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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL REVIEWS MANDATES OF EXPERT ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF AND WORKING GROUP ON ARBITRARY DETENTION

Human Rights Council
MORNING

17 September 2007

The Human Rights Council this morning reviewed the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Speakers participating in the review, rationalization and improvement of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, among other things, supported continuation and improvement of the mandate, seeing it as an important contribution in helping identify new challenges, developing new mechanisms and building peace at the international level. They said the mandate was concerned with fundamental rights in a democratic system that should be promoted and guaranteed through a multi-cultural, pluralistic dialogue. Individual rights should not be violated in the name of religion or belief. Speakers remarked on the need for a stronger mandate to enable women to be active participants in religious and cultural life. They also sought clarification on whether this was the setting for discussing technical details of mandates.

In concluding remarks made by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, the main sponsor of the resolution on the extension of the mandate, it was noted that the renewal of the mandate was essential to ensure the protection and promotion of the human right to freedom of religion or belief. There was general support for the valuable role that this mandate had played. The European Union would readily work with all to renew the mandate by adopting the draft resolution on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.

Delegations commenting in the review, rationalization and improvement of the mandate of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, among other things, said that after 16 years of activity, the Working Group had shown positive results and made it possible for States to fight against the arbitrary detention problem. It had highlighted many things, including the scope of international treaties as regards military justice, incarceration for debt, incommunicado secret detention, and the imprisonment of conscientious objectors. The issue of detainees in the fight to counter terrorism was a current problem, as was the issue of migrants. The Working Group had played an active role in these areas and in protecting minority groups against arbitrary detention. It was noted that the Working Group had visited 20 countries and country visits had enabled the Group to point out the causes of abuses. The renewal of the mandate for three more years was strongly supported.

In concluding remarks made by France, the main sponsor of the resolution for the extension of the mandate, it was noted that this was a preparatory phase, where it was important for each delegation to be able to examine the suggestions made on the substance of the mandate under consideration. A consultation process would be held. However, the positive character of the mandate, including its ability to examine individual cases, and the legal work being done to go into the definition of what arbitrary detention really was, had been widely recognized in the debate.

The Council started the review, rationalization and improvement of the mandates of the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group on Friday, 14 September, hearing from Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and Leila Zerrougi, the Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Also this morning, the Working Group on the right to development elected Arjun Sengupta as Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group.

Speaking today were representatives of the delegations of India, Brazil, United Kingdom, Egypt, Republic of Korea, Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Algeria, Portugal on behalf of the European Union, France, Brazil, Canada, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Peru, China, Nigeria, Turkey, Algeria, Chile, Ethiopia, Tanzania.

Also speaking were representatives from the Worldwide Organization for Women, on behalf of Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association; Women's Federation for World Peace International and International Educational Development, International Association for Religious Freedom, speaking on behalf of several NGOs1, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), on behalf of World Organization against Torture and Human Rights Watch, Defence for Children International, International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, and Worldview International Foundation, Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, on behalf of World Peace Council.

When the Council resumes its meeting at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will hear the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, introduce the report of the Secretary-General on human rights and unilateral coercive measures and the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the scope and content of the relevant human rights obligations related to equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation under international human rights instruments. A general discussion will follow the introduction of the reports.


Review. Rationalization and Improvement of Mandate of Special Rapporteur
on Freedom of Religion or Belief

MUNU MAHAWAR (India) said as a country that was privileged to be home to almost all the religions of the world, India supported the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, and the proposal to extend the mandate for three years.

SERGIO ABREU E LIMA FLORENCIO (Brazil) said Brazil had a number of religions and beliefs, coexisting in an atmosphere of harmony and respect. Brazil welcomed the role of the mandate over the years in enhancing comprehensive and non-selective understanding of the right to freedom of religion and belief. Brazil was convinced that continuation and improvement of the mandate would continue to bring light to this key issue.

NICHOLAS THORNE (United Kingdom) highlighted the United Kingdom’s strong support for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. This mandate was of over-increasing importance in the world today. The United Kingdom was a multi-cultural and multi-faith society and had been historically a safe harbour for those prosecuted on religious grounds. However, in recent years, it had begun to face a number of new challenges in ensuring that all individuals were protected from discrimination based on religion and belief. The Special Rapporteur’s work was an important contribution in helping identify the new challenges and developing mechanisms to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief continued to be properly protected in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Thus, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate renewal was supported.

