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Human Rights Council holds clustered interactive dialogue on human rights defenders and on torture

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28 February 2019

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON 

28 February 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, started by paying homage to all women human rights defenders who had been assassinated like Berta Caceres in Honduras.  These deaths could have been avoided if States had honoured their engagements to protect human rights defenders in their work.  He spoke about his visits to Honduras and Republic of Moldova.

Honduras and Republic of Moldova spoke as concerned countries. 

Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, lamented that corruption was widespread in both developed and developing States.  The report outlined the fact that the closest causal interaction between corruption and torture existed where a particular act of corruption involved the transfer of an ‘undue advantage’ that amounted to torture or ill treatment.  He spoke about his visits to Serbia and Kosovo, Argentina and Ukraine.

Argentina, Serbia and Ukraine spoke as concerned countries.  Ukraine Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights also spoke.

In the ensuing discussion on human rights defenders, speakers shared the concern of the Special Rapporteur regarding threats faced by women human rights defenders and asked what could be done to decrease such threats and discrimination in the digital space.  What could States do to better tackle gender stereotypes and negative social norms and how could they better support the work of human rights defenders?  Delegates pointed out that environmental human rights defenders were particularly threatened. 

Concerning torture, delegates agreed that the link between corruption and torture was particularly worrisome and asked how States could protect vulnerable populations when faced with this connection of corruption and torture?  The Special Rapporteur on torture was also asked what States could do to ensure that there was no impunity for those who committed torture?

Speaking in the discussion were Angola on behalf of African Group, European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of group of countries, Chile on behalf of group of countries, Brazil, Pakistan, Estonia, United Kingdom, Sudan, Denmark, Liechtenstein, India, Belgium, Palestine, Canada, Croatia, Tunisia, New Zealand, Cuba, Jordan, Iraq, Czech Republic, Fiji, United Nations Women, Switzerland , Uruguay, Finland, Russia,  Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Chile, Italy, Philippines, Paraguay, Mexico, Austria, France, Costa Rica, Botswana, Egypt, Morocco, Slovenia, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Australia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Montenegro, Lesotho, Georgia, Burkina Faso, Albania, Malta, Council of Europe, Cameroon, Ecuador, Samoa, Bahrain, Indonesia, Armenia, South Africa, Maldives, Nepal and Bolivia.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, International Service for Human Rights (in a joint statement with Association for Women's Rights in Development, Amnesty International and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development), World Organisation against Torture, Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie van Homoseksualiteit COC Nederland, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Law Centre, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Europe-Third World Centre, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc., Peace Brigades International Switzerland, Terra de Direitos, Human Rights House Foundation, and Action Canada for Population and Development.

Ukraine spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will next meet on Friday, 1 March at 10 a.m. to hold an interactive clustered dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy and the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/40/60).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/40/60/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/40/60/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/40/60/Add.3).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/40/60/Add.4).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/40/60/Add.5).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59/Add.3).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59/Add.4).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59/Add.5).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/40/59/Add.6).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Torture

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, started by paying homage to all women human rights defenders who were assassinated, like Berta Caceres in Honduras, for defending their rights and defying those who stood in their path.  These deaths could have been avoided if States had honoured their engagements to protect human rights defenders in their work.  The resilience and determination of women human rights defenders to fight for and gain their human rights was admirable.  The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was not to establish blame or to shame countries, but to advise and develop in the spirit of cooperation.  Happily, an increasing number of countries saw the benefits of the country visits. 

In Honduras, the efforts undertaken to improve legal public policy and institutional frameworks to protect human rights defenders was to be commended.  However, it remained one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for human rights defenders, indeed the Global Impunity Index ranked it amongst 13 countries with the highest level of impunity in the world.  Human rights defenders were the targets of threats, torture, and harassment and were even killed, and the civic space in which human rights defenders operated was under attack.  Some categories of human rights defenders were at aggravated risk, including those defending civil and political rights, land and environmental defenders, indigenous rights defenders, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ rights defenders, women’s defenders, etc.  The Special Rapporteur encouraged Honduras to make the protection of human rights defenders and ending impunity a national priority.

In the Republic of Moldova, there was still a gap between the engagement of the Government with the international human rights mechanisms and the domestic implementation of its human rights framework.  The allegations of corruption in the judiciary and the General Prosecutor’s Office were of particular concern for civil society organizations, and the Special Rapporteur noted with concern that public authorities had stigmatized and discredited human rights defenders and their work.  Lawyers, journalists, media workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ rights defenders, and Roma mediators were more at risk of defamation and harassment, arbitrary detention and reprisals.  Mr. Forst called on the Government to take measures to guarantee that the existing legislation on freedom of expression was effectively applied in compliance with international human rights and international law standards. 

