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Human Rights Council concludes general debate on Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights

15 March 2010

Human Rights Council
MORNING 15 March 2010

Hears from a Series of Non-Governmental Organizations Raising Various Issues Concerning Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, after hearing from a series of non-governmental organizations.

Speakers spoke about violations of human rights in a range of countries affecting minorities and others. Problems and challenges faced by internally displaced persons and by human rights defenders were highlighted. Other issues raised included conscious objection to military service, defamation of religions, torture, violations against human rights of women, the right to development, terrorism and extremism, enforced disappearances, the right to self-determination, violence against children, arbitrary detentions, failure of countries to cooperate with Special Procedures of the Council,
the right to adequate housing of women, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS, occupation politics and preventive wars which destroyed economic infrastructure, how the rule of law and an independent judiciary was the only way to fight impunity for violations, a complaints procedure for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, freedom of religion and belief, violations of human rights in the context of conflicts, and the importance of cooperating with mandate holders of the Council.

Speaking in the general debate were Jubilee Campaign, Liberation, International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, World Vision International, Norwegian Refugee Council, International Humanist and Ethical Union, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Human Rights First, Society for Threatened Peoples, Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale, Interfaith International, World Muslim Congress, International Union of Socialist Youth, Union de l'Action Feminine, Agence Internationale pour le Développement, Action Internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs, Comite International pour le Respect et l’Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, Centrist Democratic International, European Union of Public Relations, International Club for Peace Research, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, World for World Organization, Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts, Baha'i International Community, Amnesty International, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Union of Arab Jurists, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Asian Legal Resource Centre, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch, World Union for Progressive Judaism, United Nations Watch, North-South XXI, Co-coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, North-South XXI, Co-coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care and United Rights Association of San Diego.

Speaking in right of reply were Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, China, Iraq and Algeria.

The Council today is holding three back-to-back meetings from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. When the Council starts its noon meeting, it will hear the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar present their reports, and will then hold an interactive dialogue with them. This will be followed by a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development

LAYLA AL ROOMI, of Jubilee Campaign, said since 2003, Sabian Mandaean community, a small minority in Iraq, had become the target of a small violent campaign by extremists, with hundreds murdered, forcibly converted, and raped. They had no place to relocate to in safety, causing the minority to have to flee to neighbouring countries. This risked extinction of their culture, religion and language, making their survival near impossible. The international community should save this community and culture from becoming extinct.

ASHOK KUMAR, of Liberation, said all human beings were born free and equal, but the Dalits in India continued to face discrimination, facing at least 75 kinds of exclusion in the country. The international community had noted the need for legislative and administrative measures to redress these practices. The system was irreversible and there would be no changes unless the caste system was brought down. The Government of India must realise that institutionalised caste systems could not continue in this modern world.

SHAMIM SHAWL, of International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, drew the attention of the Council to Switzerland’s recent ban against minarets. That was an alarming sign of the direction in which Europe was heading and the tune taken by the political discourse was a sign of discriminatory practices on grounds of religion. Recent research also highlighted that two thirds of the monitored newspaper articles negatively described Muslims.

THIAGO LUCHESI, of World Vision International, said every year more than 9 million children under the age of five died of serious but preventable illnesses. In 2009, World Vision International had therefore launched a campaign aimed at reducing those preventable deaths and supporting Governments in their efforts. The United Nations must also implement a global action plan on maternal and child health to ensure that such actions were prioritized and services freely available and accessible to children and mothers.

KATE HALFF, of Norwegian Refugee Council, recalled that millions were affected by the problem of internally displaced persons. Norwegian Refugee Council thanked Walter Kalin, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, for promoting the rights of internally displaced persons. Mr. Kalin had extended support to Governments and to civil society. Among other things, the Council had highlighted the value of his engagement with the United Nations in peacebuilding. Norwegian Refugee Council fully supported his recommendations.

DAVID CORNUT, of International Humanist and Ethical Union, pointed out that in Nigeria the representative of International Humanist and Ethical Union had become a victim of unfounded arrest, while his family had been beaten and intimidated. Accusations of witchcraft had also been brought against him. Such activity against human rights defenders had been legitimized. The International Humanist and Ethical Union said it was crucial to defend human rights and human rights defenders in the field, given such unjustifiable acts.