IHAB GAMALELDIN (Egypt) said Egypt was ready to discuss the mandate under consideration. The report of the Special Rapporteur had been discussed last week, and several delegations had expressed their opinion on the substance. However, was this the right setting for discussion of the components of every mandate? Where was the framework for the discussion on the technical details of every mandate? The President should issue guidance for his vision as to the proper procedure for discussing this mandate, and whether this would come under a specific resolution, or in another format.

DORU RUMULUS COSTEA, President of the Council, said there were clear details as to the goal of this exercise, and how it was to be carried out. During the meetings, the Council had enumerated a tentative three-stage approach to the process. This process so far had been observed in general terms, with a statement from sponsors, the experience of the mandate holder, and this was now the phase in which Member States explained how they saw the mandate. This process was supposed to be Member-driven, to take into account every mandate on its own merits, and should keep in mind the goals the Council had agreed upon when it set up the basic outlines and modalities of the review in the institution-building package. The outcome of the process, as per the latter package, would bear upon a decision or a resolution of the Council, in which the sponsors were the main players. During some point of the process, a draft resolution/decision would therefore be submitted to the Council.

DONG-HEE CHANG (Republic of Korea) said the Republic of Korea supported the mandate holder in her approach and the attention she paid to diverse areas, enhancing the effectiveness of the mandate. However, despite attempts to implement various human rights’ commitments and obligations, there were persistent onslaughts against religions and beliefs around the world. The Republic of Korea welcomed the European Union’s initiative to renew the mandate for three years. These mandates should take an active role in preventing conflict, beyond being passive recipients of information.

GUY O'BRIEN.(Australia) noted that the right to freedom of religion or belief was a basic right and an essential element of any harmonious society. In many parts of the world, many people still could not worship freely and suffered from discrimination on religious grounds. Australia considered it important and appropriate for this issue to remain a priority for the Human Rights Council. The Council needed to play an active role in ensuring the protection of these rights. The continuation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was strongly supported.

SEBASTIAN ROSALES (Argentina) said the context of review and evaluation of the Special Procedures’ mandate holders was an important situation, and the Special Procedures system should be strengthened. Mandates that had made a specific contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights should be maintained. The work of this mandate had been particularly important in protecting the rights of all to exercise and express the religion or belief of their choice. This right was as important as all other rights in a democratic system, and should be promoted and guaranteed through a multi-cultural pluralistic dialogue. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be maintained and preserved.

NATHALIE RONDEUX (Belgium) said the Special Rapporteur had tackled the issue of the right to religion or belief in a balanced and effective way, identifying key problems and solutions. But discrimination, harassment and attacks continued, so Belgium supported the renewal of the mandate. All religions should be treated equally. Belgium endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s concern that individual rights should not be violated in the name of religion or belief.

ALVARO AYALA (Colombia) felt that the continuation of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was important. Freedom of religion or belief constituted a basis to build peace on the international level. Colombia fully recognised these rights. It viewed dialogue of particular importance, especially as it was done thanks to the Alliance of Civilizations. It was essential to continue with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) said with regards to the order of examination of the mandates, according to resolution 5/1, any mandate-holder whose mission was reaching the end of the six-year period could see that mandate extended until the Council had time to discuss the mandate. The Council should therefore have discussed the mandates of those who had come to an end in 2006. The second issue was that it appeared that efforts were being made to expedite the renewing of the mandates on freedom of religion and on arbitrary detention. The process should be more coherent, and the exercise should be taken up in the chronological order stipulated in resolution 5/1, and clearly define the terms of reference of each thematic mandate.

MORGAN KRONK, of Worldwide Organization for Women, on behalf of Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association; Women's Federation for World Peace International and International Educational Development,said there needed to be a stronger mandate concerned with the well being and enhancement of women’s role in society. Religious and cultural values should provide an outlet for women’s participation in educational systems and discussions of religious rights. Women should be allowed to be active participants in religious and cultural life.

