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Human Rights council hold interactive dialogue with Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice and human rights and transnational corporations

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27 Июнь 2019

MIDDAY

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, addresses the Council

GENEVA (27 June 2019) - The Human Rights Council today held a clustered interactive dialogue with Meskerem Geset Techane, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and Surya Deva, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.  The Council concluded the clustered interactive dialogue on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and on the right to education.  It also heard an address by Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland.

Ms. Jakobsdóttir stressed that everyone had the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment and that this right underpinned many other human rights.  The Council must not stand by as the world dealt with the monumental changes to the environment, she said.  It was up to this Council to formally recognize the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment and the common responsibility to maintain it for future generations.  Iceland stood ready to support this effort, the Prime Minister reaffirmed.

Ms. Geset Techane said that the existing backdrop of unequal power dynamics and systemic discrimination against women was prevalent worldwide.  It manifested in deprivation of women’s liberty, which mostly occurred arbitrarily, in violation of the law and human rights standards.  The persistence of gender stereotypes undermined the equality of women while perpetuating and normalizing discrimination, marginalization and violence against women.  Women’s poverty stemming from unequal access to and control over resources, opportunities and services constituted a key factor in deprivation of liberty.  She spoke about the missions to Honduras and Poland.

Mr. Seva said women and girls across all regions not only experienced adverse impacts of business activities differently and disproportionately, but also faced additional barriers in seeking effective remedies to redress such impacts.  Sexual harassment and gender-based violence were pervasive at home, in education institutions, at work, in sports, in markets, in public transport systems and in cyberspace.  Marketing of products and services perpetuated gender stereotypes and objectified women’s bodies.  Women also tended to experience a disproportionate impact on their human rights in conflict and post-conflict situations.  He spoke about the missions to Kenya and Thailand.

Speaking as concerned countries were Honduras, Poland, Kenya and Thailand.  The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights also took the floor.

In the interactive dialogue that ensued on discrimination against women in law and in practice, delegations said it was essential to overcome and eradicate instances of “traditional” discrimination and ill-treatment that denied women’s status as rights bearers.  Acknowledging that deprivation of liberty was deeply gendered, other speakers described some of the Working Group’s recommendations, including those relating to the introduction of quotas and the decriminalization of prostitution, as “contentious”, as they did not generate consensus.

On business and human rights, speakers pointed out that all businesses could benefit from greater equality for women.  While no country had achieved full gender equality, some stressed that democracy entailed equality, and depriving women from their rights would lead to the paralysis of society.  The current political order that had been imposed on the world posed significant challenges to gender equality in the world of work, some said.  Others noted with appreciation that the references to women in the report also included girls, as well as lesbian, transgender and intersex women.

Taking the floor in the discussion were European Union; Sweden (on behalf of a group of countries); Angola (on behalf of the African Group); Argentina (on behalf of a group of countries); Colombia (on behalf of a group of countries); Finland; Holy See; Russian Federation; UN-Women; Canada; Slovenia; Pakistan; Brazil; Croatia; Australia; Malaysia; United Arab Emirates; Tunisia; United Nations Children's Fund; India; Fiji; Burkina Faso; Algeria; Cuba; Israel; Japan; Thailand; Spain; Venezuela; Germany; Netherlands; France; Ecuador; Norway; Indonesia; Republic of Korea; South Africa; Myanmar; Botswana; Iraq; Morocco; Afghanistan; Chile; Bolivia ; Switzerland; Bulgaria; Mexico; Azerbaijan; Belgium; Luxembourg; United Kingdom; Nigeria; Chad; Ireland; Greece; Gambia; Madagascar; Montenegro; Ethiopia; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Eritrea; Italy; Nepal; Pakistan; Armenia; and Madagascar.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: International Service for Human Rights ; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Association for Women's Rights in Development; Federation for Women and Family Planning; Action Canada for Population and Development; FIAN International e.V.; Christian Aid (in a joint statement with Women's International League for Peace and Freedom); Conectas Direitos Humanos;Human Rights Law Centre (in a joint statement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service - Victoria); Conselho Indigenista Missionário CIMI (in a joint statement with Conectas Direitos Humanos; and Terra de Direitos); Sikh Human Rights Group; International Commission of Jurists; Make Mothers Matter; International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture); International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture); and Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR).

