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Human Rights Council opens thirty-eighth regular session

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2018年6月18日

Human Rights Council
OPENING RELEASE 

18 June 2018


Hears from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, and the Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its thirty-eighth regular session, hearing Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, deliver his last global update to the Council before his mandate ends in August 2018.  The Council also heard an address by Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, and a statement by Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar.

Opening the session, Vojislav Šuc, President of the Human Rights Council, extended a warm welcome to the eight delegates from the least developed countries and small island States, including from the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Tonga, whose participation in the Council’s session was made possible by the Voluntary Technical Assistance Fund.  The President stressed that the United Nations, including the Council, had a zero tolerance for harassment, including sexual harassment.  Concerning civil society and national human rights institutions, he emphasised that he would follow up on all allegations that he received concerning acts of reprisal and intimidation that were carried out in connection with the Human Rights Council, its mechanism and procedures.  

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noting that this was his last global update before the Human Rights Council, drew attention to the universality of human rights and expressed concern over growing attacks against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Historically, the most destructive force to imperil the world was chauvinistic nationalism and the United Nations was conceived to prevent its rebirth.  States must work for the human rights of all people, only then could peace be attained.  He noted the situation of human rights in a number of countries, adding that every decision to cooperate with the international human rights system would help create openings towards a more harmonious society.  The human rights ideal was the most constructive movement of ideas of the era.  Undermining human rights and human rights law was in no way an act of patriotism.  He said he departed an Office which was strong, absolutely committed to its gargantuan task, and which, in the face of heavy headwinds, had made progress.

Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, thanked High Commissioner Zeid for his tireless services and said that at its best, the Council had shone a spotlight on appalling violations of human rights in specific countries, and had given a voice to people who would have otherwise suffered in silence.  Britain considered the Council to be part of the rules-based international system that it was striving to preserve, and it shared the view that a dedicated agenda item focused solely on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories was disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace, adding that unless things changed, Britain would move next year to vote against all resolutions introduced under this agenda item.  

Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar, noted that the High Commissioner had played an invaluable role in supporting the reform process in Qatar, and his encouragement and understanding of the importance of a multifaceted approach to human rights, including through sport, had allowed to Qatar to make significant strides in the last few years.  He emphasised the value of sporting diplomacy, the power of which had been demonstrated earlier this year at the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang when the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had marched together under a “Unified Korea” flag and competed with a unified ice hockey team.  Qatar was working every day to ensure that the spirit of the World Cup was delivered ahead of 2022, which was a precious opportunity to celebrate common humanity and advance progress for human rights in the region.

The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  Next, it will hear Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, present his first report to the Council.  It will also hear the presentation of a report by Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, which will be followed by a clustered interactive dialogue with the two mandate holders.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Agenda and annotations for the thirty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/38/1).

Statement by the President of the Council

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the thirty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council, extending a warm welcome to the eight delegates from least developed countries and small island States, and in particular the delegates from the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Tonga.  Their participation had been made possible thanks to the support of the Voluntary Technical Assistance Fund and its 22 donor countries.  The President informed the Council that Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, and Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar, would address the Council during the meeting, after the oral update by the High Commissioner.

Mr. Šuc informed that in the three weeks ahead, four panel discussions were planned, as well as interactive dialogues with 21 Special Procedure mandate holders and two Commissions of Inquiry and 13 other interactive dialogues and general debates.  The appointment of five Special Procedure mandate holders was also planned toward the end of the session.  He emphasised that the United Nations, including the Council, had a zero tolerance for any harm or harassment, including sexual harassment and reporting of any incidents to any United Nations security officer was encouraged.

Furthermore, he said he could not stress enough that maintaining a safe space for the active participation of representatives of civil society and national human rights institutions was not only part of the mandate of this Council, but was also in their common interest.  As President of this Council, he assured that he would follow up on all allegations that he received concerning acts of reprisal and intimidation that were carried out in connection with the Human Rights Council, its mechanism and procedures.  

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noting that this was his last global update before the Human Rights Council, drew attention to the universality of human rights.  He expressed concern over growing attacks against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The United Nations was as great or pathetic as the prevailing state of the international scene.  Historically, the most destructive force to imperil the world was chauvinistic nationalism and the United Nations had been conceived to prevent its rebirth.  States must work for the human rights of all people, only then could peace be attained.  Certain States, through a pronounced sense of self-importance, were assaulting universal human rights and institutions.  International institutions must be fearless in the face of chauvinistic nationalism.