JOHN B. TAYLOR, of International Association for Religious Freedom, speaking on behalf of several NGOs1, expressed their strong conviction of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. It had proved to be the most specific and effective instrument in promoting the implementation of the principle of the 1981 Declaration. The strengthening and improvement of this mandate was the present priority. It was hoped that the mandate would be seen as an effective implementing partner by the General Assembly. The mandate had addressed specific and sensitive issues.

SARA MARTINS (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union in concluding remarks, said the European Union was honoured that such an important mandate was the first one to have been assessed, and was glad to see that this assessment was conducted in an interactive mode, with the opportunity for a genuine dialogue. It was in the interest of the Council and of human rights that this exercise resulted in the strengthening of the system of Special Procedures as a whole, and that they were able to pursue, with all independence, their work. The renewal was essential to ensure the protection and promotion of the human right to freedom of religion or belief. There was general support for the valuable role that this mandate had played. The European Union would readily work with all to renew the mandate by adopting the draft resolution on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.

Review. Rationalization and Improvement of Mandate of Working Group
on Arbitrary Detention

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), introducing the scope of the mandate on the Working Group of arbitrary detention, described the history of the mandate and paid tribute to the analysis and information contained in the Working Group’s report. Arbitrary detention was against the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The issue had been examined in greater depth in recent decades, notably with the “body of principles for the protection of persons against all form of detention or imprisonment” by the General Assembly. The term “arbitrary detention” therefore covered very different practices of detention by a public authority without any legal basis.

Ms Zerrougui had pointed out that the Working Group was concerned with legality and respect for procedural guarantees. After 16 years of activity, the Working Group had shown positive results and made it possible for States to fight against the problem of arbitrary detention. The Working Group needed to examine the legal conditions of detention and the diversity of situations it encountered, and remain alert to all parties concerned. France wished to propose renewal of the mandate of the Working Group for another three years.

MURILO VIEIRA KOMNISKI (Brazil) said that the Working Group on arbitrary detention had undertaken important work, especially through its country visits. It was the only human rights mechanism without a treaty body that investigated individual complaints. The problem of detainees in the fight to counter terrorism was a current problem, as was dealing with migrants. The Working Group had visited 20 countries and had played an active role in protecting minority groups against arbitrary detention. The renewal of the mandate of the Working Group was supported.

DANIEL ULMER (Canada) said the issues under the Working Group’s purview were of critical importance to the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide. Protection against the deprivation of liberty without due process of law; the right to be informed of the charges against oneself; and the right to challenge the legality of one’s detention. These were all fundamental aspects of the first guarantee set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: that all human beings were born free and equal in dignity and rights.

In its 15 years of uninterrupted activities, the Working Group had been instrumental in developing the international legal standards related to its mandate, as well as their application in individual cases. Many challenges remained to the efforts of States to implement their obligations relating to arbitrary detention, and the Council had a responsibility to address these challenges.

CAROLINA LOPES (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Working Group had carried out its task heedful of States’ concerns and it had developed and refined its analysis of arbitrary detention in a vast range of situations. The European Union supported the mandate and stressed the importance of dealing with communications addressed to the Working Group, country visits and operational follow-up.

SERGEY KONDRATIEV (Russian Federation) said the Russian Federation was satisfied with the cooperation with the Working Group. It was one of the most important Working Groups in the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures. The seriousness of its mandate was emphasized. Exchange of information with Governments was important and was at the foundation of its work. Such requests should be looked at extensively. The prolongation of the Working Group was supported and it was hoped that its upcoming work would be carried out in respect of the Special Procedure’s Code of Conduct.

NATHALIE KOHLI (Switzerland) said the commitment and professionalism of the Working Group had largely contributed to the work of the former Commission and should continue to contribute to the work of the Council. Its work had highlighted many things, including the scope of international treaties as regards to military justice, incarceration for debt, incommunicado secret detention, and the imprisonment of conscientious objectors. Switzerland supported the extension of the mandate of the Working Group on arbitrary detention for a period of three years, and called on all States to extend a standing invitation to the Working Group.

