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Human Rights Council hears from 11 dignitaries as it opens its high-level segment

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26 February 2018

Presidents of Austria and Mozambique and Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Address the Council

GENEVA (26 February 2018) - The Human Rights Council this morning began its high-level segment, hearing addresses from dignitaries from 11 countries, who spoke about human rights concerns in a number of countries and regions around the world, national efforts to promote and protect human rights, and the importance of enhanced international cooperation in addressing current challenges.  

Alexander Van Der Belen, President of Austria, said that with many leaders threatening to withdraw from treaties and others arbitrarily interpreting treaties, it was pivotal to acknowledge that progress in protecting rights was not irreversible.  Austria presented its candidacy for membership of the Council for the period of 2019-2021 and reaffirmed its commitment to support a sufficiently funded leadership of the Council.

Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, President of Mozambique, said that armed conflicts and illegal migrations continued to decimate many human lives.  Thousands of people, including young people from countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America had been forced to migrate because of armed conflicts and poverty.  

Dragan Čović, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that Bosnia and Herzegovina had experienced the gravest human rights violations in the recent past and today as a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, it was committed to combatting all forms of discrimination and intolerance.  A rising concern was the fight against extremism and the prevention of terrorism.  

Peter Cosgrove, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, paid his respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples joining the Human Rights Council, recognizing the lasting contribution they had made to the Australian nation.  Australia had welcomed more than seven million migrants – including 800,000 refugees that came in waves since the Second World War – in a population that was 24 million people today.  

Sheikh Modammed Bin-Abdulrahman Bin Jassim Al-Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said his country was honored to see its renewal as a member of the Human Rights Council.  The repercussions of violations stemming from the illicit blockade and unilateral measures taken against Qatar had been confirmed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The international community had to work to enshrine the ceasefire and put an end to crimes perpetrated against the Syrian people.  

Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, noted that extreme poverty had been halved since 1990 and human rights obligations had been integrated into agendas of all governments.  Women’s rights were an area where significant progress had been made, and the death penalty had been abolished in more than two thirds of the countries.  However, the human rights pillar of the United Nations was not getting sufficient attention.

Manuel Domingos Augusto, Minister of External Relations of Angola, affirmed that Angola was dedicated to the prevention of conflict in Southern and Central Africa and the Great Lakes.  It was committed to trying to find solutions to an inclusive dialogue, and to detect hotbeds of tension.  

Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, agreed that States were falling short on too many fronts.  Iceland shared concern over measures used in the Philippines to combat illicit drugs and called on that State to uphold the rule of law.  Iceland also called for an end to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.  

Ruslanbek Davletov, Minister of Justice of Uzbekistan, said that 2017 had been a very important year in terms of international cooperation of human rights but also due to numerous improvements of human rights internally.  

Fernando Simas Magalhães, Vice-Minister for Political and Multilateral Affairs of Brazil, noted that the Council needed to go past procedural and organizational matters, however pressing they were, and focus on the substance of its work.  The Council should contribute to the ongoing discussions on the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees in order to ensure that the highest standards of human rights were reflected in the final texts.  

Teresa Ribeiro, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, pointed to Portugal’s past tenure at the Council, noting resolutions that sought to pursue a human rights approach to mental health issues.  Portuguese speaking countries had also tabled a resolution on women’s rights in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  At noon, it will continue with its high-level segment.

High—Level Segment

ALEXANDER VAN DER BELEN, President of Austria, said 2018 presented a tremendous opportunity to reflect on progress made in protecting human rights.  The human rights architecture had brought rights and freedoms to people across the world, fostered peace, and allowed for the prosecution of rights violators.  Political leaders must be reminded of the relevance of international rights mechanisms.  With many leaders threatening to withdraw from treaties and others arbitrarily interpreting treaties, it was pivotal to acknowledge that progress in protecting rights was not irreversible.  Austria was aware of its responsibility to fight racism, xenophobia, incitement to violence and other threats to basic rights.  Societies could be measured by how they treated their most vulnerable members and Austria held the protection of minorities as a clear priority, including the protection of women and children.  Attacks on civilians in Syria had left the world speechless.  Civilians lived in a constant state of panic as even medical facilities faced attacks.  Austria remained fully committed to the cessation of hostilities in Syria.  Respect for international humanitarian law was a legal requirement and the Human Rights Council was an invaluable ally in reinforcing the rules-based international system.  Still, without national action, norms enshrined by the Council would not be effective.  Austria wished to intensify its engagement in the protection of rights as a member in the Council, presenting its candidacy for membership for the period of 2019-2021.  It also reaffirmed its commitment to support a sufficiently funded leadership of the Council and called for increased civil society participation.

