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

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1 March 2018

MIDDAY

GENEVA (1 March 2018) - The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

Presenting his report, Mr. Forst paid tribute to all human rights defenders who had been killed all over the world in the past several months.  He noted that civil society was dynamic, resilient and determined worldwide, and that there had been a 12 per cent increase in the State response rate during the reporting period.  That was an important indicator of the level of engagement of States with his mandate.  However, 2017 had been less successful with regard to State cooperation with his mandate in relation to official country visits.  He spoke about his visits to Australia and Mexico.

In his presentation, Mr. Melzer noted that as long as the global tragedy of irregular migration continued and States argued over petty issues of jurisdiction, refugee quotas, extra-territorial applicability of human rights of migrants and non-refoulment, there was no reason to celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Widespread and systematic human rights violations committed against migrants were a major global governance challenge.  States had a growing tendency to base their official migration policy on deterrence, criminalization and discrimination.  He spoke about his visit to Turkey.

Australia, Mexico and Turkey spoke as concerned countries.  The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Mexican Human Rights Commission also took the floor.  

In the ensuing discussion on the situation of human rights defenders, speakers regretted the increasingly challenging situation faced by human rights defenders, adding that those defending the right of people on the move should play a greater role in the discussions of two Global Compacts, which had to be underpinned by a human rights-based approach.  They underlined the importance of strengthening institutions to protect defenders, and stressed that the underlying problem for the criminalization of defenders was the criminalization of irregular migration.  Migration was an everyday phenomenon that enriched nations.

On migration-related torture, speakers noted that torture in the context of migration was a major concern as violence against migrants was on the rise.  Tackling poverty and unemployment in the global south was a priority to addressing migration-related issues.  There was no doubt that the use of torture weakened the rule of law and undermined the justice system.  The fight against torture and ill-treatment had to become a global responsibility.  

Speaking were Austria on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Montenegro, Colombia, Germany, Finland, China, Norway, Brazil, Denmark, Pakistan, Belgium, Russian Federation, Canada, Tunisia, Spain, Philippines, Paraguay, Czechia, Singapore, United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Honduras, Togo, Bahrain, Australia, Cuba, France, Egypt, Ukraine, Iraq, Venezuela, Mexico, Maldives, Costa Rica, Lithuania, Thailand, Georgia, Uganda, Armenia, Switzerland, Portugal, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Ecuador and Ireland.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions; World Organisation against Torture; Connectas Direitos Humanos; Association for the Prevention of Torture ; Defence for Children International; Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights; Asian Legal Resource ;  Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund;  International Service for Human Rights; Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia; Human Rights Law Centre; International Commission of Jurists; Federatie Van Netherlandse Verenigingen Tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - Coc Nederland; and Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship;

The Council will next hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/37/51).

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/37/51/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 Mexico (A/HRC/37/51/Add.2)

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – mission to Australia (A/HRC/37/51/Add.3)

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – comments by Mexico (A/HRC/37/51/Add.4).  

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/37/50)

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment – mission to Turkey (A/HRC/37/50/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment – comments by Turkey (A/HRC/37/50/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, paid tribute to all human rights defenders who had been killed all over the world in the past several months.  Many had died anonymously in their engagement.  Mr. Forst noted that civil society was dynamic, resilient and determined worldwide.  He reminded that he had sent a total of 210 communications to 79 countries, addressing the situation of more than 547 people, of whom 130 were women.  He noted that there had been a 12 per cent increase in the State response rate during the reporting period.  That was an important indicator of the level of engagement of States with his mandate.  Mr. Forst stated that 2017 had been less successful with regard to State cooperation with his mandate in relation to official country visits.  In October 2016, he had conducted an official visit to Australia and in January 2017 to Mexico.  

Mr. Forst commended Mexico for the efforts undertaken to face the countless attacks against human rights defenders.  Despite those efforts, there was extreme violence affecting human rights defenders in the country.  The official and unofficial records of defenders killed and attacked in Mexico, and the criminalization of their human rights work, showed that Mexico had become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for defenders and journalists.  The almost absolute impunity had to end in order to reverse that trend.  Nevertheless, Mr. Forst welcomed the fact that Mexico had created a national protection mechanism to support human rights defenders at risk.  He encouraged Mexico to reverse the current negative trend by making the protection of human rights defenders and ending impunity a matter of priority.  