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the clustered interactive dialogue on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and on the right to education that started on 26 June.

Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in concluding remarks, said there were still gaps in strategies aiming to prevent the targeted killing of journalists and human rights defenders.  Investigations and prosecutions should not only focus on the hitmen but also target masterminds.  The world had become particularly aggressive, and the Human Rights Council should rise to the challenge.

Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, in concluding comments, congratulated non-governmental organizations for their hard work, carried out every day in the most far flung places.  She thanked the States that had spoken up against education becoming a commodity.  Public quality education that was inclusive was a priority and should be free of charge.  It was of course the responsibility of the State to ensure that that was the case.

Speaking in the interactive debate were International Harm Reduction Association; Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The; Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights; and Edmund Rice International Limited.

The Human Rights Council will next hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Continuation of Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Non-governmental organizations urged the international community to take action to prevent and adequately address extrajudicial killings.  They drew the attention of the Human Rights Council to the execution of civilians at the hand of army officials and the police in Mexico.  Underscoring the importance to ensure free access to quality public education, they pointed out that the public-private partnership in the printing of textbooks in India had created a risk factor of increasing the cost of books.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

AGNÈS CALLAMARD, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said there were still gaps in strategies aiming to prevent the targeted killing of journalists and human rights defenders.  Investigations and prosecutions should not only focus on the hitmen but also target masterminds.  Targeted killings could sometimes constitute international crimes for which universal jurisdiction applied, she said, reiterating that the international community should develop an instrument to avoid the paralysis experienced in the case of Jamal Khashoggi.  She called for a criminal investigation appointed by the Secretary-General.  Noting that targeted killings were usually preceded by surveillance, harassment and threats, including online, she endorsed the call by Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye for a moratorium on the export of surveillance technology.  The world had become particularly aggressive, and the Human Rights Council should rise to the challenge.

KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said the core of the Abidjan Principles spoke to article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Education should not become a mere instrument of doctrine and it was important that States regulated private actors and gave priority to funding public education schools, she said, stressing that the right to education was paramount.  There were countries where public school funding was used to finance private schools.  She congratulated the non-governmental organizations for their hard work, carried out every day in the most far flung places.  She thanked the States that had spoken up against education becoming a commodity.  Public quality education that was inclusive was a priority and should be free of charge.  It was of course the responsibility of the State to ensure that that was the case.

Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Working Groups on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice, and on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (A/HRC/41/33).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice – Visit to Honduras (A/HRC/41/33/Add.1).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice – Visit to Poland (A/HRC/41/33/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (A/HRC/41/43).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises – Visit to Thailand (A/HRC/41/43/Add.1).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises – Visit to Kenya (A/HRC/41/43/Add.2).

The Council has before an addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises – Visit to Thailand : Comments by the State (A/HRC/41/43/Add.3).

Presentations of Reports by the Working Groups on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice, and on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises

MESKEREM GESET TECHANE, Chairperson-Rapporteur, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, said the existing backdrop of unequal power dynamics and systemic discrimination against women was prevalent worldwide.  It manifested in deprivation of women’s liberty, which mostly occurred arbitrarily, in violation of the law and human rights standards.  The persistence of gender stereotypes undermined the equality of women while perpetuating and normalizing discrimination, marginalization and violence against women.  Women’s poverty stemming from unequal access to and control over resources, opportunities and services constituted a key factor in deprivation of liberty.  Women were often imprisoned for acts committed in defending themselves from violence, and in case of societal violence and armed conflict, State and non-State actors had been responsible for using deprivation of women’s liberty as a strategy to further their ends.

Turning to country visits, the Chair of the Working Group welcomed the efforts deployed by the National Institute for Women in Honduras.  She nevertheless observed that discrimination against women persisted in the country in all spheres.  The widespread patriarchal attitudes and cultures in the country perpetuated inequality as well as violence against women, and limited women’s participation in civil, political and social life.  On the Working Group’s visit to Poland, she noted the country had a proud history of active and vibrant women’s movement, and highlighted women’s invaluable contribution to its economic, social, cultural and political development.  At the same time, many interlocutors expressed concerns about the rise of conservatism that was countering the gains for which women had fought.  There was no designated State authority on women’s rights issues and no national strategies or plans on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

