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Press releases Human Rights Council
02 June 2010
Concludes Interactive Debate on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights, Foreign Debt and Human Rights and the Right to Education
2 June 2010
The Human Rights Council this morning continued its urgent debate on the raid by Israeli Defense Forces on a humanitarian aid flotilla off the coast of Gaza, but postponed taking action on the draft resolution. The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
In the urgent debate, speakers said the acts against the activists who were carrying food and medicines must not pass under silence, the same silence which had covered other acts of Israel, allowing it to commit further acts. The Council should act, Israel should release the detainees, lift the siege, and put an end to State terrorism and blatant violations of the most basic human and international laws. Many speakers underlined the urgency of carrying out an investigation into the incident under the auspices of the United Nations. Speakers condemned the disproportional use of force by Israel against humanitarian activities and considered this as an unacceptable act of piracy and sabotage to the peace process in the Middle East.
Speaking in the urgent debate were Syria, Iraq, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Libya, Viet Nam, Belarus, Austria, Iceland, Ecuador, League of Arab States, Maldives, Afghanistan, Peru, El Salvador, Canada, Somalia and Panama.
The following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations also spoke: Independent Commission of Human Rights, North South XXI, International Federation of Human Rights/Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, United Nations Watch, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Indian Movement Tupaj Amaru, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, World Muslim Congress, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitie entre les Peuples.
The opening of the urgent debate took place on 1 June and is reflected in press release HRC/10/57.
The Council then resumed its interactive dialogue on the topics of transnational corporations and their impact on human rights, the effect of foreign debt on human rights, and the right to education, which it started yesterday.
John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, in concluding remarks, said the issues discussed would not be fully resolved with the end of his mandate in 2011 and future work would have to be built on the foundations that he had achieved thus far. Innovative approaches would also have to be developed to address all the different issues, such as how to adequately monitor the illicit trade of natural resources. With regard to State-related entities, for him the issue was quite simple: a state-owned enterprise could either claim to be a private entity or a public entity but in both cases they would be bound by certain principles. Finally, concerning the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it was essential that the capacity of the Office be increased.
Cephas Lumina, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, in concluding remarks, said it was important to continue to explore options for durable and lasting solutions to debt relief. The issue of possible control in the financial markets required consultation with people who had more intimate knowledge of functioning of financial markets, but some controls could include tightening of regulations to ensure transparency of foreign investments. In reference to the assessment of the current debt initiatives, Mr. Lumina said that those schemes had indeed contributed to the capacity of some States to proceed to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals. Despite these gains, Mr. Lumina said more needed to be done to address debt relief in complement with other initiatives and in conformity with the principle of shared responsibility.
Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, in concluding remarks, said racism, intolerance and xenophobia were the most obvious causes of exclusion and intolerance of migrants and those of migrant origin in terms of their education opportunities, but there was also structural discrimination entrenched in their regard. It was truly urgent to make headway in training of faculty, strengthening the intercultural dialogue, the inclusion of migrant teachers in the regular educational system, expanding the grant system, and strengthening programmes abroad. It was necessary to make progress in equality and justice in education, and strengthen the vision of education as a human right, and to this end, it was urgent that countries that received migrant peoples ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
During the interactive dialogue concerning corporate responsibility and the impact of transnational corporations on human rights, speakers said transnational corporations gained great profits from host countries, and should therefore contribute to the welfare of employees in those countries. There was no global framework or norm for transnational corporations, bringing them under legal measures. Transnational companies often escaped as some countries could not afford extensive legal battles.
Regarding the impact of foreign debt on human rights, speakers remarked that reducing debt burdens would contribute to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights and that the economy was not above the priority of human rights, as it was at the service of the human person and the common good. The so-called vulture fund activities caused burden sharing among creditors, and undermined trade and investment opportunities in the countries they targeted. Speakers said that initiatives of debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries were welcome steps toward the objective of creating better conditions for States to implement their obligations in the field of human rights.
With concern to the right to education, speakers said that the report showed the driving force of education in the area of development and that States had to address the needs of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in both formal and informal education sectors. The lack of justifiability of economic, social and cultural rights was at the core of the difficulties of achieving these rights. The education systems of States should conform to the obligations set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Special Rapporteur was asked which practices and formulas could best serve to provide success for regional strategies.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue on transnational corporations and human rights, foreign debt and human rights, and the right to education were the Holy See, Canada, South Africa, Bangladesh, Sudan, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Netherlands, Brazil, Zambia and Argentina.
The following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations also spoke: International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, National Commission of Mexico, Centre Europe Tiers Monde, Amnesty International, Indian Movement Tupaj Amaru, Human Rights Advocates, International Commission of Jurists, American Association of Jurists, and the International Federation of Human Rights League.
The presentation by the three Special Procedures of their reports and the first part of the interactive dialogue took place on 1 June and is reflected in HRC/10/56.