Mr. Forst said his visit to Colombia took place after a recent change of Government and at the second anniversary of the peace accord with FARC, and would be presented at the 2020 March session of the Human Rights Council. 

The Special Rapporteur said his thematic report on women human rights defenders noted that they were attacked for both their identity and their actions, and it also noted a worrying rise in misogynistic, sexist and homophobic speech by political leaders, and reflected the gendered risks that women human rights defenders faced.  Finally, 2018 was the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and he called on the Council to do more for human rights defenders going forward.

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture, said regarding his visit to Serbia and Kosovo, the regular prison systems on both sides appeared to be largely free from torture.  Great investments had been made towards improving the conditions of detention.  Unfortunately, numerous allegations of inefficient legal proceedings and excessive pre-trial detention and of frequent ill-treatment during police interrogation had also been received.

In Argentina, the Special Rapporteur noted that significant progress had been made with regard to legislative and institutional reform.  At the same time, torture and ill-treatment at the hands of police forces still seemed to be a regular occurrence. 

In Ukraine, the regular prison system seemed to be largely free from torture, and significant progress had been made in reducing formal police custody.  However, there were still numerous allegations of torture by the national police and the State Security Service.  In the territories controlled by armed groups in Donetsk and Luhansk, only three places of detention were visited, all of which had been pre-selected, and the Special Rapporteur was not permitted to speak to inmates without the presence of guards.  The Special Rapporteur urged the authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk to permit regular, independent and impartial international monitoring.

In terms of thematic concerns, Mr. Melzer lamented that corruption was widespread in both developed and developing States, and noted that corruption in one country could be triggered, facilitated or fostered by political, corporate or other actors in other countries.  The report outlined the fact that the closest causal interaction between corruption and torture existed where a particular act of corruption involved the transfer of an ‘undue advantage’ that amounted to torture or ill treatment.  It was noted that torture or ill-treatment could also be employed as a tool for obstructing the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of corruption.  Another frequent pattern of interaction between corruption and torture that was noted was where State officials demanded the transfer of undue advantages by deliberately exploiting pre-existing exposure to the risk of torture by predators.  It was also emphasized that even practices not amounting to corruption, torture or ill-treatment could contribute to exposing persons to such abuse, such as tough-on-crime policies that could entail excessive use of force and often resulted in arbitrary detention in inhumane detention conditions.  Mr. Melzer noted that, contrary to common misperceptions, the root causes of both corruption and torture could not be isolated to misbehaviour on the part of a few ‘bad apples’, but were almost always to be found in a broader failure of the surrounding governance system to prevent abuse of power through effective checks and balances.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, believed that the first step in solving a problem was to acknowledge that a problem existed and then to seek best practices in the international community.  There was a steadfast commitment and desire to cooperate with the Council and its Special Procedures in Honduras, which wished to improve its human rights situation.  Human rights defenders played a vital role, as was underscored by the President of Honduras and through the establishment of national protection mechanisms which were properly staffed and funded.  The Government was pleased that over 400 human rights defenders were interviewed during the visit.  In addition to protection measures, preventive measures were carried out.  A special prosecution office was established for human rights defenders and journalists.  No other mechanisms in the Americas had such a holistic approach to protection.  As for the murder of environmental human rights defender Berta Caceres, seven persons had been condemned for her murder.  The Special Rapporteur was thanked for his recommendations.  A formal request for technical assistance had been made in order to improve the situation concerning human rights defenders.

Republic of Moldova, speaking as a concerned country, said the Special Rapporteur recognized the Republic of Moldova’s continued support for human rights defenders in the work of the Council and its commitment would certainly be part of voluntary pledges for candidacy to the Council for the 2020-2022 period.  The development of a strong civil society was always a priority.  Some of most important measures in the Republic of Moldova included the new Strategy on the Development of Civil Society, the drafting of the new law on civil society, as well as the successful implementation of the two per cent designation mechanism, designed to support financial sustainability of non-government organizations.  It was surprising to see that the report said that the authorities did not consult sufficiently with civil society on human rights documents, where in reality the Government always relied strongly on the input of civil society when drafting strategies or laws.  A new development after the visit was that three weeks ago, the Government had approved the decision on the creation of the National Human Rights Council and its permanent secretariat.  Also, the People’s Advocate was accredited as an A status national human rights institution.
 