SURYA DEVA, Chairperson, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said women and girls across all regions not only experienced adverse impacts of business activities differently and disproportionately, but also faced additional barriers in seeking effective remedies to redress such impacts.  Sexual harassment and gender-based violence were pervasive at home, in education institutions, at work, in sports, in markets, in public transport systems and in cyberspace.  Marketing of products and services perpetuated gender stereotypes and objectified women’s bodies.  Women also tended to experience a disproportionate impact on their human rights in conflict and post-conflict situations.  States should apply the gender framework and guidance in developing and revising measures aimed at implementing the Guiding Principles, including national action plans.  Businesses should also apply the gender framework and guidance, and should, for example, ensure the meaningful participation of potentially affected women, women’s organizations, women human rights defenders, and gender experts in all stages of human rights due diligence.

Turning to country visits, Mr. Deva thanked Kenya and Thailand for their genuine willingness to push forward the business and human rights agenda.  In Thailand, the Working Group had been encouraged by the Government’s efforts.  It was pleased to witness the growing interest in the business and human rights agenda in the country, especially among large companies with exposure to global markets.  Nevertheless, challenges remained, including the criminalization of peaceful protests, the filing of strategic lawsuits against human rights defenders, and the exploitation of migrant workers.  The Working Group welcomed the steps taken by Kenya to implement the Guiding Principles and noted that the Government was creating a momentum in the region.  However, more should be done to enforce existing legislation and ensure that all companies, including State-owned enterprises and small companies, conducted human rights due diligence.  Kenya should also hold accountable those companies that had caused or contributed to adverse human rights impacts.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, said that the 2016 initiative Women in the City had contributed to the empowerment of women in Honduras, including in matters of violence against women.  One of the measures taken to address the challenges facing Honduran women by the Government was the setting up in 2018 of the Interdepartmental Commission, headed by the Ministry for Human Rights, to follow up on violence against women, including violence against women human rights defenders, and to work on prevention through campaigns to overcome structural obstacles that caused discrimination and violence.  Honduras had also increased the budget for the Independent Women’s Institute, while the Credit Mujeres fund had increased women’s access to finances to start their own business.

Poland, speaking as a concerned country, reiterated Poland’s firm commitment to the elimination of discrimination against women, adding that it was making every effort to fulfil its human rights obligations.  Poland drew attention to some substantive discrepancies in the Working Group’s report related to the alleged challenges to women with regard to education and access to health, especially reproductive health services.  The existing system of combatting violence against women was compatible with the premises of the Istanbul Convention and the Council of Europe, while Roma women, women with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups of women enjoyed full and equal access to quality reproductive health services.  Poland strongly rejected the statement in the report concerning the forced sterilization of women with intellectual disabilities in psychiatric institutions and said that all persons with intellectual disabilities were treated according to the law.

Kenya, speaking as a concerned country, recalled that Kenya was the first African country that had committed to developing a national action plan to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights.  Kenya recognized the distinct place and role of States and businesses in protecting and promoting human rights and ensuring remedies for human rights violations, and said that those were some of the issues that its national action plan on businesses and human rights addressed.  The plan also provided specific human rights targets for each Ministry and aimed to address the adverse human rights impact of business operations.  The national action plan emphasized practical solutions and tools that were good for businesses and for human rights.  Advancing human rights was not only about managing risks but about harnessing the potential of business to promote and strengthen the enjoyment of human rights.

Kenya National Commission for Human Rights said it was guiding the Government in the development of the national action plan on businesses and human rights, which was one of the steps in the practical implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights.  Public procurement was indeed a powerful tool for the advancement of human rights, and therefore the selection of suppliers should not follow the lowest bid but should involve a number of other criteria and standards.  That was why the Commission was working on amending the Public Procurement Act and was supporting and promoting the work of human rights defenders active on the issue of business operations.

Thailand, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the constructive recommendations that the Working Group had made to Thailand in the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights, which had led, inter alia to the Thai Stock Exchange organizing a seminar on human rights due diligence.  Thailand encouraged Working Group to avoid using inaccurate translations of law and policies, which impeded the issuing of constructive conclusions.  One example was the order issued by the National Council of Peace and Order which, contrary to the statement in the report, did not allow the conclusion of contracts with private contractors prior to the presentation of an environmental assessment.  Based on its recent experience, Thailand suggested several measures to simplify the Guiding Principles, such as by introducing a step-by-step checklist for those who aimed to adopt this instrument, or producing a mobile application for human rights due diligence.