The Council today is holding a full day of meetings from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During its midday meeting, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. It will also listen to the presentation of a joint study on secret detention by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Working Group on enforced disappearances.
Urgent Debate on Israeli Attack on Humanitarian Aid Flotilla Bound for Gaza
FAYSAL KHABBAZ HAMOUI (Syria) said Syria highly appreciated the efforts of the peace activists from 40 countries, including Syria, and applauded their noble humanitarian feelings, strongly condemning the piracy committed by Israel in international waters against the freedom flotilla, confirming Israel's disregard for everything, including the most basic morals and principles. The acts against the activists who were carrying food and medicines must not pass under silence, the same silence which had covered other acts of Israel, allowing it to commit further acts. The Council should act, Israel should release the detainees, lift the siege, and put an end to State terrorism and blatant violations of the most basic human and international laws, which threatened to drag the Middle East into a war, the repercussions of which would not be limited to the countries of the region. There should be a just investigation into the acts of Israel, and the Irish assistance ship should be allowed to dock in Gaza today. Israel was killing activists who had come only to break the siege, a violation of the basic right to life and of humanitarian values.
MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM (Iraq) said that the attack inflicted on the peace flotilla was in clear violation of international law. The attack was made on civilians and was in violation of the United Nations Charter. The flotilla was not carrying arms or military weapons but food and medicine for the citizens of the Gaza Strip, who have endured extreme suffering because of the blockade. Iraq strongly condemned the attack, which led to numerous victims. The name of the flotilla clearly indicated the peaceful intentions of the mission. Iraq called for an investigation under the auspices of the United Nations and also for the immediate release of all detainees, whose security should be ensured until their safe return home. Finally, Iraq said that the comments made by Israel were incorrect and that even the friends of Israel did not support them after this unjustified military action.
YONG CHANTHALANGSY (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said the Lao People’s Democratic Republic deplored the unjustified attack of Israeli forces on the vessels carrying humanitarian aid, resulting in the killing of 10 persons and injuring many others. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic strongly condemned the disproportional use of force by Israel against humanitarian activities and considered this as an unacceptable act of piracy and sabotage to the peace process in the Middle East. Lao People’s Democratic Republic demanded an impartial investigation to be conducted under the supervision of the United Nations. The Government strongly urged Israel to put an end to the blockade and embargo against Gaza in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinian population living in this region. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic demanded that Israel immediately release all those who were detained, surrender the vessels to their countries and come back to peaceful negotiations to promote peace and stability in the Middle East.
IBRAHIM A.E. ALDREDI (Libya) said Libya strongly condemned the crime perpetrated in the eyes of the international community against innocent activists carrying food and medicine. Israel continued its crimes on a daily basis, including bombing those under the blockade. Israel should not have dared to perpetrate these crimes, as it was not supported by other countries, and silence vis-à-vis these crimes could be interpreted as consensus. Where was the international community, where was international peace and security when a people was massacred on a daily basis. The Council should take up its responsibilities. Israel had committed a flagrant violation of all international laws - this was a challenge thrown to the international community, and Israel should be condemned for these crimes. An impartial investigative committee should be set up to investigate the affair fairly, and compensation should be paid to the victims.
VU ANH QUANG (Viet Nam) said that this latest military attack by Gaza constituted a step backward for humanitarian activities, which represented solidarity, tolerance and humanity. Viet Nam called upon the international community to ensure that an attack of this nature would never reoccur. Viet Nam strongly condemned the deliberate attack on the humanitarian convoy. It was a violation of human rights as well as humanitarian law. Viet Nam called for assurances from Israel that medicine, food and water would be provided to the wounded and the detained. Viet Nam remained committed to a peaceful resolution and called for vigilance and restraint.
ANDREI SAVINYKH (Belarus) said Belarus was seriously concerned about the incident of the interception of the humanitarian convoy by Israel and condemned the excessive use of force. It was a blatant violation of international legal norms by Israel and Belarus called for a comprehensive and impartial investigation of the incident. Belarus called on all actors in the Middle-East process to avoid a further escalation of violence. The Security Council had immediately reacted to the incident and had demanded that Israel immediately release the ships and those who had been on board. The Council should give its own assessment of the incident and Belarus found that the steps taken so far towards a resolution were in the right direction.
CHRISTIAN STROHAL (Austria) said Austria was deeply shocked at the loss of lives and casualties and wished to express its condolences to the families of the victims. Austria was very disturbed about this dramatic escalation, and condemned the use of violence that had led to a high number of victims. There should be a full and independent investigation of this attack, which had occurred in international waters. Austria had consistently acknowledged Israel's right to protect its citizens against indiscriminate attacks emanating from Gaza, and repeated its call for an immediate end to such attacks. At the same time, it did not believe that these concerns could in any way justify what happened. The ongoing blockade was totally unacceptable and counterproductive, and the humanitarian situation remained of utmost concern. There should be an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of all crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and persons to and from Gaza. Israel should take immediate and credible steps to avoid any reoccurrence of such violent incidents, and act in full accordance with its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law.
