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Human Rights Council hears statements from 26 dignitaries as it continues its High-Level Segment


3 March 2014

The Human Rights Council this afternoon continued with its High-level Segment, hearing statements from 26 dignitaries who spoke about their concerns regarding the situation in a number of countries and regions around the world and outlined some of the efforts their countries were undertaking in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Speaking were Osman Saleh Mohammed, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea; Hooria Mashhoyr Ahmed, Minister for Human Rights of Yemen; Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala; Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Dunya Maumoon, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives; Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs of Qatar; Yerzhan Ashikbayev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan; Joe Costello, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland; Peter Javorcik, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia; Bogdan Benko, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia; Hugo Swire, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom; Benedetto della Vedova, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy; Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam; Ditmir Bushati, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania; Basile Ikouebe, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Congo; Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign and Consular Affairs of Canada; Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund; Elias Jaua Milano, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela; Anders Ronquist, Director-General for Legal Affairs of Sweden; Arthur Nowak-Far, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Poland; Rui Carneiro Mangueira, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola, on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries; Evan P. Garcia, Undersecretary for Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines; Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; Vesna Batistic-Kos, Assistant Minister, Directorate General for Multilateral Affairs and Global Issues in the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia; and Hirotaka Ishihara, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Speakers expressed concern about the situation in Syria, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ukraine, the Central African Republic, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Myanmar, Mali, Iran, Eritrea, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

At the end of the meeting, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Egypt, Russia, Djibouti and Japan spoke in a right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 4 March 2013, at 9 a.m., to hold a panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, before continuing its High-level Segment at noon.

High-level Segment

OSMAN SALEH MOHAMMED, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, said that human rights were central to the dignity and well-being of human beings and stressed that the achievements in the area of their promotion and protection hugely mismatched what had been promised and written. It was imperative to look at what was missing and what were the impediments that were hampering the march towards the full enjoyment of all human rights. Since the establishment of the Council, many resolutions on almost every aspect of life had been adopted, and the continuous attempts to introduce non-human rights issues showed how sharply the world was divided on certain notions. The principle of the universality and indivisibility of human rights seemed to have been eroded through time and a hierarchy of rights had prevailed in practice.

In its twentieth, twenty-first and twenty-third sessions, the Human Rights Council had adopted resolutions condemning Eritrea for human rights violations before any verification had taken place and had only then mandated a special rapporteur to verify the situation. This was paradoxical and procedurally unacceptable and the context and the scope in the resolutions were unfounded and misleading. The modus operandi of the Council on the responsibility of sponsors and cosponsors of a resolution and how some non-governmental organizations were allowed to act in a controlling way, raised concerns. The Council had failed to ask itself what possible remedy could such resolutions bring to the people of Eritrea and the Council ought to be more vigilant against politically motivated resolutions.

HOORIA MASHHOYR AHMED, Minister for Human Rights of Yemen, said that her country had made progress on human rights despite the situation there and the challenges it faced. The humanitarian and development needs of the population of Yemen had been impeded by the conflict. She expressed concerns about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, including malnutrition which was affecting millions of women and children. Yemen welcomed the fact that the Human Rights Council had condemned the terrorists activities conducted by Al-Qaeda and recognised the negative impacts they had on human rights.

Yemen had also made great progress on the improvement of the rights of women and children, and on the implementation of recommendations on that issue made during Yemen’s last Universal Periodic Review. A national dialogue on human rights had led to the inclusion of legislation to protect human rights soon to be ratified by the Parliament, including the ratification of the Rome Statute as well as several other United Nations human rights instruments. Yemen condemned the utilisation of drones on its territory, and demanded apologies from the countries responsible. She also expressed Yemen’s support for the rights of Palestinian people, and reiterated her country’s commitment to the work of the Human Rights Council.

LUIS FERNANDO CARRERA CASTRO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said that in late 1996, the peace agreement had been signed, ending the brutal conflict that the country had suffered from for years, which enabled Guatemala to take its first steps towards the establishment of democracy and the rule of law. Democratic institutions and processes had taken a firm root in Guatemala, as witnessed by the open and free elections which had taken place two years ago. Still there was a way to go to ensure full compliance with the provisions of the peace agreement. In order to achieve that, the Government was taking steps to combat impunity, reduce hunger and malnutrition, and boost State revenue basis though taxes. The progress in combatting impunity and strengthening justice and security institutions was being seen in the area of professionalization and strengthening of the police force, technical and technological development of criminal investigation capacities and others.

Guatemala believed that the international community had a responsibility to recognize the progress made in combatting impunity, and in moving the country away from violence and social exclusion. It was important to recognize that the Guatemalan State in the twenty-first century was combatting human rights violations and impunity. Concerning the value of transitional justice, Mr. Carrera Castro stressed that honouring the memories of victims was essential, as was identification of those buried anonymously. The reconciliation was not justice and was not synonymous with impunity. If justice did not manage to restore social peace, it was not achieving its goals. Quoting Nelson Mandela who said that reconciliation meant working together to correct the legacy of past injustice, the Minister stressed that Guatemala was also entitled to reconciliation and the international community needed to support those people of Guatemala who wished to overcome past injustice.