DANIEL ZEGARRA (Peru) said the mandate of the Working Group on arbitrary detention was a fundamental one. Thousands of people endured arbitrary detention around the world each year, despite detention per se being a violation of human rights. International law had been trying to establish the limits of detention, be it administrative or judicial. Following the mandate-holder’s visit to Peru, many recommendations were followed, and there had been good cooperation between Working Group and the Peru Government. Peru expressed a wish that the mandate be extended for a new term.

DONG-HEE CHANG (Republic of Korea) said that through investigations of over 600 cases, the Working Group had identified best practice examples. The Working Group had also formulated deliberations and legal opinions on matters of a general nature. These had worked as a set of valuable guidelines to States in their efforts to prevent arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Country visits had enabled the Working Group to point out the causes of abuses. The practice was however still prevalent. The problem in the context of counter-terrorism was also an issue of growing concern. The continuing of the efforts by the Working Group to analyse the practices of arbitrary detention and investigate its causes was encouraged.

AMR ROSHDY (Egypt) said the African Group was still unsure as to how the procedure was taking place. There was no interactive dialogue - it was official statements. This was not the format the African Group was expecting. The African Group would address the issue with other groups. For the time being, the African Group would like a reference in every resolution on the mandate holders, be it substantial or procedural, to the Code of Conduct, as it was vital to include this.

ZHAO XING (China) said the Working Group on arbitrary detention had played an important role. The Government of China had invited the Chairman of the Group to visit China several times. China had listened carefully to the comments of other delegations and supported the views expressed by Algeria and Pakistan. On the evaluation of the Council’s Special Procedures, the issue had now gone beyond the matter of extension of the mandates. There should be a clearer methodology. Sponsor countries should provide clear justification for the extension or otherwise of mandates. China was willing to discuss methodological issues.

OZO NWOBU (Nigeria) said that Nigeria believed the work of the Working Group on arbitrary detention was fundamental in protecting the freedom and rights of all people. Arbitrary detention in the fight against terrorism should be prevented. The extension of the Working Group’s mandate was supported.

SEBASTIAN ROSALES (Argentina) said at this phase of the institution-building process, there was a need to strengthen the Special Procedures system and maintain the mandates that had made a positive contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights. In this context, the work of the Working Group had focussed on prevention and restoration of the rights of those who had been subjected to arbitrary detention. Argentina would continue to support the strengthening of the Special Procedures system, and a constructive dialogue in the Council towards the maintaining of the Working Group.

TUGBA ETENSEL (Turkey) said that freedom from arbitrary detention was among the basic human rights enshrined in the fundamental human rights instruments. The mandate of the Working Group on arbitrary detention was an important one that contributed to the protection and promotion of human rights. The activities carried out by the Working Group were appreciated. The conditions of detention as well as the context of instances of detention were also issues of concern to other mandate holders. The efforts to cooperate on such issues of mutual concern were supported.

IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) said all countries in the room favoured the extension of the mandate of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, but the issue was one of the mandates within General Assembly resolution 651. When the Council decided, as it would, to renew the mandate, it would be useful to have information on other issues, such as the number of negative requests to visits, absence of replies, withdrawal of right to speak to detainees, etc. There should be a clearer expression of what the Working Group should be trying to achieve.

EDUARDO CHIHUALIAF (Chile) said it was important to combat arbitrary detention, as any undemocratic systems almost always ended up with cases of executions or disappearances, or other repressive processes, which often started in arbitrary detention. The Working Group had done exemplary work in combating arbitrary detention in its 16 years of existence. Chile supported the renewal of the present mandate.

ALLEHONE MULUGETA ABEBE (Ethiopia) said that as the Council entered the important phase of review, rationalization and improvement of its special mechanisms, it was critical to recall the foundational premises of such an exercise. The review process occurring in the presence of the mandate holders and based on an interactive dialogue was supported. It was disconcerting to see that the Council’s programme was being redrawn to accommodate the timetable of individual experts. It was important that the Council found the ways to meet the ensured presence of all concerned members. Ethiopia supported the Netherlands call for the Chairperson-Rapporteur to highlight the challenges and problems faced by the Working Group. The relationship between the Council and its Special Procedures should become a critical element of the review process. Ethiopia supported the view that negotiations of Special Procedures should be undertaken in a transparent and open manner.