Turning to his visit to Australia, Mr. Forst noted with concern that civil society in that country was under enormous pressure and that there was an increasing discrepancy and incoherence between the Government’s external pronouncements and achievements in promoting human rights and the implementation of its human rights obligations domestically.  The Government was hostile to human rights defenders and even obstructed their work.  Laws adopted in the areas of immigration and national security had restricted access to Government information and had created significant barriers to defenders reporting on human rights abuses.  Anti-protest legislation had also curtailed the work of defenders, whereas a series of measures sought to defund or reduce public funding for civil society.  Mr. Forst encouraged Australia to reverse the worrying trend and to focus on the recognition of the important role of defenders.  He also reminded that he would dedicate his next report to the situation of persons acting to defend the rights of all “people on the move,” reminding that unfortunately, the response to migration was not always positive.  Despite the renewed commitment of the international community, individuals, groups and communities defending the rights of people on the move operated in a very hostile environment.  States bore the primary responsibility to protect human rights defenders and to enable their work.  Defenders of people on the move had to have access to justice and effective remedies.  They should not be criminalized for rescuing people at sea and the prohibition of non-refoulement should always be respected in accordance with international law.  

Statements by Concerned Countries

Australia, speaking as a concerned country, said Australia had a long history of engaging cooperatively with Special Rapporteurs.  It had extended a standing invitation for Special Procedure mandate holders to visit Australia, and thus far five Special Rapporteurs had visited between October 2016 and March 2017.  Australia had a vibrant and diverse civil society.  With a population of 24 million, Australia had around 600,000 community and non-governmental organizations and 54,000 charities which freely engaged in a robust exchange of ideas and opinions.  The Government regularly conducted formal and informal consultations with civil society representatives, and was continuously reviewing the most effective means to engage them and human rights defenders.  In this respect, the Government and the Australian Human Rights Commission were working together to give voice to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls through the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) “Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future” project.

Australian Human Rights Commission, in a video statement, said there had been some positive developments since the Special Rapporteur’s visit.  These included the 2017 Amendment of the Border Force Act, which had contained secrecy provisions that restricted the ability of human rights defenders to report on potential abuses in immigration detention facilities connected to Australia.  This reform had addressed many of the Commission’s concerns about the law’s potential impact on whistleblowing, particularly in offshore detention centres.  However, several laws and policies continued to constrict and even criminalise the actions of human rights defenders.  The Commission noted with concern the Government’s recent bill aimed at preventing espionage and foreign interference, which unduly restricted free speech and freedom of the press.   The Commission encouraged the Government to support human rights defenders to work independently and freely to promote and protect human rights.  To that end, the Australian Government had to seriously consider the recommendations made in the Special Rapporteur’s report.

Mexico, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report which had been a result of meetings with three State branches, the national human rights commission and civil society actors.  Mexico had a legal framework and institutional resolve to protect human rights and in recent years it had worked to bolster its framework with the participation of civil society.  The evidence was work carried out by the national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders.  There were outstanding challenges remaining, such as drug trafficking, but the country was committed to combatting impunity by holding all actors accountable.  The recommendations had been carefully studied and would be significant to further strengthening the legal framework.  The constructive approach of the Special Rapporteur was appreciated and intense communication would be carried out with his office in future.  Particular attention was paid to people on the move which clearly illustrated difficulties faced by the human rights defenders who assisted this category.  A question was asked on what was the best practice worldwide of the resettlement of people on the move and protecting human rights defenders.

National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, in a video message, said that the recommendations had been an invaluable guidance for improving the human rights protection of both men and women in Mexico.  The visit had been an opportunity to evaluate fundamental elements of the context in which human rights defenders operated and carried out their activities.  The State had been obliged to immediately implement the recommendations since they had been perfectly attainable.  In conclusion, it was affirmed that the need to defend human rights defenders should be present in all countries, not just Mexico.  

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Torture

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, said that his mandate had transmitted 152 communications on behalf of individuals exposed to torture or other ill-treatment.  The great number of requests testified to the need for additional staff members.  The Governments of Argentina, Serbia and Kosovo, Spain, Libya and Ukraine were thanked for their invitations for official visits, and regrettably the visit to Libya had to be cancelled.  Concerning the visit to Serbia and Kosovo, it was noted that prison systems appeared to be free from ill-treatment, though there had been numerus allegations of inefficient legal proceedings and unnecessary or excessive pre-trial detention.  The visit to Turkey had revealed that torture and ill-treatment of suspected supporters of the coup had been widespread in the immediate aftermath of the coup, but then it had largely ceased once detainees had been included in the regular prison system.  Still, the number of allegations concerning ill-treatment in Turkey had been on the rise again.

