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Human rights council holds interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, starts dialogue with the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in myanmar

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13 July 2020

Human Rights Council

13 July 2020

Hears the Presentation of Reports Submitted under Agenda Items 3 and 6

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. It heard the presentation of reports submitted under agenda items 3 and 6, and then started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, stated that in order to affirm judicial independence, in addition to countering possible interference by the political power, special attention must be paid to the threat of growing corruption, a global phenomenon that sought impunity. Victims must be heard, have the right to participate in proceedings, and be entitled to appropriate measures of redress. He spoke about his visits to Uzbekistan and Honduras.

Uzbekistan and Honduras spoke as concerned countries.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers emphasised their commitment to independent judiciaries and the fight against corruption. Despite the differences in legal systems across Member States, they considered the fight against corruption as a fundamental principle of protecting human rights and pursuing economic and social development. The link was clear : corruption undermined the independence of the judiciary, a key mechanism that guaranteed human rights, thereby undermining the protection of these rights.

Speaking were the European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, State of Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, Peru on behalf of a group of countries (video message), Russian Federation, Angola, Libya, China, Afghanistan, France, Cuba, Pakistan, Armenia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Sweden, Tunisia, India, Philippines (video message), Australia, Iran, Jordan, Botswana, Morocco, Iraq, Hungary, Lithuania (video message), Azerbaijan, Egypt, Maldives, Nepal, Albania, Peru (video message), Bolivia, Qatar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, International Development Law Organization, Mexico, Greece and Cyprus.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : European Centre for Law and Justice, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, International Bar Association, International Commission of Jurists, Sociedade Maranhense de Direitos Humanos, Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers' Legal Aid and Research Center, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, International Service for Human Rights, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and China Society for Human Rights Studies.

The Council then heard the presentation of reports submitted under agenda items 3 and 6 by the Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced 12 reports of the High Commissioner concerning thematic issues submitted under items 3 and 6. She said that the Office would not be able to provide the mandated oral update during the current session on child, early and forced marriage, and measures to ensure accountability at the community and national levels, including for women and girls at risk of and those subjected to this harmful practice during the current session, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the liquidity crisis.

The Council then began the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Presenting his oral progress report, Thomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, regretted reporting that to date the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire was being ignored in many areas of Myanmar and the cost in human lives and human suffering was enormous. The ravages of war were particularly onerous and escalating daily in Rakhine state, causing growing numbers of civilian casualties and displacement, with hundreds of thousands of Rohingya forced to live in deplorable conditions in camps for internally displaced people, or in villages without basic rights, including freedom of movement.

Speaking as a concerned country, Myanmar said it had repeatedly stated the numerous challenges it was encountering and its commitment to overcome them through a whole–of-nation approach. As a least developed country, Myanmar was striving its utmost to realize all-round sustainable peace and development in the country, even with various constraints. The current COVID-19 pandemic had spared no country. It had further exacerbated Myanmar’s challenges. Despite the various challenges, the Government and people of Myanmar persistently continued to strive towards achieving its goal of democracy, and the promotion and protection of human rights for all people.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers called on the Government of Myanmar to resume cooperation with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and grant unrestricted access. Other speakers urged the Government to put an end to the world’s longest Internet shutdown and grant unfettered access to United Nations agencies.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Canada, Liechtenstein, Thailand, Estonia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France, Belgium, Venezuela (video message), Sweden, Philippines (video message) and Australia.

Speaking in right of reply were Turkey, Azerbaijan and China.

The Council will next meet on Tuesday, 14 July, at 10 a.m. to continue the full-day annual discussion on women’s rights, and then start an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will resume at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on Independence of judges and lawyers (A/HRC/44/47).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on the Visit to Uzbekistan (A/HRC/44/47/Add.1).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on the Visit to Honduras (A/HRC/44/47/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Comments by the State on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on his visit to Uzbekistan (A/HRC/44/47/Add.3).

The Council has before it the Comments by the State on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on his visit to Honduras (A/HRC/44/47/Add.4).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

DIEGO GARCÍA-SAYÁN, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said that, in order to affirm judicial independence, in addition to countering possible interference by the political power, special attention must be paid to the threat of growing corruption, a global phenomenon that sought impunity. To guarantee the independence of prosecutors' offices from political power or from any expression of de facto power, there were three fundamental aspects that must be considered : independent prosecutors with integrity played a vital role in addressing corruption ; international cooperation against corruption was a core obligation of the Convention ; and, because of the impact of corruption on society, special attention must be paid to the victims of corruption and to human rights defenders. Victims must be heard, have the right to participate in proceedings, and be entitled to appropriate measures of redress. Human rights defenders, for their part, tended to be key players in promoting investigations into corruption. Protection measures should therefore be considered.