MATHEW MWAIMU (Tanzania) said Tanzania upheld the principle that everyone was presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Tanzania fully supported extension of the Working Group as proposed.

NADINE RAVAUD, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), on behalf of World Organization against Torture and Human Rights Watch, said the Working Group was established by the former Commission, and it was the only non-treaty-based mechanism whose mandate expressly provided for consideration of individual complaints. The Working Group had since its beginning worked on defining the scope of its mandate, clarifying detention as to either pre- or post-trial, and had developed comprehensive literature on the issue, with a view to achieving better prevention. The current structure of the Working Group should be maintained as a collegiate body, with the participation of experts from different legal backgrounds and representing geographical distribution, enabling a genuine plural discussion of the facts and interpretation of the domestic laws of all countries of the world.

JULIA D'ALOISIO, of Defence for Children International, said that the Working Group on arbitrary detention had been successful in responding to thousands of urgent appeals. It was an essential instrument for monitoring and protecting the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty. Defence for Children International urged that the continuation and strengthening of the mandate was ensured. The devotion of a special item of the Group’s work to investigate the arbitrary detention of children was recommended. An estimated one million children worldwide were deprived of their liberty. Children remained most vulnerable to violations of their rights to liberty and thus required special attention to ensure that their rights were respected. The Working Group had the potential to play a central role in this.

LUKAS MACHON, of International Commission of Jurists, said the International Commission of Jurists supported the refinement of the Working Group’s communications system and encouraged timely reactions by governments to allegations concerning them. Swift replies would help establish the facts and allow interim protection measures or even facilitate release of those arbitrarily detained. The International Commission of Jurists also welcomed the Working Group’s courageous stance on rendition and arbitrary detention under counter-terrorism measures.


YVONNE TERLIGEN, of Amnesty International, said since its establishment, the Working Group on arbitrary detentions had received broad and consistent support from States in all regions of the world. This had been confirmed by regular extension of its mandate by consensus. From its inception, its creation constituted a significant development in the Commission’s work to protect human rights, and it had remained the only non-treaty based body expressly mandated to consider individual cases. The quasi-judicial nature of the work of the mandate required its structure as a Working Group, including by ensuring the representation of different legal systems among its membership.

THAUNG HTUN, of Worldview International Foundation, drew attention to arbitrary detention in Burma. Peaceful protesters had been beaten and arbitrarily detained. The Human Rights Council was asked to make sure that the current regime ensured that political prisoners were not subjected to torture and that they had access to counselling. The Human Rights Council was asked to request the release of the detainees.

LAZARO PARY, of Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, on behalf of World Peace Council, said the Pentagon had published a list of names and nationalities of the detainees in Guanatanamo Bay. Their status outside the Geneva Conventions was well known, as were the conditions in which they were held. The Council of Europe had also described chillingly the transfer of detainees to secret detention centers. The Human Rights Council should clarify the crimes committed by the world’s most powerful nation.

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), in concluding remarks, said the assessment should be taken very seriously. This was a preparation phase, where it was important for each delegation to be able to examine the suggestions made on the substance of the mandate under consideration. A consultation process would be held in this regard, under which consideration would be given to all requests, although these were mainly on whether the mandate was useful, and whether it should be renewed. On the former, there was only one point of view, with no dissensions, on the positive character of the mandate, including its ability to examine individual cases, and the legal work being done to go into the definition of what arbitrary detention really was.

On whether the mandate should be adapted, modified or clarified, there had been no requests challenging the mandate in any depth, although there had been suggestions to clarify it, including for example the cooperation of States in the work of the Working Group. The mandate as it existed was set in 1997 to deal with asylum-seekers and immigrants, and in the framework of these discussions it had already had the opportunity of better identifying certain concepts for the future of the mandate. Confirmation of the value of the mandate had been given, and the work remaining was on the means of renewing it, and clarifying certain points concerning it.
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1Joint statement on behalf of: International Association for Religious Freedom; Baha'i International Community; Anglican Consultative Council; Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association; Franciscans International; Institute for Planetary Synthesis; Conscience and Peace Tax International; World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women; International Federation of Social Workers; Worldwide Organization for Women; Susila Dharma International Association; International Federation of University Women; and Dominicans for Justice and Peace).


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