Within preparations of the thematic report, worldwide expert consultations had been conducted, confirming that the prevalence of torture victims among irregular migrants had ranged up to 76 per cent, with the overall average being 27 per cent.  This extrapolated to a staggering 7 million victims of torture.  Fear was expressed this could be only the tip of the iceberg.  While it was armed groups, smugglers, traffickers and organized criminals seeking to exploit migrants, none of this could happen with the active or tacit participation and support of States.  As long as the global tragedy of irregular migration continued and States argued over petty issues of jurisdiction, refugee quotas and extra-territorial applicability of human rights of migrants, there really was no reason to celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In conclusion, Mr. Melzer reiterated that widespread and systematic human rights violations committed against migrants were a major global governance challenge and that States had a growing tendency to base their official migration policy on deterrence, criminalization and discrimination.  Political tensions and escalating humanitarian crisis were not a consequence of population movements, they were a result of the collective failure to respond to migration with humanity and non-discrimination.

Statement by Concerned Country

Turkey, speaking as a concerned country, stated that despite severe security conditions after the attempted coup, the Turkish authorities had provided full access to the Special Rapporteur to places of detention.  The Government implemented a zero tolerance policy towards torture and all prevention measures were in place.  Turkey’s resolute stance had never changed, despite its fight against various terrorist groups.  Terrorism was a crime against humanity and it violated the fundamental freedoms.  The ongoing state of emergency in Turkey was necessary to fight terrorism in line with domestic laws and international standards.  The Ministry of the Interior had set up a special unit to investigate allegations of torture.  Turkey regretted that the report neglected to acknowledge the serious nature of terrorism faced by the country, and that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was not listed as a terrorist organization.  Many claims in the report were based on a limited number of interviews, although the Special Rapporteur was given full access.  Nevertheless, the Government would give full consideration to the report.

Discussion

Austria, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, regretted the increasingly challenging situation faced by human rights defenders, adding that those defending the rights of people on the move should play a greater role in the discussions of the two Global Compacts, which had to be underpinned by a human rights-based approach.  European Union supported the conclusion of re-admission agreements and it ensured that they were carried out in full compliance with international law.  On human rights defenders, it asked how the international community could better promote the values enshrined in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.  Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stressed that torture was prohibited in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and welcomed the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s focus on migrants because they were subjected to all kinds of mistreatment.

Montenegro welcomed the focus on persons acting as defenders of the rights of people on the move, noting that their role should be clearly recognized in the two Global Compacts.  As for migration-related torture, it called for the universal ratification of the Convention against Torture.  Colombia underlined the importance of strengthening institutions in the zones affected by the conflict with FARC to protect human rights defenders, noting that organized criminal groups had carried out attacks and threats against defenders.  Germany expressed concern about the shrinking space for human rights defenders, who were essential for peaceful societies.  Turning to migration-related torture, it asked the Special Rapporteur to share some best practices of civil society playing a role in the protection and rehabilitation of torture survivors.

Finland reaffirmed its commitment to supporting human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders which were a particularly vulnerable group.  Last year an independent study had been commissioned to evaluate Finland’s work in this area, concluding that more mainstreaming of human rights in security and trade policies were needed.   China was committed to the protection of human rights and was working to improve its legal and judicial system and conducting reforms in line with the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.   Norway commended the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for all efforts to advance the mandate.  Norway was concerned that people on the move experienced multiple abuses such as extortion, sexual violence and torture and the Government continued to provide humanitarian assistance and protection.  

Brazil said that the report brought a new perspective to the ongoing negotiations on the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.  A key issue identified by the report was the securitization of the migration agenda and the loss of its human rights agenda, a concern which had been shared by Brazil.  Denmark agreed that irregular migrants were at particular risk of being subjected to torture and ill-treatment and stated the recommendations made would benefit from more discussion.  The Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate further on concerns raised about the use of the readmission agreement in relation to the non-refoulment principle, and also to say what could the Council and States do to assist him in his work.  Pakistan stated that the Secretary General had stated that the role of migrants in building countries and their economies had to be acknowledged.  Pakistan stood united with international efforts in combatting torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments.

