Human Rights Council
MIDDAY 15 March 2010
The Human Rights Council during a midday meeting undertook a review of human rights situations that required its attention, hearing presentations of reports by Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and in Myanmar.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, introducing his report, regretted that throughout his mandate the country concerned had declined to cooperate. From witnessing the human rights situation in the country for the past six years, one finding was glaring: the abuses against the general population, for which the authorities should be responsible, were both egregious and endemic. There had been some constructive developments, but the general scenario was bleak. Logically, if the authorities were not able to satisfy the basic needs of the people the people should be able to participate in activities that could help generate income to enable them to produce or buy their own food; however, there had been a clamp down on the market system. Moreover, at the end of 2009, the authorities had imposed a currency revaluation, and there was now huge inflation, particularly affecting the price of food, with widespread suffering as a consequence. The Government should immediately ensure effective provision of and access to food and other basic necessities for those in need of assistance; adopt a moratorium on capital punishment; and end the punishment of those who sought asylum abroad. The United Nations system had a special challenge to ensure that the people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were protected from the violence and violations – latent, patent and blatant – which had been so widespread and systematic for so long.
Speaking as a concerned country, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea categorically rejected the “Special Rapporteur” and his report. That Special Rapporteur originated and existed as a result of “resolutions” that had been enforced every year by the United States, Japan and the European Union, as part of attempts to eliminate the State and social system of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on the pretext of human rights. The anachronistic Special Rapporteur had to be eliminated once and for all.
In the interactive dialogue, many countries also regretted the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s lack of cooperation. A speaker observed that by not engaging with the Special Rapporteur, the Government had missed an opportunity to show the world community a direct view of the real situation on the ground and the claimed improvements. Several countries also expressed deep concern over the continuing food shortages and difficulties experienced by the World Food Programme and others in rendering assistance. Others underscored their position in opposition to all county mandates. A speaker was astonished that the Council was returning to the practice of targeting certain countries, as that was clearly politicized. These countries also highlighted that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had also constructively participated in the Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
Speaking in the debate on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were the European Union, Japan, Belgium, Canada, Syria, the United States, Cuba, the United Kingdom, China, Thailand, Angola, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Sudan, Norway, Myanmar, Chile, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Australia. Human Rights Watch also made a statement.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, introducing his progress report, said that Myanmar was at a critical moment in its history: for the first time in 20 years, elections had been planned. That should represent an important opportunity for the Government to address a range of human rights issues and to initiate the much-needed reforms towards the building of democratic institutions. He was, however, concerned that that opportunity was not being seized. He had just returned from his third mission to Myanmar last February. He had not come away with a clear sense of progress on the four core elements he had put forward to the Government in August 2008. The same large numbers of prisoners of conscience were to be found in prisons across the country, while new arrests and sentences continued. Those people were now explicitly banned from becoming members of political parties that wished to contest the elections and their parties were required to expel them in order to be registered for the elections. Of the current 2,100 prisoners of conscience, some 430 party members of the National League for Democracy – including its Secretary-General Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – had been rejected. He also drew attention to concerns on the situation of the Muslim population in the northern Rakine State, where an estimated 1 million people were excluded from citizenship on the basis of their ethnicity and were perceived as illegal immigrants.
Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said the report lacked objectivity. Myanmar was holding free and fair elections. The transition towards democracy was proceeding accordingly. Myanmar’s judiciary was independent and impartial and there were no prisoners of conscience. Accusations in the report were an attempt to frame the country. There was no discrimination on grounds of religion and race.
In the ensuing debate on the situation in Myanmar, several speakers welcomed the cooperation extended to the Special Rapporteur, who had made three country visits, while it was regretted that he had not been able to meet with Aung San Su Kyi during those visits. Many expressed concern about the new electoral laws. A new law banning all political prisoners from belonging to a political party before the election only served to erode the already highly restricted right to political participation. A few countries reverted to the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that the United Nations consider the possibility of establishing a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Myanmar and said they would support it. A number of countries again reiterated their position with regard to country-specific Special Procedures; all countries should follow the work approach that had been adopted in the context of the Council’s creation, they said.
Speaking in the discussion on Myanmar were Italy, Canada, the Philippines, Japan, the European Union, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, Cuba, Belgium, Argentina, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, China, the United States, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh. The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; Reporters without Borders International; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues; Human Rights Watch; Asian Legal Resource Centre; and Amnesty International.
The Council is meeting today without interruption. Starting at around 3 p.m. it will consider the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the violations of human rights in Honduras since the coup d'état, following which it will begin its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.
Report on Situation of Human Rights in Democratic People's Republic of Korea
The report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn (A/HRC/13/47) is the final report of this Rapporteur for the Human Rights Council. It reflects on the work of the Special Rapporteur for the past six years and provides an update of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the middle of 2009 until the beginning of 2010. It also identifies preferred steps towards the future.
Presentation of Report
VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said that, throughout the past six years, in his endeavour to be fair, independent and objective, he had written all of his own reports and the work had been done pro bono. He had based his findings on a variety of sources of information – some governmental, some inter-governmental, some non-governmental. Those were supplemented by country visits, particularly to neighbouring countries affected by the human rights situation in the country in question. Regrettably, throughout the mandate, the country concerned had declined to cooperate. From witnessing the human rights situation in the country for the past six years, one finding was glaring: the abuses against the general population, for which the authorities should be responsible, were both egregious and endemic. There had been some constructive developments, but the general scenario was bleak for a variety of reasons. The non-democratic nature of the power base had created a pervasive state of fear for the mass base, with inordinate constraints imposed on the rights and freedoms of the people. Logically, it would seem that if the authorities were not able to satisfy the basic needs of the people the people should be able to participate in activities that could help generate income so as to enable them to produce or buy their own food and sustain their livelihood; however, there had been a clamp down on the market system.