MICHEL MONOD, of International Fellowship of Reconciliation, said conscious objection to military service had been recognized by a number of countries, but laws to apply it had taken a long time to be put into practice. Alternative civil service did not always correspond to the criteria, and was often still punitive and not in the public interest. It was often the military authority which decided on what this alternative service should be. In some areas of the world, they were executed or imprisoned.

JOELLE FISS, of Human Rights First, said Human Rights First opposed all efforts to create internationally binding obligations on the defamation of religions. Methods other than those which restricted freedom of speech should be applied. By criminalising those who expressed views on religion, Governments would be putting up restriction on freedom of speech and the free expression of dissidents' views. Governments should acknowledge and condemn violence and investigate and prosecute fully hate crimes.

TENZIN KAYTA, of Society for Threatened Peoples, shared the observations of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, according to which many Governments had failed to respond truthfully to allegations of torture. A particular example of concern was China: many Tibetans had been subjected to torture but the Chinese authorities had refuted available evidence as fabricated. The Society for Threatened Peoples urged China to fully implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and those of the Committee on Torture, and to conduct credible investigations into torture allegations.

MICHELLINE MAKOU OJOUMA, of Organisation pour la communication en Afrique et de promotion de la coopération économique internationale (Ocaproce International), said the situation of women in the world was critical. Despite recommendations of the Human Rights Council, particularly in the context of the Universal Periodic Review process, women continued to be victims of human rights violations in many countries as they faced difficulties of access to education and health services, among others. It was not easy but solutions could be found in a human rights culture.

CHARLES GRAVES, of Interfaith International, said Interfaith International expressed its solidarity with victims of extremism and terrorism. Each society had its own method to resolve violence in accordance with its rhythm of development. The Council was the ideal place for dialogue, in order to find solutions. Interfaith International deplored the fact that peoples’ hopes had been shrinking because of a lack of political will in certain States.

UZERA SHAH, of World Muslim Congress, said World Muslim Congress was dismayed at the silence of the global community at India’s occupation of Kashmir. The recent United Nations report on forced disappearances had stated that India had failed in that regard with numbers of those who had gone missing being much higher than anticipated. The World Muslim Congress urged India to invite the relevant Special Procedures to investigate the situation on the ground. Such a visit could at least end the culture of impunity.

FATIMETOU MUSTAFA SALEH, of International Union of Socialist Youth, said there was a serious human rights situation in the Western Sahara, where there were forced or involuntary disappearances. Since Morocco invaded the area in 1975, about 4,000 persons had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment and held in illegal detention centres. The bodies for so-called reconciliation were not considering reports on forced disappearances and had not opened any impartial or exhaustive investigation, but had been designed instead to change the reality, making those responsible for human rights violations benefit from impunity.

Ms. M. SADANI, of Union de l'action féminine, said Morocco had set up a Commission on Equity and Transparency for all victims of forced disappearance and torture and those imprisoned without a trial, as seen in programmes for reconciliation and compensation, with the aim of closing a dark page of the country's history. In contrast with this policy of reconciliation, the Council should demand that the Polisario front of the Algerian Government respect human rights in the Tinduf camps where the majority of the Saharawi population was subject to the worst forms of torture.

KHADIJA ROUSSI, of Agence Internationale pour le Developpement (Aide-Federation), said enforced disappearances were among the most serious human rights violations and constituted a negation of human life. The Human Rights Council was aware that enforced disappearances continued to persist in many parts of the world. Agence Internationale pour le Développement called upon the international community to assume its legal responsibility in the face of these serious violations of human rights.

MAURICE KATALA, of Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs (AIPD), said protecting human rights required that everything that was possible be done in all contexts. That necessitated assistance by States and Action Internationale urged those countries that had not yet entered into cooperation with the Council’s Special Procedures to do so. Morocco’s openness and political will to promote all human rights, particularly with regard to forced disappearances, was noted with appreciation by Action Internationale, which also drew attention to the manipulation of the right to self-determination for ideological and geo-political purposes.

WASILUADIO MALUZA, of International Committee for the Respect and the Application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, said the question of enforced disappearances required a global approach in order to eradicate it. Victims of enforced disappearances were increasing worldwide. To that end, the Committee called on the relevant United Nations Special Procedures to continue to tackle this problem. The time had come to end the incredible suffering of those who had gone missing as well as their families.