NIKOLA POPOSKI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, expressed his satisfaction that his country had just been elected to become a member of the Human Rights Council, and expressed its commitment to uphold the high standards of human rights protection within the Council. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was eager to continue to uphold the highest standards of human rights and to act as a vocal advocate for the full implementation of all human rights obligations by all States. The escalation of violence in Ukraine was a source of grave concern and Mr. Poposki expressed condolences to the victims, noting that political dialogue that involved all parties was necessary. Syria continued to witness atrocities despite calls by the international community. He welcomed the recent Security Council resolution on Syria calling for unhindered humanitarian access to relieve the plight of Syrian people. He also expressed concerns about the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran.

Mr. Poposki expressed appreciation and thankful recognition to the valuable work undertaken by High Commissioner Navi Pillay and her staff that helped in steering international attention towards human rights violations and gave voice to the oppressed and victims worldwide. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had undergone the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review during its eighteenth session and had duly noted and appreciated all the comments, questions and recommendations made during the presentation of its report. It would continue to support United Nations human rights treaty bodies and all sustainable measures aimed at ensuring their independence and efficacy. Internationally, in the area of human rights promotion and protection, the country would focus on the advancement and development of international norms, the elimination of torture, the rights of women and children, freedom of opinion, expression, religion and belief, and the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.

DUNYA MAUMOON, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, said that over the years, the Maldives, although tiny in size, had raised its voice and demanded the protection of human rights in small and large countries. It had been vocal against terrorism and religious extremism and had spoken against Islamophobia. It had been candid in protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, including women, children and persons with disabilities, and had managed to put a human face to the right of all to live in a safe environment and for the protection of the rights of all humans affected by climate change. Maldives had started the long walk towards consolidating human rights with the launch of the Reform Agenda which had brought a modern democratic constitution. Despite set-backs, the Maldivian people had shown an unwavering determination to write their own story and to showcase it to the global arena, including in the Council. The people of Maldives were particularly keen not to compromise their religious and cultural identity and heritage in the process of change.

The dire situation in the Central African Republic sat on top of the Council’s agenda and Maldives reiterated its call for an immediate cessation of acts of violence against civilians in all communities in this country. Maldives would continue to stand by the people of Palestine and would continue to maintain that restoring the inalienable rights of the Palestinians should remain a paramount issue for the Council. The Council had a pertinent role to play in emerging democracies where processes and mechanisms and institutions were at their infancy. Cultivating values was key and pro-active measures to increase human rights resilience in new and emerging democracies should be a priority for the Council and the entire United Nations system. In closing, Maldives called on the Council to contribute constructively in overcoming the country’s challenges, urged it not to undermine its judicial system and called on it to respect its institutions, however young they might be.

SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL-THANI, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs of Qatar, said challenges remained high every day, due to the tragic situations in many areas of the world which were the result of human rights and humanitarian law violations, especially the Palestinian issue, which was key to peace and stability in the Middle East, as well as the Syrian crisis, the horrors of which had not been witnessed in recent history since the Rwandan massacres. Qatar condemned in the strongest terms the continuation of settlement activities and attempts to change the legal status of Jerusalem, in addition to the displacement of Palestinians and the demolition of their homes, among others. It called on the international community to take serious measures in order to deter Israel and put an end to its blatant defiance of the international will, and compel it to respect international resolutions and adopt terms of reference of peace.
Qatar strongly condemned the Syrian regime’s indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian population and the criminal bombing of cities with barrel bombs, as well as the killings, executions, arbitrary detentions and torture practiced by the regime’s henchmen against innocent detainees in its prisons. The international community was called upon to deal with the Syrian crisis according to international law and relevant international resolutions, disregarding any political interests that came at the expense of the Syrian people. Qatar also condemned the continued, widespread and systematic human rights violations endured by the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, and expressed deep concern about the deterioration of the situation in the Central African Republic.

YERZHAN ASHIKBAYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, said that Kazakhstan considered the Council as a much-needed human right body promoting both at the global and country level and noted with satisfaction that the Council had displayed its ability to take action in a timely manner, in the interest of respect for and protection of human rights, demonstrated by its response to events in the Central African Republic, Syria and other countries. Kazakhstan believed that the Council should continue to work in a way to maintain and build the trust of States, using verified and reliable sources of information and constructive engagement with States in respectful dialogue on an equal footing. Close attention should be paid to preventing the politicization of the human rights agenda. Kazakhstan considered it necessary to make efforts to optimize the programme of work and agenda of the Council and to synchronise work schedules of different treaty bodies and subsidiary intergovernmental mechanisms, and supported the initiation of a review of the Office of the High Commissioner. Evaluating the implementation of resolutions was also necessary.