This Council session would consider numerous essential issues.  Among them, delegates had the report of his Office on Kashmir, and the coming report on Venezuela; they would also be informed of the findings of the Team of Experts on the Kasai regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And as he transitioned out of his position, the Office would continue its work on the database of business enterprises engaged in specific activities related to Israeli settlements, as called for by the Council, with an update possibly before September.  At the September session, the Fact-Finding Mission report on Myanmar would be presented to the Council, alongside the report of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar; and they would also receive the report on Yemen prepared by the eminent international experts.  In that context, he emphasised his grave worry regarding the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition's on-going attacks in Hodeida – which could result in enormous civilian casualties, and had a disastrous impact on life-saving humanitarian aid to millions of people which comes through the port.

In Syria, the leadership’s contempt for human rights laid the groundwork for conflict.  His Office and the Council’s Commission of Inquiry had been denied access to that country.  Turning to Myanmar, he pointed to clear indications of continuing systematic attacks against Rohingya Muslims.  In Kachin and Shan states, the conflict was escalating.  Myanmar’s response to the crisis had not met minimal standards of credibility or impartiality.

The Commissioner was set to release a report on the situation in Venezuela.  In Burundi, access was being denied to the International Commission of Inquiry set up in 2016 and the Government continued restricting civic space.  The High Commissioner said he had been pursuing substantive engagement with India and Pakistan over the past two years.  He encouraged the Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the human rights situation in Kashmir and reiterated his call for access.  

In Nicaragua, anti-government protests had led to the killing of at least 178 people, almost entirely at the hands of the police force.  The gravity of the events could merit a Commission of Inquiry.  Remote monitoring in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea found little change to the country’s longstanding, grave and systematic violations of human rights.  He called on authorities to step up engagement with international human rights institutions.  Making human rights a part of peace talks would lead to more sustainable peace.

Israel continued to deny access to the occupied Palestinian territory by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.  In China, the High Commissioner’s Office had not been granted unfettered access to the country.  The High Commissioner remained dismayed by China’s continuing efforts to prevent independent members of civil society from engaging with human rights mechanisms.

Turning to Turkey, he noted that an invitation for the High Commissioner to visit Ankara was not a substitute for access for the Office to directly and objectively assess the situation in the country.  Unconditional access to Bahrain continued to be refused to the Commissioner’s Office and Special Procedure mandate holders.  He deeply regretted the lack of progress regarding access to the Office to all protracted conflicts in the South Caucasus.  In South Sudan, human rights institutions were being denied access to regions where alleged rights violations were taking place.  There was a pattern of rights violations, including rape, perpetrated by Government forces.

The High Commissioner welcomed Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara and voiced concern over the suspension of a visit to Rwanda by the Sub-Committee on the prevention of torture.  He said he was concerned by the suspension of a visit to Rwanda by the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture late last year, due to serious obstruction regarding access to some places of detention; the confidentiality of interviews; and concerns about potential reprisals.  In Indonesia, he was concerned that despite positive engagement by the authorities in many respects, the Government’s invitation to my Office to visit Papua – which was made during his visit in February – had still not been honoured.

Bangladesh granted extensive and commendable access to his Office and all relevant human rights mechanisms with respect to the Rohingya refugee crisis.  However, Bangladesh had over 10 outstanding requests for visits by mandate holders to assess the human rights situation in the country itself.   Despite Mexico’s record of openness, there remained a lack of access for the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.  In Cameroon, he expressed hope that ongoing dialogue would result in the approval of a mission by the Office to all parts of the country.  Russia had been repeatedly asked for access to Crimea, in line with United Nations General Assembly requests.

Almost 40 States had received no visit by a Special Rapporteur over the past five years, despite requests.  Among them, 15 States had more than five pending visits: Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.  The High Commissioner stressed that attempts by Governments to selectively cherry-pick mandates they would invite undermined the integrity of the entire international human rights architecture.  

He deplored the openly voiced refusal of a number of States to cooperate with this Council's Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. Notably, the Russian Federation had formally refused to respond to any communications from the mandate-holder, including joint submissions with other experts mandated by the Council, despite serious allegations of violence, discrimination and exclusion of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, especially in Chechnya.  In many States, people faced violence and bigotry based on sexual or gender orientation.  Ending discrimination and violence was essential to the United Nations’ principles.

On a positive note, he said there was an increased response rate to communications and welcomed Afghanistan’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  He lauded increased efforts by several States to strengthen cooperation of international human rights bodies.  He encouraged all States to build on these good practices.

At the same time, he was pleased to note a number of positive developments with respect to access for the Special Procedures.  These included an increased response rate to communications, now at 68 per cent (an increase of 13 per cent over 2016); and Afghanistan’s issuance of a standing invitation to all mandate-holders, taking the number of States having done so to 118 UN Member States and one non-member Observer State.  He noted and commended the following States which had hosted at least five visits by thematic mandates in the last five years: Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Regarding engagement with the treaty bodies, he welcomed long-outstanding reports to the Committees by Bangladesh, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Tonga and Zambia, and applauded Qatar’s accession to the Covenants and Afghanistan’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, alongside many other ratifications.  His Office stood ready to support them in efforts to implement these commitments to ensure respect for their people's rights, and he urged other countries which had not ratified these and other human rights treaties to do so.