MIGUEL ORTIZ-ASIN, of Centrist Democratic International, said Centrist Democratic International had great experience in the Sahara territory. It wished to develop the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Sahara territory. Under that declaration, family reunion was the priority objective. Centrist Democratic International noted that in its work, the moral and physical suffering of the Sahrawi people had become visible. It was crucial to struggle for and to support such causes; economic needs should not prevail over them.

STEPHAN CICCOLI, of European Union of Public Relations, said merely focusing on the actions of democratic States parties left many national situations unexamined. The former could always be held accountable, but it was detention in countries with non-representative regimes and the actions of terrorist groups that needed to be tackled, as these left no room for justice for the affected and imprisoned.

MONICA PAGADOR, of International Club for Peace Research, said stronger regulations should be developed to limit third party access to Government information. Countering terrorism required not merely an injection of money and armaments but pressure on countries harbouring terrorist groups to reform their structures that allowed such groups to feel comfortable. The effort had to be to reform the entire educational environment, and create a civil society that treated all religions and faiths equally, ensuring that future generations of misguided extremists and fundamentalists were not churned out of the educational system.

JULIEN CUPELIN, of Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, said the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy supported the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children. The ongoing conflicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan had killed numerous children, as highlighted by reports by the United Nations Children's Fund and other actors, and the international community could help end the human rights crisis in Asia by putting pressure on Asian Governments.

VIPIN KUMAR GUPTA, of Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, said that since the establishment of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, many cases had remained unresolved in Pakistan. To date, no exact figures were available on the number of missing persons. However, many continued to be missing, and there were reports of extreme mental and physical torture of those being held in that country.

FARAZ MERCHANT, of World for World Organization, strongly endorsed recommendations in the report of the Working Group on arbitrary detentions on the human rights of all detained persons. In some parts of Pakistan, missing persons were held for long periods and were forced to confess. Families never knew their whereabouts, even years after they had been detained.

JOSE ADRIAANSEN, of Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts, said Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts represented registered prisoners of war and comfort women of World War II. The Foundation asked Japan to denounce violations carried out during that time. Those women had to work to meet the sexual needs of the Japanese army, and they were still suffering from the inhumane treatment to which they had been subjected. Making Japan come to terms with its past would be an important signal to the world, even 60 years on. The Japanese Government had to accept its moral responsibility in that regard.

SARAH VADER, of Baha'i International Community, said it was not for Governments to determine what constituted a religion - it was up to individuals to determine their own faith and belief. At the latest Universal Periodic Review session, two Governments had used the term "cult" when referring to the Baha'i faith, and said that cults were forbidden. For Baha'is, belief was an internal matter, and no Government had the right to exert compulsion on the faith, and there was no apostasy in that faith. Unless the most sensitive elements of article 18 were fully implemented, there would be restrictions on freedom of belief.

PATRIZIA SCANELLA, of Amnesty International, said the Special Procedures had greatly enriched the United Nations work in the protection and promotion of human rights, acting as the international community's personal physician, providing the United Nations with regular objective assessment of the overall health of human rights throughout the globe. However, the Special Procedures' ability to contribute was hindered by the chronic failure of many States to cooperate with them. The Council must take measures to ensure better cooperation with the Special Procedures.

GOTZOU ONEANDIA-ZARRATE, of Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, drew attention to the realization of the right to adequate housing of women, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS. In many countries, disputes after the death of the husband were common, leaving many women homeless or forcing them to move into areas where they were further marginalized. Effective international HIV/AIDS strategies therefore needed to prioritize women’s housing and land rights, and the provision of safe homes and support to women needed to be ensured.

ELIAS KHOURI, of Union of Arab Jurists, stressed that the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights was an essential aspect in sustainable economic development and an important tool to deal with the financial and economic crisis that regularly affected the world. The work that was necessary to consolidate those rights should go hand in hand with efforts to oppose occupation politics and preventive wars which destroyed economic infrastructure.

LINDSAY BENNETT GRAHAM, of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, feared that the international community could not declare victory on freedom of religion and belief. It had far too much work on its hands. The rule of law also meant an independent judiciary that inhibited impunity. There were extreme situations in which Governments had to restrict expressions for the sake of safety. The protection of religious freedom was good but promotion would be even better.

MICHAEL ANTHONY, of Asian Legal Resource Centre, noted an era of inertia and denial at the Council. As the Council prepared for its review in 2011, above all, it had to take action on things that had tangible effects. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on torture had never led to any resolutions by the Council.

