Human Rights Council
19 September 2008
Council Discusses Manifestations of Defamation of Religions, Concludes General Debate on Follow-Up to Vienna Declaration and Programme of Work
The new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance Githu Muigai made his first address to the Human Rights Council this morning, presenting a report prepared by his predecessor on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all rights. The Council also concluded its general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
Githu Muigai, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said the report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all rights was prepared by his predecessor Doudou Dienne. The report highlighted key issues such as the mainstreaming of racist and xenophobic ideas through their adoption by political parties in democratic countries, the persistence of attempts to give scientific clout and legitimacy to racist and xenophobic ideas, and the process of ideological polarization that had affected the interpretation and implementation of fundamental rights. The report examined religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Christianophobia and called for a universal approach designed to address all forms of discrimination.
In the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, many speakers confirmed their commitment to non-discrimination, tolerance, freedom of expression and respect of religions. There was serious concern at the surge of events related to religious hatred. Some States regretted and warned against erroneous linkage of Islam and terrorism. There were differing points of view on how freedom of expression affected freedom of religion and belief. Some countries expressed support for the recommendation in the report for the Council to shift from discussing ‘defamation of religion’ to the ´legal standards on non-incitement to religious, racial or national hatred´.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Chile, Norway, Algeria, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, France on behalf of the European Union, Belgium, Syria, Morocco, Australia, Venezuela, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Djibouti and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council closed its general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
Speakers agreed that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had had a significant impact on the development of human rights standards and the international human rights system. There was also broad agreement that the biggest challenge today was the gap between standards and the implementation on the ground. Speakers called for redoubling of efforts by States to implement their human rights obligations and to put into effect the recommendations of the Vienna Conference.
Speaking in the general debate were the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Chile, Nigeria, Slovenia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Brazil, Algeria, Georgia, Costa Rica, Thailand, Austria, Morocco and Syria.
Also speaking were representatives of the following non governmental organizations: the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Soka Gakkai International, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Association for World Education, Amnesty International, United Nations Watch, Interfaith International, International Institute for Non Aligned Studies, Centre for Inquiry, Union de l’action Feminine, International Commission of Jurists, and Arab Commission of Jurists.
Speaking in right of reply were Iran and Algeria.
When the Council resumes its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will continue the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Work. The delegations of Brazil and Nigeria will present the outcomes of the Regional Preparatory Meetings for the Durban Review Conference held in Brasilia and Abuja, respectively. Time permitting, the Council will also take up its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building and will hear presentation of reports from the Independent Experts on Liberia, Somalia and Burundi.
Documents on Racism and Racial Discrimination and on Follow-Up and Implementation of Durban Declaration and Programme of Work
The Council has before it the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on implementation of recommendations for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (A/HRC/9/5), which looks at the measures adopted and actions taken to implement the recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. In recommendations, OHCHR was invited to post on the Internet relevant information on Durban follow-up activities; increase collaboration with United Nations agencies and country teams with regard to the follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action; and to take a proactive stance with regard to capacity to assist States in the preparation and implementation of national plans of action. OHCHR is engaged in updating its Internet website on a regular basis, with new information relevant to Durban follow-up activities, and in particular the Durban Review Conference posted regularly. The report concludes that OHCHR needs to strengthen its capacity to encourage, support and assist States in developing their own plans, which will require a clear, well designed and all-inclusive methodology.
The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 7/19 entitled “Combating defamation of religions” (A/HRC/9/7), which provides a summary of responses by Member States, regional bodies and non governmental organizations to requests from the High Commissioner for information on the implementation of resolution 7/19, looking at the issues of freedom of religion; religion and the State; non-discrimination on the basis of religion; incitement to religious hatred and violence; desecration, vandalism and destruction of religious buildings and symbols; defamation of religions; and caution about defamation of religions, i.e., responses raising concerns about the concept of defamation of religions and caution against its adoption as an international normative notion. Most of the replies reflected concern that there is a growing trend towards the negative portrayal of religion in the media and in political discourse, and policies and practices that seem targeted at people because of their religion. In conclusions, the report says a consistent and strict application of the anti-discrimination laws would play an important role in addressing some of the concerns identified by the Council in resolution 7/19. Some countries have specific laws against the defamation of religion. Of the countries that reported on such laws, there does not appear to be a common understanding of what is considered defamation of religion. The laws address somewhat different phenomena and apply various terms such as contempt, ridicule, outrage and disrespect to connote defamation. The responses do not provide enough information for an analysis of how these terms are understood or applied. The relationship between these concepts to the international human rights framework related to freedom of religion is also not explicitly addressed.