KRISTINN F. ARNASON (Iceland) said Iceland strongly condemned the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla while the convoy was in international waters. Iceland was profoundly shocked to learn about the high number of casualties resulting from the raid. In this regard, Iceland expected full cooperation from the Israeli Government to ensure that those responsible were brought to justice. The siege of Gaza was contrary to international human rights law and humanitarian law, inflicting collective punishment on the Gaza population. The Israeli raid received a strong response in Icelandic society and the Icelandic parliament would hold a debate later today on the issue. Iceland called on Israel to put all its efforts into reactivating the peace process and at the same time to cease all activities that put the peace process in jeopardy.
MAURICIO MONTALVO (Ecuador) said Ecuador condemned the attack by the Israeli army on the freedom flotilla in which civilians had been killed. The attack against the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip aggravated the situation in the Middle East and went against a peaceful solution to the conflict. Ecuador requested the immediate cessation of all acts of violence and exhorted Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and allow for humanitarian aid to enter. Ecuador demanded a strict compliance with international humanitarian law in the search for durable peace in the region.
SAAD ALFARARGI (League of Arab States) said Israel, which was always preaching democracy, had committed another crime to add to the list of its heinous crimes, attacking a liberty flotilla sailing on a humanitarian mission, with a long list of casualties. Killing civilians was a war crime and a crime against humanity according to the Geneva Conventions. Further, navigation in the high seas for peaceful purposes was legal. The Israeli aggression against the peaceful flotilla, whose only intent was to provide peaceful assistance, was a crime of war and a crime against humanity. This act of terrorism was condemned, and the international community should move swiftly to take deterrent actions against this rogue State that had committed acts of piracy and terrorism. This was a tragedy, and hopefully would provide an overdue course correction.
IRUTHISHAM ADAM (Maldives) said that the Maldives was greatly saddened by the loss of civilian life in the attack on the Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla. The Maldives extended its condolences to all those affected by the incident and condemned in the strongest possible terms this clear act of aggression against civilians, especially civilians engaged in humanitarian work. The Maldives called for an immediate independent international enquiry into the incident so that the facts may be ascertained and accountability established. This incident was yet another example of the grave injustice against the people of Gaza caused by the Israeli blockade, which was not only morally wrong but also short-sighted in that it spurred mistrust, animosity and hatred.
OBAID KHAN NOORI (Afghanistan) said that the right of self-determination of the people of Palestine had been denied for decades and their basic human rights had been violated. The illegal blockade imposed by Israel on the people of Occupied Gaza had worsened the humanitarian situation. Afghanistan strongly condemned the inhuman attack by Israel on the humanitarian activists and expressed its solidarity with the Palestinian people. Afghanistan welcomed the Presidential statement by the Security Council, condemnation made by the Secretary-General and the statement of the High Commissioner in which she had called for immediately lifting the inhuman and illegal blockade of Gaza. It was time to call for an immediate cessation of all military activities and violence, a lift of the blockade, and the prompt release of ships and all civilians detained. Afghanistan called on the international community to help the provision of humanitarian assistance to Gaza and hoped that the resolution would be adopted by the Council with consensus.
CARLOS SIBILLE RIVERA (Peru) said Peru condemned the violent intervention by Israeli forces on the humanitarian flotilla. In keeping with the norms of international law, Peru disapproved of the excessive use of force, and called for an exhaustive investigation into the facts. Peru also called upon all parties to re-establish dialogue, with the aim of achieving a permanent peace. The Government of Israel should allow the free flow of goods to the people of the Gaza Strip, in keeping with United Nations resolutions.
CARMEN ELENA CASTILLO-GALLANDAT (El Salvador) said El Salvador expressed its strong rejection of the violation of international human rights which occurred during the attack on the humanitarian convoy bound for Gaza. El Salvador deeply regretted the loss of human life and expressed its condolences to the families of the victims. The United Nations must conduct an exhaustive and transparent investigation into these hostilities and should send a message that such acts of aggression were unacceptable and would not be tolerated by the international community.
MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) said Canada deeply regretted the loss of life and the injuries suffered in the events off the coast of Gaza on May 31 and called on all States and international bodies not to rush to conclusions before all the facts were known. Canada was concerned about the humanitarian situation of the people of Gaza and strongly encouraged all parties to work together to ensure that the humanitarian aid was delivered. Canada fully understood and sympathised with Israel’s legitimate security concerns in the face of terrorism against its people and called on all parties to forgo the use of violence.