During its first Universal Periodic Review, Kazakhstan had accepted 121 out of 128 recommendations and had submitted periodic national reports under seven basic United Nations treaty bodies. Kazakhstan had developed the Concept of Legal Policy for 2010-20, designed to further improve the legal framework and practical measures, and in the near future planned to develop a national human rights action plan. Kazakhstan had also accepted the competence of four United Nations human rights committees to receive individual complaints. Other steps taken included measures to improve criminal legislation, cooperation with civil society, and the establishment of a Human Rights Commission in accordance with the Paris Principles. Noting the importance of upholding the rule of law and equality before the law and that human rights mechanisms should not be used as a tool to exonerate responsibilities, Kazakhstan was interested in an expanded dialogue and improved work with human rights mechanisms and the Office of the High Commissioner.

JOE COSTELLO, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, said that the upcoming report of the Commission of Inquiry for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would present for the first time the full accounts of atrocities and stressed that its conclusions and recommendations must be taken very seriously. Ireland was deeply concerned about the continuing fragile situation in Ukraine and stressed that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country must be maintained. The conflict in Syria was characterised by many violations of basic human rights, atrocities and crimes and Ireland was one of the most generous contributors to the humanitarian response with more than Euro 26 million for period 2011 to 2014. All parties to the conflict in Syria must respect international humanitarian law and refrain from targeting civilians. Turning to the post-2015 framework, Ireland stressed that it should target those who currently did not enjoy the fruits of economic growth, those who were discriminated against and especially those who were in greatest need.

Ireland would continue to work on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under the age of five and would, together with its partners, develop technical guidance for national Ministries and other actors to design programmes and policies to reduce and eliminate the preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five. Also, Ireland had taken the lead to present a new resolution which would address for the first time the issue of civil society space as a human rights concern. It would call on States to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society could operate effectively and free from intimidation and harassment. Other priority issues for Ireland would be reprisals, gender equality, rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals and the strengthening of the human rights treaty bodies.

PETER JAVORCIK, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, said they had seen shocking scenes from Kiev, unprecedented in their part of the world for more than two decades. Now that the Ukrainian people had shown their firm desire for freedom and democracy, it was crucial that the revolutionary changes in Ukraine took place inclusively, fully in line with respect for human rights and the rule of law. It was their duty to help Ukraine in these efforts by providing experience, expertise and support. As a consequence of ongoing conflicts, people had been facing large-scale human rights violations and abuses in various parts of the world. In some cases, atrocities had reached unprecedented levels. The most vulnerable groups, in particular women, children and disadvantaged groups, endured enormous suffering. Slovakia was particularly concerned with the alarming human rights situation in Syria. The very first precondition for seeking a political solution was that killings had to stop.

Human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea also had to be urgently addressed by the international community. Due to the ongoing conflict, the human rights situation in the Central African Republic was a matter of deep concern. Violence against civilians based on any ground was unacceptable. Figures on internally displaced persons and refugees in South Sudan were alarming and an emergency response was needed with a view to provide adequate protection to those who were forced to leave their homes. To give a clear response to gross and systematic violations of human rights, the core of their action should be based on the principles of applying a robust human rights approach, ensuring effective follow-up to the Human Rights Council’s resolutions, enabling the Council’s Special Procedures to do their job without restrictions, and ending the culture of impunity.

BOGDAN BENKO, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, said that Slovenia actively supported and advocated the universal respect and promotion of human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, which were also the basic principles of its Constitution and sovereignty. There could be no peace, security and stability without respect for human rights and freedoms. The Universal Periodic Review had contributed immensely to the effectiveness and importance of the Council and Slovenia was in the final phase for the preparation for its second report and looked forward to having another peer dialogue this fall. Slovenia, as an observer State, was very active and a strong advocate of the Council’s mandate and activities. Slovenia called on the Council to follow up on the situations in specific countries as effectively as possible. Mass human rights violations, other atrocities and crimes against humanity called for immediate response and Mr. Benko regretted that the Geneva peace talks did not bring any breakthrough regarding the situation in Syria.

The international community should invest all its efforts to stop the bloodshed and the humanitarian disaster and should do more to ensure a full inclusion of Syrian women into any future peace building. Regarding the situation in Ukraine, any long-term stabilization of the situation had to be based on an inclusive dialogue, democratic institutions and respect for human rights of all citizens, which would not be possible unless all parties put all their efforts into de-escalating tensions in the Crimean region. Among other human rights issues, Mr. Benko highlighted concerns about the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, continued violence in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the situation of human rights defenders, including defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, who faced harassment and even violence. Finally, Mr. Benko commended High Commissioner Navi Pillay for her dedicated and effective work, and her excellent cooperation and commitment to the universality of human rights and basic freedoms.

