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Human Rights Council opens its thirty-fifth session

OPENING RELEASE
 
Hears Statements by the President of Uruguay and the High Commissioner for Human Rights
 
GENEVA (6 June 2017) - The Human Rights Council this morning opened its thirty-fifth regular session, hearing an address by Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay, and an update by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the situation of human rights worldwide and on the activities of his office.  
 
Joaquin Alexander Maza Martelli, President of the Human Rights Council, opening the thirty-fifth session, recalled the Council’s approach to providing a safe space for civil society, which was in the mandate of the Council.  A constructive atmosphere made it possible to have a frank dialogue with dignity, which was crucial for the functioning of the Human Rights Council.  The Council would follow up on all cases of reprisals brought to its attention.
 
Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay, noted that it was fundamental that all countries recognized, supported and participated together in the Council to ensure peaceful coexistence.  Those basic principles underpinned Uruguay’s work at the international level.  Coexistence was today threatened by situations of injustice, increased individualism and competition for goods and privileges.  Mr. Vázquez thus called for freedom and democracy, and politics as a social practice through which public affairs would be addressed.  Public policies had to be justified, designed and evaluated from a human rights perspective.  Economic growth was not an end in itself, but a means to achieve human rights and dignity for all.  It was the responsibility of States to ensure services for all, and those who had the most had to contribute the most.  The only purpose of the State was the implementation of the human rights of all persons.  Mr. Vázquez also called for comprehensive rights, reminding that the cost of the realization of the human rights of those who lived nowadays could not be covered through the mortgaging of the rights of future generations.   Development objectives and financing of policies should be realized with a forward-looking vision, he concluded.  
 
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern about the brazen absence of shame being paraded by a growing number of politicians world-wide.  When “thug-like” leaders rode to power, democratically or otherwise, and openly defied not only their own laws and constitutions, but also their obligations under international law, where was their shame?  The universal rights to freedom, equality and dignity had been held to be true across cultures and civilizations because of their intrinsic value, and because they made it possible to keep the peace.  In recent months, he had been greatly concerned by a number of disgraceful incidents of personal threats and insults directed against Special Procedures mandate-holders.  He called on all to cooperate with Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour, who was leading action across the United Nations system on the issue of threats against Special Procedures mandate-holders.   
 
The High Commissioner said that members of the Council, and candidates for future membership, had a particular responsibility to cooperate with the Council's mechanisms.  Yet, many countries had pending requests for visits and reports by 74 States had been overdue for a decade or longer.  Only 33 States were fully up to date with their Treaty Body reporting.  Every State had accepted that it was "the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms" – to reprise the Vienna Declaration.  Every State was party to at least one of the nine core human rights treaties.  Humanity was connected, and the denial of human rights in one country concerned every State in the Organization.  The present moment pointed to a tremendous opportunity to build on the Secretary-General's commitment to prevention, and on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was powered by a drive to end discrimination on any grounds.  The international community could use those entry points to develop new openings for human rights work that could impact the lives of vast numbers of people, High Commissioner Zeid concluded.
 
The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  It will next hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  At 11:50 a.m. the Council will hear an address by Nikki Haley, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations. 
 
Statement by the President of Uruguay
 
TABARÉ VÁZQUEZ, President of Uruguay, reminded that the historic path of coexistence, dignity and human rights had not been a linear path.  Uruguay itself had known setbacks and very bitter times.  Some of them had been not so distant and had been addressed by the Human Rights Council.   Uruguay was committed to the universality and interdependence of human rights, and respect for State sovereignty.  It was fundamental that all countries recognized, supported and participated together in the Council to ensure peaceful coexistence.  Those basic principles underpinned Uruguay’s work at the international level.  Uruguay had been actively associated with the Council since its creation, and it had submitted its candidacy for membership in 2019-2021.   Each country carried its own values, and every identity was part of the wealth of international society.  Commitment to the dignity of each person should underpin human rights.  Coexistence was today threatened by situations of injustice.   Increased individualism and competition for goods and privileges were prevalent in a world that at times looked like a psychiatric hospital run by patients.   Mr. Vázquez thus called for freedom and democracy, and politics as a social practice through which public affairs would be addressed.  Regardless of their religious identity, colour, ethnic origin and philosophy, dignity should be ensured to all human beings, he underlined.  
 
Public policies had to be justified, designed and evaluated from a human rights perspective.  Economic growth was not an end in itself, but a means to achieve human rights and dignity for all.  It was the responsibility of States to ensure services for all, and those who had the most had to contribute the most.  The only purpose of the State was the implementation of the human rights of all persons.  Work provided dignity, identity and belonging to society.  Therefore, inclusion in labour was one of the most important human rights.  Mr. Vázquez called for comprehensive rights, reminding that the cost of the realization of the human rights of those who lived nowadays could not be covered through the mortgaging of the rights of future generations.  Development objectives and financing of policies should be realized with a forward-looking vision.  Everyone should have a clean environment and leave it to future generations.  Mr. Vázquez reminded that Uruguay worked to ensure truth and justice, given its previous historical experience with dictatorship and systematic violations of human rights.  To ensure that the same never happened again, Uruguay would continue to work towards a strategy of development based on the principles of universality, equality and access to human rights.
 