FILIPE JACINTO NYUSI, President of Mozambique, said that the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and its Programme of Action were the moment for Mozambique to reaffirm its commitment to the agenda on the promotion and protection of human rights.  The world was witnessing a situation when fellow citizens who had been defending their ideals had been faced with situations which risked their lives.  Armed conflicts and illegal migrations continued to decimate many human lives.  Thousands of people, including young people from countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, had been forced to migrate because of armed conflicts and poverty.  Mozambique had approved important legal instruments to promote and protect human rights, and had ratified eight of the nine principal United Nations Convention on Human Rights.  Mozambique’s unequivocal political will and commitment was reiterated to the mandate of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.  In closing, the President hoped that the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, who promoted the realization of human rights in South Africa and throughout the world, would serve to inspire further struggle for human rights worldwide.

DRAGAN ÈOVIÆ, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a lasting inspiration for those who continued to strive to achieve the highest values, standards and principles contained in the United Nations Charter.  All those who shared responsibility at the international level should put more effort in the prevention of human rights violations.  Prompt and appropriate response was crucial for the protection and promotion of human rights.  It was thus important for all to fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  To that end the Bosnian authorities had extended an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism to visit the country in 2018.  Bosnia and Herzegovina had experienced the gravest human rights violations in the recent past; rectifying their broader social consequences was a key prerequisite for reconciliation and internal stability.  Bosnia and Herzegovina had signed the most important international treaties on the protection of human rights.  As a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed to combatting all forms of discrimination and intolerance.  Turning to challenges, Mr. Èoviæ highlighted the existing election laws which discriminated against minorities, preventing them from running or being elected to positions in the Presidency and the Upper House of the Parliament, which were reserved for constituent peoples.  It was particularly important to understand and respect such arrangements in multi-ethnic countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, because of the risk that members of minority communities would be permanently excluded from the public and political life.  Another concern for Bosnia and Herzegovina was the fight against extremism and prevention of terrorism.  

PETER COSGROVE, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, began his speech by paying his respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples joining the Human Rights Council, as well as the indigenous peoples from other nations.  Mr. Cosgrove recognized the unique and lasting contribution that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had made to the Australian nation, as had indigenous cultures all around the world.  Australia was a nation that believed, in principle and in practice, in the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings.  This was why from the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, Australia had always sought to develop and protect a multilateral system where relations between States were governed by international law, rules and norms.  Australia was proud of its instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrated its seventieth anniversary this year.  Seventy years on, Australia remained absolutely committed to advancing human rights for all.  Its experience was that building fundamental human rights and freedoms into the fabric of society made them safer, more prosperous and more secure.  The Human Rights Council was vital to the protection and promotion of global rights and Australia was honoured to take up its seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Australia was arguably one of the most successful and diverse multi-cultural societies on earth – a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, languages, and religions.  Its great ethnic and cultural diversity gave it the capacity to understand global human rights issues, including from an Indo-Pacific perspective.  Australia had welcomed more than seven million migrants – including 800,000 refugees that came in waves since the Second World War – in a population of 24 million people today.  It did not seek to define itself by race or religion, and it found strength in its egalitarian multi-cultural society.
 
SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN-ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said Qatar was honoured to see its renewal as a member of the Human Rights Council.  The world was witnessing an increase in conflict, terrorism, and use of unilateral coercive measures that ran counter to human rights instruments.  The repercussions of violations stemming from the illicit blockade and unilateral measures taken against Qatar had been confirmed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, he said, calling on the Council and all its mechanisms to shoulder the responsibilities of violations and put an end to racist unilateral measures.    The credibility of those countries had been damaged and action must be taken to preserve the credibility of the Council.  The Syrian people continued to face shameful conditions in light of the Syrian State’s indifference.  The situation also displayed the failure of the United Nations to act.  The international community had to work to enshrine the ceasefire and put an end to crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Syrian people.  Qatar called on the international community to provide all necessary assistance to Syria.  The Palestinian people remained under occupation.  Israel was violating international law and must put an end to military force against civilians and stop its policy of settlements.  Qatar called on all parties to pursue a two-State solution and put an end to the occupation.  Qatar also called on all parties in Yemen to put an end to the ongoing conflict.  Qatar would continue to promote human rights and pursue policies that supported the noble objectives of the Human Rights Council.

INE ERIKSEN SOREIDE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, noted that in 1948, appalled by the atrocities of the Second World War, the General Assembly had adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for such atrocities never to happen again.  Looking at the progress that had been made, it was noted that extreme poverty had been halved since 1990 and human rights obligations had been integrated into agendas of all governments.  Women’s rights were an area where significant progress had been made, said the Minister, noting that at the time of drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt had been the only woman at the table.  The death penalty was abolished in more than two thirds of the countries.  However, the human rights pillar of the United Nations was not getting sufficient attention.  Still, human rights defenders were showing impressive courage on a daily basis across the world, and Norway had been the main sponsor of the United Nation resolutions on human rights defenders.  The twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders this year would be marked by a high-level panel discussion at the General Assembly this autumn.  In closing, Ms. Søreide informed that she would sign a multi-annual agreement with the High Commissioner on strengthening Norway’s cooperation with his Office.  The agreement would significantly contribute financially to the strengthening of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in implementing its mandate.

MANUEL DOMINGOS AUGUSTO, Minister of External Relations of Angola, said that as this was the first time Angola took the floor as a Member of the Human Rights Council, he thanked the Human Rights Council Members for placing their trust in Angola and ensured his country’s commitment to furthering the prevention and protection of human rights and freedoms in the world.  This year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action were fundamental documents which reflected the will of nation States and stakeholders to respect human rights, including fundamental freedoms.  The international community, however, was characterised by increasing tension due to the large number of conflicts in the world which were in violation of human rights.  It was thus important to prevent conflict and promote peace and security throughout the world.  This was an essential condition for the full enjoyment of human rights and for guaranteeing fundamental freedoms to all citizens.  Angola was dedicated to the prevention of conflict in Southern and Central Africa and the Great Lakes.  It was committed to trying to find solutions to an inclusive dialogue, and to detect hotbeds of tension.  It was in this direction that the Presidents of Angola and Congo had met with the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in order to analyse the political and security situation in that country.  In August 2017, Angola had held general elections which had led to the appointment of a new government.  Angola continued to attach every importance to the protection and promotion of human rights and to the inclusion of civil society and political participation.  Good governance, the fight against poverty, and a relentless fight against corruption and impunity were at the top of the priority list of the Angolan Government.  

GUDLAUGUR THÓR THÓRDARSON, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, said that as the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights neared, it was necessary to assess its basic tenants as not all States were shouldering their responsibility to protect human rights.  The Declaration had come about to create a better world with full and equal rights.  Recognizing the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, he agreed that States were falling short on too many fronts.  States must not point to the United Nations as a body not related to the States that conformed its membership.  Iceland shared concern over measures used in the Philippines to combat illicit drugs and called on that State to uphold the rule of law.  Reports indicated that the Philippines was willing to cooperate with the United Nations.  He urged that Government to welcome independent experts to assess the situation without delay.  Noting that several States that were members of the Human Rights Council stood accused of rights violations, he said the Council had to lead by example.  If the body did not hold those States accountable then who would, he asked.  Iceland called for an end to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.  Gender equality remained a priority for Iceland and the Government aimed to eradicate sexual violence and violence against women.  Iceland would also continue to defend the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