Interactive Dialogue

In the interactive dialogue that ensued on discrimination against women in law and in practice, delegations said it was essential to overcome and eradicate instances of “traditional” discrimination and ill-treatment that denied women’s status as rights bearers.  They pointed out that the evolution of digital technology and artificial intelligence provided new tools to prevent and address violations of women’s and girls’ rights, but could also be used to monitor and restrict such rights.  Acknowledging that deprivation of liberty was deeply gendered, other speakers described some of the Working Group’s recommendations, including those relating to the introduction of quotas and the decriminalization of prostitution, as “contentious”, as they did not generate consensus.  The structural forms of inequality needed to addressed, and this required a review of laws, policies, norms and practices.  On the need to fight gender stereotypes, what were the existing innovative models with a good track record?  Noting that deprivation of liberty could amount to a form of domestic violence, speakers enquired about ways to increase awareness of deprivation of liberty by family members as a human rights abuse.

On business and human rights, speakers pointed out that all business organizations could benefit from greater equality for women.  While no country had achieved full gender equality, some stressed that democracy entailed equality, and depriving women from their rights would lead to the paralysis of society.  Efforts to spotlight concerns about children’s rights should be increased, as the lens of children’s rights was increasingly recognized as bringing insight and knowledge to broader human rights groups at risk.  The current political order that had been imposed on the world posed significant challenges to gender equality in the world of work, some said.  Others noted with appreciation that the references to women in the report also included girls, as well as lesbian, transgender and intersex women.  What role should the State play in ensuring that corporate data and information on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment were not only produced but were also accurate, comprehensive and disseminated widely?  Beyond those for which international law provided, what measures could be implemented to foster an equal access to work and wages throughout the world?

Interim Remarks

MESKEREM GESET TECHANE, Chairperson-Rapporteur, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, thanked the Government of Honduras for sharing the concerns outlined in the report and said she was pleased to hear about recent positive developments.  She thanked Poland for taking the Working Group’s recommendation on board despite differences in findings and interpretations.  The Working Group had held broad consultations prior to formulating its recommendations, she stated, stressing that it hoped to engage further with the Polish Government.  Too often stereotypes were transcribed into laws.  To effectively implement good laws, strong institutions were required.  She highlighted the importance of judicial training that focused on the elimination of judicial gender stereotyping as well as cultural transformation.  Sometimes, good laws were not implemented properly, making the elimination of discriminatory cultural practices difficult.  In that regard, accountability mechanisms had to be strengthened.  On good practices, she said initiatives that engaged traditional and religious leaders as champions of social transformation had been very effective, as had been the positive involvement of men and boys.  She emphasized the importance of extensive education programmes to promote the role of family members in upholding the rights of women and girls.

SURYA DEVA, Chairperson, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, thanking Kenya for its comments, said the Working Group was examining the role of national human rights institutions on matters related to businesses and human rights.  On the visit to Thailand, the Working Group had had to use the translation that was available even if it was not an official one, he stated, assuring that it conducted its work in good faith.  While stressing that the Working Group always respected the independence of the judiciary, he pointed out that some cases were being brought before Thai courts by businesses in a manner that did comply with relevant international norms.  To integrate the needs of women and girls, they should be included in the process of drafting national plans.  Technologies could be empowering for women, but at the same time, it was important to be aware of their potential negative impacts, such as cyberbullying.  The report was not an endpoint but rather a starting point, he stated, pledging to continue working with governments.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers remarked that the conclusions and recommendations of the report on discrimination against women in law and in practice were beneficial as they allowed States to adopt a holistic approach to the protection of the right to liberty.  Instances of deprivation of liberty affected women in different ways and in various contexts, which made more evident the common underlying factors, such as the persisting patriarchal systems.  Some groups, such as minorities, refugees, and indigenous peoples, were especially vulnerable.  States had to eliminate discriminatory legislation preventing women from accessing justice, some stressed, and underlined that societies could not afford to leave women behind; investments in boosting their potential were not a luxury but rather a necessity.   Delegations inquired about the link between poverty and deprivation of liberty of women and how the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals could alleviate this challenge.