On his visit to Honduras, Mr. García-Sayán said Honduras had made enormous efforts in recent years to address structural problems that continued to affect it. Corruption and organised crime remained two serious problems. He had been able to observe institutional efforts that had resulted in some progress, but, at the same time, there were preoccupying obstacles that ended up preventing the criminal punishment of those who had committed offenses.

On his visit to Uzbekistan, the Special Rapporteur said that Uzbekistan had made progress in strengthening the independence and free exercise of the legal profession : the establishment of the Supreme Judicial Council, the reorganization of the judicial system, new procedures for the selection and appointment of candidates to judicial posts, and various measures to improve judicial training and stability in the function. However, much remained to be done to ensure that the judicial system was truly independent. Government authorities retained important roles in the organization and functioning of the judicial system. The extremely broad powers of court presidents in the selection, promotion, evaluation and discipline of judges severely limited internal independence.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, said that, as regards the procedure used for the selection and appointment of candidates to the national anti-corruption body in 2016, the good practice obtained may be used in the future for the selection and appointment of judges and magistrates. Continuing to strengthen Honduran institutions in the fight against corruption and impunity, the Government had created UFERCO, a mechanism of persecution of corruption offences, and it continued to strengthen technical and scientific research in this area. Honduras recognized that the legal system still faced challenges and hurdles. Currently, the Government was undertaking actions to make processes more dynamic, reduce judicial backlog, and adopt adequate legislation. Efforts were also being made to provide citizens with greater access to justice by increasing the number of courts and tribunals in the country, among other things. These efforts aimed at consolidating the rule of law with an independent, transparent judicial system that guaranteed citizens' rights and freedoms.

Uzbekistan, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the assessment of the Special Rapporteur received following his visit to Uzbekistan in September 2019, as well as the report on his findings. The report noted positively the progress made to date by Uzbekistan in strengthening the independence of the judiciary, such as the reorganisation of the judicial system, the establishment of the Supreme Judicial Council and more. Uzbekistan also shared the view of the Special Rapporteur that work remained to be done to ensure that "the judiciary is truly independent of the other branches of government", as well as with the fact that "reform of the judicial system should be aimed at strengthening its independence and impartiality". Recommendations for further legal reform improvement, strengthening the status and independence of lawyers, and ensuring public access to justice and qualified legal aid were particularly welcomed. Work had now begun on drafting a National Action Plan for the implementation of the recommendations. One of the ways in which Uzbekistan was already improving was in adopting more than 20 laws, decrees and presidential decrees over the past three years on priority issues of the judicial system, as part of the implementation of goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda.

Discussion

Speakers emphasised their commitment to independent judiciaries and the fight against corruption. Despite the differences in legal systems across Member States, they considered the fight against corruption as a fundamental principle of protecting human rights and pursuing economic and social development. The link was clear : corruption undermined the independence of the judiciary, a key mechanism that guaranteed human rights, thereby undermining the protection of these rights. Speakers noted that the United Nations had a central role in establishing constructive cooperation between States, strengthening multilateral norms, and aiding States in the fight against corruption ; however they questioned whether the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was the optimal way of achieving these goals. The report contained numerous points and examples that did not fall under the competence of the Council. Other States asked the Special Rapporteur to provide examples of ways they could strengthen the two core aspects of the United Nations Convention against Corruption : the independence and integrity of prosecutors and international cooperation. Public prosecution officers could only tackle corruption when they were strengthened by international cooperation ; bilateral cooperation was useful - but it did not have the same effectiveness as multilateral processes. Some speakers noted that independence of the judiciary also meant the full participation of women alongside men. The shift from punitive to restorative justice was brought up by some speakers as a desirable goal that States should aspire to.

Interim Remarks

DIEGO GARCÍA-SAYÁN, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, thanked those present for their constructive statements. Both Uzbekistan and Honduras had shown commitment to working towards improving the independence of the judiciary. On corruption and the threat it posed to institutions, he emphasised that this was a human rights matter. States had a responsibility in that regard : they must protect judges and lawyers, in a manner that was fully independent. It was important to consider the gender perspective, and strengthen the role of women in prosecution.