Argentina, speaking as a concerned country, called on all countries to ensure that Special Procedures had full freedom to fulfill their mandates.  Argentina had carefully read the Special Rapporteur’s report, and found it to be detailed and exhaustive.  Argentina was pleased to see that Mr. Melzer had recognized its full cooperation.  Argentina also applauded the Rapporteur’s recognition of having unhindered access to all facilities and that he was able to have confidential interviews with detainees.  Argentina expressed its commitment to further strengthen national human rights mechanisms, particularly the National Mechanism against Torture.  Argentina also reiterated its commitment to promote the necessary reforms to achieve better standards of transparency, access to information, and the production of open statistics which could grant a better window to understand the situation of human rights in the country.  Argentina said it was also dedicated to strengthening its policies of prevention and combatting of institutional violence, to the training of security forces, and to ensuring that the country’s penitentiary system complied with human rights regulations.

Serbia, speaking as a concerned country, stated that it was determined to be free of any type of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment within its penitentiary institutions through three strategies: improving the conditions in prisons to solve the issue of overcrowding, implementing re-socialization programmes to successfully reinsert prisoners into society, and developing special programmes for vulnerable categories of convicts.  Serbia had also improved the accommodation and health care capacities of its institutions.  To prevent torture in prisons, Serbia had put in place various measures, including training policies for their employees, regular supervision, and informing convicts of their rights and the existing mechanisms to protect those rights.  Serbia did not have the mandate to monitor the situation in Kosovo and encouraged those who did to continue to do that work diligently.  Serbia did not agree entirely with the report of the Special Rapporteur but took good note of the assessment and would try to benefit from the recommendations.

Ukraine, speaking as a concerned country, said that constructive findings of the Special Rapporteur would contribute to addressing all shortcomings in law enforcement and prison systems in Ukraine.  Following the delay on granting access to the delegation to the psycho-neurological facility for women in Kyiv, disciplinary sanctions had been imposed on responsible officials.  The report did not take into account the provision of the General Assembly resolution 73/263, calling upon all international organizations when referring to Crimea in their official documents as “autonomous republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation”.  Observations made during the visits to the places of detention in Donbas region had demonstrated that the serious deterioration of the human rights situation was caused solely by the armed aggression of the Russian Federation.  The Government of Ukraine was astonished that the Special Rapporteur thanked armed groups and de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk for their cooperation and the Government of Ukraine saw this as unacceptable.  A number of recommendations were welcomed, and many were in the process of implementation, including the draft law on amending certain legislative acts to ensure the harmonization of criminal legislation with international law.

Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner on Human Rights said it paid particular attention to combatting torture and other forms of cruel treatment, particularly when citizens were deprived of their liberty.  The Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner on Human Rights drew particular attention to the cruel treatment of Ukrainian Citizens in Donetsk and Crimea.  Civilians were restricted in their movements, and they lived in constant fear for their lives.  Citizens were being illegally detained or kidnapped.  The United Nations monitoring mission in Ukraine had confirmed these facts.  Concern was expressed about the torture and cruel treatment applied to Ukrainian citizens who were held in the occupied territory. Detainees were subjected to beatings, torture and inhumane living conditions and did not have access to medical treatment.  The right to a fair trial, access to medical assistance, freedom of worship, and the right to diplomatic access were all being denied or restricted to Ukrainian citizens.

Interactive Dialogue

Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, shared the opinion of the Special Rapporteur that corruption created a conducive climate for breaches of human rights.  The African Charter on Human Rights prohibited torture according to article 5.  Combatting this scourge should be global and required the commitment of all people concerned.  States had an obligation to combat corruption and eradicate acts of torture.  European Union asked the Special Rapporteur on torture to elaborate on how best to secure the necessary cooperation between monitoring mechanisms in the context of torture and corruption.  It shared the views in Mr Forst’s report that the shrinking space for civil society, including for human rights defenders, required concerted counteractions.  Burkina Faso, speaking on behalf of a group of French speaking countries, endorsed the recommendations made by Mr. Forst, particularly that human rights defenders should have protection from States to exercise their rights and fight against discrimination.  It asked the Special Rapporteur what practical and tangible solutions there were to curb the use of the Internet to attack women human rights defenders and their private lives.

Chile, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that when corruption led to cases of torture, it had to be especially criminalized in line with international human rights standards.  How could States protect vulnerable populations when faced with this connection of corruption and torture?  Brazil said that last year two women lost their lives because they were victims of intolerance.  Today, there was a programme in place which protected 420 people.  Pakistan shared the concern of the Special Rapporteur regarding various threats faced by women human rights defenders and asked what could be done to decrease it in the digital space.  Concerning corruption that led to torture, the Government of Pakistan had taken a number of measures to strengthen accountability.