Last year (2009) had witnessed other draconian measures with negative impacts on the general population seeking to make ends meet, Mr. Muntarbhorn noted. The authorities had started to prohibit small-plot farming and had closed markets where people had previously traded their wares. At the end of the year, the authorities had imposed a currency revaluation, much to the distress of the population. There was now huge inflation, particularly affecting the price of food, with widespread suffering as a consequence of the misconceived currency revaluation. With regard to health care and education, there had been a general decline of the infrastructure behind the health and education systems. Given the oppressive nature of the power base, it was not difficult to surmise the range of abuses which happened on a daily basis and which threatened the personal security of individuals and families, compounded by other infringements of their rights and freedoms. While the authorities claimed at the Universal Periodic Review that human rights were respected in the country, different sources had indicated the existence of a conglomeration of huge camps for political prisoners and their families, often held there in perpetuity. The justice system was subservient to the State, and there was a systemic issue of human rights violations caused by the power base in the name of the State.
Various sources had suggested a number of ways of making the powers-that-be accountable internationally, given that the national setting was unable or unwilling to press for such accountability. The human rights situation in the country could be described as sui generis, given the multiple particularities and anomalies that abounded. There were very many instances of human rights violations which were both harrowing and horrific. While the prospects seemed dim at one level, a beacon of light could be offered at both the national and international levels if certain measures were concretized and well implemented. It was thus incumbent on both the national and international environments to propel constructive and tangible actions based on international standards to address the human rights situation in the country. Mr. Muntarbhorn urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea immediately to, among other things, ensure effective provision of and access to food and other basic necessities for those in need of assistance; adopt a moratorium on capital punishment; end the punishment of those who sought asylum abroad; respond constructively to the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur; and open the door to country visits by other mandates. There was also a need for a range of longer-term measures. The international community was also invited to take into account the various recommendations from the report for effective follow-up. The United Nations system had a special challenge to impel constructive challenges and accountability: to ensure that the people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were protected from the violence and violations – latent, patent and blatant – which had been so widespread and systematic for so long.
Statement by Concerned Country
CHOE MYONG NAM (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), speaking as a concerned country, categorically rejected the “Special Rapporteur” on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and his report. That Special Rapporteur was a product of political confrontation that had no relevance to human rights. That Special Rapporteur originated and existed as a result of “resolutions” that had been enforced every year by the United States, Japan and the European Union, as part of attempts to eliminate the State and social system of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on the pretext of human rights. The United States, Japan and the European Union had always been talking about their uncompromising stance on human rights violations no matter when, where or by whom those were committed. Unfortunately, however, they were silent on the gross human rights violations for which they and their allies were responsible. As long as there existed politicized country mandates, the Council would be sure to repeat the same bitter and shameful failure as that of the Commission on Human Rights. The Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea meant confrontation, which was not compatible with the spirit of human rights. The anachronistic Special Rapporteur had to be eliminated once and for all.
Interactive Dialogue on the Human Rights Situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
NICOLE RECKINGER (European Union) said that the fact that the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had not yet allowed the Special Rapporteur to enter the country remained a serious challenge to the fulfilment of the mandate. At the same time, the European Union welcomed an increasing engagement of the Government with the international community, in particular, its participation in the Universal Periodic Review. The European Union remained extremely concerned about the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and was particularly troubled by the Special Rapporteur’s mention in his report of rampant torture, public executions, collective punishments resulting from the stratification of the population into different classes, slave labour and mistreatment of women and children. The European Union was also concerned about shortage of food and medicines. The Special Rapporteur had considered the possibility of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor taking up the case of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. In the Special Rapporteur’s opinion, what were the prospects of that happening?
SHINICHI KITAJIMA (Japan) highly commended the sincere activities the Special Rapporteur had undertaken over the last six years, and believed that his reports were objective, well-balanced and highly credible. As indicated by his reports, it was evident that serious human rights violations were prevailing in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, including torture in detention facilities, public executions, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and freedom of expression and child malnutrition. Also, the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals had not been resolved. It was regrettable that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had never let the Special Rapporteur into the country nor extended any cooperation to him. The Government should respond to the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur with objective and concrete evidence, and make clear the real situation through dialogue. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea should not avoid specific discussion on the serious situation of human rights in the country, and should open its eyes to how free the outside world was, and how freedom was lacking in the country. The situation of human rights was still very serious, and required the Council's continuous attention. Where grave human rights violations continued, the Special Rapporteur mechanism complemented the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. How did the Special Rapporteur think he and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could follow-up on the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?
XAVIER BAERT (Belgium) regretted that the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had not been able to count on the full cooperation of the authorities of that country in discharging his mandate. Belgium reiterated its desire that in the future the authorities engaged in a dialogue with the Council and cooperated with its Special Procedures. Belgium underscored the non-respect of almost all human rights and economic, social and cultural rights in that country. It had taken note of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur, and noted that those were not only addressed to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea but also to the international community. However, it was clear that the human rights situation in that country could only be improved if the authorities truly committed themselves to human rights and opened the territory to the outside world. The work ahead was enormous, but the sooner all concerned parties tackled that task, the better.