RUSLANBEK DAVLETOV, Minister of Justice of Uzbekistan, said that 2017 had been a very important and productive year for Uzbekistan in terms of international cooperation on human rights but also due to numerous improvements of human rights internally.  The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion had visited Uzbekistan for the first time in 15 years, as well as the Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  In November, Uzbekistan would be hosting the Asian Forum on Human Rights in Samarkand commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  As for internal improvements, in 2017 the Government had adopted a five-year Strategy Action resulting in the introduction of 800 laws and regulations.  A total of 200 Special Offices under the Head of State had been opened for filing complaints, petitions and recommendations by citizens in all regions and districts.  The newly established online system had allowed for 1.6 million people to refer their problems directly to the President.  Judicial reform was underway and 71 additional economic courts had been introduced, completely new administrative courts had been created, and a Supreme Judicial Council had been formed.  The Government had also initiated the fight against corruption and in 2017 the number of crimes related to corruption had been reduced by 33 percent compared to 2016.  A decree had been issued in 2017 to pardon 2,700 prisoners, including those who had committed religious crimes.  The Government had also introduced a series of reforms aiming towards the liberalization of the economy by improving fiscal, trade, tax and investment policies which had been welcomed by the international financial institutions.  

FERNANDO SIMAS MAGÃLHAES, Vice-Minister for Political and Multilateral Affairs of Brazil, noted that in a diverse and complex world it was important to remember that what countries shared was greater and more valuable than what might separate them.  The international community had to engage in dialogue and uphold multilateralism, to be able to build a strong and robust United Nations that could help the international community deliver on its promises.  The ultimate task of the Human Rights Council was to listen to and channel the aspirations of peoples, contributing to achieving the highest attainable standards of human rights.  The Council needed an “aggiornamento” today more than ever.  It had to go past procedural and organizational matters, however pressing they were, and focus on the substance of its work.  In doing so, States had to find ways to overcome perceived politicization, selectivity and polarization, while ensuring the principles of universality, impartiality and objectivity.  Stressing that human mobility was a tenant of the globalized world to come, Mr. Magalhães noted that the Council should contribute to the ongoing discussions on the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees in order to ensure that the highest standards of human rights were reflected in the final texts.  The Council also had to take close to heart the International Decade of People of African Descent.  Mr. Magalhães announced that Brazil would organize a high-level side event together with UNAIDS to celebrate the Zero Discrimination Day against persons affected by HIV/AIDS, with a view to establishing a common basis for a resolution aimed to be adopted during the Council session in June.  Brazil also placed emphasis on the discussions on the right to privacy.  

TERESA RIBEIRO, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, said the Human Rights Council was a vital body of the United Nations and said her address would be in Portuguese in the hopes that that language would become an official language of the Organization.  Reiterating her county’s commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms, Portugal would protect those principles at all levels.  The multilateral rights system must remain strong, independent and impartial, and must set a high standard, with the Council playing a crucial role in that regard.  She commended the Secretary-General’s focus on implementing human rights across the Organization.  Pointing to Portugal’s past tenure at the Council, she noted resolutions that sought to pursue a human rights approach to mental health issues.  Portuguese speaking countries had also tabled a resolution on women’s rights in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  While Portugal’s mandate had come to an end it remained committed to fight for universal respect for all human rights.  Portugal would continue to build bridges and foster dialogue to ensure rights and freedoms were universally enjoyed.  Portugal called on dialogue with all relevant stakeholders as it was the best way to achieve universality.  It also attached utmost importance to protecting the rights of migrants.  In 2017 Portugal celebrated the 150th anniversary of its abolition of the death penalty and called on all States to establish a de facto moratorium on the practice.  Portugal called for action to address crises such as those in Syria, Myanmar and Yemen and called on all States to work cooperatively.  Ms. Ribeiro underscored the relevance of the Universal Periodic Review process and stressed that Special Procedures and treaty bodies had the unwavering support of her country.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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