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur, on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, on combating defamation of religions (Mr. Doudou Diène) (A/HRC/9/12) [available in French only].
The Council has before it the study of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights compiling existing legislations and jurisprudence concerning defamation of and contempt for religions (A/HRC/9/25), which concludes that there are legitimate concerns about an increase in manifestations of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief as well as acts of violence, including attacks against places of worship, which are threatening the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, it says further clarity is needed with regard to the legal contours of the demarcation line between freedom of expression and incitement to religious hatred. In order to protect individuals and groups, a better understanding of the permissible limitations to freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights law needs to be developed. OHCHR therefore will organize an expert consultation entitled “Links between articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. The expert consultation will be held from 2 to 3 October 2008 in Geneva and is open to the participation of observers such as Member States, United Nations agencies, regional organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Presentation by Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
GITHU MUIGAI, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, said that the report “the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights” was prepared by his predecessor Mr. Doudou Diène, and he would present it. The report highlighted key issues such as the mainstreaming of racist and xenophobic ideas through their adoption by political parties in democratic countries, the persistence of attempts to give scientific clout and legitimacy to racist and xenophobic ideas, and the process of ideological polarization that had affected the interpretation and implementation of fundamental rights. The report examined religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Christianophobia.
The report called for a universal approach designed to address all forms of discrimination. Also, it called on Member States to shift the present discussion in international fora from the idea of ‘defamation of religions’ to the legal concept of ‘incitement to national, racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence´, which was grounded on international legal instruments.
Mr. Mugai said that the main issue was not whether permissible limitations existed, but rather what threshold triggered these limitations. There was no doubt that this intricate legal question, with profound implications, should be subject to a serious consistent and in-depth legal discussion in appropriate fora. Mr. Mugai reiterated the recommendation made by his predecessor that the Human Rights Committee should formulate a new general comment on Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding the threshold of application of the article.
Mr. Mugai said that within his mandate, key importance was attached to the monitoring and reporting of cases of incitement to racial hatred. The debate over protected versus unprotected speech had been repeated at length in national courts. In any discussion concerning limitation to a fundamental right, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, it was essential that they constantly asked themselves whether the remedy they sought for a wrong did not create an even greater wrong. It was important that they did not lose sight of the ultimate goal, which was to eradicate discrimination and promote equal treatment. Mr. Mugai thought that the best strategic response to hate speech was more speech: more speech that preached tolerance, more speech that educated about cultural differences and more speech that promoted diversity.
Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance
CARLOS PORTALES (Chile) warmly welcomed the new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and wished him success in his work. Chile carefully heard the report on the very complex issue and though that further points needed to be added in order to have a balanced picture of the situation. Chile agreed with the recommendation to the Human Rights Council to shift their attention from the sociological concept of defamation of religions to the legal approach prohibiting incitement to religious hatred.
The concept of the right to freedom of religion was embedded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and all States parties to the Covenant had the obligation to promote it. Chile held the view that freedom of belief was different from freedom of religion as it was more related to freedom of expression. As indicated by the Special Rapporteur, important initiatives on the international religious dialogue, such as the intergovernmental dialogue in the Alliance of Civilisations, were improving the relations between laic and religion and should contribute to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
BEATE STIRO (Norway) said that Norway regretted the late submission of the report. All manifestations of racism, such as intolerance, exclusion, xenophobia and discrimination were of equal concern to Norway. These manifestations did not only occur between but also within religions. Respect for human rights was the main pillar of a society. Promoting dialogue was a key tool to address differences. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression were interdependent and it thus made no sense to oppose them.
IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) said that Algeria supported the statement in the report that defamation of religion related to a legal concept of incitement and religious hatred. Religions were being used in a way to dehumanize others. Further, racist hostility to Islam was being spread with impunity in western countries. Freedom of expression was used as an effective weapon to a politically correct anti-Semitism. Algeria supported the promotion and protection of the right to expression.
TEHMINA JANJUA (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, thanked the previous Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr. Doudou Diene. The analysis and recommendations captured in his latest report reflected well what was going on with Islamophobia. The Organization of the Islamic Conference hoped that the relevant recommendations would be built in the protection mechanisms for the States and communities that were particularly targeted because of their religion. Pakistan expressed its disappointment that a report of this importance was available in only one United Nations language.
The practical consequences of the concept of Islamophobia, among others, included exclusion from political and social spheres of life. A recent report by a research centre indicated that Muslims were viewed negatively in some occidental countries. The negative perception of Muslims was an issue that the Human Rights Council must address. The Organization of the Islalmic Conference expressed regret that the resolution that the Organization of the Islamic Conference had tabled to address this concern and the plight of Muslims had been met with resistance. The intellectual climate was marked by efforts to demonise Islam. Simple-minded equation of Islam with terrorism was a leap that defined logic. Victims of terrorism were mostly Muslims themselves. Such an understanding of terrorism ignored the political basis and causes and did not allow for the implementation of appropriate strategies.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference hoped that the new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance would build on the excellent work of Mr. Diene. It hoped that his work would reinforce the importance of development of international norms to combat defamation of religions.
JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union strongly believed in non discrimination, tolerance, freedom of expression and respect of religions. These were principles on which the European Union had been founded. Human rights being interdependent and indivisible, the European Union considered that freedom of expression and freedom of religion were complementary. The right to freedom of expression was fundamental in a democratic society. One had to draw the difference between religious hatred and criticism of religions. Only religious hatred should be prohibited because everyone had the right to criticize a religion or to contest its teachings.
Tensions would not decrease by prohibiting the expression of ideas about religions. It was by promoting and protecting the freedom to religion and belief that one would prevent the manifestation of religious hatred. The European Union welcomed the fact that the report showed that current legislation with regard to hate speech were sufficient in order to address the problem and thus, no new norms were needed. The European Union would not accept that the concept of religious defamation be integrated in the human rights framework; it had no place there. International law was protecting individuals and not religions. The European Union regretted that the Special Rapporteur had only tackled the issue of Islamophobia; all religions were subject to discrimination.
NATHALIE RONDEUX (Belgium) welcomed the recommendation in the report supporting a shift from ‘defamation of religion’ to the legal standards on non-incitement to religious, racial or national hatred. The report showed that national legislation was sufficient and that there was no need for additional laws. However, Belgium said that human rights protected individuals and not concepts or religions. Religions needed to be subject to debate. Therefore, criticism and incitement to religious hatred had to be well distinguished from each other.
ABDULMONEM ANNAN (Syria) said that despite many resolutions and the holding of many
international and regional meetings, the undeclared campaign against certain religions continued. Some countries, individuals and institutions were still twisting “freedom of expression clauses” to demonise and antagonize certain religious groups and individuals. It was ironic and paradoxical that at the time when the right to freedom of expression was exclusively confined to defamation of Islam, there was a tight embargo on this right in other specific issues related to other religions.
Syria supported the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur calling for an end to exploiting discrimination for political and partisan objectives and for finding solutions to international religious conflicts that fed on and from defamation of religion. Syria wished for further clarifications from the Special Rapporteur about the practical benefits of changing the sociological concept of the defamation of religion into some other titles.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco) said that Morocco rejected the practice of national policies discriminating against Muslims. Morocco agreed with the Special Rapporteur on the need for Governments to prevent xenophobia. They also believed that this was the most powerful pillar for the security of nations. Morocco reiterated their satisfaction on the upcoming holding of the High Commissioner’s seminar on religious hatred and freedom of speech; they hoped that it would promote better understanding between all.