YUSUF MOHAMED ISMAIL (Somalia) said the Government and people of Somalia wished to express their deepest and most sincere condolences to the families of those killed during the attack by the security forces of Israel on the humanitarian activists on board the Gaza-bound flotilla. These acts of violence had no justification, and needed to be condemned and prevented. An immediate, full and impartial inquiry into the events and their circumstances was necessary. The appalling humanitarian situation of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the rest of the Occupied Territories was of great concern. Israel should lift the blockade for the unconditional flow of humanitarian and reconstruction aid as well as for commercial goods and the movement of persons to and from Gaza. It was high time that the interest of the Palestinian people was put as a top priority - to do so, a comprehensive, coherent and far-sighted approach was much needed from all regional and international stakeholders.
GRISSELLE RODRIGUEZ (Panama) said that the Government of Panama deeply deplored the loss of life caused by the Israeli Defence Forces in its attack on the freedom flotilla. Panama echoed the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and called for an independent investigation into this matter in order to look into the disproportionate use of force. Panama said that it would like to see the people of Gaza receive sufficient humanitarian aid and called upon Israel to lift the blockade. Dialogue and negotiation needed to be fostered and were important steps toward resuming the ongoing Middle East peace process.
KATHARINA ROSE, of Palestinian National Institution for Human Rights, said the Independent Commission of Human Rights denounced the unlawful attack of Israel on the humanitarian flotilla that resulted in death and injuries. It was a dangerous precedent and a violation of fundamental human rights. Israel’s use of disproportionate and excessive force against civilians could not be justified. This aggressive attack against humanitarian aid reflected Israeli’s systematic and decisive policy to suppress international popular solidarity and would have negative consequences on future solidarity initiatives to help the Palestinian people. The Independent Commission of Human Rights called on the Human Rights Council to take all necessary measures to stop all crimes and attacks on humanitarian activists. It also called for the lifting of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and bringing its humanitarian crisis to an end.
DANIELA MCBANE, of North-South XXI, in a joint statement with Union of Arab Jurists, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) and Arab Lawyers Union, said they totally condemned Israel's acts of aggression against the humanitarian relief vessels and Israel's premeditated murder of unarmed civilians, human rights defenders, who were attempting to deliver humanitarian relief to the Palestinian people of Gaza, who had been subjected to conditions of life that appeared intended to destroy them in whole or in part as a people. The Israeli Government should allow safe passage to the MV Rachel Corrie and the humanitarian goods it was carrying. Israel's acts threatened the peace and security of the entire international community, and to allow these acts to go unpunished threatened the legitimacy of the international community and the institutions it had erected to protect the human rights of peace-loving human beings. The international community must take urgent action in response to this flagrant flouting of international law and insist on the end of the blockade of Gaza.
JULIE GROMELLON, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, in a joint statement with Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said that more than 700 unarmed activists from over 40 countries were on board the eight-ship flotilla. The attack occurred in international waters and resulted in the killing of at least nine people and the injury of a further 60. The tragedy was the result of the prolonged impunity granted to Israel, despite Israel’s documented and persistent disregard for international and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The International Federation of Human Rights/Palestinian Centre for Human Rights called for the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip to be immediately lifted in line with the Security Council’s resolution 1850 and 1860 and also for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently visit the Gaza Strip.
LAILA MATAR, of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in a joint statement with Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, condemned the unlawful assault by the Israeli navy on a flotilla bringing aid to Gaza. The assault was unprecedented and illegal under international law. Israel had not been acting in self-defense when it attacked the flotilla which posed no threat to Israel. The United Nations must act immediately to investigate this act and ensure the basic standards of international law were upheld. The brutal attack off the coast of Gaza was just one example of the repression and violence Palestinian civilians faced on a regular basis in the Occupied Territories. This episode was a tragic reminder of the inevitable results of giving military forces a license to kill and impunity for war crimes. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies called on this Council and all members of the United Nations to end such impunity by urgently ensuring the full implementation of all recommendations contained in the Goldstone Report.
HILLEL NEUER, of United Nations Watch, said the debate turned on one question - whether the flotilla was humanitarian or not. Evidence of the organizers' objective could be found in the path they chose. Israel offered to receive the flotilla's cargo and, after inspection, deliver it to Gaza, but the organizers rejected this, as they wished to cause a political incident. One supporter declared the aim of the flotilla was either achieving martyrdom or reaching Gaza - this was not a humanitarian state of mind. This operation was organized by a radical group, the IHH, with extensive documented ties to terrorist groups, and its objectives and goals had nothing to do with humanitarianism.
JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, said Human Rights Watch was deeply concerned about the death of at least 10 activists after Israel security forces boarded ships that were part of an “aid flotilla” to Gaza. The incident raised grave concerns about possible unlawful and excessive use of lethal force. Human Rights Watch called for a prompt, credible and impartial investigation into the incident, which was essential to determine whether lethal force used by Israeli commandos was necessary to protect lives and whether it could have been avoided.
