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Council holds dialogue with Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Council 
AFTERNOON

3 March 2016

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Mr. Dieng addressed the progress made on the prevention of genocide, as well as specific and serious concerns that were affecting the implementation of his mandate.  The increasing and alarming disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in many situations of conflict around the world was making atrocity crimes a systematic occurrence rather than an exception.  Armed conflicts were extreme situations, but that did not mean that no rules applied. 

Mr. Forst paid tribute to all human rights defenders killed in 2015, and particularly to Bertha Caceres, who had recently been killed in Honduras.  His annual thematic report focused on good practices in the protection of human rights defenders, including measures that protected them, strengthened their security, addressed the threats they faced, and built support to their work.  He presented his report on his country visit to Burundi.

Burundi spoke as a concerned country. 

In the ensuing discussion on genocide, delegations highlighted the obligations of States as well as the international community and the Human Rights Council in particular to prevent and halt genocide, and inquired whether the Human Rights Council and the Security Council could work in complementary terms.  All participants recognized the role of civil society in the prevention of genocide, while some referred to the origins of the crime which derived from discrimination and manifestations such as xenophobia.  They called on the need to have  an early warning system to prevent genocide, and emphasized the importance of initiatives such as the Latin American Network of Preventing Genocide and the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes of the Office of the Special Adviser.

On the discussion relating to human rights defenders, all participants condemned the escalation of reprisals against them, and highlighted the importance of creating a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.  Participants also noted the importance of involving all stakeholders in the protection of human rights defenders, and encouraging civil society to be more effective in this respect.  Some  delegates noted that human defenders should not enjoy more rights or be given a status that was different from other citizens, while others emphasized the gender dimension of protecting human rights defenders as well as various national initiatives, including the police, that could strengthen protection.

The following delegations participated in the clustered interactive dialogue: European Union, Rwanda on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect in Geneva, South Africa on behalf of African Group, Russian Federation, Norway, Czech Republic, Council of Europe, China, Ireland, Egypt, Tunisia, Argentina, France, Paraguay, Poland, Italy, Portugal, Ecuador, Netherlands Australia, United States, Armenia, Iran, New Zealand, Uruguay, Panama, Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Pakistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Venezuela, Georgia, Cuba, Botswana, Turkey and Republic of Korea. 

China, Armenia and Turkey spoke in right of reply. 

The Council will meet on Friday, 4 March at 9 a.m., to hold its annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities.  At noon, it will conclude the clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/31/55).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders: observations on communications transmitted to Governments and replies received (A/HRC/31/55/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders - Mission to Burundi (A/HRC/31/55/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports

ADAMA DIENG, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, said that his statement would address progress made as well as specific and serious concerns he had that were affecting the implementation of the mandate.  The increasing and alarming disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in many situations of conflict around the world was making atrocity crimes a systematic occurrence rather than an exception.  The international community had betrayed the high expectations generated by the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949. “I feel that human life has lost its value,” he said, adding that the international community was struggling to find ways to hold armed non-State actors accountable.  Armed conflicts were extreme situations, but that did not mean that no rules applied.  He reviewed situations around the world of extreme violence against civilians, noting that in Afghanistan and Yemen, medical facilities had been targeted, and in the Central African Republic, children had been targeted because of their religion or community affiliation, shot or hacked to death with machetes, and raped, at times even by United Nations peacekeepers. 

Urgent action was needed to reverse the trends mentioned.  The international community had the legal tools and the capacity, he noted, asking why it was so difficult to gather the political will.  He highlighted the situation in Burundi, where an alarming surge in human rights violations and abuses had been committed both by security forces and armed groups.  The aftermath of conflict should also be paid attention to, he said, singling out Sri Lanka which was at an important stage in its recovery from civil war.  The Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, which was now active in Geneva as well as in New York, was helping to advance implementation, but those efforts could only flourish in an environment where the rule of law prevailed.  The international community needed to find ways to face the new challenges and closely monitor evolving scenarios.  Greater willingness had to be generated to address situations at an early stage.  Disregarding obligations and letting others do the same could only lead to chaos.  “I urge you not to let this happen,” he said, encouraging the Council to raise the alarm at the risk of atrocities and consistently remind States of their obligations under international law.