GUY O'BRIEN (Australia) noted that the rate of violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression remained undiminished and that people in many countries seeking to exercise the right to freedom of expression continued to be discriminated against, threatened with the use of violence, physically harmed, persecuted, intimidated or harassed. This happened sometimes under the pretext of preventing blasphemy or religious defamation. Australia would welcome further consideration of this complex and contentious issue and looked forward to the outcomes of the expert consultation on links between freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred.
FELIX PENA RAMOS (Venezuela) supported the effective implementation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Venezuela saw itself as a multi-cultural and multi-religious society where all individuals enjoyed freedom of religion and freedom of belief. The history of Venezuela was characterised by welcoming individuals from various religions and cultures who were fleeing prosecution. The world was witnessing discrepancies between points of view on defamation of religions and freedom of expression. This freedom was still far from being an absolute right, and was still subject to limitations by a number of international legal instruments.
Venezuela reaffirmed its commitment to fight defamation of religions and urged States to develop a legally binding mechanism with the mandate to combat religious discrimination and all forms of intolerance that violate human rights.
GLAUDINE J. MTSHALI (South Africa) expressed serious concern at the surge of serious events related to religious hatred. The erroneous linkage of Islam with human rights violations and terrorism was regrettable. The tenuous line between freedom of expression and of religions continued to divide the world, despite the wide range of existing international instruments. An in-depth dialogue would contribute to finding solutions. South Africa was looking forward to the High Commissioner’s panel on this topic.
HABIB MIKAYILLI (Azerbaijan) expressed Azerbaijan’s concern regarding Islamophobia. The Special Rapporteur was fully right in describing the growing tendency to Islamophobia as the biggest threat to democracy. Azerbaijan regretted that Islam was associated with violence and terrorism. Lastly, Azerbaijan asked that if racial hatred was a crime, why not apply the standards to incitement to racial hatred? Azerbaijan supported Mr. Mugai’s recommendation to adopt supplementary rules on the reciprocal links between freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
ALI ONANER (Turkey) congratulated the new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and thanked Mr. Diene, the previous Special Rapporteur, for the work he had done during his tenure. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance existed in all societies, and if not addressed in an appropriate manner, it could give birth to unpredictable and uncontrollable trends. Combating racism and intolerance was of a crucial importance and the first step was accepting they existed and acting in ownership for each others problems.
Turkey highlighted the importance of human rights education, as it contributed to fostering understanding, respect and tolerance. Active combat against prejudices, and facilitation of coalition building across diverse cultural and religious communities must be the final aim. The Alliance of Civilization initiative that Turkey had co-sponsored was en essential tool in building the bridges and promoting trust between communities and Turkey encouraged the new Special Rapporteur to interact with this process and other similar initiatives during his work.
AHMED MOHAMED ABRO (Djibouti) said that it was time to combat the visible scourge of racism. The Durban Review Conference should allow States to start constitutional and institutional reforms, adequate for the eradication of racism, in order to promote a culture of tolerance, comprehension and exchange.
MARIE THERESE PICTET- ALTHANN (Sovereign Military Order of Malta) welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s call on governments to fully comply with their obligations with regard to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, as these freedoms were essential to the promotion of tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs. Special attention should also be given to promoting mutual understanding through education. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta stressed that it was foremost the duty of States to demonstrate the necessary political will to counter the rise of racial and religious intolerance while at the same time initiating policies that advanced respect for religious and spiritual pluralism through dialogue and interaction between communities.
Continuation of General Debate on Follow-Up and Implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
NYNKE WIJMENGA (Netherlands) said that the Council should devote more attention to discrimination related to work or descent and people with a different sexual orientation. Many millions still suffered from unequal treatment. The Indian pledge to eradicate manual scavenging was commendable best practice. By investing in sanitation the Indian Government had set a good example. In addition, the Special Procedures had to pay special attention to people with different sexual orientations, since they were suffering from threats of torture and needed special protection. The Netherlands called on the Council to put this issue on the agenda.