Belgium fully subscribed to recommendations that perpetrators of crimes against people on the move be held accountable and that their victims receive protection and redress.  Belgium asked what could be done to better protect woman human rights defenders.  Russian Federation noted that the content of recent reports by Mr. Forst went well beyond his mandate and doubled the work of other Human Rights Councils mechanisms.  Russia asked if it was a good idea to extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate as funds could be better used elsewhere.  Canada said it had developed national guidelines to help empower human rights defenders.  Expressing concern over global crackdowns on rights defenders, Canada asked what unique challenges faced woman rights defenders who were also people on the move.

Tunisia said torture in the context of migration was a major concern as violence against migrants was on the rise.  Tackling poverty and unemployment in the global south was a priority to addressing migration-related issues.  Spain prioritized protections for rights defenders, saying increased action was needed to address migration crises.  Spain shared concerns over limitations to the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.  

Philippines guaranteed freedom of expression and the people’s constitutional right to information.  It shared serious concern about xenophobia, maltreatment and torture in the context of migration, noting that the ongoing negotiations of the two Global Compact provided a historic opportunity to address that problem.  Paraguay welcomed the focus on human rights defenders for people on the move, stressing that the underlying problem for the criminalization of defenders was the criminalization of irregular migration.  Were there any examples of people on the move being included in civil society?  Czechia agreed that the shrinking space for civil society posed serious challenges for their work, and asked about concrete steps to facilitate communications on defenders of people on the move.  What were the synergies between the State and civil society in ensuring that people on the move were protected from torture and ill-treatment?  

Singapore regretted that the Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer had inaccurately and misleadingly cited Singapore’s Public Order Act as an example where the ability of people on the move to exercise their right to free expression, association and peaceful assembly was restricted.  United States encouraged the Special Rapporteur to continue reporting on reprisals against human rights defenders.  It categorically condemned all acts of torture and called on Turkey to act on its obligations and commitments.  Côte d’Ivoire appreciated the consideration given to human rights defenders of people on the move.  It was deplorable that people on the move were subject to unprecedented restrictions, adding that it was essential to establish an environment conducive to the work of those who protected people on the move.        

Honduras asked the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders what impact organized crime had on the rights of people on the move.  Honduras also asked the Special Rapporteur on torture if the concerns in his report were reflected in the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration.  Togo said rights defenders faced multifaceted challenges and agreed that protecting people on the move must involve rights defenders.  Togo asked what measures must be taken to account for the specific situations of rights defenders working with people on the move.  Bahrain supported the Special Rapporteur on torture’s priority of protecting migrants from torture and ill-treatment.  Bahrain stressed that the international community must punish perpetrators of torture.  Bahrain placed combatting torture as a priority of ongoing national reforms.

Australia called on all States to comply by international obligation on non-refoulment.  Turning to diplomatic assurances, Australia said the use of such assurances was permitted and they were an important tool for States to meet their international human rights obligations.  Cuba said the human rights of migrants must not be challenged and international cooperation was vital to recognizing the shared responsibility of all States on migration matters.  Cuba urged the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to remain objective.  France reaffirmed its commitment to international cooperation to better promote the safety of rights defenders and asked what must be done to improve safeguard mechanisms.  Turning to torture of people on the move, France said it was working with African partners to assist victims of torture.

Egypt invited the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to ensure his credibility, adding that rapporteurs had to respect their code of ethics.  Regarding migration-related torture, Egypt paid particular attention to that mandate and it reaffirmed its commitment to prevent all types of torture and punish perpetrators.  Ukraine emphasized that illegal detention places established by Russia in occupied Donbas had led to violations of fundamental rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture and cruel treatment, and the right to a fair trial.  Iraq stated that it prosecuted and punished all types of torture and it had created parliamentary committees and monitoring bodies to investigate cases of torture.  It had also made provisions to protect human rights defenders.  

Venezuela noted that it strictly abided to international standards on torture.  Relevant State bodies, in cooperation with civil society, promoted serious investigations of cases of torture perpetrated by previous Governments.  Mexico stressed that migration should not be seen as a crime, and should not be criminalized.  It was an everyday phenomenon that enriched nations.  Mexico rejected torture and had recently adopted a law to punish perpetrators.  Maldives stated that there was no doubt that the use of torture weakened the rule of law and undermined the justice system.  The fight against torture and ill-treatment had to become a global responsibility.      