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, paid tribute to all human rights defenders killed in 2015, and particularly to Bertha Caceres, who was recently killed in Honduras.  He then presented a report on his country visit to Burundi in November 2014.  There, he observed that the country had an active and competent civil society in spite of the threats they faced.  Journalists and defenders were indeed seen as opposition in the eyes of the Government, they lacked protection, their legitimate activities were stigmatized and criminalized, and impunity prevailed for violations committed against them.  It was with great regret that Mr. Forst had observed the escalation of violence following his visit.  Defenders had suffered many attacks, brutal persecution and had had to flee the country in a climate of increasing repression.  Some of them had also been subjected to enforced disappearances or assassinated.  Even their family members had been targeted, he said, referring to the assassination of the son of a prominent human rights activist, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, by an unknown police officer.  The Council’s decision to dispatch an investigative team to Burundi was an important step, and coordinated solutions would hopefully soon be identified to prevent further outbreak of a violent open conflict.   

Mr. Forst then highlighted the growing difficulties he faced in securing country visits, as some States had not reacted to his requests for years, while others had not communicated dates for a visit.  Within a year, he had sent a total of 208 communications to 79 States, both individually and in collaboration with other mandate holders, addressing the situation of 422 individuals.  He also referred to 11 cases of alleged reprisals for cooperating with the United Nations.  Recent developments concerning the situation of human rights defenders were extremely worrying.  Attacks against them were often linked to deliberate attempts to stifle and close civil society space.  Mr. Forst’s annual thematic report focused on good practices in the protection of human rights defenders, including measures that protected them, strengthened their security, addressed the threats they faced, and built support to their work.  In the context of the ongoing crackdown against defenders, the choice to focus on good practices was a clear reminder that the effective protection of defenders largely depended on political will and accountability. 
 
Statement by Concerned Country
 
Burundi, speaking as a concerned country, reassured the Human Rights Council and the international community that Burundi was ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights for all, in line with national laws and international standards.  Freedoms of opinion, association and assembly were guaranteed by the Constitution.  Nevertheless, it was stressed that nobody was above law.  The exercise of freedoms by citizens should be within the limits of public order.  It was clarified that the private media outlets which had been previously shut down had now reopened.  It was also clarified that the youth Imbonerakure had been falsely accused of being a militia which had committed human rights violations.  It was regrettable that those who were labelled as human rights defenders were considered as the only ones who spoke the truth.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union asked about the role of the Geneva institutions in the prevention of genocide, and how the Human Rights Council and the Security Council could work in complementary terms to stop and prevent genocide.  As for human rights defenders, the European Union urged all States to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.  Rwanda, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect in Geneva, highlighted the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes of the Office of the Special Adviser as a useful guide for assessing the risk of atrocity crimes.  It could serve as an important tool for mainstreaming atrocity prevention in the United Nations.  South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, reaffirmed its strong commitment to the prevention of genocide, and recognized the role that civil society played in many areas.  For civil society to flourish, they needed to operate within clearly defined national legal frameworks.  Russian Federation noted that human defenders should not enjoy more rights or be given a status that was different from other citizens.  Civil society was represented at various instances of the Government in the Russian Federation.  Norway noted that threats and attacks against human rights could hamper the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, undermining social cohesion and ultimately stability and development.  Czech Republic shared concern about the shrinking of civil society space and the recent trend of restrictive legislation aimed at curtailing civil society activities and their funding in more than 90 States.   Council of Europe noted that human rights defenders played a central role in making State human rights policies compliant and authorities accountable.  Member States should respect their European and international obligations in the creation of a working environment for human rights defenders. 

China said genocide was a violation of international law and fundamental rights.  China supported United Nations efforts to combat this crime and called upon the international community to arrest the perpetrators of genocide.  China took action to promote and protect human rights, and encouraged individuals to play an active role in justice and human rights.  Ireland warmly welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.  It regretted that visit requests remained pending.  Ireland shared the concern regarding the shrinking civil society space, and condemned the attacks on human rights defenders in various regions.  It attached great importance to the work of the Special Adviser on genocide.  Egypt said that what was extremely appalling concerning the crime of genocide was that it derived its origin from discrimination, with its diverse manifestations such as xenophobia and defamation of religions.  Combatting such heinous crimes necessitated the eradication of discrimination.  On human rights defenders, national legislation consistent with international human rights obligations was the juridical framework within which human rights defenders had to conduct their activities.  Tunisia had ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  On human rights defenders, Tunisia stressed the importance of ensuring a secure environment in law and practise so that civil society actors could carry out their work in full freedom, while protecting them from reprisals. 

