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Human Rights Council holds general segment


6 March 2014

The Human Rights Council, at its midday meeting today, held its general segment, hearing statements from members and observers of the Council on a wide range of issues. The Council also adopted its Programme of Work.

In their statements, speakers highlighted the important role the Council could play by addressing urgent human rights situations worldwide in a timely manner. Reflecting on the Council’s achievements and working methods, delegations reiterated the importance of promoting human rights through international cooperation on the basis to strict adherence to the principles of universality, transparency, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity and constructive. Speakers highlighted the importance of the Universal Periodic Review and the work of the special procedures.

Delegations voiced concerns about the crisis in Ukraine, echoing calls for all actors to show restraint, and for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in accordance with international law and respectful of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Concern was also expressed about allegations of human rights violations in Ukraine over the last few months. Other situations of concern highlighted during the discussion included the conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic, recent report of the Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the death penalty, redress for victims of rights abuses and reprisals against human rights defenders. Delegations also spoke about their national efforts in the field of human rights, including their implementation of recommendations made to them by special procedures, treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review.

Speaking during the general segment were: Botswana, France, Viet Nam on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Côte d’Ivoire, India, Romania, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Turkmenistan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Netherlands, Belarus, Nicaragua, Council of Europe, Nepal, Mozambique, Norway, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tanzania and Ukraine.

The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions also spoke along with the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights Information Centre of Ukraine, a representative of civil society of Palestine, Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors and the International Organization for Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Japan, Italy, Egypt, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Iraq spoke in right of reply.

The Council would next meet in public at 4 p.m. this afternoon to hear a presentation by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay of her annual report, followed by an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner.

General Segment

Botswana said it had set up a National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the Paris Principles and recommendations received during its Universal Periodic Review. Botswana valued the legitimate role played by civil society. Along with other States it would issue a statement on reprisals against individuals cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Botswana remained concerned about the ongoing conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic, as well as the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and its continued refusal to cooperate with human rights mechanisms. Holding perpetrators accountable was important not only for the sake of justice and closure for victims, but also to ensure that a culture of impunity did not find root.

France said it was extremely concerned by the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s behaviour in Crimea. France called on Russia to accept the proposals for international mediation and contribute to a peaceful solution. It also said investigations into the violence and human rights violations of recent months were indispensable. France expressed concern about the spiralling violence in Syria and renewed its appeal to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The human rights situation in the Central African Republic was also alarming, France said, welcoming the arrival of the Commission of Inquiry in Bangui and expressing hope that a peacekeeping operation would be launched as soon as possible. The role of special procedures was crucial with regard to the human rights situations in Iraq and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Viet Nam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, which had been witnessed upon the establishment of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the adoption of a Human Rights Declaration. The establishment of the Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children in 2010, together with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children, and considerations of a convention for the latter, demonstrated ASEAN’s commitment to improve the lives of women and children. ASEAN Member States shared a common commitment to human rights, which should be achieved through inter alia cooperation.

China said challenges remained in the realisation of the right to development, including the polarization of debates. Development had to be at the centre of the post-2015 agenda. Communities had to be helped to live together in harmony, and disputes had to be solved peacefully and through dialogue. States had to be respected in choosing their own ways of governance, and in their traditions and history. China was committed to combining universal human rights standards with the national history and culture of the States. The last Congress of the Communist Party in China had called to improve the protection of rights in China, including a gradual reduction of the use of the death penalty. The Japanese military committed gross human rights violations in China during World War II, including forcefully drafting “comfort women” and forced labour on a massive scale. China called on Japan to address the issue in the face of overwhelming and irrefutable evidence.

Côte d’Ivoire recalled how three years ago it had emerged from crisis and post-electoral conflict with pernicious consequences and, despite reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, the majority of the population was determined to move towards peace and reconstruction. Côte d’Ivoire had not forgotten its neighbours and partners who responded positively to its calls for assistance during the crisis. It continued to engage and work for the implementation of a common security strategy and pacification for the region. Highlighting the need for strong pillars of prosperity, the delegation also referred to its projection for Post-2015 sustainable development and its collaboration with international and regional instruments for the protection of human rights.