ALEXEY GOLTYAEV (Russian Federation) said that human rights standards and instruments had not yet been implemented fully and the implementation was going much les smoothly than the concept-building did. Respect for human rights could be strengthened in numerous ways and one of them was to promote the understanding that human rights truly belonged to humankind in its entirety. Human rights were still wrongfully perceived as something foreign, imposed from outside and contradicting the traditional social and moral values. This created a serious obstacle to the promotion and protection of human rights and their universal implementation.
The Russian Federation encouraged everyone to think together of the way to overcome that obstacle. The main idea was to bridge an artificially created gap between human rights and traditional values. The main objective of that initiative was to contribute to further strengthening the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. A draft resolution on the subject and a short explanatory note had already been circulated among the delegations in the Council and the Russian Federation would continue consultations to reach consensus on the issue.
MURIEL BERSET (Switzerland) said that the beginning of the 1990’s was characterised by the certainty that the new facts in international relations would make possible the construction of a more peaceful world founded on respect for human rights. Taking stock after 15 years, what conclusions could be drawn? In Switzerland’s opinion, the promotion and protection of human rights had been strengthened since the Vienna Conference. Above all, Vienna had breathed a new spirit into the human rights discussion. What should have become an international human rights charter had been divided instead into two Covenants, as a result of divergences of political ideology. Over the past 15 years, the international community had strengthened and refined the architecture of the human rights protection instruments by the establishment of numerous international treaties.
The Vienna Declaration had also given a decisive impetus in the area of human rights education. The draft Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training which the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council, on the initiative of Morocco and Switzerland, was preparing could be regarded as a continuation of the process that had started at the World Conference on Human Rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had also been a product of the Conference. Switzerland called upon States to redouble their efforts to implement their obligations and to put into effect the recommendations of the Vienna Conference.
CARLOS PORTALES (Chile) said that today without doubt the work of the United Nations in the area of the promotion and protection of human rights was based on the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this globalized world, the universality of human rights had an even bigger meaning. The profound concern that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had already stated regarding the different discrimination and violence that women were exposed to continued until today. Chile reiterated that as members of the international community, they faced the challenge of implementing the international instruments and the human rights already existing, in order to reach universal respect for human rights one day.
OSITADINMA ANAEDU (Nigeria) said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had become a global blueprint and framework for the promotion and protection of human rights. It had reaffirmed the collective resolve of the international community to the promotion and protection and human rights in a balanced manner and with equal attention to all rights. The interdependence of all human rights had to be respected. Matters of health, education, employment and the complex problem of poverty had to be addressed. Nigeria emphasized the gap in the implementation and said that a bold step had to be taken to establish the appropriate mechanisms to support the realisation of human rights.
ANDREJ LOGAR (Slovenia) said that the world had witnessed a phenomenal evolution of human rights understanding and implementation. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was today an effective and impressive office. It was a true United Nations success story. On the other hand, it was also a fact that attempts at undermining or reinterpreting human rights standards continued to occur. The Vienna Declaration had strongly reaffirmed the universality of human rights. While the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been achieved at the normative level, there were still lacunae in the interpretation and especially implementation level of the body of human rights law that had evolved on the United Nations basis. Lack of universality of human rights in their practical implementation was evident in many different forms of discrimination. Discrimination on various grounds persisted in many forms and shapes and it was the duty of the Council not to look away.
One of the underlying premises of the universality was that no one country could be exempt from human rights related criticism and no on could claim human rights perfection. Since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and based on the experience of the ensuing United Nations Decade on Human Rights Education, they had since learnt that human rights education should not be limited to school curricula. They had also learnt that the role of civil society in it was indispensable. Another aspect contained in the Vienna Declaration was that of international criminal accountability. The International Criminal Court was a credible and predictable legal system. What was needed now was a strict compliance with the decisions of the Court. Slovenia did not favour any deferrals of the Court’s decisions.
MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said Bangladesh attached great importance to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Steps had to be identified to achieve the overall objective to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed the universality and indivisibility of all human rights. Furthermore, a direct link between human rights and poverty was clearly established. Also, the right to development was an inalienable right. Bangladesh recognized that effective development policies had to be devised at the national level. At the international level, a rule based trade regime would work towards the realization of the right to development. The protection and promotion of human rights were the responsibility of governments, but the international community also had its role to play.