Discussion

Speakers stated that the rule of law was the basis of good governance, highlighting that the training of prosecutors must be based on integrity, and that it was essential to provide safeguards to protect the immunity of judges, and empower them economically and socially. Was it important that the oversight of the judiciary should rest outside of the judiciary itself? The separation of the budget of the prosecutor’s office from the rest of the national budget lines was cited as a crucial tool of ensuring its independence from political machinations. It was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had had a negative effect on the protection of human rights, and that the independence of the judiciary was not unaffected. Speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur’s argument that the fight against cross-border corruption was an essential part of the Council’s mandate, helping curb transnational corruption at large, as they asked for best practices of international cooperation between prosecution offices in particular. Speakers condemned attacks against lawyers, noting that they were committed to investigating every act of intimidation. Other speakers highlighted the lack of attention to the pervasiveness of conflict of interest that plagued judges of international courts. Without lawyers, there was no justice, and some speakers noted that lawyers were being harassed, jailed and killed across the world simply for performing their duties.

Concluding Remarks

DIEGO GARCÍA-SAYÁN, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said that as regards the fight against corruption as a means of human rights, the importance of judges and lawyers was fundamental. These issues were fundamentally interlinked ; they were two sides to the same coin. Corruption, for instance, affected the access of citizens, including human rights defenders, to justice.

Presentation of Reports under Agenda Items 3 and 6

The Council has before it the Note by the Secretary-General on the Report of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on the activities of the United Nations trust fund in support of actions to eliminate violence against women (A/HRC/44/3).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Operations of the voluntary fund for participation in the universal periodic review (A/HRC/44/18).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Operations of the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance in the implementation of the universal periodic review (A/HRC/44/19).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Impact of new technologies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies (A/HRC/44/24 – Advance Edited Version).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Civil society space : engagement with international and regional organizations (A/HRC/44/25).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport (A/HRC/44/26).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Challenges faced and best practices applied by States in integrating human rights into their national strategies and policies to fight against corruption, including those addressing non-State actors, such as the private sector (A/HRC/44/27).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Implementation and enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (A/HRC/44/28).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Impact of the diversion of arms and unregulated or illicit arms transfers on the human rights of women and girls (A/HRC/44/29 – Advance Edited Version).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change (A/HRC/44/30).

The Council has before it the Note by the Secretariat on the Human rights of migrants (A/HRC/44/31).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Improving accountability and access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuse through non-State-based grievance mechanisms (A/HRC/44/32).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Improving accountability and access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuse through non-State based grievance mechanisms : explanatory notes (A/HRC/44/32/Add.1).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Expert group meeting on the elimination of female genital mutilation (A/HRC/44/33).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/HRC/44/34).

The Council has before it the Summary report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Intersessional interactive dialogue on ways to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of the Human Rights Council on issues affecting them (A/HRC/44/35).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women (A/HRC/44/36).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Technical cooperation and capacity-building to promote and protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty : implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Noncustodial Measures for Women Offenders (A/HRC/44/37).

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment (A/HRC/43/30).

Presentation of the Reports

PEGGY HICKS, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced 12 reports of the High Commissioner concerning thematic issues submitted under items 3 and 6. She said that the Office would not be able to provide the mandated oral update during the current session on child, early and forced marriage, and measures to ensure accountability at the community and national levels, including for women and girls at risk of and those subjected to this harmful practice during the current session, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the liquidity crisis.

On new technologies and their impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests, she said new technologies accessible through the Internet could enable the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly and that the report called on States to avoid interfering with such technologies, including ending Internet shutdowns. Regarding the report on “civil society space : engagement with international and regional organizations”, she stated that safe and open civic space and a strong and active civil society were prerequisites for sustainable development, peace and security. Turning to the Office’s Accountability and Remedy Project, she explained that it sought to improve accountability and access to remedy in cases of business-related human rights abuse.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth report dealt with the implementation and enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights. She then drew the attention of those present to challenges faced and best practices applied by States in integrating human rights into their national strategies and policies to fight against corruption, including those addressing non-State actors, such as the private sector. A report on the Impact of Arms Transfers on Human Rights clarified the scope of goods that should be considered when discussing the diversion of arms and unregulated or illicit arms transfers. The next report, on the Intersection of Race and Gender Discrimination in Sport found that the low levels of participation of women and girls in sport was closely linked to socio-cultural norms and discriminatory actions such as prohibition on certain attire worn by women.