PETER SPLINTER, of Amnesty International, said Amnesty International called for an international inquiry into the deaths that were caused by Israel’s military action against the aid flotilla and urged the Human Rights Council to call for the United Nations Security Council to ask the Secretary-General to establish an international inquiry. The Israeli authorities had the primary responsibility to investigate the conduct of their forces. However, the international nature of the incident and Israel’s continuing failure to conduct credible, independent investigations into alleged war crimes and other serious violations of international law in the context of the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict underscored the need for an immediate international investigation. The Council should call on Israel to invite the relevant Special Rapporteur to visit Israel to investigate the events.
LAZARO PARY, of Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, said Indian Movement Tupaj Amaru energetically condemned the attack on the freedom flotilla, leading to the death of nine human rights defenders. The new brutal aggression by Israel in international waters, i.e. outside the territorial waters of Gaza, was international piracy, and constituted a serious violation of international law and a slap in the face of the United Nations Charter. Israeli allegations that the flotilla was carrying weapons and terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda were just cheap. Those responsible must appear before the International Criminal Court to account for the incident. There should be an urgent lifting of the economic blockade imposed on Gaza.
ICHTIYAG MAMBED IHRAAM, of International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, joined all other speakers in condemning the unlawful and deadly attack by the Israeli Naval Forces on the humanitarian aid convoy in international waters. The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had always been grave and alarming and the resolutions passed by the Human Rights Council and other United Nations bodies were never respected by Israel. Nonetheless, the Human Rights Council should now deliver a strong response and message to Israel to immediately end the Israeli siege of Palestinian territories.
ALTAF HUSSAIN WAZI, of International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, said that the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations shared deep regret at the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters. At this time, it was believed that around 600 persons were being held at the Israeli port of Ashdod. The Government of Israel should lift the information blackout and allow access for international non-governmental organizations to these prisoners. The force used in the attack had been neither proportional nor warranted and represented a grave violation of international law. The doctrine of self-defence did not in any way justify the extreme violence that had been used.
SARDAR AMJAD YOUSAF KHAN, of World Muslim Congress, said human rights defenders across the globe condemned the crime committed by the Israeli occupational forces - this violation of international human rights law and humanitarian law was intolerable for the civilised world, and now was the time for the international community to stand with Palestinians for the end of the Israeli occupation and the implementation of Security Council resolutions on the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Human Rights Council should call upon Israel to release all the detained human rights activists, lift the siege on Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach it, and cooperate with the international community for an independent credible investigation of the violation of human rights law.
ANNE MARIE VUIGNIER, of Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, said that it was with great distress that the World Council of Churches received the news the Israeli Naval Forces had stormed a Gaza-bound vessel carrying humanitarian aid in international waters. The World Council of Churches urged the Government of Israel to repatriate those detained by the Israeli army and called for the immediate release of the impounded ships and an end to the economic blockade of Gaza. The World Council of Churches reiterated its commitment to work for just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel.
GIANFRANCO FATTORINI, of Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, said that once again Israel had felt threatened and once again the international community had witnessed the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army. The threat here had been represented by six civilian ships carrying over 600 civilians and tons of humanitarian material. The escalation in violations of international law, humanitarian law and human rights law by Israel seemed to have no limits. It was the duty of the entire international community to set the limits enshrined in international law. The question they asked today was to know when the international community intended to end the colonial rule, when it intended to put an end to impunity, when it intended to give an ultimatum for the unconditional lifting of the blockade and when it intended to deploy the resources necessary to protect the Palestinian people.
Interactive Debate with Experts on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, Effects of Foreign Debt and Right to Education
SILVANO TOMASI (Holy See) said the sharp contradiction of the global economy that began in 2008 and accelerated in 2009 did not appear to be slowing down - economies were slow, and prospects lowered. The effects had been felt most severely in the developing countries, with effects on the global economy and the least developed countries. The international community could not ignore this fact. The economy was not above the priority of human rights, as it was at the service of the human person and the common good. The so-called vulture fund activities caused burden sharing among creditors, and undermined trade and investment opportunities in countries they targeted. While the solution proposed in the report on human rights and transnational corporations was supported, some questions remained.
JEFFREY HEATON (Canada) thanked the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on transnational corporations, John Ruggie, for his latest report and reiterated Canada’s support for the approach of “principled pragmatism” that had marked Mr. Ruggie’s work from the beginning. As the Special Representative moved into the final year of his mandate, Canada wondered how he envisaged the future evolution of the business and human rights agenda. In particular, Canada asked Mr. Ruggie to elaborate on the role he saw for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as noted in the final paragraph of his interim report. Finally, Canada was curious to know more about the particular dynamics of conflict situations that required heightened due diligence on the part of companies and States.
ANTHONY SEDWYN (South Africa) said South Africa commended the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations. His report highlighted key issues of concern, in particular the need to hold transnational corporations accountable for violations of human rights. There was however a limitation of the concept of the duty of transnational corporations to respect in so far as it did not move beyond voluntary codes and practices. South Africa therefore reiterated the need for an internationally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations. Turning to the report of the Special Rapporteur on education, the lack of justifiability of economic, social and cultural rights lay at the core of the difficulties of achieving these rights. The education systems of States should conform to the obligations set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the Special Rapporteur had rightfully noted, migrants, refuges and asylum seekers were often discriminated against and excluded from the enjoyment of many rights; this posed a major challenge in terms of their enjoyment of and the attainability of economic, social and cultural rights.
