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Universal Periodic Review

Second session meeting highlights

14 May 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by France this morning, during which 40 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the reports on Pakistan and Zambia, following the review of these countries on Thursday, 8 May and Friday, 9 May, respectively.

Presenting the national report of France was FRANÇOIS ZIMERAY, Ambassador in Charge of Human Rights, who said it was an honour and responsibility for France to be among the first group of 32 States to be reviewed under the new UPR mechanism. The report was the product of fruitful collaboration between the Government and civil society. The National Advisory Commission, accredited in 2007, was responsible for collecting input and for submitting the draft report. France was convinced that in the area of human rights there could be no real improvement unless civil society was involved in activities. Human rights were part of the founding values of France. In 1948 the General Assembly met in Paris when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted. France considered that promotion and protection of all human rights throughout constituted a legitimate preoccupation for the international community and attached equal attention to economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights. France’s special commitment to human rights led to the appointment in 2007 of a State Secretariat for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights and the office of the High Commissioner for Active Solidarity.

As to freedoms of religions and belief was recognized in France as a priority, the head of delegation stated. France respected all religions and beliefs but did not recognize any religion in particular. Discrimination of all kind was against the values of the State. France had undertaken a number of measures over the last three years to combat discrimination and to improve the situation of immigrants living in France. An advisory national commission on migrants had been set up which aimed to improve the situation of migrants in France. Foreigners in France enjoyed assistance from the State and from public institutions as part of social, urban, education and cultural policies of the State. With regard to prison conditions, measures had been taken to improve this situation which would lead to 22 new penitentiaries being set up by 2012 and 16 others to be closed down. A review of prison sentences was also underway. France was also looking into setting up an inter-ministerial body to look at recommendations made by human rights treaty bodies and to publish the final observations of these bodies as part of its follow up activities to the Durban conference on racism and xenophobia and Vienna conference on human rights.

Responding to questions, the head of delegation noted, as regards violence against women, that some 330,000 women living in France had become victims in one way or another to domestic violence. The State’s new law presented in 2007 had led to a reduction on this number. Efforts undertaken had not only sought to train law enforcement personnel on domestic violence issues but also to change the mindset of the general public about such violent acts. As to gender balance, the intent of the State was to remove all disparities between men and women within five years. Any enterprise which had not established a policy to eliminate the disparity between men and women by the end of 2009 would be served with a financial sanction. On other issues, this year the State intended to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture as well as the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances. On the right to asylum, it was recalled that there were some 130,000 persons with asylum status living in France. Major progress had been made in the area of the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. All requests for asylum were given consideration and were done so on an individual basis. Efforts were being undertaken to coordinate the activities of all existing human rights bodies.

As regards racism and xenophobia, the head of delegation affirmed that all acts of racism, racial hatred and incitement were deemed crimes in France and were punished severely, often with imprisonment. There were a number of measures taken to promote religious tolerance, the Ambassador added. As regards trafficking in women, the State had increased punishment to all perpetrators of such crimes and victims have also been duly compensated. As a result of Government efforts, cases of human trafficking have been declining. Concerning the case of Arche de Zoë, the head of delegation stated that this case was currently being tried by legal authorities in France.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the role of the National Advisory Commission; the appointment of the State Secretariat on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights and the High Commissioner for Active Solidarity; the establishment of the National Centre for Children at Risk; the creation of the high authority to combat discrimination and general efforts to eliminate acts of discrimination; the legislative framework put in place to tackle discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism; initiatives to combat poverty; the initiative taken to ratify the main human rights treaties; the State’s role in the elaboration of the Convention on the enforced and involuntary disappearances; the Government’s support to the activities of civil society in France; and steps to reform the prisons system and modernize penitentiaries.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the impact on the law prohibiting public school employees and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols” on religiously observant children and teachers and how many children expelled or teachers fired from school since the law took effect in 2004 and the steps taken to integrate these children into society; additional information was sought on steps taken to prevent acts of discrimination against foreigners; the steps taken to guarantee the rights of migrant workers; efforts taken to ensure the right to work and education for immigrants and members of their families; measures taken to guarantee that asylum seekers who were rejected asylum were not sent to States where they could face prosecution; efforts to respond to the concerns expressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNHCR and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in relation to the length of procedure of family reunification and recognized refugees; and efforts to improve the detention facilities for asylum seekers.

A number of delegations asked for further elaboration, in general, of measures taken by the State to combat all forms of discrimination including incitement to racial hatred or violence. Other issues pertained to details on measures to improve the participation of women in political life and to promote gender equality; plans in place to provide for equal pay between men and women; the intention of the State to adopt a law on violence against women; measures planned to reduce the impact of domestic violence; the assessment of the authorities to the situation of reported discrimination against foreign students in the classrooms; the compatibility between French legislation and international standards in view of the rights of migrants; and the position of France on freedom of expression and as regards the activities of any propaganda organizations based on racial superiority or with the objective of inciting racial violence or hatred.