HUGO SWIRE, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said people around the world looked to the Council to defend their human rights, freedoms and dignity. Without action, if they let human rights abuses go unchecked and ignored, they sowed the seeds of future instability, conflict and humanitarian crisis. While they strove for partnership and collaboration, they could not stay silent if countries failed to live up to their human rights obligations. The Government of Sri Lanka had failed to ensure independent and credible investigations into alleged violations and abuses committed by both parties during the conflict in the country. The Council had a duty to act on the findings of the report that they collectively commissioned and to establish the truth. The United Kingdom hoped that the Council could unite to support the call for an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations and abuses on both sides.

Concerning Syria, the United Kingdom condemned all violations and abuses, regardless of who committed them. States had a primary duty to protect their populations but instead the Syrian Government terrorized its people with barbaric attacks, besiegement, rape, torture systematic executions and disappearances. To ensure credibility, the Council had to show the Syrian people that their suffering would not be ignored, and had to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea had for too long refused to comply with its international obligations or engage properly with the Council or its mechanisms. Action had to be taken and they could not stand by. The United Kingdom was also extremely concerned by events in Ukraine. It supported Ukraine’s new Government and called on all parties to ensure that the rights of all Ukraine’s citizens, including from minority groups, were respected. The Council must also address discriminatory laws which criminalised the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

BENEDETTO DELLA VEDOVA, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy, underlined the importance of the consistency of Member States’ internal and external human rights policies. He expressed concerns about the situation in Mali and the Central African Republic. In the latter, Italy was worried about the exploitation of religions, which fuelled sectarian violence in the country. As for Mali, attention had to be kept high on the northern part of the country, where extremist groups had not been totally pushed back. The Human Rights Council should continue to monitor the situation in those two countries. Italy regretted that the situation in Syria remained of great concern again at this session. The main issue there was access to humanitarian aid and all parties to the conflict had to be pressured to respect the basic principles of international humanitarian law. The respect of human rights in Libya also faced challenges in this transition period. Efforts should be made to support the strengthening of the institutions there. Italy said that only a political solution, including accountability for human rights violations, could result in a peaceful settlement of the conflict in South Sudan.

The respect for human rights and civil freedoms should be kept at the forefront of the transition in Ukraine. Despite the challenges it still faced, Italy believed that Myanmar could achieve greater protection of human rights. The Secretary of State reiterated Italy’s commitment to combat harmful practices such as female genital mutilations and early marriage. He then underlined the need to pay close attention to the rights of migrants in reaction to the dramatic events that again recently took place in the Mediterranean Sea. This had to be done through international cooperation and should also address the root causes of illegal migration. Finally, he raised the case of two Italian civilians who had been kept in India without being charged with any crime.

PHAM BINH MINH, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, said that there remained challenges with impact on human lives, aggravated by the effects of the economic and financial downturn, social turmoil and stability in some areas. Religious and ethnic conflict worsened the situation, threatening not only individual rights and freedoms but also regional stability. It was necessary for the Council to continue to promote new cross-regional initiatives, and the Council needed to support countries’ national socio-economic development policies to better ensure the exercise of human rights in practice, especially in the basic domains of human life such as housing, clean water, education and health care. Technical cooperation and capacity building could be very helpful regarding the specific needs of developing countries. The Council was in a position to facilitate constructive dialogue and cooperation among countries on serious violations and crises.

Viet Nam was a reliable partner and was willing to discuss candidly and constructively, including on issues such as sustainable development, social-economic-cultural rights, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups and the needs and circumstances of developing countries that faced new challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation and the exhaustion of natural resources in their cause of human right protection and promotion. Viet Nam pursued a consistent policy of protecting and promoting human rights, considering the well-being of each and every person, and had undertaken considerable efforts to this end as demonstrated in laws, policies and accomplishments. Over the past 30 years, Viet Nam had recorded positive achievements, including the completion of five out of eight Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule. Despite the economic difficulties, Viet Nam had not cut down its social security programmes. Over the past years Viet Nam had signed and acceded to most of the core international human rights conventions and delivered on its treaty obligations, actively participated in regional efforts on human rights, and after the presentation of its Universal Periodic Review, Viet Nam was carefully assessing the recommendations.

IYAD AMEEN MADANI, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said innocent civilians had been subjected to human rights violations, including the denial of their fundamental right to life, in Syria, the Central African Republic and Myanmar. The authorities of the Central African Republic had to ensure the life and livelihood of all its citizens, in particular its Muslim community which had been subjected to ethnic cleansing, and the international community had to take urgent and comprehensive actions enabling the country and the region as a whole to return to peace, security and stability. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also called upon the Government of Myanmar to ensure the protection of the right to life and well-being of its Rohingya population as well as take steps to review its legislation to avoid discriminatory effects of denying citizenship to Rohingya Muslims. In the case of Palestine, despite repeated resolutions by this Council, there was no progress on the ground.