ALISON LECLAIRE CHRISTIE (Canada) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report, as well as for his dedication and commitment during the six years of his mandate. The situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remained a matter of grave concern for Canada. It was particularly disturbed by continuing reports of collective punishments, public executions, torture and arbitrary detentions, as well as by the harsh treatment of those who had left the country and had subsequently been repatriated. Canada also remained deeply concerned by the continuing food shortages and the issue of food security in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and noted the difficulties experienced by the World Food Programme in adequately monitoring food distribution. What course of action should the international community take to best ensure the equal provision of food aid?
FAYSAL KHABBAS HAMOUI (Syria) said Syria was astonished to see the lacunae and disadvantages highlighted in the report, which contained nothing positive, and was therefore not objective. It was astonishing that the Council was returning to the practice of targeting certain countries, as that was clearly politicized. The Council should be engaging constructively with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to help it encourage human rights. The country was increasingly open and open to cooperating with human rights mechanisms. Methods that included sanctions were useless, and the current work of the Council would harm its reputation. Syria rejected selective methods as used by some delegations, while all the while ignoring flagrant human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and finding excuses to defend a State that was in violation of those rights, as well as ignoring means to encourage that country to refrain. The Council should prioritize dialogue.
ROBERT KING (United States) found it lamentable that the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had not allowed the Special Rapporteur to visit the country. The United States agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the people of that country suffered under a pervasive state of fear, imposed by the State through its extensive surveillance and informant system. The United States also shared the Rapporteur’s concern that resource distribution was used as a means of State control and was skewed towards the ruling elite. What more could the donor community do to help resources reach the most vulnerable parts of the population? The treatment of people who returned to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had also long troubled the United States, and it urged countries which had refugees and asylum-seekers from that country to afford them the protection required by international law. The United States was interested in further insights from the Special Rapporteur on how countries could utilize their bilateral relationships in an integrated manner to advance human rights issues in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that selective Special Procedures mandates against countries of the South were solely based on political motivations and did not stem from a genuine interest in human rights. The mandate on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea went back to Item 9 of the agenda of the old Commission on Human Rights. That item had been at the heart of the failure of the Commission. The move by former United States President Bush’s Administration to include the Democratic People's Republic of Korea into the “Axis of Evil” and the establishment of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate had coincided with the heightening of sanctions against that country. The situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had already been reviewed by the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, whose report would be considered during this very same session. Cuba would vote against the resolution to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
PETER GOODERHAM (United Kingdom) said the Special Rapporteur had to have found his efforts particularly difficult when having to deal with consistent and harrowing details of human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea while being refused the opportunity to engage with the authorities there on them. There had been legal changes reported over the last few years, but there was little evidence of practical improvement. By not engaging with the Special Rapporteur, and especially by refusing him access to the country, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had missed an opportunity to show the world community, through an objective observer, a direct view of the real situation on the ground and the claimed improvements. How should the international community react in the face of those contradictions? It was disappointing that the Special Rapporteur had had to draw attention to the same issues throughout his mandate, with inadequate access to food continuing to threaten the lives of the people. There was a need to increase the space for discourse and action on human rights, and the country's active engagement with the Universal Periodic Review should mark the start of that. The United Kingdom wished to put on record its sincere appreciation for everything the Special Rapporteur had done both to highlight the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and to offer constructive suggestions for improvement.
LUO CHENG (China) said the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had made positive efforts to improve the livelihood of the people in recent years, but the global financial crisis, as well as other events, had negatively impacted the situation of human rights in that country. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea had also constructively participated in the Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which highlighted its collaboration with the international community. China urged States to avoid double standards and to respect the road of development the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had chosen. As a friendly neighbour, China would play a responsible and constructive role in the debate, as always.
SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW (Thailand) urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to maintain its constructive dialogue and engagement with the international community and wished to see further positive developments in the country. In his report, the Special Rapporteur had noted that the words “human rights” had been included in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s Constitution. That was a positive step. Thailand also welcomed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review process. While Thailand appreciated the cooperation between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the international community to address the food shortages, it regretted that the situation remained grave. Thailand also recognized that the country had had to face a number of challenges and sincerely believed that the best way to meet those challenges was by working with the international community.
ARCANSO DO NASCIMIENTO (Angola) said the analysis of the situation of human rights should not be considered as selective nor as a critical act, but as a way of fostering dialogue between the concerned country and the Human Rights Council. It was important to safeguard the impartiality, credibility and non-selectivity of the human rights review, and that process should not only be focused on criticism, but should also aim to make the necessary adjustments to improve the human rights situation. There was time to exchange views and cooperation in an open and transparent way. A constructive policy could have true results in the field. The Council had to work against things that undermined cooperation, and to improve the human rights situation it was necessary for a cooperative and inclusive approach in order to help the concerned country to meet its challenges, and arrive at a situation to overcome the differences of the past and pave a new way forward based on cooperation and constructive dialogue.
LEE SUNG-JOO (Republic of Korea) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his hard work during the last six years in discharging his mandate; the efforts made by the Special Rapporteur merited the Council’s recognition. The Republic of Korea shared the Rapporteur’s deep concern over the human rights conditions in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which showed no particular signs of improvement. Those attempting to cross the border had also been sanctioned severely, and the delegation called on the international community to respect the rights of asylum-seekers from that country. The human rights situation in that country remained serious and required the continued attention of the Council; the Republic of Korea therefore supported the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. In questions, it was asked what had been the major challenges the Special Rapporteur had faced in fulfilling his mandate, and what advice could he give on how the Council could address those challenges?