Statement by the President of the Council

JOAQUÍN ALEXANDER MAZA MARTELLI, President of the Human Rights Council, recalled the Council’s approach to providing a safe space for civil society, which was in the mandate of the Council.  A constructive atmosphere made it possible to have a frank dialogue with dignity, which was crucial for the functioning of the Human Rights Council. ,The Council would follow up on all cases of reprisals brought to its attention.  He noted that Nikki Haley, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, would later address the Council.
 
Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked Uruguay for its commendable work for peace and security.  He then opened his statement by reminiscing on his first experience of war, noting that he had grown up not far from a massive Palestinian refugee camp.  Having later studied in depth the long and painful history of anti-Semitism in Europe, Russia and later, Arab countries, he said the Holocaust was “so monstrous and so mathematically planned and executed” it had no parallel, no modern equal, adding that it was also undeniable that today, the Palestinian people marked a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force.   The Palestinians deserved freedom, as all peoples did; and the Israelis also deserved freedom – a different sort of freedom, he said, for they had long had their State, but they too had suffered grievously. The end of the occupation must now be brought about, and soon.
 
Turning to other matters, the High Commissioner said the brutality of Daesh and other terrorist groups knew no bounds, and he condemned in the strongest of terms the “cowardly and sickening” attacks perpetrated against innocent people by callous terrorists operating in many parts of the world.  Terrorism worldwide must be eradicated, but counter-terrorism must be prosecuted while preserving the human rights of all.  To counter violent extremism, the international community must stand firm and insist on its opposite: peaceful inclusion.
 
The High Commissioner said that two years ago, he had touched on a subject which he wished to turn to once again this morning.  “I am told repeatedly we should not be "naming and shaming States,” he said, “but it is not the naming that shames.”  The shame came from the actions themselves, the conduct or violations at issue.  The denial of the right to life shamed; killing or murder, sometimes on a massive scale, produced shame stunningly, in seemingly inexhaustible supply.  The denial of the right to development produced shame.  The denial of human dignity shamed.  Torture shamed.  Arbitrary arrests shamed.  Rape shamed.  His Office held up a mirror before those whose shame had already been self-inflicted.  He expressed concern about the brazen absence of shame being paraded by a growing number of politicians world-wide.  When “thug-like” leaders rode to power, democratically or otherwise, and openly defied not only their own laws and constitutions, but also their obligations under international law, where was their shame?  The universal rights to freedom, equality and dignity had been held to be true across cultures and civilisations because of their intrinsic value, and because they made it possible to keep the peace.  They were not frivolous add-ons; they were absolutely critical.
 
The High Commissioner said that in recent months, he had been greatly concerned by a number of disgraceful incidents of personal threats and insults directed against Special Procedures mandate-holders.  Three had recently been subjected to smear and hate campaigns, some involving incitement to violence: the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar; the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, in the context of discussions on the Philippines; and the Special Rapporteur on Iran.  Noting that at the Council's next session the Secretary-General's annual report on reprisals would be presented, he called on all to cooperate with Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour, who was leading action across the United Nations system on this issue.
 
Members of the Council, and candidates for future membership, had a particular responsibility to cooperate with the Council's mechanisms.  Yet, for example, Indonesia had 21 pending requests for visits, and had received only two mandate-holders since 2008.  Egypt had 11 pending requests for visits, with the most recent mission seven years ago.  Nepal, a candidate for membership, had 16 pending requests for visits, with the most recent mission by a thematic mandate holder conducted in 2008.  Venezuela had 10, with its most recent visit by a thematic Special Procedure mandate holder conducted in the last century.  The Philippines had accepted three visits in the past five years but 23 other requests were pending.  Despite issuing a standing invitation, Council member Nigeria had accumulated 15 requests for visits; one visit by Special Procedures was accepted last year, but the last previous visit was in 2007.
 
Despite having been elected to the Council in 2015, Burundi continued to commit some of the most serious human rights violations dealt with by the Council, while the Government had suspended all forms of cooperation with the High Commissioner’s Office.  In September the Council's independent mission was declared persona non grata, and the current Commission of Inquiry had not been able to enter the country.  Turning to States which were not members of the Council, the High Commissioner noted that Bahrain, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tanzania and Turkmenistan had permitted no visits at all by Special Procedures in the course of the past five years, and had accumulated more than five requests each.  Jamaica also fit into that category, but had agreed to the visit of the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent.  Zimbabwe, with 14 requests pending, had never accepted a single mission by a mandate-holder.
 