During the dialogue on businesses and human rights, speakers underlined the importance of multi-stakeholder initiatives addressing gender-based harassment and violence.  They said the report proved that women and girls remained vulnerable to business-related discrimination, harassment and gender-based violence, including sexual violence.  Women and girls constituted the majority of victims of modern slavery, including forced and child labour, and domestic servitude.

Address by the Prime Minister of Iceland

KATRÍN JAKOBSDÓTTIR, Prime Minister of Iceland, said that Iceland was very aware of its connection with its environment, and stressed that humans depended on their environment and that the environment depended on the humans.  Everyone had the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment, Ms. Jakobsdóttir said, and underlined that this was the right that underpinned many other human rights.  Iceland was currently engaged in two critically important constitutional changes, she said.  The first was inscribing in the Constitution that natural resources belonged to the Icelandic people and that they must be used sustainably, while the second was a reaffirmation of the right to a healthy environment for all.  The Council must not stand by as the world dealt with the monumental changes to the environment; it was up to this Council to formally recognize the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment and the common responsibility to maintain it for future generations.  Iceland stood ready to support this effort, said the Prime Minister.

Turning to the world of work, Ms. Jakobsdóttir noted that gender inequality and structural discrimination persisted in all societies.  One example was the fact that no country in the world had yet managed to ensure equal pay for work of equal value, she said, and lamented the painfully slow progress in tackling this inequality across the globe.  With the adoption of the law on equal pay in 2018, Iceland had become the first country in the world to shift the responsibility for equal pay from the employee to the employer.  Unpaid care and domestic work, the Prime Minister continued, were unevenly distributed in the household; addressing this inequality would remove the obstacles to women’s participation in economic and social life and her full participation therein.  Women’s economic independence was a key to gender equality at large and an extremely important tool to work towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.  Public policies could lead the way, as seen in Iceland, where up to 90 per cent of fathers used their earmarked three-months’ entitlement of paternity leave. 

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers from civil society organizations expressed concern about the disproportionate number of indigenous and aboriginal women in prison, largely due to intersecting forms of discrimination that cut across the line of race, gender and socio-economic status.  Lesbian and bisexual women, as well as trans persons were also more vulnerable to incarceration in many countries, especially in the 44 States which still criminalized consensual same-sex relations.

On the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, speakers emphasized that women around the world were at the forefront of the corporate accountability movement.  Women were disproportionately affected by the destruction of livelihoods and the environment, and female environmental activists and human rights defenders faced increased risks as governments and corporations targeted them, from Brazil to Zimbabwe, and from Bolivia to Papua New Guinea.  Access to justice for corporate abuses remained elusive, they said, and reiterated the call to States to ensure gender-responsive access to remedies and to create mechanisms for redress for extraterritorial adverse impacts caused by business enterprises domiciled in their territory.  States must also combat impunity for attacks and stop reprisals against human rights defenders, particularly women and indigenous peoples.

Concluding Remarks

MESKEREM GESET TECHANE, Chairperson-Rapporteur, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, in her concluding remarks, said that one of the greatest concerns for the Working Group was the backlash against human rights, particularly in the area of equality within the family and the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights.  Highlighting the importance of intersectionality, including in the context of women deprived of liberty, the Chair-Rapporteur stressed that all policies and programmes that aimed to eliminate discrimination against women must adopt an intersectional approach.  Leading causes of incarceration of women could be found in deep-rooted discrimination against women and girls, while deprivation of liberty contained a whole spectrum of new forms of discrimination.

SURYA DEVA, Chairperson, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, in his concluding remarks, said that the review processes of national action plans would be an excellent opportunity to integrate the guidance on gender responsiveness in those plans.  Only two countries in the world had legislation against modern slavery, the United Kingdom and Australia, he said, and lamented that both were gender neutral despite the fact that more than 70 per cent of the potential victims of modern slavery were women.  All laws against modern slavery must be made gender responsive.  Governments could take many actions to promote gender responsiveness, not least by raising awareness on the needs and benefits of gender integration among business enterprises, but also by ensuring that all public procurement laws and regulations were gender responsive, and by creating incentives for the businesses to adopt and share gender responsive practices and policies.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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