organization reminded that there were 1.8 billion youths in the world.  Nevertheless, they still experienced difficulties in exercising their rights by virtue of being young, and due to cultural norms, weak institutions that did not have youth friendly and specialized services, the absence of disaggregated data on youth, poverty and lack of real engagement with youth.

CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation noted that Ethiopia had shown complete disregard to the numerous alerts on its violent crackdown on peaceful protests, which had reportedly led to the death of more than 800 people since November 2015.  As for Bahrain, the organization restated deep concern about arbitrary arrests, detention, charges and prosecution of human rights defenders. 

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy called for urgent attention to be paid to Cameroon and its bilingual situation.  The Anglophone community in Cameroon was marginalized, exploited and assimilated.  The Anglophone community had been protesting for five months.  Instead of embarking on a frank dialogue, the regime had embarked on arbitrary arrests and detention of protest leaders. 

International Service for Human Rights expected the Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmore to make his mandate on ending reprisals against all those who had cooperated with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, transparent.  Turning to the Council’s legal obligation to address reprisals, the non-governmental organization asked what steps had the Council’s President and Bureau taken to ensure accountability for the Chinese activist who had died three years ago.

Amnesty International encouraged the Council to hold an annual interactive dialogue with the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures to allow more time to share national experiences and best practices.  Amnesty International welcomed the inclusion of several indicators of State cooperation with the Special Procedures and recalled that all States were required to fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.  The Council must respond swiftly and decisively to reports of reprisals.

African Regional Agricultural Credit Association said that in Iran, there was no freedom of expression, women lived under personal laws, there was no press, and all those who dared to criticise the authorities were arrested.  The situation in Baluchistan, where people suffered arbitrary detention and oppression by armed forces, required the Council’s attention.  Pakistan had no respect for international law in dealing with Baluchi people who were simply demanding their right to independence.

World Environmental and Resource Council said the human rights situation in Iran was terrible due to terrorism and the people in Iran had faced suppression of civil society.  Minorities in the country needed protection.  The people of Pakistan needed protection as well, as rural areas lagged behind the cities.  Baluchistan and Sindh suffered the worst conditions.  The armed forces of Pakistan had been given decision-making powers in areas of national security, and they executed people on the mere basis of suspicion.

United Schools International said Iran violated the most basic civil and political rights of its people.  Iran’s Sunnis were the largest minority in the country but they suffered from discrimination and were not hired for high-ranking positions.  Other groups such as journalists, artists, musicians and human rights activists also witnessed arbitrary arrest, and other ethnic and religious groups comprised large parts of society yet were not accorded equal citizenship.

International Association for Democracy in Africa said human rights violations were carried out on a daily basis in countries such as Pakistan and Iran, where civilians remained victims of violence.  Religious minorities were targeted by State and non-State actors, and laws in Pakistan caused cruelty to persist.  Religious minorities were often put on trial for following their beliefs, and women faced special kinds of persecution. 

OCAPROCE International remained alarmed by attacks on minorities, particularly on women and children in areas of conflict, such as Sri Lanka.  The military and security forces had regularly submitted the Tamil minority to torture and detention.  Despite adequate legal provisions, those crimes had remained unpunished. 

Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association raised concern over the rights of people in north eastern India, such as arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.  India was not ready to implement relevant recommendations.  People there had no freedom of assembly and expression.

Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights raised serious concern over the detention, arbitrary arrests and killings of human rights defenders, bloggers and social media activists in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Indigenous People of Africa Coordination Committee said that Punjabi youths became victims of narcotics, and their schools were without teachers.  The youth and their parents had been suffering since the mid-1970s and the Council should send a fact-finding mission to Punjab to assess the human rights situation.

Association pour l’Integration et le Développement Durable au Burundi spoke about the exploitation of lower castes in India and said that many girls were sexually abused.  This treatment of children in tribal areas was frequent.  The Council should take appropriate measures and make India stand accountable for the violation of the rights of tribal children.

Prahar informed the Council about the situation of human rights of indigenous people in north-east India, where the arrival of large numbers of Bangladeshi migrants had posed serious challenges.  Assam had been bearing the load of illegal immigration, with all the associated political and social costs, and the native peoples were becoming a minority because of illegal Bangladeshi immigration.   

Right of Reply
 
Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, responded to the statement by Ukraine and said it was seen as a further attempt to distract the attention of the international community from serious human rights problems in Ukraine.  Ukraine should tackle domestic issues through a more attentive scrutiny of evaluations provided by international monitoring mechanisms.  The Russian Federation reaffirmed its definite full compliance with its international and regional obligations concerning human rights.

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