Estonia stressed that progress achieved in the field of gender equality was to a great extent owed to women human rights defenders, so the Special Rapporteur was asked what could States do to better tackle gender stereotypes and negative social norms?  Regret was voiced that Mr. Melzer could not access the whole territory of Ukraine and it was agreed that the Russian Federation should allow unimpeded access.  United Kingdom asked what could States do to better support the work of women human rights defenders?  The Special Rapporteur on torture was asked what States could do to ensure that there was no impunity for those who committed torture?  Sudan noted the pioneering role that women human rights defenders played in Sudan.  The Special Rapporteur was asked to examine the practices of rebel groups and undocumented migrants.

Denmark shared the Special Rapporteur’s commitment to universal and absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment and noted the need to better understand the interactions between corruption and human rights and explore effective counter measures.  How could such strengthened cooperation take place to secure the necessary synergies?  Lichtenstein expressed great alarm at reports that women human rights defenders often faced additional and different risks and obstacles that were gendered, intersectional and shaped by entrenched gender stereotypes.  It welcomed the initiative of Norway to table a resolution looking at the particular threats that environmental human rights defenders were facing.  India said it was committed to ensuring a safe working environment for all, including those working to promote and protect human rights. India’s national human rights commission treated the protection of human rights defenders as one of its central priorities. 

Belgium said it fully agreed that women, and women human rights defenders in particular, had a critical role to play in furthering human rights.  Belgium noted that policies aimed at empowering women or advancing women’s rights should include a focus which ensured a safe and enabling environment for women human rights defenders to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association.  State of Palestine noted that Israel had unleashed a systematic campaign against legitimate Palestinian human rights organizations and human rights defenders who had spent decades monitoring and advocating against human rights violations.  What measures could be taken so that Israel as an occupying power would abide by its legal obligations and be held accountable? Canada noted with concern that human rights defenders were increasingly under attack as a result of their work, including in the digital context.  Canada asked how businesses could use the Guiding Principles on business and human rights to meet the needs of human rights defenders?

Croatia believed that a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders had to be free from threats and intimidation.  How could the international community further advance safeguarding human rights defenders, especially women?  Tunisia shared the opinion that corruption, as a phenomenon, existed in different levels in all segments of society and asked how they could make sure that fighting corruption did not lead to human rights violations.  The future of cooperation between States to increase the protection of human rights defenders was welcomed.  New Zealand asked how multilateral institutions could take measures to counter regression in relation to women’s rights and protection of women’s rights defenders?  It supported the recommendation for stronger cooperation between the United Nations mechanisms to understand the causal interaction between corruption and human rights violations.  Cuba noted that the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur against torture were particularly relevant for migrants, taking into account dangers of smuggling.  The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders was asked to be as objective as possible, and to behave in line with the code of conduct for Special Procedures.

Jordan called for more accountability and transparency on corruption.  The constitution of Jordan stipulated that any individual deprived of their liberty must be treated with respect to their dignity and that any confessions made under torture were void.  Iraq provided a vast space for human rights defenders to express their opinion, as reflected by the 3,200 non-governmental organizations working in the country.  Iraq was doing its utmost to bring ISIS terrorists to justice.  Czech Republic stated that although women now enjoyed greater equality thanks to the work of professionals, it was concerned that funding to further women’s equality was declining.  What could be done, in addition to the adoption of the resolution on equal participation in public affairs and its guidelines, to promote the participation of women in public affairs.

Fiji stated that women human rights defenders faced the same risks as men, as well as additional obstacles and gendered risks.  It asked if there was adequate disaggregated data on the violence and killing of women human rights defenders.  UN Women was concerned about the increasingly challenging environment in which women human rights defenders operated, including harassment, violence and impunity.  Human rights defenders represented a broad interconnected network and States needed to work together to deconstruct patriarchal structures to defend women’s rights.

Switzerland commended the report by the Special Rapporteur on torture for showing a causal interaction between corruption and torture, and asked him if he were to prioritize his recommendations, which measure would be the most important?  Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders if he had specific recommendations for enterprises regarding the protection of women human rights defenders?  Uruguay noted a serious deterioration in the situation for human rights defenders in Latin America, and urged all countries in the region to implement specific measures to protect these rights defenders.  Uruguay noted that defenders for women’s rights suffered from a reduction in funding, affecting their role in a number of ways, including access to sexual and reproductive health services.  Finland noted that the topic of human rights defenders was an important one, which required special attention, as women human rights defenders were increasingly subject to harassment, violence and intimidation.  How could States best address the new forms of harassment, violence and abuse against defenders?