When it came to the question of Palestine, Israel had an unmatched disdain for human rights, international law and basic human decency. Freedom from fear was another fundamental right of all humans but Islamophobia continued to form a vital concern for all Muslims. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s repeated warning was reiterated that, if not addressed squarely, Islamophobia would have serious repercussions for the unity, stability and coherence of affected societies. The Council had great potential to further the cause of human rights. The mechanism through which it had contributed the most was the Universal Periodic Review, which had proved the adage that the promotion and protection of human rights were best served through a universal, cooperative and constructive approach. Only through an apolitical lens could they serve the cause of human rights in an objective manner.

DITMIR BUSHATI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, said that the Council was a milieu where political differences should diminish in the light of human rights and humanitarian issues and where all should strive to focus on common values such as humanity. Systematic gross violations of human rights in Syria showed once again what could happen when the international community remained indecisive. The situation in Ukraine was also of concern and Mr. Bushati strongly stressed that human rights violations committed in this country should be investigated and those responsible held accountable. Albania joined the call for a full investigation by an international tribunal of the human rights violations carried out in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and said that there should be no impunity for those who perpetrated human rights violations.

The Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were cornerstones of the international system for the protection of human rights and the Council should be a living instrument for the promotion of human rights, adaptable to new realities and challenges. The struggle for human rights could not be achieved without the invaluable role and contribution of civil society and that was why Albania had extended in 2009 a standing invitation to all Special Procedures, whose expertise and professionalism could only add to national action. Albania’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council for the period 2015-2017 was a logical consequence of its road towards building a society based on human rights and Albania looked forward to the valuable support of Member States.

BASILE IKOUEBE, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Congo, recalled the need for robust coordinated policies in conflict prevention, which could avoid human rights violations and which also would cost less than peacekeeping operations. The crisis in the Central African Republic was a tragic demonstration of what happened when States collapsed. Thousands of people’s lives were endangered there as a result of the fratricide conflict. He called on the international community to provide comprehensive answers such as technical assistance and capacity building in the area of human rights for improving the situation in the Central African Republic. The Republic of Congo emphasised the importance of the fight against impunity in the Central African Republic and welcomed the gradual improvement of the security situation in Bangui and commended the peacekeeping soldiers there for their actions.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs underlined the need to protect the rights of migrants, called on all States to ratify the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers, and insisted on the importance of consistent migration policies and international cooperation. The Republic of Congo was committed to continue its cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The Government of the Republic of Congo was also committed to strengthen the rights of persons with disabilities and of children, including through combatting trafficking in people in the region. The Republic of Congo also undertook efforts to protect and promote the rights of women, including in rural areas. Finally, the Minister demanded increased support from the international community to achieve greater protection of human rights.

LYNNE YELICH, Minister of State for Foreign and Consular Affairs of Canada, said that, regrettably, freedom of religion continued to be restricted around the world. Canada would continue to oppose religious hatred and advance universal values and principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Grave violations of human rights continued unabated in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and deserved universal condemnation. The international Commission of Inquiry had done important work. Despite a change in presidency, hundreds of political prisoners continued to languish. Canada continued to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations and encouraged Iran to cooperate with the international community. In Sri Lanka, the continued inability to acknowledge what had occurred, combined with increasing rights violations and abuses, would not only continue to damage the rule of law and democracy, but risk undermining economic gains and returning to instability.

Regarding Ukraine, military intervention was a clear violation of international law, threatening the human rights of Ukraine’s citizens, and Canada supported the immediate deployment of international monitors to Ukraine from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Canada was proud to be recognized as a world leader in protecting the health of vulnerable women and children around the world. Much remained to be done and it would continue to put the poorest and the most vulnerable at the core of the post-2015 development agenda and remain a champion of equality between men and women. A country’s development was inextricably tied to the fate and the role of women. With regards to Afghanistan, a false perception of security could not be a compromise for the rights of women and girls, as security could not exist for only half of the population.

BABATUNDE OSOTIMEHIN, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, said that the International Conference on Population and Development, which had taken place in Cairo two decades ago, had emphasized that sexual and reproductive health was a fundamental human right for all. Its messages were as relevant today as they were then. Since 1994, the number of women dying in childbirth or from childbirth-related illnesses had been halved, more girls were in school and billions had been lifted out of poverty. In many countries though, the progress was limited to the wealthy and many of the concerns of the Cairo Conference remained.

Those were particularly related to discriminatory laws and societal rules and practices which remained in force in many regions and which limited young girls, indigenous peoples, minorities and other marginalized individuals from realizing their rights and accessing reproductive health services. The United Nations Population Fund stood ready to support countries in implementing their Universal Periodic Review recommendations and said that it was time for all to raise their voice to protect the most vulnerable. Human rights should not be a preserve of the privileged, and sexual and reproductive health was a basic human right which must be enjoyed by all.