Additional issues raised concerned the additional steps taken by the State to improve prison conditions, in particular prison overcrowding and with respect to juveniles; information on the new law regarding revised prison sentences; deadlines considered for meeting the international standards in prisons and for the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee Against Torture; the system of discretionary prosecution for alleged acts of torture or ill-treatment in which police officers were implicated and whether the State viewed this as virtual impunity; the compatibility between the Government bodies tasked with overseeing prison reform; and the intention of the Government to guarantee the independence, transparency and to ensure prompt impartial and thorough investigation of ill treatment of detainees.

Among the other issues raised were those pertaining to the achievements made thus far in the State’s efforts to combat poverty; the relationship between various national human rights bodies; measures being considered to implement the principles of the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, in particular as regard its overseas territories; whether the State had plans to conduct additional nuclear tests in its overseas territories; further action being contemplated to combat human trafficking; plans to improve legislation to strengthen the fight against corporal punishment; and steps taken to prevent acts such as the abduction of children from Chad by the French organization Arche de Zoë from recurring.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To take additional steps to protect the rights of migrants and to accede to the Convention on the rights of migrant workers; to elaborate an independent study on the compatibility between French legislation and international standards as regard the rights of migrants; to take efficient efforts to respect its obligation under international law not to forcible return any individual to a country where they may be at risk of serious human rights violations; to pass a law to prohibit all acts of domestic violence and to set up an office to address such cases; and to take the necessary measurers to halt all forms of violence against women and domestic violence.

A number of delegations recommended that the State consider cancelling its prohibition of wearing the hijab in public schools. Other recommendations concerned: To consider the possibility of withdrawing its reservation to article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; to punish all cases of discrimination which have occurred since 2006; to adopt a law banning racial hatred and incitement; to strengthen the fight against racism and xenophobia, in particular Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; and to lift its reservations to the Rome Statute with regard to the establishment of the International Criminal Court, its reservations to Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Other recommendations included: To review its position on the rights of minorities and to begin collecting facts on the socio-economic situation of the population with a view to define the social problems faced by minorities; to consider the specific needs of individuals belonging to minorities in order to ensure their equal enjoyment of all human rights; to consider the recommendation of the Independent Expert in minority issues to undertake more aggressive strategies to increase the number of people with immigrant heritage in the public service, particularly the police civil service and the judiciary, in order to better reflect the broad diversity within France; and to enforce existing anti-discrimination legislation more effectively and to consider compiling statistics on ethnic minority groups.

Additional recommendations covered: To adopt further measures to ensure granting of possible requests of the Committee Against Torture for interim measures in individual cases aiming at prevention of breach of provisions of the Convention against Torture; to increase human rights training for law enforcement officials in response to reports of excessive police use of force; to set up an independent commission to identify and monitor cases of torture perpetrated by law enforcement officials; to take measures to halt allegations of torture of individuals under the anti-terrorist activities; to continue efforts to foster the integration of juvenile criminal offenders; to elaborate on measures taken to combat human trafficking; and to include information on its overseas territories in future reports to human rights treaty bodies and in the Universal Periodic Review follow up.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Egypt, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Mexico, Switzerland, the Netherlands, China, Cuba, Canada, Germany, Senegal, Brazil, Qatar, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Japan, Guatemala, Djibouti, Madagascar, Slovenia, the Russian Federation, the Philippines and South Africa.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Morocco, Chile, Albania, Austria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, the United States, Argentina, Mauritania, Sweden, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Iran, Haiti and Australia.

The 17-person delegation of France consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Immigration, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Overseas, the Ministry of Housing and the Permanent Mission of France for the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of France are Zambia, Italy and Malaysia.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on France can be found here.

Adoption of report on Pakistan: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Pakistan are Saudi Arabia, Ghana and Azerbaijan. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said the report reflected the view points of members of the Working Group, as well as the view points of Pakistan. He read out certain oral amendments as agreed upon by the State under review. Representing the State under review, MARGHOOB SALEEM BUTT, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the concerned ministries will work on the respective issues laid out in the report in full coordination with civil society in accordance with the international obligations. Having taken note of the recommendations, some of them neither were not in line with universally recognized human rights nor were compatible with Pakistan’s constitutional system.

Adoption of report on Zambia: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Zambia are Senegal, Switzerland and the Philippines. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika BLAISE GODET (Switzerland) said the report reflected the central elements presented by the delegation of Zambia and of the interactive dialogue which took place in a constructive manner during which 38 countries took the floor. Of the recommendations listed in the report, Zambia accepted 19, would consider 11 and revert to the Human Rights Council at its next regular session on those, and rejected two; all of which was reflected in the report. Representing the State under review, GERTRUDE M. K. IMBWAE, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice of Zambia, said her country would endeavour to continue engaging all stakeholders in the follow up to the Universal Periodic Review process as Zambia recognized the role that all relevant stakeholders played in the promotion and protection of human rights. Despite challenges facing the State, Zambia was committed to working towards the observance of all its regional international human rights obligations and in this regard, had taken note of all comments, observation and recommendations made during the review process. Zambia was fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and its commitment to cooperate with the Universal Periodic Review mechanism both during and after the review.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of France on Monday, 19 May.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Tonga after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Japan.

 Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage -

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