ABDUL HANNAN (Bangladesh) said transnational corporations gained great profits from host countries, and should therefore contribute to the welfare of employees in these host countries. The focus on transnational corporations was inadequate, but the report also included information on extraterritorial jurisdiction, and this information needed to be expanded, in particular with regard to countries where there were no laws on extraterritorial responsibility. There was no global framework or norm for transnational corporations, bringing them under legal measures. Many Governments were trying to defend the companies of their own country. International companies often escaped as some countries could not afford extensive legal battles. The mandate of the Independent Expert on foreign debt was a particularly important mandate, as enjoyment of economic and social rights could not be enjoyed in many States due to heavy debt. There should be a global framework to end secrecy. The work of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education was appreciated, as education was an important tool to enhance respect for cultural diversity, if used properly. All migrants should have access to education, and this should be recognized by the international community.
ZEHOR HASSAN SID AHMED MOHAMMED (Sudan) said that Sudan was one of the heavily indebted countries of the world. The main creditors of Sudan were the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Austria and other regional funds and banks. Khartoum had shown a readiness and commitment to the International Monetary Fund and was implementing measures to increase economic growth, maintain macroeconomic stability and reduce foreign exchange reserves. Sudan wished to highlight that reducing debt burdens would contribute to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. Despite significant improvement in economic indicators, Sudan was unable to take advantage of debt relief initiatives offered to countries with high debt and poverty levels.
MANUEL B. DENGO (Costa Rica) said Costa Rica thanked the Special Procedures for their contributions. On the right to education, as a corollary to his work, the Special Rapporteur had made the Council aware of the right to education of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. His report showed the driving force of education in the area of development. One had to address the needs of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in both formal and informal education sectors. Costa Rica wanted to ask the Special Rapporteur about which practices and formulas could best serve to provide success for regional strategies. Costa Rica was ready to work very hard on this issue with the Special Rapporteur’s successor.
GUY-ALAIN EMMANUEL GAUZE (Côte d'Ivoire) said Côte d’Ivoire wished to praise the impartiality and quality of the work carried out by the Independent Expert on human rights and foreign debt, including his report that dealt with vulture funds. The report showed serious research and investigation, the analysis and arguments were relevant, and the recommendations were of great interest and should be discussed fully in the Human Rights Council. For some funds, it was possible to take control of the economy and assets of countries that were in debt and also, in some cases, politically fragile. This situation was morally unacceptable, and the payment of the debt would have a directly negative impact on the country's ability to implement and protect human rights, leading to a violation of fundamental human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. It was high time for the Council to take a courageous decision relating to the action that should be taken with regard to vulture funds, and to propose specific actions that could be taken at the international level. It was vital to deal with this situation as soon as possible.
IRENE P.H. KNOBEN (Netherlands) said that the Netherlands had three questions for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on transnational corporations, John Ruggie. Firstly, the Netherlands asked Mr. Ruggie to share his view on best practices, which could be used worldwide. Secondly, the Netherlands asked Mr. Ruggie to elaborate on his proposal that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights establish an advisory and capacity building function in the post-mandate period. Finally, the Netherlands wished to know more about successor initiatives and whether there would be merit in an extension of the mandate.
JOAO ERNESTO CHRISTOFOLO (Brazil), said that, on the right of the education, the third National Programme on Human Rights of Brazil recommended that the educational system respected and promoted diversity and focused since the early stages on the interaction among all children of every ethnic, cultural backgrounds and migrant situation, as well as children with any sort of physical or mental disability. Through new legislation, refugees were entitled to obtain documents to work, study and to exercise the same rights of any foreign citizen. Brazil also saw the issue of international protection of refugees as a priority. On the issue of transnational corporations, Brazil looked forward to the Special Rapporteur’s set of guiding principles. On the report on foreign debt and human rights, initiatives of debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries were welcome steps toward the objective of creating better conditions for States to implement their obligations in the field of human rights.
CHRISTOPHER SITWALA (Zambia) said Zambia was among the first countries to be hit by the so-called vulture funds. The effects of vulture funds on the enjoyment of human rights were immense. If affected States had to pay these huge amounts, the entire process of debt relief would be defeated. Funds meant for the social sectors, such as health and education, would be diverted to pay the vulture funds. It was, however, gratifying that some countries, such as the United Kingdom, had put in place legislation to curb the activities of the vulture funds. Zambia was considering passing similar legislation, and hoped that more countries would join the fight against vulture funds. Zambia also commended the efforts of the civil society organizations such as End the Vulture Culture for their relentless campaigns to curb this vice.