IAN SEIDERMAN, of International Commission of Jurists, said the report of the Working Group on establishing a complaints procedure for the Convention on the Rights of the Child was a positive step, as this was both necessary and feasible in order to ensure access to justice and the right to remedy at the international level for victims of violations of the Convention. All United Nations Member States agreed in 2005 that the obligation to respect and implement international human rights law included the duty to provide the victims of a violation with equal and unfettered access to justice, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the only treaty lacking a communications procedure.

SHEHEREZADE KARA, of Human Rights Watch, said under international law, States had an obligation not only to punish abuses, but to sanction those guilty. The State had an obligation to inform society in general about human rights abuses, especially when these were serious. Truth-telling did not undermine existing judicial mechanisms, rather reinforced them, helping societies to address the failings of the judiciary that had allowed such crimes to go unpunished and to cause continuing problems within society.

DAVID LITTMAN, World Union for Progressive Judaism, said 12 Iranian Jews had been held incommunicado in Iran after they had attempted to leave the country, a matter which the Government of Iran had been made aware of in 2002. The World Union for Progressive Judaism therefore today requested the Iranian Government to acknowledge those facts and release those Jews. On freedom of religion and belief, the World Union asked all States that ratified the relevant conventions to confirm that their citizens could de facto freely change their religion and belief, which was a crucial question that needed a clear response. The Council was further urged to take action to help those Christians who were deliberately decimated in Iraq.

CINDY TAN, of United Nations Watch, said while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteed the freedom of expression, it was often not respected. A coalition of human rights defenders had therefore adopted the Geneva Declaration on Internet Freedom. That Declaration affirmed that everyone had the right to equal Internet access and to free-flow of information, and that any contrary attempts constituted fundamental human right violations. United Nations Watch called upon this Council to endorse the Geneva Declaration on Internet Freedom.

CURTIS DOEBBLER, of North-South XXI, said North-South XXI reiterated the importance of mandate holders. It asked all States to respond to the work of Special Procedures without interference and drew attention to some of the most serious violations of human rights taking place in conflict contexts. North-South XXI expressed regret that the report of Special Procedures on secret detentions had been removed from consideration this session. It hoped that that issue would be rigorously discussed in the next session.

KLAUS NETTER, of Co-coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, said the Co-ordinating Board of Jewish Organizations appealed against repeated efforts to expose the Council in the name of ending the ‘defamation of religion’. Behind that issue lay a narrow perspective on insult and blasphemy. Those who had championed the defamation of religion issue would be advised that minority rights had to be guarded most vigilantly. The Co-ordinating Board of Jewish Organizations urged people to take heed of ‘do not do unto others, as you would not want others to do unto you’.

AWATAR SINGH SEKHON, of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), said the Government of India had failed in protecting the economic, social and cultural rights of its people. There was instability in a number of regions where the military was used to keep the peace. Even though India was the world's largest democracy, serious human rights abuses were ongoing, including rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and cruel and unusual punishment, and the Government sheltered the members of the security forces from justice. In regions such as Kashmir and the Punjab, minorities were suffering, as were other economically and socially-disadvantaged groups.

SHIZHONG CHEN, of United Rights Association of San Diego, said the Association urged the Council to end China's continuing violation of the rights of the adherents of Falun Gong, in particular the use of nerve damaging chemicals to torture the practitioners of Falun Gong. Volumes of reports from the Council's own Special Rapporteur had documented many cases of severe torture and killings of Falun Gong members by the Chinese authorities. Failing to break their wills with physical torture, the use of nerve-damaging chemicals had escalated to destroy their minds, killing and making many insane. China had also been asked to explain cases of organ harvesting from Falun Gong members. The international community should speak up against this.

Right of Reply

BADRIDDIN OBIDOV (Uzbekistan), speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement made by the European Union on 9 March with regard to the unfounded allegations of Uzbekistan’s collaboration with the Working Group on arbitrary detention, said Uzbekistan had constantly worked with that Working Group and had provided it with the information it had required. Unfortunately, that Working Group’s unfounded allegations, based on unreliable sources, made it difficult for this body to conduct its work. On 8 August 2005, there had been a presidential decree on habeas corpus in Uzbekistan, but the institution of habeas corpus was an addition to protect victims and ensure their right to court hearings.