MURIEL BERSET (Switzerland) wanted to ask the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to show by tangible acts its will to change the situation of human rights in the country, inter alia, by allowing the Special Rapporteur to visit the country. Switzerland also agreed with the assessment of the Special Rapporteur with regard to food security. Food security was a fundamental human right and could not be met with food aid alone; it had to be based on suitable agriculture. On the possibility for the International Criminal Court to take up this case, even if that State had not ratified the Rome Statute, could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on the tangible benefits for the population of such a move?
HAMZA OMER AHMED (Sudan) wished to draw attention to the fact that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was the only State forced to live in a state of cold war by the presence of international fleets on its borders, ensuring that it was forced to live in preparation for a state of war. The Special Rapporteur had not made any reference in his report to the impact of the embargo on the human rights conditions in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. What was the impact of the seizure and embargo and international sanctions on the practice of the right to food, to movement, and other civil and economic rights?
GEIR SJOBERG (Norway) shared the Special Rapporteur’s concerns that fundamental rights and freedoms continued to be violated in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and underscored that its people had serious needs. Norway was particularly concerned about food shortages and the significant reductions in the capabilities of the World Food Programmes, as noted in the report. It also shared the Special Rapporteur’s concern on food distribution and transparency, and appreciated that he had particularly reported on the situation of vulnerable groups, such as women and children, who were the main victims of food shortages. Norway underscored that collaboration between all United Nations agencies was key to best assist the population of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It also acknowledged that country’s participation in the Universal Periodic Review and encouraged its Government to follow up, in cooperation with partners, the recommendations it had received in that context.
WUNNA MAUNG LWIN (Myanmar) said that Myanmar believed that the current process of the Universal Periodic Review was the most constructive mechanism to assess the situation and improve the protection and promotion of human rights in a country. Country-specific approaches would never be accepted by Myanmar. It was unfortunate to witness politically motivated approaches and measures from some quarters of the Council since its inception in 2006. In most cases, developing countries were the subjects of those measures. They were unhelpful to the cause of the promotion and protection of human rights. It was time to put an end to such practices.
CARLOS PORTALES (Chile) said that, at certain times, it could be seen that the Human Rights Council forgot its main objectives and principles – to protect human rights and the obligation of States to live up to those expectations. It was a two-way street between the international community and the concerned country; the former should seek formulae to remedy the human rights situation and the latter to act positively and respond. Resolution 60/151 and the institution-building package said that the Human Rights Council had to make use of certain tools such as the Special Rapporteurs, which were extraordinary tools, and therefore cooperation between States and the Special Rapporteurs was of fundamental importance. Chile viewed with concern and alarm many of the elements contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur, and wished for the view of the concerned State vis-à-vis its substantive points. The Council should not discard a tool in its hand to make progress on human rights. That was a tool which the international community and the Council had to make use of. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea should comply with its international human rights obligations and cooperate with all instruments available to the Council.
MUHAMMAD SAEED SARWAR (Pakistan), speaking on the behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said as a matter of principle the Organization of the Islamic Conference opposed all county mandates. It believed that such mandates politicized the debate and were in fact counterproductive. The Islamic Conference firmly believed that cooperative mechanisms, such as the Universal Periodic Review, provided the right space for addressing all human rights concerns in an objective and impartial manner. The participation of almost every country from all regional and political divides in that process bore testimony to the belief that discussing human rights concerns in a non-politicized manner was the best way to attain cooperation and addressing specific concerns. The acceptance of a number of recommendations by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea during its Universal Periodic Review reflected that country’s openness to address different human rights concerns expressed by the international community. It also confirmed that the best approach to address human rights concerns was the one of engagement rather than one of estrangement.
ANGELA ROBINSON (Australia) applauded the work of the Special Rapporteur in helping to bring international attention to the appalling state of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Australia welcomed indications in the Special Rapporteur’s report that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had, at least in form if not in substance, taken constructive steps internally, such as law reforms, and in its engagements with the international community on its human rights situation. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s positive engagement with the United Nations Children's Fund on child immunization and its willingness to cooperate with the Universal Periodic Review were noted. While those were positive developments, Australia was also mindful of the Special Rapporteur’s caution that it remained to be seen to what extent the Democratic People's Republic of Korea would accept and act on recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review.
JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, said the mandate should be extended, as the Special Rapporteur had played an important role in highlighting the serious violations of basic human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Special Rapporteur had advised the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to ensure its citizens' right to food, to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty, and to resolve the issue of foreign abductees, among others. The Special Rapporteur should explain how the international community could insert a human rights agenda into the so-called Six Party talks and other security discussions involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The latter country had refused to acknowledge the mandate established by the Council, which should strongly condemn that stance, contrary to the spirit of cooperation of the Council. The mandate reflected the grave concern of Member States about the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in concluding remarks, said it was undoubtedly best to have an independent mandate holder rather than one that was politicized, and for that reason he always written and even typed his reports himself. The Universal Periodic Review of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had been very useful. Nevertheless, some rethinking of what had been expressed in that context by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, for example with regard to public executions, would be appreciated. The Universal Periodic Review should be seen as complementary to other mechanisms and there were three angles in that regard: ratification of treaties, implementation of treaties, and cooperation. In that regard, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had been particular encouraged to ratify the Convention against Torture.