KAMAPRADIPTA ISNOMO (Indonesia) said that the debate today covered a broad range of issues. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had also been established to ensure the coverage of interlinked issues, such as gender balance and elimination of discrimination. It had been adopted not long after apartheid had been abolished and represented the evidence of what was possible to do when there was appropriate political will.
Indonesia said that the dialogue on the implementation of human rights must be conducted in a cooperative and non-confrontational manner and expressed faith in the capacity of the Human Rights Council to ensure an amicable and country-tailored approach to implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Indonesia expressed positive hope that in the future the approach to the elimination of discrimination and gender balance would be applied with transparency and equality.
MARIANA BENEVIDES (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Common Southern Market (MERCOSUR), said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had laid out the foundation for the multilateral system for the protection and promotion of human rights. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had made it possible to reaffirm their universality; they were the most comprehensible international documents. The MERCOSUR countries were committed to the values of the Vienna Declaration.
In 2005 the Human Rights Commission had adopted the first resolution on the right to truth. Three year after, even more progress had been made, basically with the adoption of the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances. They hoped that, in the present session of the Council, the importance of the separate right of truth would be acknowledged by the adoption of the relevant resolution on this topic. Further, guaranteeing the integration of migrants was also important. Racism, discrimination and other forms of intolerance had to be combated. MERCOSUR also appealed to members of the Council to pay attention to the need for increased protection of the rights of children.
IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) said that the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was a milestone. Looking at the right to self determination, Algeria noted that the Council did not have the right not to heed the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It had even less the right to be selective and to ignore the mandate of the Council which was to give particular attention to the violation of human rights, especially to the right to self determination. This had resulted in military interventions, aggression and occupation. The Council now should be inspired by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to effectively implement all human rights without distinction.
TAMAR TAMASHVILI (Georgia) said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had expressed not only the commitment of all States to the promotion and protection of human rights, but had also promoted efficient cooperation between States, international organizations and non governmental organizations. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had also accorded the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a priority. The Vienna Declaration underlined the complementary nature of international law and international humanitarian law and explicitly underlined that human rights did not cease in time of war. It further embraced respect for individual rights in a non discriminatory manner. Georgia noted that the promotion and protection of human rights was the main objective of the United Nations and was still the primary objective of the international community.
LAURA THOMPSON CHACON (Costa Rica) expressed Costa Rica’s appreciation to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the report on human rights education. In this regard, was the High Commissioner planning to publish a document to shed light on the good practices in human rights education in South America, as it had done for Asia, Europe and northern America? Costa Rica also underlined that together with Italy, Morocco and Switzerland, they had drafted together a document on a platform on education and training of human rights with the aim of promoting this theme in the Council.
LADA PHUMAS (Thailand) said that this was a very important year since it commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thailand attached great importance to the protection of human rights and had made financial contributions to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. On a regional and national level, Thailand actively promoted human rights in the Asian region, especially the Mekong region. It had developed a programme for human rights education and had translated into Thai language the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
CHRISTIAN STROHAL (Austria) informed the Council of the international expert conference entitled “Global Standards – Local Action” that had taken place in Vienna in August 2008. The purpose of the conference had been the assessment of the progress and major challenges in the implementation of human rights at the local level. Austria noted that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had had a significant impact on the development of human rights standards and machinery. The biggest challenge lay in the gap between standards and their implementation on the ground.
The Conference had made numerous recommendations on how to bridge that gap and the summary had been distributed as an official document of this session of the Human Rights Council. As the United Nations Secretary-General had mentioned at the opening of the conference, there was the need for States and other stakeholders to redouble their efforts to ensure that human rights were promoted and protected and that all human beings could enjoy their rights.
Austria said that the sprit of cooperation also covered what was being said and noted that the use of words such as “subhuman” had no place in the debate.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco) said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action were milestones in standard settings, enshrining human rights and their universality and indivisibility. Those two instruments remained highly relevant today. However rich this framework might be, only political will could ensure the true effectiveness of respect of human rights. The right to of development was a fundamental inalienable right; it should be realised in order to equitably realize the needs of present and future generations.
