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Human Rights Council opens its high-level segment and hears from 14 dignitaries

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25 February 2019

Human Rights Council
MORNING

25 February 2019

President of Tunisia, Chairman of the African Union Commission, and the Prime Ministers of Yemen and Fiji Address the Council

The Human Rights Council this morning began its high-level segment, hearing addresses from dignitaries from 14 countries, who spoke about national efforts to promote and protect human rights, the importance of enhanced international cooperation in addressing current challenges, and human rights concerns in a number of countries and regions around the world.

Béji Caïd Essebsi, President of Tunisia, reminded that human rights were incumbent on all, adding that the Muslim faith was a faith that promoted human rights.  Human rights were an indivisible whole and the empowerment of women was a prerequisite for the development of societies, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.  It was not possible to have democracy without women. 

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, reiterated the African Union’s commitment to multilateralism and protection of human rights, noting that the culture of human rights had progressed immensely on the African continent, with human rights observers being deployed across Member States.  Despite progress, many challenges remained.

Maeen Abdul Malek Saeed, Prime Minister of Yemen, reminded that since 2011, Yemen had held numerous political dialogues with the participation of the United Nations, culminating with the drafting of a new constitution with a new vision for the Yemeni State, its functions and its political representation mechanisms, as well as a comprehensive system for human rights.  However, the Houthis had broken away from the democratic transition of Yemen.

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, noted that Fiji was no stranger to the systematic inequities that could snuff out efforts to engrain a culture of human rights protection.  However, with the commitment for a bold new vision in its 2013 Constitution, Fiji was placed on fast-track trajectory in ratifying the most important human rights conventions; it had already ratified seven of them.

Epsy Campbell Barr, First Vice-President of Costa Rica, reminded that Costa Rica had historically defended the principles of the United Nations Charter and multilateralism in order to settle international disputes.  That was why it could not stay silent in the face of attempts by some international actors to destroy multilateralism and multilateral institutions. 

Marija Pejčinović Burić, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, noted that the Human Rights Council represented the point of reference for many abused and underprivileged peoples, and with its elaborated network of Special Procedures, investigative, monitoring and complaint mechanisms, it was equipped with tools to reach victims of violations and impact the situation on the ground. 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, welcomed the Council’s joint efforts to promote and protect human rights, but noted that serious challenges required greater efforts to achieve the Council’s aims.  The ongoing illegal blockade against Qatar violated its people’s human rights.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, stressed that the world was witnessing serious and unacceptable threats to individual human rights.  Ireland would, thus, continue to use its voice and influence in Geneva to raise human rights issues of concern, and to work with others to shape a collective response.

Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, reminded that five fundamental principles were driving Australia’s advocacy in the Human Rights Council: gender equality, freedom of expression, good governance and robust democratic institutions, rights of indigenous peoples, and strong national human rights institutions. 

Damares Regina Alves, Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, assured the Council of Brazil’s unwavering commitment to the highest standards of human rights, to the defence of democracy, and to the full functioning of the rule of law.  That commitment was enshrined in President Jair Bolsonaro’s decision to strengthen the Human Rights Ministry in the new governance structure. 

Prak Sokhonn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, noted that while some only saw Cambodia’s democratic shortcomings, the country had been able to overcome war and genocide, and to make huge economic and social transformations.  He reiterated the Government’s commitment to providing its people with the right to food, health education, culture, housing and work.

Lejeune Mbella Mbella, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cameroon, stressed that despite its security challenges, Cameroon was anxious to comply with international instruments concerning hosting more than 400,000 refugees, as well as numerous internally displaced persons.  As for the crisis in the north-west and south-west of the country, the Government had put in place a consultation system for dialogue with unions. 

Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, emphasized that sufficient resources were crucial for ensuring that Member States were held accountable, and that there was access to the necessary technical assistance and guidance to support and implement human rights in practice.  The United Nations’ ability to help Member States comply with their human rights obligations must not be weakened by a lack of funding. 

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, highlighted his country’s parallel efforts to fight against terrorist organizations along its southern borders, and to host more than 3.6 million Syrian citizens, which made Turkey the host to the largest refugee population in the world.    

The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  At 1 p.m., it will continue with its high-level segment until 3 p.m., when it will hold a high-level panel on mainstreaming.