MUKTAR DJUMALIEV (Kyrgyzstan), speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement by Belgium on human rights defenders, said Belgium had claimed that there had been amendments to Kyrgystan’s Constitution that impinged on rights. In Kyrgyzstan, the non-governmental organization sector had over 25 000 people working in it on human rights. There was also the Ombudsman who ensured the rights and freedoms of individuals. Moreover, racial or national or ethnic considerations could not be used as pretexts for preventing people’s rights. Kyrgyzstan supported all United Nations Special Procedures so far. Thus, Kyrgyzstan found Belgium’s claims unfounded.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), speaking in a right of reply, said the Algerian delegation had broken the calm and referred to the Moroccan Sahara, which was not on the agenda, and it had given a distorted perception of the situation in the area. The United Nations Charter supported the right to self-determination. There was no hierarchy of human rights excluding any attempt to condition their enjoyment as they were indivisible, universal, and inter-dependent - if not, then human rights were politicised. The Algerian delegation also referred to the Sharm Al Sheikh Non-Aligned Movement statement. As to the modus operandi of the operation, these were included in two resolutions which the Algerian delegation had not referred to, namely 26/25, on the right to self-determination, on which basis Morocco had its territory project. As for the reference to the Saharawi people, a number of different peoples lived in this area, and there were thousands living in the Tinduf camps. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights said all human beings were born equal and in dignity, yet the population of the Tinduf were neither free nor equal, and were born, lived and died in prison. The Moroccan delegation would revert to this issue in due time.

QUIAN BO (China), speaking in a right of reply, said the statement that had been made by a member of Falun Gong was an entire lie. By its nature, Falun Gong was not a religion but an evil cult that had harmed human life, threatened society and carried out numerous criminal activities. The lies of the leader of Falun Gong had resulted in the death of over 2,000 Falun Gong members. Other lies spread in the past two years included that the Government harvested organs of Falun Gong members. Falun Gong had also subverted the Government and attempted to sabotage the Olympic Games. The Chinese Government had offered help and care to Falun Gong members which allowed them to reintegrate into society. The Government’s actions were by no means violations of human rights but rather a protection of human rights.

ABDULLAH SHALLAL ABDULKARIM (Iraq), speaking in a right of reply, said the Sabians had been one of the components of Iraqi society right from the start. They like other communities had been subjected to outlawed terrorist attacks. The Government had tried to control those areas of tension. It was now helping support their social and cultural activities, to protect their tombs, which had previously been profaned. The Government was working to investigate crimes against these communities. It was true that there were fewer of them in Iraq but the Government was trying to make it easier for them to return to their places of residence and to provide them with the means to do so.

IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria), speaking in a right of reply, said with regard to the comments made by Morocco, the accusation of disturbing the calm of the debate was unjustified. Algeria made a statement of principle in the context of article one of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the right to self-determination. On self-determination and sovereignty, there was no hierarchy and the two rights were important. However, non-independent territories or non-autonomous territory had a different status to that of the territory of the administering State, which meant that self-proclaimed independence was not enough. The territory had to give up autonomous status, and the Western Sahara was not autonomous in the eyes of the United Nations. With regard to Tinduf, there was a difference in perception between the delegation of Morocco and that of the international community. The best solution was for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a mission to report to the Council, and then the report could be distributed and discussed, after which the Council would be made aware of the real situation. Algeria was ready to accept such a mission.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), speaking in a second right of reply, said Morocco had not accused the Ambassador of Algeria of what he had just said. Algeria’s obsession with the Western Sahara was rather special. Regarding the situation of human rights in the Moroccan Sahara, the Moroccan delegation said that if there was a territory to which non-governmental organizations had access and could report on, then that was the Moroccan Sahara. By contrast, was free access available to Algeria? And for cases of massive violations of human rights, that was certainly the case of Algeria. The international community was not satisfied that Algeria had closed its territory to visits of Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations.

IDRISS JAZAIRY, (Algeria), speaking in a second right of reply, said Morocco had not adopted a very courteous tone. Nonetheless, if the status of the autonomous territory of Western Sahara had been recognized, that was certainly news to Algeria. Algeria believed that this debate should not be extended. It was a matter of law with regard to the right to self-determination. If there was still a disagreement, then the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should send a mission there.

For use of the information media; not an official record