Costa Rica said rights defenders often had to leave their countries due to harassment and that it had a mechanism in place to welcome rights defenders in the country.  Costa Rica asked if rights defenders, while less visible than other activists, were more vulnerable to threats.  Lithuania said rights defenders often acted in hostile environments and that only by considering their views could the international community develop sustainable policy measures.  Netherlands shared concerns regarding the urgency to enhance civil society space. The Netherlands asked how States could assist each other in expanding opportunities for the temporary relocation of rights defenders.

Thailand said it was studying the possibility of becoming State party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.  Thailand asked how social media could be used to promote tolerance and prevent abuse of migrants and refugees.  Georgia expressed particular concern over the situation of people forced to move due to crisis and armed conflict and drew attention to Georgian internally displaced persons.  Uganda said it had enshrined in its legal framework the provision of an enabling environment for non-governmental organizations.  The Government was working actively to develop the internal capacities and accountability structures of non-governmental organizations.  

Sudan confirmed its respect for individuals and organizations working for human rights.  The trend of new categories, such as defenders of the environment, or politics or economics, however, were contrary to the international provisions on human rights.  These organizations must avoid becoming polarized by external parties exploiting them.  Afghanistan said legislation in Afghanistan criminalized torture in accordance with international law, and it had ratified documents and established mechanisms to this effect.   Afghanistan had a vibrant media sector, and freedom of expression was a corner stone of the democracy.  Nigeria commended the Special Rapporteur on torture and unequivocally condemned all forms of torture.  States duties had to be aligned with human rights.  Nigeria upheld its commitment to human dignity.

United Kingdom was a longstanding promotor of the Optional Protocol on torture.  What further steps were envisioned by the Special Rapporteur in this direction?  It was unacceptable that 312 human rights defenders were killed in 2017 – more had to be done to protect defenders.  Ecuador was committed to safeguarding the psychological and physical integrity of Ecuadorians, both within the country and abroad.  In this direction, it had adopted an Organic Law on Human Mobility which established a link between government and civil society actions to address victims of human trafficking.  Ireland said human rights instruments were under increasing pressure in the world.  It was gravely concerned about the acts of reprisal against human rights defenders, by both State and non-State actors.  Ireland condemned at the highest level all forms of torture and it was gravely concerned by the report’s findings that people were becoming more vulnerable.  

Armenia noted that migrants were at greater risk of rights abuses, a trend that was on the rise.  Collective State action was required to protect migrants and alleviate their suffering.  Armenia regretted defamation laws used to sanction rights defenders.  Switzerland said violations of migrants’ rights constituted one of the greatest tragedies of our time.  Switzerland asked what were the most important measures to better protect migrants against torture.  Portugal called on all States to enshrine the principles of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and expressed particular concern over violations against persons with mental disabilities and called on States to abolish the death penalty.

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, in a video message, said that too often rights defenders were not identified as refugees and faced several migration roadblocks.  Domestic human rights protections mechanisms had to be accessible to people on the move and include protection from deportation.  World Organization against Torture asked what measures could be taken to prevent States from ignoring due diligence on issues of torture and what measures could be taken to ensure rights defenders in exile could continue to pursue their work.  Conectas Dereitos Humanos said countries regularly violated the rights and dignity of migrants.  The international human rights community must end the criminalization of people on the move.

Association for the Prevention of Torture reminded States of five essential considerations for the Global Compact on Migration: that migration was not a crime; that immigration detention of children must end; that authorities should not impose criminal-like conditions of detention; that forced returns increased risks of torture and ill-treatment; and that independent bodies should be able to monitor conditions of detention and treatment of migrants.  Defence for Children International, in a joint statement, said children deprived of liberty were exposed to increased risk of abuse, violence and torture.  The United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty would examine this plight through quantitative and qualitative research, and would propose measures to this effect.  Members of the Human Rights Council were encouraged to support this critical document.  Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said 10 years after major protests broke out across the Tibetan Plateau, the People’s Republic of China had implemented harsh policies aimed at suppressing any challenge to its rule.  As a result, almost any expression of Tibetan identity, acts of non-violent dissent or criticism of ethnic or religious policies could today be considered by authorities as illegal.