Argentina reaffirmed its commitment to avoid mass atrocities through active participation in the Human Rights Council and various other initiatives, including its role as a founding member of the Latin American Network of Preventing Genocide, which highlighted the need for prevention.  France welcomed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, noting to what extent these men and women sometimes endangered their own lives.  It was essential to develop appropriate tools and provide human rights defenders with the safety they needed.  On the prevention of genocide, France noted that prevention required acting and the protection of civilians, which, when not fulfilled by governments, became an international responsibility.  Paraguay had initiated a mechanism on the prevention of genocide as an early warning which would be coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman, with a complaints mechanism.  Paraguay agreed that there was a need to attend to the situation of many human rights defenders, and appealed for stepping up efforts in this respect, including national security measures and appropriate police programmes.

Poland said that its transformation from a post-communist country into a modern, democratic State would not have been possible without the courageous work of human rights defenders.  Poland expressed concern over increased restrictive rules against human rights defenders, and required further information on the Special Rapporteur’s proposal for an interregional coordination mechanism to share experiences on protection practices.  Italy welcomed the emphasis put by the Special Adviser on the role of non-State actors in preventing genocide.   Italy also welcomed the work of human rights defenders in  promoting and promoting human rights all around the world.  Portugal said that although the duty to prevent and halt genocide lay in States,  the international community and particularly the Human Rights Council had a role to play in this endeavour.  Portugal asked  the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on his recommendation that the United Nations strengthen its protection of defenders in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Human Rights Up Front Initiative. 

Ecuador said that it had carried out training of police forces and the military in order to prevent genocide.  On human rights defenders, Ecuador reiterated its commitment to the right to life, and noted with concern the trend to decline funding for civil society organizations that did not meet the priorities of donors.  Japan expressed deep concern at reports of threats, harassment, and arbitrary detention against human rights defenders in some regions, and underlined the importance of protecting freedoms of expression and assembly and putting an end to reprisals.  Netherlands referred to its  Shelter City Programme for human rights defenders, which gave them much needed rest and respite, combined with capacity and network building.  Netherlands asked what measures should be taken to improve the legitimacy of human rights defenders in order to enhance their protection.   

Australia looked forward to the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Australia in October 2016, adding that the country was a strong supporter and advocate of the Responsibility to Protect.  The Special Rapporteur’s views on how the Council could further support implementation of the first two pillars of the Responsibility to Protect were welcomed.  United States expressed concerns about the atrocities occurring in Burundi and South Sudan, and asked the Special Adviser to elaborate on his assessment and work in both situations.  The ongoing crackdown against human rights defenders in China was also of concern, and Chinese authorities were urged to drop charges against 317 detained lawyers and activists who remained in custody.  Armenia said that as the country which had survived the first genocide of the twentieth century, Armenia appreciated the first commemoration which had taken place at the General Assembly.  The campaign against impunity could be undermined by attempts to deny genocide; denial and negation went along with violations of civil rights and marginalization of certain groups in society. 

Iran concurred that the protection of human rights defenders should be seen in the context of international human rights law, but reiterated that it was the primary responsibility of States to ensure that all people enjoyed the protection of all human rights.  The protection of human rights defenders should not provide space for hazardous individuals like terrorists, so genuine human rights defenders should be very precisely defined.  New Zealand asked the Special Rapporteur to present a view on what the main causes were of the negative trend regarding the treatment of human rights defenders, and what might be done to reverse the trend.  Ongoing violence in Burundi was also of concern, as was the targeting of human rights defenders and other members of civil society.  Uruguay said it was necessary for States to cooperate with the international system and to take measures to avoid acts of violence, adding also that the protection and promotion of all human rights was essential.  Dealing with crimes through prevention was of fundamental importance.

Panama said that the progress achieved thus far on the prevention of genocide, which included the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Protocols, and other instruments, should not be ignored.  Panama was part of the initiative to prevent genocide, including the Latin American Network for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, which allowed the exchange of experience and good practices.  Brazil said human rights defenders who stood up for the equitable access to land and other natural resources or who fought against illicit exploitation were among those more frequently exposed to risks and threats arising from their activities. Irrespective of the source of those threats, the State was responsible for providing a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders could operate.  Switzerland continued to be concerned about harassment and attacks against human rights defenders. Following regional consultations by the Special Rapporteur, what steps were needed to better protect and implement the protection of human rights defenders? Switzerland welcomed the significant results achieved by the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide.