Two summary reports respectively provided overview of intersessional interactive dialogue on ways to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of the Council, and the discussions and recommendations of a Human Rights Council mandated multi-stakeholder expert meeting on progresses, gaps and challenges to ensuring the elimination of the practice of female genital mutilation. She then presented three trust fund reports : the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, the Voluntary Fund for Participation in the Universal Periodic Review, and the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Presentation of the Oral Progress Report

THOMAS ANDREWS, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, started by highlighting the universal nature of human rights, noting that he was committed to two important points as he came into the position : listening to all stakeholders and being deeply committed to the advancement of human rights. The most powerful resource that he yielded with the people he served, and for them, was the truth, as he pledged to the Council that he would seek the light of truth to serve as a guide for the choices that members of this Council would make. The twenty-first century had ushered in a period of reform for Myanmar that followed a sustained campaign of opposition and resistance to authoritarian rule, a campaign led and inspired by now State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. A military-controlled State had yielded, at least to an extent, to calls for justice, democracy and human rights. In a few short months, Myanmar would hold a national election : would it include the fundamentals of a free and fair election starting with the right to vote – regardless of one’s race, ethnicity or religion? Would it include freedom of expression and assembly, and would voters have access to information and a free press?

The Special Rapporteur regretted reporting that to date the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire was being ignored in many areas of Myanmar and the cost in human lives and human suffering was enormous. The ravages of war were particularly onerous and escalating daily in Rakhine state, causing growing numbers of civilian casualties and displacement, with hundreds of thousands of Rohingya forced to live in deplorable conditions in camps for internally displaced people, or in villages without basic rights, including freedom of movement. The Special Rapporteur commended the Government of Myanmar for developing a national strategy to close camps for internally displaced persons. The plan called for the voluntary and sustainable return, relocation or local reintegration of displaced persons. Unfortunately, he had been informed that the pilot project under this new strategy not only prohibited the right of internally displaced persons to return home, but may force them into land susceptible to flooding and without access to basic services, including healthcare and education. And, it may also continue to deny other basic rights, including freedom of movement. Finally, the Special Rapporteur commended the Government of Myanmar for the positive steps that it had taken to forge a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including regular health care messaging by the State Counsellor to the people of Myanmar who had access to social media.

Statement by Concerned Country

Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said it had repeatedly stated the numerous challenges it was encountering and its commitment to overcome them through a whole–of-nation approach. As a least developed country, Myanmar was striving its utmost to realize all-round sustainable peace and development in the country, even with various constraints. The current COVID-19 pandemic had spared no country. It had further exacerbated Myanmar’s challenges. Despite the various challenges, the Government and people of Myanmar persistently continued to strive towards achieving its goal of democracy, and the promotion and protection of human rights for all people. National reconciliation, peace, democracy, human rights, and sustainable and inclusive development were all interrelated in building a democratic federal union. Every citizen had the right to exercise peaceful assembly and association as manifested in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this regard, Myanmar's Constitution clearly stated the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to peaceful assembly and procession.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, speakers called on the Government of Myanmar to resume cooperation with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and grant unrestricted access. Some speakers urged the Government to put an end to the world’s longest Internet shutdown and grant unfettered access to United Nations agencies. Pointing to continuous reports of civilian casualties, including children, in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, they added that clearance operations, forced displacement, and the burning of villages were unacceptable. While welcoming part of the Government’s response to the pandemic, speakers said there were no excuses for preventing vulnerable segments of the population from accessing humanitarian services and reliable information. The COVID-19 pandemic had made the situation worse, speakers noted, urging Myanmar to heed the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, which should also be implemented in Rakhine state. The international community was urged to address the situation in Myanmar with an approach that abided by the principles of impartiality and objectivity, as well as well as non-selectivity and non-politicisation.

Some speakers said the international community should refrain from exercising overt pressure and respect Myanmar’s sovereignty. Emphasizing that the continuing violence and human rights violations in Rakhine state were deeply concerning, speakers thanked the Special Rapporteur for his oral update. It was critically urgent that the Government and the military take steps to implement the recommendation of the Independent Commission of Inquiry that concerned the situation in Rakhine state. Some speakers asked the Special Rapporteur what measures could be put in place to ensure participation in the upcoming elections. Myanmar should collaborate with the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, whose provisional measures should be implemented in full. Some speakers stressed that mandate holders must establish a cooperation relationship with the Government.

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For use of the information media ; not an official record

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