ABDULMONEM ANNAN (Syria) said that 15 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, human rights were still a detainee of manipulations and distortions while massive violations continued. It was worthwhile to reflect upon the paragraphs on the universality of all rights, the right to self determination, and the right to development and the right to be free from racial discrimination. Where did they stand regarding the implementation of and commitment to these idealistic principles? Syria said that there was only a vertical improvement of human rights because hundreds of millions were facing starvation, displacement and fatal diseases. Horizontal violations were on the increase and they still had a long way to go.
KATHARINA ROSE, of the International Coordinating Committee Of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, noting the significant advancements since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action such as the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, said that important challenges still remained. Many national human rights institutions lacked sufficient powers and finances to be able to carry out their mandates effectively. Some faced threats when conducting their functions and speaking out against human rights violations. The international community must redouble its efforts to strengthen national institutions and help cultivate an environment where they could operate freely. It was also important that the United Nations and international governmental agencies recognised the independent voice of national human rights institutions and took greater steps to integrate them into their activities.
KAZUNARI FUJI, of Soka Gakkai International, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, said that the last report of the High Commissioner on the World Programme for Human Rights Education indicated further need for action by Governments for the effective implementation of human rights education. They also drew the attention of States to the urgent need to consider parameters for determining a theme to be the focus for the second phase of the World Programme, which was expected to start in 2010. They appreciated the commitment of the Governments of Costa Rica, Switzerland, Morocco and Italy for the forming of the Informal Platform for Human Rights Education and Training in the Council.
ROY BROWN, of International Humanist and Ethical Union, in a joint statement with Centre for Inquiry, said that they was delighted by a statement by Turki Al-Sudairy, President of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, in which he condemned the growing incidence of child marriages in the Kingdom and stated that it should be treated as forced marriage. In the matter of so-called honour killings they noted with great concern that the reported number of cases was on the rise worldwide, with 636 reported cases in Pakistan alone. What kind of honour was it that could inflict such barbarity on young women? Iranian President Ahmadinejad had introduced a bill to the Iranian parliament to further restrict the rights of women, particularly with regard to matters of marriage and divorce. No State should be permitted to hide behind tradition, culture or religion in order to justify any abuse of women’s human rights.
DAVID LITTMAN, of the Association for World Education, addressed the human rights violations experienced by women that required concerted attention at the international, national and local levels. The United Nations Children's Fund figures indicated that about 3 million young girls were victims of female genital mutilation each year in 32 countries. In Switzerland, the number of mutilated young girls from immigrant families now stood at over 7,000. “Honour killings” were on the increase and all States should strive to eliminate this phenomenon from their societies. The stoning of women for alleged sexual misconduct still occurred regularly in some States. Another practice where tribal concept of “honour” was concerned, practiced in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, parts of India and elsewhere, was throwing of acid in the face of women when some men believed that their pride had been wounded. The last example was the medieval-like marriage of girl children as young as 9 years old. The Association for World Education called on the Human Rights Council to address those grave issues in a comprehensive resolution.
PETER SPLINTER, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had emphasized the importance of sufficient and effective remedies for victims of continuing human rights violations. Amnesty International was concerned at the human rights situation of the residents of the former Yugoslav republics who had been living in Slovenia, whose permanent residency status had been illegally and discriminatorily revoked by the Slovenian authorities in 1992. This move had affected 18,305 persons, violating the principle of non-discrimination, the right to work and social security, the right to health and the right to education. Amnesty International condemned the deliberate avoidance of the problem by the Slovenian authorities, despite several recommendations urging them to act promptly to restore the rights of the erased. They welcomed that earlier today, Slovenia had acknowledged the need to improve its human rights situation.
HILLEL NEUER, of United Nations Watch, paid tribute to those who created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of them was John Humphrey who said that there was a fundamental link between human rights and peace. The international community should now reaffirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Referring to an earlier statement, United Nations Watch said that the opposite of relativism was the bedrock principle of the universality of human rights.