High-Level Segment

BÉJI CAÏD ESSEBSI, President of Tunisia, reminded that human rights were incumbent on all.  The Muslim faith was a faith that promoted human rights.  There was gender equality in Tunisia, particularly when it came to property rights.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations could rely on Tunisia in the implementation of the United Nations Charter.  The Human Rights Council reflected the concerns of the international community to consolidate human rights worldwide and Mr. Essebsi underlined Tunisia’s unwavering commitment to that goal.  The promotion of the human rights system in Tunisia was the most important priority for the Government since the start of the country’s democratic experience.  Since 2014, Tunisians had joined dialogue and consensus, and they had managed public affairs in that spirit, without exclusion and marginalization.  The national Constitution respected the highest standards of international norms.  Its article 2 stated that Tunisia was a civilian State founded on the principles of citizenship, the will of the people and the rule of law.  Human rights were an indivisible whole and the empowerment of women was a prerequisite for the development of societies, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.  It was not possible to have democracy without women.  The time had come for all Arab countries to ensure that women enjoyed equal rights.  Excluding women from equality in inheritance was contrary to the very soul of the Muslim religion.  Article 21 of the Tunisian Constitution compelled the State to ensure gender equality in all spheres, and to that end the Government of Tunisia was working on a bill on gender equality in inheritance rights.

MOUSSA FAKI MAHAMAT, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, reiterated the commitment of the African Union to multilateralism and the protection of human rights and thanked the High Commissioner, as her commitment was an inspiration for all those fighting for more solidarity in the world.  The Council still suffered from shortcomings and all had to mobilize more extensively.  Intolerance was increasing and multilateralism was subject to repeated attacks.  The promotion of human rights was central to the African Union in keeping with its founding documents.  The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in Banjul, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha, and the African Committee of Experts on Children’s Rights in Nairobi all shared the same goal – to facilitate the implementation of commitments taken by Member States.  The extension of the competence of the African Court of Justice now allowed to it to take up cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  The culture of human rights had progressed immensely in the African continent.  Human rights observers were deployed across Member States.  Despite progress, many challenges remained, including violence inflicted on civilian populations in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, and the prevalence of terrorism in Somalia and in the basin of Lake Chad and the Sahel.  This, as well as despicable treatment of African migrants, were tragic reminders of the path that still had to be covered.  The African Union was working on three levels, extending ratification of African and international instruments, strengthening the capacity of institutions where the Office of the High Commissioner provided support, and intensifying efforts in the area of conflict settlement.

MAEEN ABDUL MALEK SAEED, Prime Minister of Yemen, said that the ongoing war that had resulted from the coup in Yemen since 2014 had not yet ended.  Since 2011, the Prime Minister noted that Yemen had held numerous political dialogues, with the participation of the United Nations.  This process had peaked with the drafting of a new constitution with a new vision for the Yemeni State, its functions and its mechanisms for political representation, as well as a comprehensive system for human rights.  Political forces from all sides had participated in drafting this document, including the Houthis, who later invaded the capital in a tyrannical coup, which broke away from the democratic transition of Yemen.  The Government of Yemen saw any negotiations as a genuine opportunity for peace.  However, this could not just be a settlement reached between the Government and the Houthi rebels.  That would ultimately be a reward for the use of violence to achieve political gains, a reward for violating laws and human rights.  While the political process had resumed, and the Stockholm Agreement had been signed, the Houthis were still launching violent attacks, using heavy weapons and artillery.  The Houthis had imposed a stifling siege on local communities, and denied access to food and medication.  The Prime Minister decried the silence of the international community and of various human rights organizations.  Yemen’s Government was following the work of the Human Rights Council closely, and hoped more efforts would be made in line with international standards of integrity, neutrality and professionalism.

JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister of Fiji, said it was a privilege to address the high-level segment as this was the first time such an honour had been bestowed upon a Pacific island nation.  Fijian people had for long been spectators to the working of global leadership in protecting human rights.  Fiji was not the only nation that had to first reckon with a colonial history, before working to create a society that better respected the human rights of all people. They were no strangers to the systematic inequities that could snuff out efforts to engrain a culture of human rights protection.  Fiji had inherited laws and systems that were inherently at odds with human dignity, including an electoral system that determined the weight of votes based on ethnicity.  The economy was rigged in favour of the societal elite and the basic building blocks necessary to foster a culture that promoted human rights were weak under the strain of socio-political and economic upheaval, which manifested in communal divisions.  The commitment for a bold new vision gave birth to the 2013 Fijian Constitution, which had established a common national identity.  Fiji was placed on fast-track trajectory in ratifying the “Big Nine” human rights conventions and had already ratified seven of them.  The second-ever genuine parliamentary elections recently held were deemed credible and free by the international community.  Civil and political rights enshrined by the Constitution would be diminished unless they were matched by a vast array of socio-economic rights.  What was the point of prosperity if it only served to widen the gap between the rich and the poor?  Targeted investment in the growth of social wages had lifted generational burdens from people’s backs, allowing them to invest in their future.

EPSY CAMPBELL BARR, First Vice-President of Costa Rica, reminded that Costa Rica had opted for multilateralism and international law since 1948 as the only way to defend national interests.  Accordingly, Costa Rica had historically defended the principles of the United Nations Charter and multilateralism in order to settle international disputes.  In Costa Rica, international law was a priority nationally and internationally, which was why the Government of Costa Rica could not stay silent in the face of attempts by some international actors to destroy multilateralism and multilateral institutions.  Nowadays, the countries committed to the protection of human rights had to continue in that endeavour by using the mechanisms of the international human rights architecture, namely the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review, with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Today more than ever it was important to address the problem of inequalities and the growth of structural inequalities of modern societies and of the international community.  The 2030 Agenda for Development and the Sustainable Development Goals constituted the compass for countries to achieve progress for all, without leaving anyone behind.  In that sense, Ms. Campbell Barr called attention to the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and to the need to respect the rights of persons with disabilities, women and youth.  She also voiced concern about the systematic erosion of human rights in Nicaragua and Venezuela. 

MARIJA PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, was convinced that the commitment of the High Commissioner for Humans Rights to women’s rights would be of great value for the global human rights agenda.  Croatia was in the final year of its first Council membership and was proud to act as a Vice President, aiming to contribute to common efforts to make the Council more effective and relevant.  Today, human rights were an intrinsic part of every major policy and the Council was the cornerstone in the global human rights system.  In its unique role as the major global human rights body, it represented the point of reference for many abused and underprivileged peoples, and with its elaborate network of Special Procedures, investigative, monitoring and complaint mechanisms, it was equipped with tools to reach victims of violations and impact the situation on the ground.  However, the Council was also an intergovernmental body and its output equalled to what the Member States made of it.  Croatia was looking forward, in its capacity as member of the bureau of the Council, to cooperate with all countries to improve the Council.  The impact on the ground and a victim centred approach had to be the main targets in shaping the future of the Council.  In transmitting universal values on the ground, technical cooperation and capacity building were instrumental.  The Council of Europe had been striving for over 70 years to promote the highest standards of democracy and the rule of law, and the Prime Minister said she supported these efforts in her capacity as the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL THANI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said the Council’s session was being held at a time when many serious challenges faced the international pursuit of human rights, drawing attention to many increasing human rights violations around the world, particularly those in regions where there was armed conflict.  He welcomed the Council’s joint efforts to promote and protect human rights, but noted that serious challenges required greater efforts to achieve the aims of the Council.  Regarding Qatar, the Deputy Prime Minister noted that events last year had given rise to major developments in legislation to promote human rights.  He drew particular attention to Qatar’s new framework for strengthening the rights of migrant workers, including the adoption of amendments related to entry and exit visas for migrant workers.  Qatar was also about to adopt a national action plan for human rights as a strategic basis to protect and promote human rights.  The ongoing illegal blockade against Qatar violated the country’s human rights.  Nevertheless, thanks to the wise guidance of Qatari leaders, the country was marching towards the implementation of its Sustainable Development Goals.  Qatar reaffirmed its commitment to give $500 million over several years to support humanitarian efforts.  Mr. Al Thani drew the Council’s attention to Israel’s ongoing human rights violations against the Palestinian people, which were a blatant violation of international law.  He also decried the international community for being unable to protect the Syrian people from crimes of torture and disappearances, and called on perpetrators to be brought to justice at the International Criminal Court of Justice. 