ELIAS JAUA MILANO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, reaffirmed Venezuela’s commitment to the cooperation activities undertaken by the Human Rights Council. He welcomed the Universal Periodic Review and said that Venezuela was currently working on implementing the recommendations it accepted during its last review. Venezuela refused the use of human rights to promote political interests and undermine differences that existed between States. Venezuela believed in the importance of giving priority to a multilateral approach to human rights. The people of Venezuela were free from insecurity and hunger, and were entitled to free and public education. In a decade, Venezuela’s poverty had been reduced by 25 per cent, and it was the least unequal country in Latin America. Most of the population in Venezuela believed that socialism was the right model for the country.

There was unfortunately a big gap between what the population of Venezuela believed and what the international media said, Mr. Milano regretted. This was due to international propaganda that sought to undermine the credibility of the Bolivarian State. Some people in Venezuela engaged in violent forms of protests and were trying to discredit the Government’s commitment to the right to peaceful protests. A few people had been arrested after these violent events and they were all guaranteed full respect of their human rights, including the right to a fair trial. The Minister reiterated Venezuela’s commitment to human rights and democracy.

ANDERS RONQUIST, Director-General for Legal Affairs of Sweden, said this year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sweden rejected any attempts by States to make its provisions subordinate to national constitutions, religions or traditions by objecting to reservations that sought such effect and declaring them null and void. It took note, in that regard, that the Committee on the Rights of the Child recently recommended that the Holy See undertake a comprehensive review of its normative framework, in particular Canon law, to address children’s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. No State could claim to fully respect the rights of the child. However, a committed cooperation with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and implementation of its recommendations set any State closer to this goal. The Convention contained both civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights and it was clear that the promotion of one set of rights promoted the fulfilment of the other, and that violations of one category of rights often went hand in hand with violations of the other.

As described in the report of the Commission of Inquiry, the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was truly abhorrent and had to lead to action by the international community. The State used food and hunger as a means to control the population and to preserve the regime. The right to education was a basic right that had to be respected equally for girls as for boys. With regards to corporal punishment and other degrading treatment of children, Sweden was very concerned about on-going legislative deliberations in Afghanistan to prevent relatives of alleged perpetrators of such crimes from giving testimony in court. This would clearly run counter to the Convention. Sweden joined the Security Council in condemning the grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed against children in Syria, demanding that an end be put to all forms of violence and emphasizing that the primary responsibility to protect its population lay with the Syrian authorities. Those responsible had to be held accountable.

ARTHUR NOWAK-FAR, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Poland, said that human rights, peace and development, and security were three mutually reinforcing pillars of the international system. It was not possible to remain silent when peace and security were being undermined with a flagrant violation of international norms and standards and so Poland expressed its extreme concern about the recent developments in Ukraine, and urged all to observe international law and to respect fully Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. A sustainable solution to the current crisis could be found only through peaceful dialogue and negotiations and not through violence or armed interventions. Mr. Nowak-Far further said that this year marked important anniversaries for Poland, 25 years since the fall of communism and 10 years since its ascension to the European Union. Drawing from its own experience of democratic transformation, Poland actively promoted dialogue and political solutions and it also attached great importance to the progressive realization of the Millennium Development Goals and the ambitious post-2015 development agenda.

Poland drew the attention of the Council to human rights and good governance in the context of civil service and said that a strong and efficient civil service guaranteed impartial State structures and ensured an effective protection and promotion of human rights. Poland observed with growing concern the persistence of armed conflict and severe civil unrest around the world and said that the situation in Syria remained one of the most severe human rights and humanitarian crises in recent history. The grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea continued, the number of executions conducted in Iran was alarming and there were repeated calls on Belarus to put an end to the systemic and systematic violations of human rights in this country and to unconditionally release and rehabilitate all political prisoners. Freedom of religion or belief was tightly interlinked with the freedom of expression and Poland strongly opposed the recent trend of putting limits on civil society and the resulting shrinking of space for political activity, assembly, free speech and the press.

RUI CARNEIRO MANGUEIRA, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, expressed recognition and thanked the High Commissioner for being active and creative in the protection of human rights. It was important for the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries to establish links with the Council for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Community had a resolution and a series of memorandum of understanding which it hoped would help to fulfil these aims. The Community had also taken a number of measures for the protection of rights, which were closely interlinked to its goals and pillars. Training in the prevention of human trafficking was undertaken, as well as efforts to fulfil the development goals and to strengthen government capacity for the protection of children, as well as measures on health and gender equality. Members of the Community were unanimous about the need to take an adequate response to ensure the enjoyment of the right to food.

The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries sought to strengthen its existing links with the United Nations and the Council. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was a useful tool to discuss all aspects of human rights and Mr. Carneiro Mangueira reiterated the contribution of the Community’s members to the establishment of the review. Good governance, democracy, responsibility and the rule of law were important principles of the Community’s members and this consensus on human rights was rooted in the recognition of the fact that the enjoyment of these rights was enshrined in their constitutions. In 2003 a resolution on the abolition of capital punishment had been adopted and it was forbidden in the 28 constitutions of its members. Members had also ratified the main international human rights instruments and joined others in calling for universal ratification.