EL GALAUI, of Interfaith International, said that the spirit of respect of all rights should prevail. Interfaith International noted that every human being had a right to life and dignity. The right to self determination was enshrined in international law and was helping to promote the Vienna Declaration. Yet this right should not be used to destabilize and disintegrate sovereign States. At the same time, Interfaith International noted that there were abnormal and complex situations that persisted and even reached the state of being human rights tragedies.
PRAMILA SRIVASTAVA, of the International Institute for Non Aligned Studies, said that during the Vienna conference in 1993, a concerted effort had been made by non governmental organizations and women’s organizations to change the existing terminology on human rights that had been defined mainly as rights of men. Globalization had resulted in the feminization of poverty. Women were largely employed in informal sectors where labour legislation and protective coverage rarely applied. In the work of the Council and the former Commission, the theme of integrating women’s issues had occupied a central place. Approximately half of the population of the world, women, was not able to exercise their human rights. Much needed to be done. Utmost priority should be given to improvements in maternal health, health and nutrition of adolescent girls as well as the gender sensitization of teachers, police and the judiciary.
HUGO ESTRELLA TAMPIERI, of Centre for Inquiry, in a joint statement with International Humanist and Ethical Union and Association for World Education, said that they supported the integration of women’s human right in all spheres. An especially pressing topic was women taking decision of their bodies. In some countries, religious bodies still believed that men had to decide on women’s bodies. Among many examples, a child of 12 in Mendoza Argentina was denied an abortion after having been raped. The Centre called on States to resist reversing the progress that had been made in implementing women’s human rights.
SAADANI MAOLAININE, of Union de l’action féminine, said that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms were all universal and dependent concepts that reinforced each other and ensured that the will of the people of the world was applied to allow for their full participation in all aspects of life. The right to self determination should not be used as a tool for separatism. Union de l’action Feminine proposed that the application of autonomy could be a fair solution to some of the armed conflicts that caused human suffering. The international community must support the fostering of democracy and respect of human rights throughout the world.
LUKAS MACHON, of the International Commission of Jurists, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had reiterated the primary responsibility of all Governments to protect and promote human rights. States had been required to eliminate all violations of human rights and their causes, as well as obstacles to the full enjoyment of these rights. Impunity was one of the major obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights. The International Commission of Jurists wished to draw the attention of the Council to widespread impunity in Mexico which compounded the growing militarization of the country, with army officers often implicated in the excessive use of force and other gross human rights violations. It was essential that the issue of impunity received adequate attention during Mexico’s Universal Periodic Review. The International Commission of Jurists also urged the Government of Mexico to adopt legislation to regulate the use of force in accordance with international standards.
ABDELWAHAB HANI, of the Arab Commission of Jurists, said that 15 years had gone by since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had been adopted. Since then, negative aspects had emerged. The Arab Commission of Jurists deplored the non-cooperation of States, particularly in the Arab region. Further, monitoring bodies were lacking human and financial resources, for example for the Committee of Torture they had to be more than doubled. The Commission further noted that ambassadors had been appointed to the Human Rights Committee which constituted a clear violation of the independency of that body.
Right of Reply
MOHAMMAD REZA GHAEBI (Iran), speaking in a right of reply with regard to false accusations by some non governmental organizations, said in Iran, the promotion and protection of human rights, including the human rights of women, was the national priority of the Government. Iran had carried out national efforts to ensure this. On the new law to protect the human rights of women and family institutions, it had been adopted and amended after consultations with civil society. Iran noted that nobody had been arrested or prosecuted in this regard.
IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria), speaking in a right of reply, said that the statement by the Arab Commission of Jurists was felt to be out of order. The representative in his statement had been attacking a sister country of the Maghreb, on an issue which was not the subject of the item under discussion. The representative had also attacked the Code of Conduct, which had been adopted unanimously by the Council and the General Assembly. Algeria felt that it was inappropriate to tell the Council that it should reconsider the Code. The speaker had also been challenging the way human right treaty bodies elected their representatives. One could not change the rules of the game. It was up to the parties of the pacts to decide how they did this.
For use of the information media; not an official record