SIMON COVENEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, stressed that the work and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had never been more needed than nowadays.  Human rights were at the core of Ireland’s foreign policy.  The commitment to freedom and justice was woven through its foreign policy, through its bilateral engagement and through its determined and committed membership of the European Union.  It underpinned Ireland’s commitment to the United Nations and to the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Government of Ireland understood that international efforts to create a peaceful, fair and just world could only succeed if they were based on respect for the human rights for all.  And yet, the hard-won multilateralism was coming under question from many directions.  In 2019 across the world, the world was witnessing serious and unacceptable threats to individual human rights: pressure and attacks on civil society and human rights defenders, and acts of intimidation and reprisal against those seeking to engage with the United Nations were rising at an alarming rate, and the use of the death penalty remained of great concern.  Ireland maintained that the United Nations offered the best, indeed the only credible platform to bring the international community together as a global community to address conflict, instability, underdevelopment and humanitarian crises.  Ireland would, thus, continue to use its voice and influence in Geneva to raise human rights issues of concern, and to work with others to shape a collective response.

MARISE PAYNE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, stressed that the indivisibility, universality and inalienability of human rights were principles which Australia had consistently championed through the efforts of Australian Doc Evatt in the drafting of the United Nations Charter, as an advocate for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as a supporter of the creation of this august body in 2006.  Five fundamental principles were driving Australia’s advocacy in this Council: gender equality; freedom of expression; good governance and robust democratic institutions; the rights of indigenous peoples, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians; and strong national human rights institutions.  According to the recent national census, over 130 religious traditions were observed in Australia, bringing challenges that required continual vigilance to ensure the universal nature of human rights.  In different parts of the world, persecuted religious communities existed, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and the myriad of other belief systems.  Restrictions placed on populations based solely on their religious adherence was alarming.  Australia would maintain its focus on supporting the work of the Council in response to situations of human rights concern.  The release of Asia Biba was welcomed, the challenges facing democracy in Venezuela were noted, as well as the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Uighurs in China and the horrific humanitarian tool of conflict in Yemen and Syria.  Australia opposed in principle the existence of item 7 of the agenda of the Council, as a separate agenda item focusing on a single country situation was inappropriate. 

DAMARES REGINA ALVES, Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil, assured the Human Rights Council of the unwavering commitment of the Brazilian Government to the highest standards of human rights, to the defence of democracy, and to the full functioning of the rule of law.  That commitment was enshrined in President Jair Bolsonaro’s decision to strengthen the Human Rights Ministry in the new governance structure, now called the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights.  That Ministry would give priority treatment to policies for the protection and defence of women’s rights.  Inclusion was the leitmotif for the years to come, and the Government would take measures to guarantee the wellbeing of children; to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; to combat racism and racial discrimination; and to fight violence and discrimination against human rights defenders and to protect them.  The Government of Brazil would also work to strengthen the right of everyone to health and education.  Without quality education there was no sustainable human development.  Turning to the link between corruption and human rights violations, the Minister noted that Brazil had to send to the world a message that the fight against crime opened the way to the realization of fundamental rights.  To that end, the Government had established an inter-ministerial committee to carry out the anti-corruption policy, which included the monitoring of public organs and entities.  Business enterprises would not be exempt from the obligation to respect human rights.  Finally, the Minister expressed concern about the serious and persistent human rights violations committed by the illegitimate dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