Russia commended the Special Rapporteur for his report which suggested that corruption created favourable conditions for human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment.  However, Russia said it was confounded by the inclusion of entities within the Russian Federation such as the Crimean region, which should only be considered in the context of human rights in Russia.  Saudi Arabia regretted that many of the references in the report on the rights of female Saudi Arabian human rights defenders were unfounded.  Saudi Arabia noted that the Kingdom had always complied with international human rights treaties when it came to the application of justice.  Sierra Leone noted with concern that recent developments in the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone were mentioned in a misleading way.  Sierra Leone noted that it was fully committed to the principles of transparency and accountability, in respect of the work of both the Government and non-governmental organizations.

Venezuela guaranteed the provision of all positive conditions conducive to the work of human rights defenders in the country.  In 2013, the law on the prevention of torture had been promulgated to combat cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of human rights defenders and to provide remedy to any victims of these crimes.  Netherlands stated that it was crucial to ensure that strong networks were maintained between women human rights defenders in order to share best practices.  It was concerned that conservative voices in the international debate on gender equality would have negative repercussions on women human rights defenders.

Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Torture

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, thanked the Government of Honduras and accepted the proposal for follow up. To the Republic of Moldova, he noted that cooperation with mandate holders was useful and it was good to see that the system of consultations with civil society had been broadened.  Many delegations - European Union, Belgium and others – had asked what could be done to improve the situation of women human rights defenders.  There was a report prepared on indicators and good practices, containing specific mechanisms on women human rights defenders.  Collective protection was very important, especially in villages and local communities, for small holders who were unable to protect themselves.  This had been developed by some States and could be extended.  Netherlands had a good project on shelters for women human rights defenders.  There was an urgent need to create networks of women defenders and the Global Coalition of women defenders did excellent work, but there were some countries where such networks did not exist. The announcement of UN Women was welcomed and guidelines on the protection of women defenders was a good idea.  Cooperation with treaty bodies was underscored as well.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also wanted to discuss recommendations, and cooperation with regional bodies was needed.  The response of the International Association of Francophonie was also welcomed to develop special programmes aimed at defending women defenders.

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture, thanked the delegations of Ukraine, Serbia and Argentina for their cooperation and for taking measures to address issues that were noted.  As for the terminology used in the report for Ukraine, great care was taken to ensure that the terminology was in line with relevant United Nations resolutions.  Concerning visits to the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, the Special Rapporteur had sought to access all parts of the territory and it was not intended to challenge the sovereignty of Ukraine.  As for the question of the European Union on securing cooperation between monitoring mechanisms for torture and corruption, it was important that countries had full oversight mechanisms, as foreseen in the United Nations instruments on corruption and on torture.  Exposing patterns of corruption and ill-treatment had to be done.  Ensuring synergies within the United Nations, without duplication, meant there was a need to examine both corruption and torture within their mandates and exchange information.  Concern expressed by Tunisia on the danger that anti-corruption measures could lead to human rights violations was shared, making the independent oversight even more important.  A zero policy towards both corruption and torture had to be implemented by States.

Interactive Dialogue

Republic of Korea stated that it was imperative that all stakeholders joined forces to build a safe enabling environment that protected the rights and security, online and offline, of human rights defenders.  It was also important to provide adequate support for their economic security and capacity building.  Chile was concerned that misogynistic, sexist and homophobic speech was being normalized and the reappearance of discourse that reduced women to the domestic realm hampered their access to full participation in civil society.  Italy stated that a vibrant civil society was vital for stability and prosperity and condemned all threats and violence against women human rights defenders.  It asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the negative effect that globalization and neo-liberal policies may have.  It also asked for examples of best practices related to the mainstreaming of anti-torture to anti-corruption policies.

Philippines regretted the hasty inference made by the Special Rapporteur in construing legal cases involving women public officials as politically motivated attacks against women human rights defenders, and reiterated the primacy of the rule of law, the observance of due process, and the independence of Philippine courts.  His partiality toward preconceived and ill-founded narratives aimed at politicizing human rights undermined the existing judicial process.  Paraguay stated that shortcomings in the system of government was not a phenomenon that could be eradicated through only trials, but through wide-ranging and multi-pronged measures, and asked what role national preventive measures against torture could have in combatting this phenomenon.

