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Human Rights Council holds separate interactive dialogues with the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent and on the Secretary-General’s report on alleged reprisals.

30 September 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues with the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent and on the Secretary-General’s report on alleged reprisals.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent were the European Union, Ecuador on behalf of a group of countries, Canada, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Cuba, Indonesia, Libya, Senegal, India, Togo, Morocco, South Africa, China, Iran, Angola, United Nations Population Fund, Venezuela, Nepal, Russian Federation, Sudan, Egypt and Chad.
  
Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, International Federation for the Protection of the Rights of Ethnic, Religious, Linguistic and Other Minorities, Terra de Direitos, Justiça Global, International Service for Human Rights, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Iraqi Development Organization, Chinese Association for International Understanding, Centre for Justice and International Law, and International-Lawyers.Org.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue on the report of the Secretary-General on alleged reprisals against those who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms.

Speaking on the debate on the report of the Secretary-General on alleged reprisals were the European Union, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, Austria on behalf of a group of countries, Israel, Germany, State of Palestine, Pakistan, France, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, China, Australia, Thailand, Botswana, Iran, Venezuela, Philippines (video statement), Croatia, Ireland, Marshall Islands, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Egypt, Hungary, Slovakia, Colombia, Cambodia, Georgia, Armenia, Andorra (video statement), India and Sri Lanka.

Also speaking were the following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations : NHRI-Philippines, Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights House Foundation, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Iran, Brazil, India, China, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Armenia spoke in right of reply. 

Iran spoke in a point of order.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-fifth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 1 October, at 9 a.m.  to continue the general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, followed by a general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Presentation of Reports

DOMINIQUE DAY, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent, said the Working Group’s annual report on systemic racism and global protests examined how the COVID-19 pandemic revealed racial discrimination in institutions designed to confer justice, equity and redress, and made recommendations.  Failure to appreciate the risks faced by Afro-descendent populations had facilitated racial disparities in the pandemic.  The failure to keep disaggregated data concealed human rights violations and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  “If you don’t count us, we don’t count,” she said. 

On the Working Group’s visit to Ecuador, while welcoming the Government’s recognition of historic and structural racial discrimination faced by people of African descent, Ms. Day expressed deep concerns about the activities of extractive industries, including the lack of monitoring and sanctions by the State, given significant environmental harms impacting Afro-Ecuadorians. 

Turning to Peru, Ms. Day welcomed the good practices adopted and positive steps taken to promote the human rights of people of African descent in the country, including the Government’s historical apology to Afro-Peruvians in 2009.  Yet, she noted that the poor implementation of the State’s anti-discrimination framework had led to a profound denial of access to public administration, public goods and public services.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Ecuador, speaking as a concerned country, said the Working Group had been received at the highest level and met with various State authorities.  Ecuador welcomed the report's recognition of the broad regulatory framework and guarantees that existed in the country.  Ecuador, as a plurinational and intercultural State, in which the majority of its population was mixed-race, guaranteed the exercise of the rights established in its Constitution and in international instruments.  The report brought an important list of recommendations to which the Ecuadorian State and its institutions would give due attention.  Likewise, Ecuador appreciated the recommendation to include “ethno-education” in the national school curriculum.  There were already programmes underway in the country to that end.  Ecuador would continue efforts to guarantee to its entire population the reduction of existing gaps in education.

Ombudsman of Ecuador said his office had created a working group tasked with ensuring the realization of the rights of the Afro-descendant population.  It had also launched initiatives within the framework of the Decade for People of African Descent.  The State must further strengthen the participation of people of African descent in the world of work and the education sector, to improve their living conditions.

Peru, speaking as a concerned country, said remarkable progress had been achieved, some of which had been acknowledged in the report.  Regarding the legal framework, Peru regretted that the report did not mention some policies that it considered central to the efforts made by the Government to benefit the Afro-Peruvian population, such as the national gender equality policy.  The report repeatedly referred to the need to strengthen the existing data on Afro-Peruvians, and at the same time, the Working Group affirmed that Afro-Peruvians suffered disproportionately from a lack of access to basic services because of structural racism.  There seemed to be a contradiction between these statements, since they would have to be based on sources and figures that, according to the experts themselves, were deficient, imperfect or non-existent.

Discussion

Agreeing with the Working Group, speakers said it was essential to assess the needs and vulnerabilities faced by Afro-descendant populations when making decisions, in line with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the 2030 Agenda and other international human rights instruments.  Halfway through the International Decade for People of African Descent, the Working Group should request the publication of the programme of activities for the International Decade in the form of a brochure, easily accessible in the official languages of the United Nations.  Structural racism pervaded institutions worldwide, and Member States had a duty to eliminate racism and racial discrimination.  The Working Group would benefit from a more balanced approach and should diversify its sources.  What role could the tech industry play in tackling the issues broached in the report, asked some speakers.  Police violence and systemic violence against people of African descent did not start yesterday, speakers noted, and urged the Council to remain vigilant.  Pointing out the higher prevalence of COVID-19 amongst people of African descent, speakers said the pandemic was highlighting and exacerbating inequalities and urged a proactive anti-racist approach.  Speakers also drew attention to systemic discrimination against people of African descent, such as egregious instances of police violence, in several countries, including Brazil, France, United States, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Concluding Remarks

DOMINIQUE DAY, Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent, thanking Member States and civil society representatives for their robust engagement, underlined the importance of disaggregated data to render visible issues of people of African descent faced in enjoying their human rights.  The International Decade provided a unique opportunity to provide redress to some of these issues.  And yet, no country had embraced it in the way the Working Group would like to see.  Anti-racism must be embedded in all societies, she added.

Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on Alleged Reprisals

Presentation of Report

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, presenting the report, said that, regrettably, acts of intimidation and reprisal were reported in similar scope and numbers as in the past.  Intimidation and reprisals were unequivocal and unacceptable violations of the targeted individuals’ rights.  They also were an obstacle to participation and good governance.  “We cannot tolerate that voices are silenced,” she stated.  Among the most egregious violations was that an individual could suffer prolonged deprivation of liberty for exercising their right to communicate with the United Nations, all the more so when this detention had been declared arbitrary by United Nations experts.  Multiple United Nations actors had raised individual allegations in repressive environments over a number years which were included in this year’s report, for example in Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam, among others.  Examples where peacekeeping missions had documented trends highlighted in the report included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and South Sudan.  The increased visibility brought about by women’s engagement with the United Nations, in particular women defenders and peacebuilders, could increase their vulnerability to reprisals and further stigmatization.  This could create a vicious cycle both rooted in and resulting in entrenched discrimination.

Discussion

Emphasising that impunity was not an option, speakers asked the Assistant Secretary-General what could be done to prevent reprisals in the digital sphere.  Reprisals undermined the credibility of the United Nations.  Strongly condemning reprisals that took place in countries that were candidates to join the Council, speakers said COVID-19 represented both a challenge and an opportunity for civil society participation, and encouraged the use of secured modes of remote participation.  Some speakers said that the report was filled with inaccuracies and contained allegations that lacked information.  Preventing reprisals and protecting human rights defenders were key components of the Secretary-General’s framework, and should be endorsed, other speakers said.  Did the Assistant Secretary-General agree that a State’s record on addressing reprisals should be considered when deciding on its candidacy for the Human Rights Council? 

Concluding Remarks

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, thanking those present for their engagement, said that the report used several internal sources, as well as testimonies from victims and people who defended them, in its victims-centred approach.  The gender aspect was something they were increasingly considering, and additional data was needed so they may focus on vulnerable groups, she added.

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For use of the information media; not an official record