EVAN P. GARCIA, Undersecretary for Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, said that a few months ago the country had been at the receiving end of the strongest tropical storm to ever make landfall, causing indescribable devastation, human suffering and loss of life and property. There was no doubt that the devastating typhoons that had been besieging the country were a result of climate change and affected the most vulnerable and had adverse impacts on economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development of the Filipino people and people in other countries. For this reason, the Philippines would continue to voice its concerns about climate change and the imperative of international responsibility and cooperation in the multilateral fora, including in the Human Rights Council, and would partner with others to ensure that climate change and human rights remained on the Council’s agenda. Since its second Universal Periodic Review, during which the Philippines had accepted a large number of recommendations, the country had taken a “whole of Government” approach to enhance coordination and allow for more effective and efficient ways to address human rights concerns.

The shared goal of promoting human rights ultimately had peace and human security as its objective and last year a just and lasting peace had been ensured in Mindanao in the southern Philippines with the signing of the framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Poverty-alleviation programmes such as conditional cash transfers and other programmes had been launched and the Government endeavoured to establish a level playing field to open up opportunities for greater empowerment and growth at the grassroots level. The promotion and protection of the rights of migrants was a major advocacy as they were most vulnerable to human rights violations when they were in an irregular status. The Philippines was working with other countries to address trafficking in persons and was leading the way in the development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Convention in this regard.

ANDERS B. JOHNSSON, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that the Inter-Parliamentary Union had accompanied the development of the Human Rights Council since its inception. From the outset, it had argued that parliaments were natural partners of the Council. For deliberations and decisions to become truly meaningful, they had to translate into action within countries. Much of that required decisions in parliaments to ratify international conventions and agreements, to translate them into national policies and laws, to allocate funding to implement corresponding programmes, and to exercise the oversight that was the hallmark of responsible governments. The Inter-Parliamentary Union welcomed steps being taken to turn that vision into reality. Last year, the Council held its first panel discussion on the contribution that parliaments could make to its work and the report would be considered during this session. The Inter-Parliamentary Union had already started to act on the panel’s recommendations.

There were numerous causes of conflicts and today they seemed even more complex than ever. Yet, at the heart of the matter, crises often occurred because the will of the people was no longer the basis of the authority of a government that had ceased to be transparent and accountable. There was really only one way to end conflict and that was through political dialogue. Looking to assist countries in overcoming these challenges, there should therefore be interest in providing support to the institutions of the State that were central to democracy, including the parliament. A parliament that truly represented the full diversity in society and that had the means at its disposal to represent the views of its constituents and hold the government to account was a very powerful tool to avoid conflict and overcome divisions in society and prevailing attitudes whereby the winner took all had to be replaced by inclusive decision-making. Shortcomings in attaining the Millennium Development Goals could in large measure be ascribed to a lack of representation, participation, transparency, effective decision-making and oversight.

VESNA BATISTIC-KOS, Assistant Minister, Directorate General for Multilateral Affairs and Global Issues of Croatia, said that Croatia was watching with serious concern the events in Ukraine. Peace and stability were prerequisites for the effective realisation of human rights. It was important that maximum restraint was exercised to prevent a further escalation of the crisis, violence, and human rights violations, and that a solution was searched in a peaceful manner. It was crucial to engage in an all-inclusive political dialogue reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Ukrainian people for their future and respecting democratic values and human rights, including minority rights. Syria remained high on the Council’s agenda, after three years, and Croatia believed that the Council should demonstrate the international community’s solidarity with the people of Syria, and urged all parties to the conflict to end all violation and abuses. The political solution was a key to ending violence in the country. Events taking place in the South Mediterranean represented an issue of utmost importance for Croatia as ongoing political transitions in the region were being witnessed.

Ms. Batistic-Kos welcomed the strengthened efforts of the Government of Myanmar to bring democratic changes but expressed concerns about ongoing tensions in the Rakhine State. She welcomed some positive developments in Iran, particularly regarding the release of a number of prisoners and increased freedom of the media. Ms. Batistic-Kos stressed the importance of fighting discrimination on all grounds and protecting the most vulnerable members of society. Gender equality was a cornerstone of human rights. Croatia attached special attention to the issue of women’s economic empowerment in conflict-affected situations not only because of its contribution to peace building, but because it constituted a key component of realising women’s equal rights. Ms. Batistic-Kos also addressed issues such as sexual violence, the rights of the child, minorities, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Croatia remained committed to the full respect of international human rights mechanisms, including United Nations human rights mechanisms, and the treaties and special procedures it had had the opportunity to host.

HIROTAKA ISHIHARA, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, expressed grave anxiety and concern over the situation in Ukraine, and strongly demanded that the situation there was settled in a peaceful manner that respected Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Japan expressed deep concerns about the human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as outlined in the report of the Commission of Inquiry. Japan called for resolute actions by the international community and regretted that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had failed to sincerely address the issue, including abductions, which constituted a violation of Japan’s sovereignty. In this session, Japan would submit, jointly with the European Union, a new resolution on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that would establish a mechanism to steadily follow up on the Commission of Inquiry’s report.