High Commissioner Zeid noted that he was impressed with Ethiopia’s commitment to undertake reforms that would advance the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.  He noted that Armenia had decided to enable his Office to assist in upholding the rights of Armenians.  Tunisia was commended for its extensive cooperation with the Office and Special Procedures.  Access to rights institutions was also granted in the Republic of Moldova and Uzbekistan had welcomed a special mandate holder after 15 years of refusals.  Libya had accepted its first ever mission from a mandate holder.  Human rights advisors had also been deployed to Belarus and Zimbabwe.

People did not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa.  He was increasingly alarmed by limits to the access of civil society organizations to migrants.  In Hungary, a bill was presented to Parliament that would effectively criminalize human rights monitoring at borders.  He expressed deep concern over recent policies adopted by the United States that led to the forceful separation of children from their families.  The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting abuse on children was unconscionable.  The High Commissioner encouraged Washington to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Every decision to cooperate with the international human rights system would help create openings towards a more harmonious society.  The human rights ideal was the most constructive movement of ideas of the era.  Undermining human rights and human rights law was in no way an act of patriotism.  Such actions would only result in exploitation and disaster.  True patriotism consisted of creating inclusive societies able to live in peace.  He said he departed an Office which was strong, absolutely committed to its gargantuan task, and which, in the face of heavy headwinds, had made progress.

Statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom

BORIS JOHNSON, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, thanked High Commissioner Zeid for his tireless services and said that at its best, the Council had shone a spotlight on appalling violations of human rights in specific countries, and had given a voice to people who would have otherwise suffered in silence.  Britain considered the Council to be part of the rules-based international system that it was striving to preserve, said Mr. Johnson, and noted that Britain shared the views that a dedicated agenda item focused solely on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories was disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace.  That was why, unless things changed, Britain would move next year to vote against all resolutions introduced under this agenda item.  At the same time, Britain was not blind to the value of this Council - including the work it could do on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the right agenda item – and it supported the emphasis on freedom of religion and the empowerment of women.

Mr. Johnson then underlined the critical importance of educating girls and recognized the reality in which 130 million girls were not in the classroom, the reality in which female illiteracy in some countries was at 60, 70 or even 80 per cent, and the reality in which there were bigoted fanatics who waged campaigns to stop girls from going to school, including the terrorists of Boko Haram.  “There is something peculiarly tragic about how a motley band of obscurantist terrorists should have made learning the written word an act of courage, fraught with risk and danger,” said Mr. Johnson, and stressing that educating girls was the single most powerful spur to development and progress, said that this year, the British Government had devoted an extra £500 million to the cause of female education and was helping another 1.4 million girls in 15 countries to receive a minimum of 12 years of quality education and learning.  

Statement by the Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar

HASSAN AL THAWADI, Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar, expressed his great honour for addressing the Council and noted that the High Commissioner had played an invaluable role in supporting the reform process in Qatar, and his encouragement and understanding of the importance of a multifaceted approach to human rights, including through sport, had allowed Qatar to make significant strides in the last few years.  Mr. Al Thawadi noted that human progress had transformed the world into a global village thanks to rapid advancements in technology and communication, allowing for cross-cultural interaction.  Nonetheless, the world was speedily rushing towards a breaking point, straining the ties that bound people; ideological divides had also been splitting nations.  Sport transcended society and the power of sporting diplomacy had been demonstrated earlier this year at the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang when the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had marched together under a “Unified Korea” flag and competed with a unified ice hockey team.  Through sport, deeply entrenched divisions had been cast aside and the Korean Peninsula had been united to cheer on their athletes.  

That had been Qatar’s inspiration for bidding to host the World Cup and working every day to ensure that the spirit of the World Cup was delivered ahead of 2022.  People from all corners of the world would visit Qatar in 2022 and it would be their first experience of the Middle East.  The World Cup had the power to drive forward the change required to ensure the health, safety, security and dignity of the people and Qatar’s journey on implementing necessary reforms had been accelerated as a result of the World Cup.  At the Supreme Committee level, Qatar had implemented a set of rigorous worker welfare standards.  Joint inspections focused on occupational health and safety and allowing for workers’ voices to be heard, as well as carrying out software and technical skills training to support workers in their careers.  The wage protection system was fully functioning, ensuring workers were paid in full and on time.
In closing, Mr. Al Thawadi emphasised that for Qatar, the Middle East and for the international community, the 2022 World Cup would be a precious opportunity to celebrate common humanity and advance progress for human rights in the region.
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