Mexico recognized the importance of women human rights defenders and journalists for the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law.  Mexico was also committed to combatting corruption at all levels and asked the Special Rapporteur about good practices to combat corruption in order to eradicate torture in detention centres.  Austria asked about examples of how Member States could more effectively protect the right to privacy of women human rights defenders.  Austria welcomed strengthened cooperation and exchange between relevant United Nations agencies to examine the interaction between corruption and torture.  France noted that some categories of human rights defenders were particularly vulnerable, and it asked about the specific measures to guarantee the accountability of States in that context.  What specific mechanisms could States implement to eliminate corruption and torture in the context of international cooperation?

Costa Rica noted that States needed to swiftly investigate any acts against human rights defenders because they were the cornerstone of democracy, peace and social inclusion.  It expressed concern about the tendency of some Governments to criminalize their work.  Botswana appreciated the focus on women human rights defenders due to the structural discrimination which they faced.  States remained the main players in ensuring that women’s rights were protected and that awareness about their rights was promoted.  Egypt underlined the importance of strict adherence to the legal terminology on the responsibilities and rights of certain groups, such as human rights defenders.  Egypt paid high importance to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on torture and to providing redress to victims of torture.

Morocco welcomed credible actions carried out by women human rights defenders throughout the world, allowing greater equality for women.  Morocco had a strategy in place to combat corruption and had set up a national preventive mechanism.  Slovenia said that women human rights defenders as agents of change were challenging gender stereotyped roles in society, but they were sometimes perceived negatively and suffered from discrimination.  What international legal framework could protect women human rights defenders from violence and mistreatment by State and non-state actors?  Iceland said that States had to stop criminalizing women for their work as human rights defenders and develop measures to tackle root causes of discrimination.  How could States better ensure that women human rights defenders were recognized, supported and enabled to participate equally and powerfully in the promotion of human rights?

Norway expressed particular concern for defenders working on women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and proposed to focus on environmental human rights defenders in this year’s thematic resolution, so hope was expressed that the Council would pass a strong resolution.  Poland shared concern on particular difficulties of the engagement of women activists in times of armed conflict and humanitarian crises.  How could their safety be improved and what was the role of Security Council members in promoting and safeguarding activities of defenders in conflict prevention?  Sweden welcomed the focus of this year’s resolution on environmental human rights defenders, taking into account that 2017 was the deadliest year ever for environmental defenders.  The Rapporteur was asked to elaborate on the situation of women defenders in the context of environmental and land rights.

Australia expressed grave concern at reports of killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, acid attacks, sexual violence, and intimidation of women defenders, including online abuse.  How could protections for women human rights defenders from online violence be strengthened?  Ireland reiterated its firm belief that the absolute prohibition of torture was central to the international human rights framework.  Ireland asked Mr. Forst what steps could States take to support confidence-building measures in official institutions, in particular for women human rights defenders?  Luxembourg shared the Special Rapporteur’s concern for the growing restrictions on civic spaces by authoritarian governments, which went hand in hand with intimidation and violence against human rights defenders.  Given that online harassment and surveillance by new technologies constituted two of the most important threats against human rights defenders, were there any recommendations for technology companies and Governments who sought to regulate their activities?

Iran said there was no doubt about the necessity of eliminating all forms of torture across the globe.  Violent extremism, including terrorism, was triggering new forms of torture, at times of war and peace, which were not addressed adequately in the existing international legal instruments.  Afghanistan said its Government had taken major steps in combatting corruption and torture.  Afghanistan recognized the importance of a robust and diverse group of human rights defenders as one of the most important pillars of an open, functioning democracy.  Special courts dealing with violence against women were currently operating in over 20 provinces across the country.  China said that its Government firmly opposed all forms of torture, and noted that interrogations of suspects were videotaped.  The Chinese Government had always striven to promote and protect human rights, within the framework of Chinese law.

Montenegro said that in pursuing their human rights practice, women defenders faced the highest level of risk and as such deserved the highest level of protection.  As for mistreatment in the context of torture, Montenegro called for the universal ratification of the Convention against Torture.  Lesotho underscored that human rights defenders needed to be supported as they were part of the international community which had the responsibility to turn the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into reality.  Georgia regretted that human rights defenders continued to face many challenges, particularly in the territories where sovereign States were deprived of the opportunity to exercise effective control, and where access of the international human rights monitoring mechanisms was denied. 

Burkina Faso shared the view that corruption in the judiciary could hinder accountability and punishment for the use of torture.  As for human rights defenders, in 2017 Burkina Faso had adopted a law to protect them.  Albania agreed that corruption could have a negative effect on the enjoyment of human rights, noting that combatting corruption required a concerted effort by all stakeholders.  It was concerned about the rise in discrimination, repression and threats against human rights defenders.  Malta agreed that women human rights defenders were at a greater risk of being targeted with violence and harassment.  The Government of Malta was currently addressing gender-balanced representation in political and public life. 