India remained firmly wedded to the idea of expanding liberal space for human growth and empowerment and served in the Council in that spirit. The promotion and protection of human rights could be best pursued through dialogue and cooperation. India continued to believe the Council’s strength lay with its adherence to the principles of universality, transparency, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity and constructive dialogue and cooperation. The Council recently demonstrated that it could indeed react swiftly to deteriorating human rights situations. The Universal Periodic Review had emerged as a positive mechanism promoting constructive and collaborative discussions. The delegate also referred to Italy’s statement to the Council of 3 March concerning the alleged detention of Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen in India, and responded that the marines were not detained but on bail and currently staying in the Italian Embassy in New Delhi.

Romania reiterated its commitment to a strong multilateral system and the work and mandate of the Council. Any solution for Ukraine had to respect international law and its territorial integrity. The same human rights standards applied to everybody, no matter the culture or legal systems. The opposition, separation or use for political purposes of human rights had to stopped. Xenophobia and racism had to be combatted, and stereotyping avoided. Civil society played an important role in promoting human rights and the imposition of barriers to their activities could lead to extremism. Voluntary contributions were fundamental for United Nations human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and special procedures, to implement their mandates, and funds from the regular budget alone were not enough. The independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, special procedures and treaty body experts had to be respected and protected.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the Human Rights Council should pay attention to forced and imperial interference into domestic affairs, including for regime change, which should not be tolerated. Human rights were guaranteed by State’s sovereignty, and were bound to be violated if sovereignty was infringed. The Council should also avoid double-standards initiated by western countries that behaved like human rights judges. Finally, due attention had to be paid to past violations such as those perpetrated by the Republic of Korea and Japan, who forcibly abducted millions of Koreans and forced hundreds of thousands of women into sexual slavery.

Republic of Moldova said that as an active member of the Council of Europe and a partner within the European Union and Moldovan human rights dialogue it had steadily contributed to enhancement of coordination and increasing synergies among international and regional mechanisms. All States still applying capital punishment must join a global moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards abolition. As a recent member of the Freedom Online Coalition, the Republic of Moldova was committed to promoting freedom on the Internet and safeguarding human rights and freedoms both online and offline. The delegation shared the concerns about developments in Ukraine, called for a peaceful solution to the crisis and supported respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Turkmenistan recalled its national parliamentary election of 15 December 2013, a main event in political life which was monitored by several observer missions. Turkmenistan underwent its second Universal Periodic Review and accepted the vast majority of recommendations. An inter-departmental commission was now working on the implementation of international obligations and drafting a roadmap to successfully implement recommendations. A new code of administrative offences and a new electoral code had recently been adopted. Turkmenistan, in cooperation with the treaty bodies, would continue to progress in the implementations of rights and freedoms for all citizens.

Madagascar thanked all States and international organisations that participated in the peaceful resolution of its political crisis. Recognised free, transparent and democratic presidential and parliamentary elections had been held and the National Independent Commission was now organising local elections. Madagascar was committed to engaging with international mechanisms to promote and protect human rights and implement recommendations. The improvement of living conditions, social justice and decentralised development were priorities. Madagascar would also continue its efforts to protect the rights of migrants and women, and to increase access to education.

Myanmar said it was crucial that the Council dealt with all situations impartially and without selectivity, avoiding double standards. Myanmar should no longer be a target as it had now fully implemented freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly. It regretted that some partners still named and shamed Myanmar, giving unconstructive reviews or calling it Burma, despite Myanmar being the official name at the United Nations. Myanmar still faced challenges but would continue to engage with partners who accepted constructive dialogue and cooperation.

Netherlands announced that its campaign slogan for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2015 to 2017 term was ‘dignity, equality and freedom’. At the national level, it continued its tradition of promoting and protecting human rights and recently adopted a National Action Plan on Human Rights. At the international level, it continued its tradition of promoting human rights through bilateral, trilateral and multilateral partnerships. The Netherlands believed in a Council which responded in a timely way to urgent human rights crises, in which all countries could voice their concerns, and in which civil society voices were heard.

Belarus said the question of human rights held a strong position on the agenda of the United Nations, but it was clear that no other topic was as controversial. There was an increase in attempts to consider international relations exclusively through the prism of human rights. Belarus had an interest in Ukraine remaining a sovereign and independent State, but expressed serious concerns about an increase of aggressive nationalism in Ukraine. Fascism, racism and xenophobia were inadmissible in the modern world. Only under non-confrontational and respectful dialogue could ways to strengthen and develop human rights be found.