HECTOR RAUL PELAEZ (Argentina) said with regard to the report of the Special Representative on transnational corporations, this was a very complete report, and showed the importance of the subject matter, and the need for more effective protection for individuals and communities that could be subject to abuse by transnational corporations. The principles enshrined in international instruments were key elements in the international regime on human rights. Corporations must duly consider these instruments in their business, including with regard to the corporate responsibility to protect. Corporations must become aware of the damage they did to the rights of people. These guidelines could also inform the efforts of other players such as civil society in order to ensure good corporate performance. More details were needed on the process from now into the future and how these guidelines would be developed.
JUDY MCGREGOR, of International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, said that concerning transnational corporations, the Special Representative’s report alluded to the need to ensure that national human rights institutions’ mandates permitted them to address business-related grievances. The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions strongly concurred with this observation. According to established principle, national human rights institutions should enjoy as broad a mandate as possible. They thus urged all actors to interpret and extend existing mandates, wherever possible as applicable to the corporate as well as the public sector. The report had also drawn attention to the capacity of national human rights institutions’ to provide access to an effective remedy for victims of human rights abuses committed by corporations. The International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions agreed that this was one important dimension of the institutions’ broader role.
KATHARINA ROSE, of National Commission of Mexico said the National Commission of Mexico recognised that the right to education was a fundamental right and welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. The National Commission of Mexico joined the efforts to mainstream the right to education by implementing specific actions to address the two main challenges of the total inclusion of all boys, girls and adolescents and to raise the quality of the education provided. The National Commission of Mexico attended to complaints related to alleged violations of the right to education and the specific problems faced by vulnerable groups such as indigenous people, rural communities or people with disabilities. The National Commission of Mexico invited the Special Rapporteur to continue his close ties to national human rights institutions and reiterated its availability and commitment to collaborate and actively intervene in the promotion and defense of the right to education.
MALIK OZDEN, of Europe-Third World Centre, in a joint statement with several NGOs2, said that violations of human rights by transnational corporations were not limited to the industries concerned, but also affected the tertiary and financing sector, especially in context of the increasing financial and economic crises. Transnational corporations could avoid their responsibilities, and nothing could be done as there was no legally-binding framework to cover these actions. Nevertheless, efforts had been made to enforce respect for ILO and human rights standards in the actions of transnational corporations. States should create norms that were applicable to transnational corporations. The work of the Special Representative had been focusing on legal issues, and business organizations were the primary interlocutors of the Representative, not civil society. The Special Representative could deal with injustices that could be repairable, but did not have the competency to decide who could have these injustices repaired, and who could not.
ANNA TALBOT, of Amnesty International, said Amnesty International welcomed the report of the Special Representative on human rights and transnational corporations. Amnesty International encouraged greater clarity on measures that States could undertake in this regard. It was essential to identify gaps. Amnesty International was interested in the Special Representative’s recommendation to create a special function in the United Nations on human rights and transnational corporations. Should this function be capable or not to receive communications by victims?
LAZARO PARY, of Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, said that taking the scale, complexity and power of transnational corporations, they were super States operating in national States. A 100 or so gigantic and powerful corporations controlled the globalized world of today. Ninety per cent of them were based in either the European Union, the United States or Japan. The world agriculture was dominated by 10 large corporations with their headquarters in developed countries. Agro-industrial and pharmaceutical companies not only appropriated with impunity food products, but had also been freed of accountability for fraud and greed leading to the current universal food crisis. At the time when the mankind was succumbing to chaos, there was no law to govern the operation of the transnational corporations. A legally binding code of conduct was needed to impose rationality and justice in operations of corporations and also because States had lost their capacity to negotiate with them. The Indian Movement Tupaj Amaru suggested the setting up of a high level commission to draft this code of conduct.
AMOL MEHRA, of Human Rights Advocates, said there was a need for increased disclosures of corporate activity pertaining to human rights, a need for more complete enforcement of existing laws relating to disclosures, and for an international agreement regulating the activities of transnational corporations to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights. Even with clear disclosure requirements pertaining to human rights, lacking enforcement by State parties plagued efforts at protection. The work of the Special Representative towards further operationalising the Framework was welcome, however, Human Rights Advocates did not believe that domestic efforts toward ensuring human rights protections were enough, as lacking standards around disclosure and weak enforcement by States left human rights subject to abuse - there should be international consensus around the duties that corporations owed as societal constructions.
CARLOS LOPES, of International Commission of Jurists, said that, on transnational corporations, the leakage from the oil platform run by BP in the Gulf of Mexico was one example of the impact of business on human rights and the human and natural environment. Such events highlighted once again how ill equipped the international community and States were to prevent them and ensure remedial measures. In particular, poor developing countries did not have the same capacity of developed countries to respond to those problems. It was important to know what instruments States and civil society would have to demand that companies complied with human rights commitments. Legal liability for companies played a crucial role in modulating company expectations and ultimately behaviour and would work efficiently to prevent the re-occurrence of abuses. Legal remedies were also a prerequisite for human rights implementation.