Council of Europe said that there was increasing evidence on links between corruption and torture, so the Council of Europe appealed to its Member States to step up their efforts in combatting both.  It was noted during visits to persons in custody and detention that treatment depended on practices of corruption among law enforcement officials.  Cameroon appreciated the report that noted the link between corruption and torture.  In Cameroon, the definition of torture was extended to include not only State authority but also other non-state actors. Ecuador agreed with the recommendation to strengthen protection against torture in the context of corruption.  A gendered approach had to be taken into account when discussing the situation of women human rights defenders.

Samoa had made a commitment to ratify the Convention against Torture and had ratified already the Convention against Corruption.  It was carrying out relevant legal and institutional changes to provide better protection against torture.  Bahrain was deeply concerned about the reluctance of organizations to address gender-based discrimination and violence.  The commitment of the Special Rapporteur was shared to eliminate any additional gendered risks faced by women defenders.  Indonesia believed that States needed to do more to protect women defenders and support their activities.  On torture, they were witnessing some countries with less corruption contracting out their practice of torture to third parties, and some preventing their law enforcement facilities from the practice of torture.

Armenia noted that the role of women in the promotion and protection of human rights could not be underestimated.  Armenia emphasized that a strong commitment to the equal and meaningful participation of women defenders expressed publicly by leaders in all sectors of society would contribute to the promotion of the activities of women rights defenders and to human rights in general.  South Africa noted that there was a clear gap that needed to be closed with respect to accountability for non-state actors, including businesses.  South Africa asked if the elaboration of a legally binding instrument would assist in holding transnational corporations and other business enterprises accountable?  Maldives emphasized its belief that it was the State’s responsibility to provide a transparent, safe, and enabling environment to protect civil society organizations, human rights defenders and whistle-blowers in their reporting and advocacy to end corruption, and recognized the important role that defenders played in ensuring equitable development and the protection of human rights.

Nepal noted that freedom of expression, assembly, association and practice of any profession were the core freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal.  Nepal emphasized that there was a vibrant presence of human rights workers and civil society organizations in Nepal carrying out their activities in full freedom.  Bolivia said that women had been at the vanguard of social change, and had raised their voices against the impact of patriarchy, fundamentalism, militarization, globalization, neoliberal politics and the impact of all of this on the rights of all.  Bolivia called on those States that had not yet done so to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions encouraged States to consider the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations to protect the rights of women human rights defenders.  How could national human rights institutions use the Marrakesh Declaration to reinforce the work of women human rights defenders?  International Service for Human Rights, in a joint statement with Association for Women's Rights in Development, Amnesty International and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, recalled that there remained a lack of independent and impartial investigation into the murders of Cao Shunli, Berta Caceres and Marielle Franco.  What were the means for follow-up on those cases through the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders?  World Organization Against Torture agreed that corruption was one of the root causes of torture in many countries, such as the Philippines, Paraguay, Mexico, Togo, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It also voiced concern about the widespread persecution of female activists in Saudi Arabia. 

Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture drew attention to the repression against peaceful demonstrators in Sudan, and called on the Human Rights Council to severely condemn those acts and perhaps establish a commission of inquiry.  Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland reminded that many national and European lesbian civil society organizations had disappeared due to patriarchal values and traditional gender identities and roles.  The conservative and nationalist rhetoric had led to the silencing of lesbian political voices.  Colombian Commission of Jurists recalled that during 2018, at least 154 human rights defenders had been assassinated in Colombia, out of which 16 were women.  It was particularly worrying that military personnel with questionable human rights records had been appointed as guarantors of the safety of human rights defenders.  

Human Rights Law Centre said that the Australian Government was keeping migrants as detainees on Manus Island and Nauru for six years in cruel and inhumane conditions amounting to torture.  Twelve people had died and there had been over 40 suicide attempts in Manus in just three months last year.   International Lesbian and Gay Association said that 10 days ago, a gender equality activist in Iran was charged with collusion against national security.  In Honduras, there was an increase of fundamentalism and hate speech, while in the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, human rights defenders for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights were struggling with fake news and violence.  Right Livelihood Award Foundation said that over recent years, women defenders, had been increasingly subjected to discrimination and harassment, including Mozn Hassan in Egypt, Khadija Ismayliova in Azerbaijan and Kasha Nabagesera in Uganda.  Priorities set forth by the Special Reporter were welcomed and States were urged to implement recommendations.