Nicaragua said that a number of important events affecting human rights provided the Council with an opportunity and the responsibility to act. Nicaragua’s development had progressed in macro-economic terms in matters important for development and was implementing a model of shared responsibility among all sectors with positive results. Efforts to reduce poverty and extreme poverty had been recognised. Nicaragua had met Millennium Development Goal 1 ahead of schedule, and was taking measures to improve healthcare, housing and the situation of women and children. Those achievements illustrated the effectiveness of plans and programmes undertaken by the Government which would be continued through the national development plan.

Council of Europe shared the concerns expressed about the current situation in Ukraine. The Council’s priorities included joining calls for maximum restraint in order to prevent the escalation of tensions and full respect for international law; support for international efforts to ease tensions and promote dialogue, in conformity with international law and obligations; and to contribute to ongoing international mediation efforts. The Council of Europe stressed the relevance of questions related to the situation of minorities and languages in Ukraine, and the relevance of the Council’s framework convention for the protection of minorities and the European Charter for regional or minority languages.

Nepal expressed its commitment to constructive participation of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and effective implementation of recommendations made to it in cooperation with civil society. Nepal had made legislative adjustments to strengthen the protection of human rights in its borders and to abide by its international obligations. They included strengthening of Nepali human rights institutions. Fostering gender equality and eliminating gender violence remained priorities. Nepal was committed to provide victims of its conflict with reparations, and to promptly adopt legislative measures on transitional justice.

Mozambique paid tribute to Navi Pillay for her work as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mozambique said it was committed to protection of the rights of refugees, migrants, victims of trafficking, women and children, and people affected by armed conflicts. It praised the Council for holding a special session on the situation in the Central African Republic. Mozambique had undertaken important legal reforms, including the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission, in reaction to recommendations made during its Universal Periodic Review. Forthcoming legislative elections in October would be an opportunity for the citizens of Mozambique to exercise their human rights.

Norway said that human rights were universal and no one could be deprived of their rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, religious or political belief, sexual orientation or for any other reason. National legislation regulating human rights, such as the freedom of expression, assembly and association had to be drafted in a way that protected and promoted those rights, not in order to protect Governments against voices of dissent. To ensure the quality, legitimacy and impact of the Council, ways needed to be found to make it more effective.

Iceland was deeply concerned about recent developments in Ukraine. It urged all stakeholders to abide by international law and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Violence against children and child abuse was intolerable. Those who were entrusted with children must always be held to account, irrespective of their social status. Gender equality was the cornerstone of human rights and a prerequisite for preventing gender-based violence. The sad fact remained that women and girls suffered disproportionately from gender-based and sexual violence. That societal ill had to be ended and the silence broken.

Bosnia and Herzegovina said it was committed to preservation of its multicultural character, which illustrated its rich cultural heritage. It was therefore important to suppress all forms of discrimination and intolerance to ensure there were no tensions between communities. Bosnia and Herzegovina attached great importance to fostering gender equality and the empowerment of women, and noted with satisfaction the same priority was at the heart of the Secretary General’s mandate. Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed to constructive engagement during its second Universal Periodic Review. The Post-2015 agenda had to continue the fight against poverty and injustice.

Tanzania said it had at its foundation a strong belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was deliberating on a new Constitution, which would give an opportunity to better protect human rights in its legal system. Legal guarantees alone were not enough; policies and strategies were also needed for the implementation of human rights protection. Tanzania was committed to combating discrimination, as well as to strengthening its engagement in combatting malaria and HIV/AIDS. Tanzania thanked all its development partners and looked forward to continue cooperation in those areas.

Ukraine said that it was now a place of utmost attention and concern due to a number of challenges, including the presence of a large group of Russian forces which had entered its territory. Ukraine called on Russia to abide by its international commitments and refrain from any measures that might promote extremism and ethnic conflict. Ukraine’s political crisis was finished. The people had demonstrated that they were ready to struggle for their rights and freedoms. The Government of technocrats and the constitutional majority in the Parliament were ready to implement reforms. The 21 February agreement continued to serve as a roadmap for stabilisation. Investigations of crimes and violations during the recent crises would ensure perpetrators were held accountable. Despite the challenges, Ukraine was confident that with the backing of the international community to ensure respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, it would keep to the difficult but right track it had regained.

International Coordinating Committee (ICC) said last December the General Assembly had adopted a historic resolution on national human rights institutions that reaffirmed their essential role and the importance of the Paris Principles. The resolution also took the exceptional initiative of asking the Secretary-General, in his forthcoming report to the General Assembly, to define a vision for the participation of national institutions in the entire United Nations system, as was already the case in the Council. The International Coordinating Committee saluted the historic resolution and welcomed the prospect of working with stakeholders.