PRAK SOKHONN, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, said that Cambodia was regrettably at a crossroads of contradictory perceptions, some perceived it as a “success story”, a country which had overcome war and genocide and had been able to make huge economic and social transformations, while others could see only its democratic shortcomings.  The Deputy Prime Minister said that this year marked the fortieth anniversary of the end of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, reminding the Council that this regime had killed over 2 million people, while the majority of the United Nations Member States had imposed an embargo, denying the traumatised survivors of their rights for a further 12 years.  He reiterated the Cambodian Government’s commitment to providing its people with the right to food, health education, culture, housing and work as prescribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating this had been a priority throughout the reconstruction of the country.  Cambodia had had a growth rate of 7 per cent over the past 20 years, making Cambodia the sixth fasted growing country in the world; the poverty rate had been reduced to less than 10 per cent, and the rate of enrolment in primary education was at 98 per cent, whereas life expectancy had increased from 54 years in 1993 to 69 in 2016.  Cambodia would be able to meet most of its Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule.  It was regrettable that many of these achievements were not put forward in reports to this Council, as this politically motivated bias in reporting resulted in undue criticism of the Government of Cambodia.  Cambodia had extended the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ mandate in Phnom Penh for two years.   The Deputy Prime Minister reminded the Council that the Cambodian delegation had participated in the Universal Periodic Review, outlining the concrete measures that Cambodia had put in place to reach its human rights targets.

LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cameroon, said that Cameroon was elected to the Council on 12 October last year.  As in the past, this session of the Council would need to respond to many challenges facing the international community, notably hotspots of tensions that continued to grow, migration crises, violent extremism, environmental problems, and problems linked to climate change as well as multilateralism.  The President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, in his message to the nation in December 2018, had committed to ensure economic growth and improve living conditions.  The Office of the High Commissioner played an enormous role in capacity building and technical assistance.  The role of the Regional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy for Central Africa in Yaoundé was underlined as it benefited the public administration, civil society and students in developing a culture of human rights.  Cameroon’s security situation was the result of two factors.  The first was the fight of the Government against terrorist organization Boko Haram that had conducted numerous attacks, leading to the loss of thousands of lives since 2013.  The second factor was the presence of armed separatist gangs which were using terrorist methods.  Despite the impact of the two factors, Cameroon was anxious to comply with international instruments concerning refugees as it was hosting over 400,000 refugees of different nationalities, as well as numerous internally displaced persons.  Concerning the claims of the teachers’ union from the northwest and southwest of the country, the Government had put in place a consultation system for dialogue with unions; discussions were underway and further mechanisms had been set up, including a humanitarian assistance plan and the establishment of the Ministry for Decentralisation.  Cameroon was committed to resolve the crisis and comply with human rights.

INE ERIKSEN SØREIDE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, reminded that when the first Secretary-General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie, had laid the cornerstone of the United Nations building in New York in October 1949, it had contained a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Thus, human rights were literally the cornerstone of the United Nations.  It was Member States that had to make sure that all human rights were upheld and fulfilled, every day and in every single country, the Minister stressed.  She added that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were the roadmap for the future that the international community wanted.  They reminded all of the challenges that the world was facing, and they required everyone to come together as a global community to find common solutions.  Democracy, good governance and the rule of law were vital for development, economic growth and innovation.  Instead of cracking down on the political opposition, human rights defenders and independent media, Governments should safeguard an open space for freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas.  The Minister recalled that Norway had strengthened its partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights through increased funding, emphasizing that sufficient resources were crucial for ensuring that Member States were held accountable, and that there was access to the necessary technical assistance and guidance to support and implement human rights in practice.  The ability of the United Nations to help Member States comply with their human rights obligations must not be weakened by a lack of funding. 

MEVLÜT ÇAVUŞOĞLU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, stated that its ongoing fight against multiple threats including FETO PKK/PYD/YPG and Daesh across its southern boarder remained a necessity.  Since the state of emergency had been lifted in July 2018, Turkey had concentrated its efforts on a reform agenda to advance democracy to a higher level.  He reminded the Council that Turkey spent over $13 million on Syrian refugees and on promoting the human rights of those displaced in the 9-year long Syrian conflict, highlighting the hypocrisy of certain members of the Council who claimed to support human rights yet refused to open their borders to those in need.  He reiterated Turkey’s support for the Palestinian people and their right to a fully sovereign State based on the 1967 borders, and highlighted the human rights violations perpetrated in the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli State.  The Rohingya crisis was of continued serious concern.  China’s treatment of Uyghurs was also a cause of concern.  Turkey would like to see a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.  Finally, he stated that Turkish Cypriots continued to suffer unjust and inhumane embargoes in Cyprus.  The Minister closed by highlighting the need for a Europe without double standards, without racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, flagging the historic resolution 16/18 on combatting intolerance based on religion as a guiding principle.

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