Japan deplored that human rights violations continued in the Syrian Arab Republic, and demanded that violence stop now through a political dialogue. The Vice-Minister reiterated Japan’s commitment to provide support to African countries with a focus on human security, and said that Japan was paying particular attention to the human rights situation in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Right of Reply

Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, categorically rejected stereotype and politically motivated allegations made by some on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Commission of Inquiry was none other than a marionette. Western countries including European Union Member States had been involved in the United States’ led atrocities of invasion of sovereign States and massacre of innocent civilians. Western countries had not sincerely admitted their own grave human rights violations. On the contrary, they shamed the countries they disliked and attempted to interfere in their internal affairs. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was pushing ahead with the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people and would continue to brave all sorts of political strategies pursued by hostile forces.

Ukraine, speaking in a right of reply, wished to provide some clarification following the statement of the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation. It thanked wholeheartedly countries and their high dignitaries that expressed solidarity with Ukraine. Russia had violated the basic principles of the United Nations Charter, posing a serious threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, on ungrounded pretext. Protestors had demonstrated coherence in their struggle which had a political dimension and unequivocally rejected any allegation of anti-Semitism and the radical political agendas as a basis for the protests. The political crisis in Ukraine was over. It was recalled that the current opposition party of regions and the communist party had decided not to take place in the Government of Ukraine. However, it supported the appointment of the new Government that was voted with more than the constitutional majority of the Parliament. Some members of the new Government represented Crimea. The single destabilizing factor was the presence of 6,000 illegal Russian servicemen in Crimea. Ukraine demanded that Russia stop its military intervention and comply with provisions of the United Nations Charter.

Egypt, speaking in a right of reply, said that it was surprised not to find any reference in the statement delivered earlier by the European Union of terrorists’ threats faced by Egypt. Despite this challenge, the Egyptian Government was committed fully to the promotion and protection of human rights, and would be happy to cooperate with the European Union and other partners bearing in mind that the democratic transition process in Egypt was an internal matter. Egypt had been working in consultation and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reach an agreement on establishing on OHCHR office for North Africa in Cairo.

The Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, said that Ukraine’s crisis was caused by extremist groups in Kiev that Ukrainian authorities could not contend. Those groups had committed a number of human rights abuses and were sometimes supported by Western States. The agreement signed by President Yanukovych had not been implemented. The new Government of Ukraine was composed of radical figures who decided to ban the use of the Russian language. Citizens in Crimea were feeling threatened and the Russian Federation would only intervene to protect its population. All movements of the Russian fleet only aimed at protecting the Russian citizens there, and did not seek to intervene in Ukraine’s national political processes. The Russian Federation’s Council had expressed its support to that action. All political forces had to work to ensure that the situation in Ukraine would stabilise.

Djibouti, speaking in a right of reply, said that insinuations in the address of Eritrea distorted the reality and stressed that the decision to co-sponsor a resolution on Eritrea in this Council had been based on an analysis of human rights in this country and the conclusions of the Council and its Special Rapporteur that there were ongoing human rights violations in Eritrea. It would have been much better for Eritrea to demonstrate a spirit of cooperation with the Council.

Japan, speaking in a right of reply, said that the accusations of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on the issues of the past were totally groundless and that Japan had faced the facts of history and expressed its sincere remorse. Since the end of World War Two Japan had always resolved issues peacefully and had resorted to build a peaceful society based on the rule of law. Japan’s love for peace was recognized by many countries of the world.

Ukraine, speaking in a second right of reply, stressed that unfortunately, very biased and unproved information was just heard from the representative of Russia regarding events taking place in Ukraine. The attention of participants of the meeting was drawn to the non-paper circulated by the delegation yesterday and Ukraine strongly recommended that they read this document thoroughly. They would find a long list of violations made by the Russian armed forces with regards to the implementation of the existing bilateral and multilateral agreements. Moreover, attention was drawn to the fact that over 90 per cent of victims in the course of the unrest which took place in Ukraine belonged to peaceful protestors.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, said that on the contrary to the statement just made by Japan, Japanese authorities tried to justify past crimes committed. Japan went as far as to claim that rape during war was not a war crime or crime against humanity. This was the real face of Japan. Japan was again urged to settle its past crimes by accepting legal responsibilities for the crimes, apologizing and providing compensation to the victims.

Japan, speaking in a second right of reply concerning the issues previously raised by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that concerning the Prime Minister’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine it was important to focus on his statement, which had clearly stated a pledge that Japan would not wage war again, rather than to glorify militarism or to hurt any other nations feelings. Since the end of the Second World War, Japan had continued to pursue peace and this course would not change, as it was clear in its national security strategy. Japan regretted that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had not responded to the concerns of the international community, including non-governmental organizations, and the report of the Commission of Inquiry, and hoped that the Government would respond in a constructive manner.

For use of the information media; not an official record