Mr. Muntarbhorn further underscored that he believed impunity had to be combated by using the United Nations system as a whole. Some non-governmental organizations had sent cases to the International Criminal Court to ensure accountability, and it remained to be seen what happened with those. There had been some developments in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in recent years. While the situation remained very difficult, he noted with satisfaction the legislative reforms that integrated human rights into laws.
As for comments made on a lack of cooperation, Mr. Muntarbohorn underscored that his door had always been open. He also acknowledged that multiple information sources were an important issue and he had attempted to access different sources to ensure checks and balances on his work. While access to the country would have been greatly appreciated so that he could see for himself, that had not significantly undermined the checks and balances. He was also conscious of the need to deal with the consequences of the cold war and the Korean War, as highlighted by Sudan.
Progress Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
The progress report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana (A/HRC/13/48) notes that a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights has been in place for many years. Given the extent and persistence of the problem, and the lack of accountability, there is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a State policy, originating from decisions by authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels. The Government needs to take prompt and effective measures to investigate these facts.
Presentation of Report
TOMAS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that Myanmar was at a critical moment in its history: for the first time in 20 years, elections had been planned. The organization of elections should represent an important opportunity for the Government to address a range of human rights issues and to initiate the much-needed reforms towards the building of democratic institutions. He was, however, concerned that that opportunity was not being seized. He had just returned from his third mission to Myanmar last February, during which he had been given access to three prisons, as he had requested. He had also met with local and central authorities in those places, as well as representatives from political parties, ethnic minority groups and judges and lawyers. The duration allowed for the mission had, however, been too short and access had been limited.
While he thanked the Government for the cooperation extended to him, Mr. Ojea Quintana had not come away from his mission with a clear sense of progress on the four core elements he had put forward to the Government in August 2008. The same large numbers of prisoners of conscience were to be found in prisons across the country, while new arrests and sentences continued. Those people had a legitimate role to play in the important upcoming elections; however, they were now explicitly banned from becoming members of political parties that wished to contest the elections and their parties were required to expel them in order to be registered for the elections. Of the current 2,100 prisoners of conscience, some 430 party members of the National League for Democracy – including some 10 Central Committee members and its Secretary-General Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – had been rejected. He reiterated his call for her release without delay. Another key human rights issue particularly relevant in the context of elections was freedom of expression, association and assembly. There could be no freedom of expression when all printed material had to be submitted to the Press Scrutiny Board for vetting prior to publication. In the context of the upcoming elections, he saw no indication that the Government was willing to release all prisoners of conscience and that fundamental freedoms would be granted.
Last year, he had raised his concerns on the situation of the Muslim population in the northern Rakine State, where an estimated 1 million people were excluded from citizenship on the basis of their ethnicity and were perceived as illegal immigrants. He had had the opportunity to spend two days in that region. The discrimination faced by that community was deep rooted and endemic. The response from the authorities to the alarming situation for that community was a consistent denial of the existence of any discrimination. The human rights challenges that the Government had to deal with were daunting and accountability for past violations had to be established, Mr. Ojea Quintana concluded.
Statement by Concerned Country
WUNNA MAUNG LWIN (Myanmar), speaking as a concerned country, said most facts in the report had been missing and noted a lack of objectivity. Myanmar was holding free and fair elections. The transition towards democracy was proceeding accordingly. It had reached the most important step in the seven-step road map. The country’s focus was not on the narrow interests of individuals but on the larger interests of the country. The destiny of Myanmar was to be decided by its people. Its judiciary was independent and impartial. There were no prisoners of conscience. Accusations in the report were an attempt to frame the country. There was no discrimination on grounds of religion and race. The Special Rapporteur made inappropriate demands of the political process by linking it with human rights issues. Issues mentioned in the report fell outside the mandate of the Human Rights Council. Myanmar strongly condemned and rejected certain unfounded allegations. Nonetheless, Myanmar remained committed to cooperating with the Council, while preserving its integrity and sovereignty.
Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights Situation in Myanmar
LAURA MIRIACHIAN (Italy) said Italy had followed with concern the human rights situation in Myanmar, noting some positive developments, but that the upcoming elections still suffered from a lack of transparency and inclusiveness. Recent electoral laws did not meet the expectations of the international community, and the authorities should open an inclusive dialogue with all political parties and ethnic groups and ensure a process of free and fair elections. The authorities should free all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and allow their participation. There should be a comprehensive political reform; in that context, the Special Rapporteur was asked what could be done to further that goal?
ALISON LECLAIRE CHRISTIE (Canada) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report and his efforts to visit Myanmar. Canada urged the Government to engage with the Special Rapporteur, particularly on the four core human rights elements identified by him. In the interests of an election that supported a genuine democratic process, based on principles of transparency, fairness and inclusion, Canada called upon Myanmar to free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to engage in a genuine dialogue with members of the democratic opposition and different ethnic groups in the country. How did the Special Rapporteur suggest Myanmar should interact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights?
DENIS Y. LEPATAN (Philippines) commended Myanmar for its cooperation concerning recent visits by the Special Rapporteur. The report had mentioned that Myanmar had been ranked 138 out of 182 countries in the 2009 Human Development Index. It was one of the least developed countries in the world. The Philippines had tried to verify information that 25 per cent of the people there did not have access to safe drinking water. Side by side data on health and water in the Human Development Report 2009 was data on adult illiteracy. Why had the Special Rapporteur not used that data? Myanmar scored higher than average, with only a 10 per cent adult illiteracy rate compared to 70 per cent worldwide. The socio-economic situation in Mynamar was part of global trend. The Philippines thanked the Special Rapporteur for acknowledging that and calling for international cooperation in that regard. That should be based on the needs and requirements of the country concerned.