Europe-Third World Centre was concerned about political turbulence in France after the mobilisation of the yellow vests.  The movement was facing police and judicial harassment resulting in regression of human rights in France and over 3,000 persons had been injured, at least 100 seriously, although yellow vests were only calling for more justice.  Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that 258 million people or roughly 3 per cent of the world’s population had left their homelands, 25 million people had fled their country as refugees, and there were 40 million internally displaced persons, all subject to different forms of abuse.  States had to respect the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment.  Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc. was concerned about the withdrawal of observer status from the Coalition of African Lesbians by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, action which significantly curtailed the right of marginalised women to participate in public life.  This was particularly concerning in light of ongoing African Union reform.

Peace Brigades International Switzerland emphasized that, due to their challenging of traditional gender roles in patriarchal society, women human rights defenders often suffered serious public defamation campaigns which had as their goal to damage their reputation.  It was indispensable that States committed themselves to ensuring a safe environment for women human rights defenders. Terra de Direitos noted that 14 March would mark a year since the death of human rights defender Marielle Franco.  Terra de Direitos expressed concern that in Brazil, the concept of gender ideology was being used to attack the freedom of expression and association of human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders.  Human Rights House Foundation expressed concern that, despite the tremendous advancements in raising awareness and recognising their important role in the defence and enjoyment of human rights, women human rights defenders continued to face significant risks.  What types of mechanisms could States create to better protect women human rights defenders?

Action Canada for Population and Development, expressed concern about the ramifications of the African Commission’s decision in light of ongoing Union reforms and the threat it posed for the independence of the African human rights system. Action Canada called upon States to recognise the importance of the meaningful political participation of women human rights defenders in all institutions and at all levels.

Concluding Remarks

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, was pleased that the report on women defenders had been welcomed by most delegations.  That report should be taken as a working tool and the international community should focus on that issue.  The report would soon be translated into a version that would be easier to read.  Mr. Forst added that he and his team were at the disposal of delegations that wanted to have their draft laws on the protection of defenders reviewed.  As for women defenders in conflict areas, Mr. Forst said that he intended to raise awareness about the need to provide them with technical assistance.  With respect to the online threats against women defenders, he noted that it was necessary to combat that phenomenon, adding that States should adopt zero tolerance for such attacks.  Microsoft and Google were working with some civil society organizations to provide assistance in that regard.  Mr. Forst agreed with the delegations that had called for the fight against impunity for attacks against human rights defenders.  He reminded that countries like France had adopted laws on due diligence, whereas the Working Group on Business and Human Rights was working on guidelines regarding women defenders.  Responding to the Russian Federation which had demanded the abolition of his mandate, Mr. Forst said that Russia should consider the usefulness of his mandate.  Finally, he welcomed Norway’s intention to present a resolution on land and environmental defenders.

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, thanked all, particularly Burkina Faso for their invitation to visit, and Paraguay for reiterating their invitation.  Special thanks was also extended to civil society representatives.  As for mutual mainstreaming of anti-corruption and anti-torture, it should be incorporated – prevention of corruption should be a part of anti-torture and vice versa.  States should ensure that their policies would not contribute to an environment conducive to ill-treatment or corruption.  Regular monitoring was of crucial importance for the prevention of both torture and corruption.  As for how corruption and torture could be eradicated, the question of universal ratification of both Conventions and all relevant standards had to be ensured.  There was also a matter of mainstreaming and establishing a mandate that would interlink various human rights with the negative effects that corruption had.  A legally binding instrument would indeed be needed for transnational corporations, as one delegation suggested.  Today corruption was widespread both in developing and developed States, though it varied from one context to another.  Corruption in one country could be triggered by political or business interest in another.  When designing measures to eradicate special patterns of corruption or ill-treatment, it was very important to understand this causal interaction.  This causal interaction remained rather fluid, like a chicken-egg exercise, where they mutually reinforced one another.  Both corruption and torture on the systemic level were in essence a failure of the governance system to prevent abuse of the system.

Right of Reply

Ukraine, speaking in a right of reply, called on all international organizations and specialized agencies when referring to Crimea to refer to it as the autonomous region of Crimea, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation.  Ukraine also explained that its increased military spending was because the country had to spend more money to defend itself from Russian aggression.  Expenditures would be reoriented to social needs as soon as Russia withdrew its troops from Ukrainian soil.  Regarding the deterioration of human rights in Donetsk, Ukraine emphasized that this had occurred solely because of the occupation by the Russian Federation. Ukraine urged Russia to halt torture and all other cruel or inhumane practices.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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