Germany was alarmed by the shrinking space for human rights defenders, and appalled by the suppression of and violence against, inter alia, journalists, online activists, human rights defenders in rural regions, indigenous or ethnic minorities, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual individuals and activists, and those standing up for the freedom of belief, the rights of women or the safeguard of their inherent economic, social and cultural rights.  Finland said that in 2014 the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland had published Guidelines for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.  Finland asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on successful practices on the significance of gender in the protection of human rights defenders, and the application of an intersectionality approach to the assessment of risks and to the design of protection initiatives.  Hungary said the primary duty to promote and protect fundamental freedoms lay with States, however, United Nations mechanisms could also support protection.  Cooperation with the United Nations could place defenders at risk of reprisals, and Hungary would be interested to know the views of the Special Rapporteur on how international monitoring mechanisms could be enhanced in this area, notably through the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution 24/24. 

Pakistan said that it had a long history of human rights defenders, in particular women’s rights defenders, and referred to Fatima Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaquat Ali, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who had been strong voices to the advancement of the rights of women in the country.  Côte d’Ivoire insisted on the imperial need to implement the Responsibility to Protect principle.  The Government had recently passed a law on the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders, which sought to support them as important actors for the promotion of peace and democracy.  Sierra Leone said that Governments should implement targeted measures to protect women human rights defenders, as they often faced grave threats to their safety, and underlined in that regard the need for protection practices to be gender sensitive.  Sierra Leone asked how countries could best develop strategies incorporating a holistic concept of security. 

Slovenia said that it was unacceptable that defenders of lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex rights, rights of minorities and women human rights defenders still faced risks of being discriminated against and prosecuted.  Slovenia particularly welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s mention of human rights education and training as a condition for the achievement of all human rights.  Venezuela reiterated the attempts to obstruct the current debate on the notion of the Responsibility to Protect, including by referring to its “implementation”, which could lead to the death of many civilians and violate the principle of sovereignty.  The use of foreign funding to give rise to political destabilization against democratically elected Governments was also a violation of States’ sovereignty.  Georgia remained concerned about the environment in which human rights defenders were forced to operate in certain cases, and highlighted the importance of issuing a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteur.  Georgia encouraged the Special Adviser to continue his work on the prevention of genocide.    

Cuba said that some of the terms repeated in the report included suggestions for countries to protect human rights defenders who were not in their countries.  Using persons that some tried to describe as human rights defenders but were in fact on the payroll of foreign powers was not a good practice.  Botswana said it was up to States to develop and implement policies and laws that prevented the occurrence of atrocities.  On the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, agreement was expressed that one way of protecting defenders was through fostering a culture of security.  Turkey agreed that prevention was inherently founded on international human rights standards and the rule of law, adding also that incitement to hatred should not only be prohibited and punished but also prevented.  Political leaders should absolutely refrain from contributing to violations by voicing or tolerating hate speech.  Republic of Korea said that as a member of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect in both Geneva and New York, the country would host an annual meeting of focal points.  On human rights defenders, it could not be overemphasized that defenders should carry out their missions safely, without being targeted.

Right of Reply

China, speaking in a right of reply, rejected allegations by the United States delegation on China’s human rights.  Lawyers were important and their lawful activities were fully protected.  Lawyers should uphold the law, but no one should place their actions above the law of the land.  No country would tolerate a criminal just because he was a lawyer or a human rights defender.  Suppressing crime was part of China’s judicial authority.  By making unsubstantiated criticism of normal law enforcement in China, with speculative and biased language, the United States was pursuing its own domestic agenda by turning human rights into a tool.

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply, said that the term genocide was created with a view to the Armenian genocide and the Shoah, both of which were prior to the Convention.  Despite a huge number of facts attesting to the Armenian genocide, Turkey was continuing to deny the reality of the Armenian genocide. 

Turkey, speaking in a right of reply, said the Council was not the right place for this issue.  Turkey shared the sorrow of the Armenian people who had suffered during World War I.  The message of President Erdogan regarding Armenian losses of 1915 had been represented at the liturgy for the commemoration of losses in 1915, which showed that Turks and Armenians could commemorate their losses together.  The 1948 Convention told the international community what genocide was.

Armenia, speaking in a second right of reply, said that Turkey was using this body to falsify facts.  The European Court of Human Rights had not pronounced on the legal definition of the Armenian genocide, saying it simply dealt with the question of where freedom of expression was enjoyed on not.  The co-sponsorship by Turkey of a General Assembly resolution was a first step. 

Turkey, speaking in a second right of reply, said that driving animosity from history and calling for selective compassion was not the proper way to pay tribute to the many Turks and Armenians who perished during World War I.  Armenia insisted on a biased narrative and continued to run a propaganda war. 

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