KENICHI SUGANUMA (Japan) appreciated the positive steps taken by the Government of Myanmar towards national reconciliation and democratization, believing that it was important for the international community to acknowledge such positive developments while encouraging and urging the Government to take further steps. Myanmar should release all prisoners of conscience, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in advance of national elections so that the elections were held in a free and fair manner with the participation of all parties concerned. The implementation of the elections in an all-inclusive manner was indispensable to the success of the elections, and essential to the realization of democratization. Japan supported the Special Rapporteur's recommendations on the implementation of the four core human rights elements, namely the release of all prisoners of conscience; review and revision of national legislation in accordance with international human rights obligations; judicial reform to establish an independent and impartial judiciary; and establishment of a training programme on human rights for members of the armed forces and staff of prisons.
LEONOR VIEIRA SOUSA (European Union) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his comprehensive report and welcomed his recent visit to the country. The European Union, however. regretted that the Special Rapporteur had not been able to meet with Aung San Su Kyi and was deeply worried by the new electoral law. How did the Special Rapporteur assess the possibilities for credible elections? The European Union also welcomed the agreement to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ presence in the country and strongly supported the Special Rapporteur’s call for the Government to take strong investigative measures into human rights violations. What steps should be taken by the Government in that regard and what role could the international community play in that perspective?
TAE-ICK CHO (Republic of Korea) commended the continued efforts of the Special Rapporteur and Myanmar’s cooperation in that regard. On prisoners of conscience, the Republic of Korea urged the Government, among other things, to release long serving prisoners and those with health issues in particular. For a transition towards democracy, it would be necessary for Myanmar to take measures aimed at effectively implementing core human rights elements. It was sincerely hoped that Myanmar would carry out elections in a free and transparent manner. It was important now more than ever before for the country to ensure freedom of opinion and expression, which were preconditions for free and fair elections. The Republic of Korea would appreciated it if the Special Rapporteur could comment on which actions had to be taken first, in that regard.
BOB LAST (United Kingdom) said the United Kingdom remained deeply concerned at the widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Myanmar, and the culture of impunity in which they were committed, and urged the authorities to take prompt and effective measures to investigate and establish responsibility for those abuses, as called for by the Special Rapporteur and in previous Council resolutions. The United Kingdom was concerned, in the light of forthcoming elections, at the continuing and severe restrictions to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including further restrictions to participation indicated by the electoral laws issued so far. Elections could not be credible or legitimate without the release and participation of over 2,100 political prisoners, the creation of conditions for genuine dialogue and a process of national reconciliation with the opposition and ethnic groups. There had been some progress in the authorities' engagement with the International Labour Organization to tackle forced labour and widespread child recruitment. However, the United Kingdom also expressed grave concern over reports of renewed fighting in Eastern Myanmar, and in particular further reports of the targeting of civilians and medical facilities in violation of international humanitarian law.
RESFEL PINO ALVAREZ (Cuba) said that Cuba had a firm position of principles with regard to country-specific Special Procedures. All countries should follow the work approach that had been adopted in the context of the Council’s creation. Cuba took note of Myanmar’s efforts for setting up the coming elections. It was through dialogue and cooperation that the Council could fulfil its role of protection and promotion of human rights. Those efforts should not serve as a vehicle for politicization.
XAVIER BAERT (Belgium) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his detailed report and for his excellent presentation. Belgium regretted that he had not been able to set up the programme for his visit. Belgium appealed for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. It shared concerns on the election process expressed by the United Nations, and noted that several States and non-governmental organizations had already expressed concerns over the new election laws. Belgium requested a specific date for the pledged elections.
HECTOR RAUL PELAEZ (Argentina) said Argentina was greatly concerned by the situation of religious groups, civil society organizations and the population of Myanmar, and urged the Government to respect the fundamental human rights of its inhabitants. Freedom of religion and the exercise of the right to expression through peaceful protest and freedom of association were inalienable rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all States of the international community had to respect. The report of the Special Rapporteur focused on the issues of the protection of human rights, in particular the situation of prisoners of conscience, their right to a fair trial and procedural guarantees, as well as the freedom of expression, association and assembly. Argentina supported the view that Myanmar’s national legislation should be reviewed to bring it into accord with its international obligations, that it reform its armed forces in line with international human rights, and that it train the judiciary. The deprivation of freedom experienced by opposition members was an important impediment to democracy, liberty and justice in the country.
KHONEPHENG THAMMAVONG (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report and Myanmar for having provided good cooperation to the Special Rapporteur. It noted the significant progress made by Myanmar in promoting economic, social and cultural rights and in assuring food security to its people and efforts in promoting national reconsolidation by organizing a free and fair election this year, as well as the Government’s commitment to follow the seven-step road map. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic hoped that the Government of Myanmar would continue and make every effort to fulfil its tasks to overcome the challenges to eradicating poverty and improving food security.
LUO CHENG (China) appreciated Myanmar’s efforts to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. It noted human rights improvements that had taken place. As a friendly neighbour, China respected the country’s choice of its own road to development. It also appreciated the Government’s efforts for political reconciliation. China would cooperate accordingly in that regard.