Asian Legal Resource Centre said torture and ill-treatment were institutionalised in the criminal justice architecture of most Asian States, and were practiced as State policy.  Crime investigation often began and ended with a confession statement for which torture was used as a tool.  Impunity to torture also promoted its use by the State to silence the voices of dissent.  Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund said in Guatemala and Honduras people who collectively or individually worked for human rights were attacked physically, and endured hate speech.  In both countries the State had implemented restrictive measures so defenders could not carry out their work freely.  International Service for Human Rights remained concerned that governments, including many in the European Union, were increasingly responding to challenges of “migration management” by backpedalling on their support for fundamental freedoms, including expression, association and assembly.  

Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights welcomed the report and said that human rights defenders in Mexico had been labelled as enemies and traitors of the people and that the same thing was happening with survivors of torture.  Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development expressed concerns on safeguarding the rights of defending people on the move, particularly those displaced due to violations of their rights.  Across Asia, human rights defenders had been regularly targeted simply for carrying out their legitimate work, facing risks such as enforced disappearances and killings.  Human Rights Law Centre expressed their astonishment at the disconnect between the Australian Government’s statements on the world stage and its actions at home.  Sustained pressure was placed on the charities, community groups and institutions and this regressive trend continued.

International Commission of Jurists, in a joint statement, welcomed that the report highlighted the vital role that lawyers played, particularly in light of hard conditions they had been facing.  In Azerbaijan, lawyers faced criminal prosecution for representing clients and in Kazakhstan a new law would deteriorate conditions for lawyers.  The situation in Turkey under the current state of emergency was particularly grave.   Nederlandse Vereniging tot Integratie van Homoseksualiteit stated that human rights defenders had faced problems both in the country that had been violating human rights but also in countries where they sought refuge and protection.  Many European and North American States had further restricted migration policies resulting in the fact that human rights defenders had no possibility to freely continue their work in third countries.   Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship welcomed the report and findings on the situation in Turkey, which had been depicting a disconnect between proclaimed statements and the reality.  The case of a journalist who was sentenced to imprisonment and faced severe pre-trial detention was brought to the attention of the Council, demanding the immediate release of all those arbitrary detained.  International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture said the detention of minors was an infringement of rights of the child and had serious negative effects on their physical and mental health.  The Federation called on States to end child detention.  

Concluding Remarks

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, regretted statements by the Russian Federation calling for the abolition of his mandate.  He said his mandate allowed for the provision of technical assistance and offered his expertise to help Russia address concerns.  Mr. Forst proposed a follow-up visit to Australia to better guide the implementation of previous recommendations, also noting that Mexico was a strong supporter of his mandate.  He said a campaign would be launched to mark the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.  The goal of the campaign was to change the narrative in which human rights defenders were identified as a means to better present the role they played.  The Special Rapporteur was working on guidelines to inform the behaviour of private sector actors working with human rights defenders.  He mentioned the possibility of a global summit that would gather human rights defenders as a means to share best practices and concerns.  He expressed pleasure over European Union efforts to study the shrinking space for civil society organizations.  China had facilitated an academic visit to Hong Kong, he said, calling on other States to extend similar invitations.

Turning to questions over shelter cities for human rights defenders, he pointed to efforts in Georgia and Costa Rica as good examples of the practice.  Still, more must be done to address the needs of women and children in shelter cities.  He closed by recalling his mandate was established to protect rights defenders and urged States to be more responsive to his communications.

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, thanked the countries and non-governmental organizations for their questions and said that many hardships that migrants were facing were the result of deterrence policies increasingly implemented by States.  In other words, such practices had been putting migrants in an irregular situation.  Torture and ill-treatment had been banned for all categories of migrants.  Authorities should be aware that the protection from torture was an absolute principle, even when considering non-refoulment practices.  Two principal areas where civil society could greatly assist were monitoring the situation in detention centres and accommodation centres, and rehabilitation where civil society could assist in identifying victims of torture.  The Swedish Red Cross and many other organizations had been doing an excellent job in this area.  Concerning the question from Denmark, the readmission agreements were not problematic as a theoretical concept, but sometimes these instruments could be used to avoid or circumvent individual risk assessment.  Moreover, practice of diplomatic assurances had been used in situations where in effect there might be a risk of torture, so a certain level of complacency was evident.  Regarding the measures that needed to be taken to avoid arbitrary detention of migrants, Mr. Melzer said that irregular migration had to be decriminalized and not considered as a criminal offence.  A general understanding had to be made that population movements had to be linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, and the international community had to take responsibility for migration governance.  In conclusion, Mr. Melzer thanked 32 countries which had extended their invitation to visit and encouraged others to do so.  Member States were also called on to ratify the Convention against Torture.

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