The High Commissioner contested the self-serving argument presented by some that the Council should avoid addressing country situations, a view which was usually voiced by leaders of States that featured few independent institutions, and which sharply curtailed fundamental freedoms.  The Governments of Belarus, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Israel and Iran had also rejected resolutions creating country-specific mandate holders for them, and consequently did not allow visits by those mandate holders.  In the case of Syria, there had long been no access either for the High Commissioner’s Office or for the Syria Commission of Inquiry, and he repeated his call for the release of all detainees wrongfully imprisoned in Syria.  Last month the Democratic People's Republic of Korea did accept its first-ever Special Procedures visit, but given the extreme severity of reported violations in the country, that did not diminish the urgency of engagement with the country mandate holder and the High Commissioner’s Office, including its field-based structure in Seoul.
 
Myanmar had been providing access to the country mandate-holder, but specific locations requested were often off-limits, he observed, urging the Government to cooperate fully with the recently established independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, including full and unmonitored access to Rakhine state, where it was believed the violations of human rights had been horrifying in the extreme.  After 10 years of no visits by mandate-holders, Cuba had accepted a mission by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.  China had invited four Special Procedures mandate holders to the country in the past seven years but those missions had faced challenges with regard to the necessary freedom of movement and access to independent civil society.  In contrast, several States had devoted considerable efforts to cooperating with mandate holders, facilitating more than five country visits in the past five years: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Italy, Mexico, Tunisia and the United States, where it remained essential to enable access for the Special Rapporteur on torture to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.  Australia, a candidate for membership of the Council, had not given access to all detention centres for migrants and despite multiple recommendations, the situation at centres in Nauru and Manus had not been adequately addressed.
 
When a State became a party to an international human rights treaty, this was a commitment to its own people; reporting procedures were not optional.  Yet reports by 74 States had been overdue for a decade or longer, and as many as 280 initial reports had never been submitted.  The treaties with the highest proportion of States parties not complying with reporting obligations were the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Sixty-five States that had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had failed to report to it.  Almost 30 per cent of States parties had not submitted their initial report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Only 33 States were fully up to date with their Treaty Body reporting: Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Canada, China, Cook Islands, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Holy See, Honduras, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niue, Oman, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Singapore, Sweden, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.
 
Turning to countries which his staff had accessed recently, he said that when the High Commissioner had visited Tashkent, Uzbekistan last month, officials at the highest levels agreed to cooperate with his Regional Office for Central Asia and pledged to invite Special Procedures mandate-holders to visit the country, beginning with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.  Armenia had recently informed him of its intention to upgrade its engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.  During the High Commissioner’s mission to Ethiopia last month, he had held discussions with the authorities, including on the need to increase democratic and civic space.  The Government of Mozambique had accepted a technical mission by Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights staff, and had requested the provision of assistance to train police, improve administration of justice and prison conditions, and assist with issues of transitional justice.
 
The already dire situation in the Kasai provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to deteriorate, spreading to other provinces and across the border with Angola.  Given the difficulties in accessing the areas where violations and abuses were occurring, the High Commissioner said he would be dispatching a team to the region next week to meet with people fleeing attacks, and unless he received appropriate responses from the Government regarding a joint investigation by 8 June, he said he would insist on the creation of an international investigative mechanism for the Kasais.
 
On Western Sahara, discussions were ongoing with the Government to resume technical missions.  His Office was also reviewing options for access to Crimea.  There had been no change since his speech to the Council in September 2016 regarding the essential question of access in many areas, the High Commissioner said, noting that in the south-east region of Turkey, efforts to inquire into allegations of serious violations continued to be denied, while the volume of people awaiting trial across the country made it difficult to imagine due process guarantees were being respected.  Despite repeated high-level requests to India and Pakistan, permission for staff from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to have unconditional access to both sides of the Line of Control in India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir had still not been granted, and reports were being received of increasing violence, civilian casualties, curfews and website blackouts.  In Venezuela, the growing human rights crisis highlighted the increasingly urgent need for an impartial analysis and rapid assistance, and the High Commissioner urged the Government to accept his request for a mission to the country at working level.
 
Last week, the Central African Republic authorities, OHCHR and MINUSCA had launched the human rights mapping report; it was hoped it would galvanise national and international efforts to fight impunity and send a strong signal that justice will be done to all those who were engaged in or backing the current wave of appalling violence threatening the country.  Guatemala had recently extended the host agreement of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights country office for three more years, a welcome development, but the country office in Bolivia would close at the end of the year, following the Government's decision.
 
Every State had accepted that it was "the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms" – to reprise the Vienna Declaration.  Every State was party to at least one of the nine core human rights treaties.  Humanity was connected, and the denial of human rights in one country concerned every State in the Organization.  The present moment pointed to a tremendous opportunity to build on the Secretary-General's commitment to prevention, and on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was powered by a drive to end discrimination on any grounds. The international community could use those entry points to develop new openings for human rights work that could impact the lives of vast numbers of people.  But the principal responsibility for opening those doors still rested on Governments, Excellencies, and on the Council.

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