DOUGLAS M. GRIFFITHS (United States), welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, which painted a grim picture of the continuing human rights tragedy in Myanmar. The recommendation that the United Nations consider creating a commission of inquiry was significant. That recommendation served to underscore the seriousness of the human rights problems in the country, and the pressing need for the international community to find an effective way to address challenges there. Since the release of the report, the Government had promulgated its electoral laws, and the United States was deeply disappointed in them, as they excluded all of the country's more than 2,000 political prisoners from political participation, imposed onerous restrictions on political activity, and limited the ability of political parties to operate and organize. That was a serious step in the wrong direction. Had the Special Rapporteur received any indication that the Government planned to review or revoke those restrictive statutes? The United States also shared the Rapporteur's concerns about reports of civilians being used as forced labour on military construction projects, and about recruitment of child soldiers, and hoped the Government would put into practice its commitments to eradicate forced labour.
CHOE MYONG NAM (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remained invariable in its principle of rejecting politicization and double standards, as manifested in country mandates. The purpose of the Human Rights Council was to do away with politicization, but unfortunately that still existed. As long as that was the case, the Council would follow the same path as its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea therefore strongly advocated the abolition of country mandates, as well as the unjust politicization and double standards applied to Myanmar.
TRAN CHI THANH (Viet Nam) congratulated Myanmar on its enhanced collaboration with the Special Rapporteur. The Government had allowed the Special Rapporteur to carry out three consecutive visits. The Special Rapporteur had had been able to visit prisoners, community leaders and non-governmental organizations. That showed the serious commitment of Myanmar to the national reconciliation process and should be recognized by the Council. Myanmar was also meeting challenges to the full enjoyment of social and economic rights. The country had been hard hit by the economic crisis. Myanmar needed international aid to help it achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
MURIEL BERSET (Switzerland) said the mandate on Myanmar was very important for Switzerland. It asked Myanmar to translate into action its resolve to cooperate. The forthcoming elections had to be free, transparent and inclusive. They had to ensure and include freedom of expression and movement. The Special Rapporteur shared Switzerland’s deep concern over systematic and endemic human rights violations of the Muslim minority in Myanmar. Although it was aware that minorities should be dealt with at the regional level, what approach could the Special Rapporteur propose and what could the international community do in that regard?
GEIR SJOBERG (Norway) said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar had pointed to continued gross and systematic human rights violation in that county. Norway was concerned about those violations and called on the Government to take prompt and effective measures to tackle human rights abuses and to remove restrictions on human rights. In order for the elections this year to be free, it was crucial that people enjoyed their fundamental rights and freedoms. The conditions of the present situation did not allow exercise of those rights. While the elections were an opportunity for positive change, the Government needed to be committed to that end. All prisoners of conscious had to be released. The Human Rights Council had the obligation to address the human rights situation in Myanmar, and the Government of Myanmar should therefore cooperate with the Council and bring to responsibility those that were found to be involved in human rights violations.
ANGELA ROBINSON (Australia) said the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Council again confirmed the dire human rights situation in Myanmar and reaffirmed the need for the international community to remain engaged in seeking to improve the situation. Noting the steps under way towards elections in 2010, Australia supported the Special Rapporteur’s call for the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Australia noted the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion that United Nations institutions might consider the possibility of establishing a commission of inquiry to address the question of international crimes in Myanmar. Australia would support investigating possible options for a United Nations commission of inquiry.
SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW (Thailand) welcomed the Myanmar’s decision to invite the Special Rapporteur for a third visit to Myanmar. It urged the Government to continue extending its welcome to the Special Rapporteur. The best way to enhance human rights in the country was to encourage it to expedite the process towards democratization. Recent weeks had shown some steps in that direction. Thailand hoped more positive moves would be upcoming in the lead up to elections. It urged Myanmar to take into account the concerns of the international community. Thailand reiterated its hope to see credible and inclusive elections.
ADNIN SITI HAJJAR (Malaysia) said Malaysia continued to believe that national reconciliation and consolidation of the democratic efforts currently under way in Myanmar were fundamental to enduring peace, stability and socio-economic development. Myanmar was encouraged to continue on its path towards democratic reforms, including by engaging the relevant stakeholders in the country through a meaningful and inclusive political process. The Government should continue to take the necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that the forthcoming elections would be free, fair and in line with international standards. Malaysia also encouraged Myanmar to continue engagement with the international community with a view to addressing the many and complex challenges it faced, including the humanitarian and refugee issues as outlined in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said that, as a close neighbour, Bangladesh was following with interest the events in Myanmar and continued to support the Government in its efforts towards the upcoming elections. Bangladesh noted with appreciation the many positive developments that had taken place in the past years in Myanmar. The international community could do more by engaging in Myanmar’s democratization. The situation of Muslim minorities in Myanmar remained a concern for Bangladesh. The border parts of Bangladesh with Myanmar were also being affected by that situation. Bangladesh, however, noted that the Muslim minorities had been provided with identification cards and had been allowed to vote in local elections; that was an undoubtedly positive development.
THAUNG HTUN, of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, asked for a resolution to follow from conclusions and recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur. It had expressed its serious doubts at the tenth session of the Council that the State Peace and Development Council’s seven-point road map to democracy had only been meant to legitimize military rule through the elections due to take place this year. Now, election laws had been designed to exclude prisoners of conscience from any political process ahead. There would be no polling in certain areas. What measures would be taken by the Special Rapporteur to deter the State Peace and Development Council’s moves against ethnic groups? How would the Special Rapporteur work with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States to improve human rights in the country?