Human Rights Information Centre, Ukraine, said that the legitimacy of a Government came through its ability to use a country’s democratic tools, to ensure the independence of its judiciary, to abide by the rule of law and not the rule of power, and the respect it showed for opposition, civil society and minority groups. Authorities lost their legitimacy when they used violence to silence voices of dissent, disagreement or criticism. Independent documentation of human rights violations was essential in the context of protests as a tool to ensure people could believe and trust their State again.

Civil Society representative of Occupied Palestinian Territory, said he was addressing the Council in his personal capacity to remind its Members of their promise to keep the human rights question of the Occupied Palestinian Territory on the agenda until the end of the illegal occupation. The Council should ensure the prompt and effective implementation of the conclusions of its international fact-finding mission on settlements, which were slowly strangling the life blood from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, speaking via a video message, said the right to social security was a key instrument to the realization of all human rights with dignity, because the world today was an unfair, unequal, insecure and unhealthy place for the majority of people. Universal social security entitlements and improved quality of protection should be adopted as a guide in developing an overarching goal for social development in the Post-2015 development agenda.

EAFORD expressed concern at systematic and widespread human rights violations, including torture and other ill treatment, collateral damages and destruction of properties, in the name of countering terrorism. They had led to a humanitarian catastrophe. Anti-terrorism laws had been used to justify restrictions of the working space of journalists and non-governmental organisations, and led to arbitrary arrests, manslaughter and military attacks against peaceful protestors.

Right of Reply

Japan, speaking in a right of reply to statements made by China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said it had repeatedly expressed deep remorse about the suffering it caused during the Second World War. Japan had already expressed its position on the subject of comfort women and would not repeat it again today. Japan expected China to respond constructively to allegations of gross human rights violations, including violation of the right to life, of its citizens.

Italy, speaking in a right of reply to a statement made earlier today by India, asked who was accusing two Italian marines of the killing of two poor and innocent citizens. No formal charge sheet had been brought against them so far by the Indian authorities. In Italy’s view that constituted, after two years, a clear violation of human rights on the basis of inappropriate and unprecedented length of inquiry. Pending inquiry and any trial, no conclusive, indeed, no evidence at all, had been presented or examined in court about the responsibility of the two marines in that very sad event.

Egypt, speaking in a right of reply to an earlier statement by Norway, said the statement was void of any reference to positive developments that had taken place in the implementation of the transition. The statement had unfortunately totally omitted any reference or condemnation for those responsible for violence and terrorism and led the blame to the Egyptian security forces under the pretext of excessive use of force. Unfortunately, the ambiguous and general references were not substantiated and had no evidence on the ground.

China, speaking in a right of reply, rejected the explanation provided by Japan concerning comfort women. During World War II, Japanese armed forces had forcibly recruited more than 100,000 women for sexual slavery. Since then, a number of Japanese officials had tried to rewrite the history and denied the issue of comfort women, as well as the Nanjing Massacre in which 300,000 Chinese perished. China asked Japan for fair recognition of history and justice for comfort women.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, rejected Japanese allegations and said that Japan had imposed military sex slavery on more than 200,000 women and that during the forty years of military occupation of Korea, it had committed numerous crimes against humanity. Japan should take immediate steps to address its past crimes against humanity. Democratic People's Republic of Korea also said it rejected the politically motivated allegations of the Commission of Inquiry made earlier this afternoon.

Iraq, speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement made by a non-governmental organization, said that it fully respected the right to peaceful protest, as well as the work and right of freedom of expression of civil society and the media. There were no prisoners of opinion in Iraq, and counter-terrorism activities were conducted objectively and without targeting any specific religious community.

Japan, speaking in its second right of reply, reiterated its Government’s continued recognition and remorse for past atrocities.

China, speaking in its second right of reply, said that the defence of the Japanese delegation not only appeared very weak in the face of irrefutable evidence, it also revealed that certain politicians of Japan said one thing while doing another. China again urged Japanese politicians to be as good as their words and to win the beliefs and the confidence of the international community with concrete deeds.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in its second right of reply, said it rejected yet another allegation made by Japan. To its regret, Japan always came up with justifications aimed at misleading the international community vis-à-vis its past crimes against humanity. They had not been resolved to date. Instead, Japan had tried to justify the violations. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea reiterated its call on the Japanese authorities to respond positively to the demands of the international community.

For use of the information media; not an official record