GEORGE GORDON-LENNOX, of Reporters Without Borders International, said the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar had been allowed to visit certain prisoners of conscience, including journalists. He also rightly pointed out that the 2010 elections could not be held meaningfully without freedom of expression. Nevertheless, presently there were 12 journalists and many more bloggers in prison in that country, and few correspondents could access what was happening in Myanmar. Did the Special Rapporteur intend to work with the Working Groups on torture and on arbitrary detention to address the situation in the country? Also, did he agree that press freedom should be one of the priorities for the 2010 elections?
EMMANOUIL EATHAN ASIOU, of the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, expressed deep concerns that numerous urgent calls to end gross, systematic and widespread human rights abuses in Myanmar had gone unheeded. National reconciliation was not possible when abuses were being committed in various parts of the country, against ethnic minorities including women and girls, political activists, journalists and civil society. The International Federation also strongly condemned the recently announced elections laws, which stripped the over a million Burmese people of their right to participate in the elections. The minimum conditions for an effective transition to democracy had not been met. Yet the Government seemed bent on carrying out elections in a climate of fear.
JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s call to establish a commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in Myanmar. Ongoing research by Human Rights Watch had found that a range of crimes continued against certain minorities in the country. Myanmar was very different to many developing countries. It remained one of the most repressive regimes in Asia. The Council should support the Special Rapporteur’s call for an inquiry commission. It called on the Secretary-General to support Mr. Quintana’s recommendation and to convene a commission at the highest levels of the United Nations to put it into effect.
MICHAEL ANTHONY, of the Asian Legal Resource Center, hoped that the Special Rapporteur would study in depth the corruption that undermined justice in Myanmar. Virtually every case that the Asian Legal Resource Center had studied in recent years had illustrated the effect of corruption and procedural failures on the administration of justice in that country. Courts in Myanmar also routinely accepted as evidence confessions that had been obtained through the use of torture, and torture was now more widespread than at any time in recent decades. The Council and the Special Rapporteur were urged to make torture a priority concerning Myanmar; to insist that Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution be amended to prohibit torture; that Myanmar acceded to the United Nations Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol; that a law to prohibit torture be introduced; and that international agencies be invited to assist in the setting up of special units for the investigation and prosecution of acts of torture in the country.
PATRIZIA SCANELLA, of Amnesty International, welcomed the latest report of the Special Rapporteur. The gravity of its findings demanded a principled and resolute response by the Human Rights Council. The upcoming elections in Myanmar threatened to intensify the already severe repression of political critics. Over the past two years, activist had faced extensive surveillance, harassment, religious discrimination, arbitrary arrest, torture, imprisonment and extrajudicial execution. At least 2,200 political prisoners, including many from ethnic minorities, languished in Myanmar’s jails. A new law banning all political prisoners fr0m belonging to a political party before the election only served to erode the already highly restricted right to political participation.
TOMAS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, in his concluding remarks, pointed out that, ever since the start of his mandate, his attitude of cooperation and dialogue with the Government of Myanmar had been present and it would continue. Cooperation meant a meeting between two sides, and was a way of achieving higher goals, in this case protection of and respect for human rights. It also required significant results; therefore, cooperation could not act as an obstacle to making things public or to denouncing things. The important thing was the resolve to cooperate and to enter into a dialogue with the Government. With regard to the involvement of the Human Rights Commission of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it was noted that the ASEAN Human Rights Commission had only recently been established and its terms of reference were just being clarified. However, with the upcoming elections, it had the opportunity to play and active role. Canada had referred to internal mechanisms for human rights. He believed that a draft text for establishing such a body was being worked on, but a serious analysis of the human rights situation remained to be undertaken. The Philippines had asked about the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in Myanmar. That allowed him to highlight the indivisibility of human rights. Human rights conditions in the country were such that all rights were gravely restricted. The report had always touched on all rights together. Myanmar needed to take measures on civil and political rights so as to improve social and cultural rights.
Japan had said that it was also necessary to point to progress and positive signals made in protecting human rights. Mr. Ojea Quintana underlined that he had never omitted to make reference to efforts made by the Government to improve human rights. It was also part of the process of cooperation between both sides. The European Union had referred to his recommendations that laws limiting freedom of expression, association and the right to take part in political events be reviewed. The Government had indicated that that it had started a process along those lines, but he had received no tangible indication of revisions of those laws yet. On participation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had referred to moves to gradually release all prisoners of conscience. That had only been seen marginally. He would try to continue to cooperate with Myanmar on that issue. He had asked for another mission in 2010. The United States had referred to judicial issues; in his report it noted there was no independent judiciary nor was it impartial. He had also noted that the right to due defence was not ensured and that lawyers for prisoners of conscience had been arrested because they were defending such people.
The international community had to carry out a more specific assessment if it was going to work with the Government to improve the situation of poverty. Mr. Ojea Quintana insisted that the issue of Muslims that had already had an impact on other countries. He felt that ASEAN should play a role in addressing that case. Concerning elections, it was the appropriate opportunity to remind the authorities that they still had a major debt in the area of justice with regard to human rights violations to cope with. The Council should also bore a responsibility; it should focus on achieving a consensus to respond to that problem. That could mean the establishment of a commission of investigation. The Special Rapporteur stood ready to assess ways of proceeding in that regard. At this juncture, if marches or demonstrations were held there should be only proportional use of force. The Special Rapporteur hoped that in 2011 they would be meeting again with the certainty that Myanmar had started receiving the sort of care it deserved, which depended to a large extent on members of the Council.
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