EDURNE IRIOUDO, of American Association of Jurists, in a joint statement, said that different instruments of the United Nations had already taken a stance on the situation of the Mapuche people and they believed it deserved the attention of the Special Rapporteur. Their water and other rights had been granted to large corporations, stripping the Mapuche and other indigenous people of their basic resources, leading to deprivation, pollution and exclusion from the recognition of their collective rights. It was indispensable to reiterate to the Government of Chile the need to respect and recognise the rights of the Mapuche people and their rights originating from international law. It was important for the Special Rapporteur to look into the situation of indigenous people and different mechanisms for the protection of their rights.
JOEY LEE, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said regarding States' duty to protect, the observation to encourage States to require companies to report on human rights policies and impacts was welcomed, but there were serious concerns about legal and policy incoherence. The Special Representative should insist on the need for coherence between reporting requirements and commercial laws, and devote further attention to the broader issue of access to information. He should provide guidance on how companies could avoid being complicit in human rights abuses, and should clarify the relationship between due diligence and companies' duty of care, as well as ways to incorporate due diligence into domestic legal systems. There was great concern for the increasing criminalisation worldwide of human rights defenders, union leaders and lawyers. There was a need for a universal body that lived up to the principles of justice and to which victims could turn when mediation failed or was inappropriate, and when both home and host States could not, or were unwilling, to provide victims with access to effective remedies.
JOHN RUGGIE, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, thanked all speakers for their remarks. He was pleased that he had been able to present the pros and cons of the guidelines to the Human Rights Council. On the follow-up to this mandate, once it would end in 2011, he said that the issues concerned would not be fully resolved with the end of his mandate and future work would have to be built on the foundations that he had achieved so far.
On the guiding principles, discussions would start this fall and he would consult with all relevant stakeholders, said Mr. Ruggie. The final document would crystallize their views and the material in his reports. To include all business enterprises into his mandate had resulted in a lot of work. Guiding principles were not only affecting transnational corporations but also smaller businesses. The principles that would be developed would be universally relevant but would have to vary according to the different sizes and the types of business.
Innovative approaches would also have to be developed to address all the different issues, such as how to adequately monitor the illicit trade of natural resources. With regard to State-related entities, for him the issue was quite simple: a state-owned enterprise could either claim to be a private entity or a public entity but in both cases but they would be bound by certain principles, said Mr. Ruggie. Finally, concerning the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it was essential that the capacity of the Office be increased.
CEPHAS LUMINA, Independent Expert on the Effects of Foreign Debt and Other Related International Financial Obligations of States on the Full Enjoyment of Human Rights, in closing remarks, thanked all delegations and said that a possible element of criteria for assessing legitimate debt could be debts arising from loan agreements that had been concluded in violation of applicable law, and debts that had violated human rights or had not been beneficial for the country in question. The criteria for assessment of legitimate loans was certainly an area that required more work and Mr. Lumina noted the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development project that was addressing this particular issue. Regarding regional consultations, Mr. Lumina intended to undertake multi-stakeholder consultations which would be regionally based and the first would take place in Latin America and the Caribbean. The progress update would be presented to the Council in due time. The Independent Expert noted the suggestion regarding the exploration of other initiatives for debt relief, such as the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative for example, and said that some institutions had a number of inherent limitations which made it difficult for countries to exit from debts they had been carrying for decades. It was important to continue to explore options for durable and lasting solutions. The issue of possible control in the financial markets required consultation with people who had more intimate knowledge of functioning of financial markets, but some controls could include tightening of regulations to ensure transparency of foreign investments. In reference to the assessment of the current debt initiatives, Mr. Lumina said that those schemes had indeed contributed to the capacity of some States to proceed to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals. Nevertheless, more needed to be done and in complement with other initiatives and in conformity with the principle of shared responsibility.
VERNOR MUNOZ VILALOBOS, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, thanked the delegations for their comments, as well as the delegations, including Mongolia, Mexico and Paraguay who received constructive criticism after his visit to their countries. Inter-cultural education was needed to save indigenous languages and also the cultures and languages of immigrants. Students should be aware of and learn about different civilizations to those that existed in their own nations traditionally. The central mission of education in this day and age was to build global citizenship and provide for dignity so that people had useful knowledge to develop themselves and their cultures, but this was only possible if education respected, developed and empowered human rights, as these were the driver of the curriculum and should be the key axis and goal of education. There was thus an intrinsic relation between the right to education and to human rights, and education that did not empower human rights was low-quality education.
Racism, intolerance and xenophobia were the most obvious causes of exclusion and intolerance of migrants and those of migrant origin in terms of their education opportunities, but there was also structural discrimination entrenched in their regard. This kind of denial of their rights also pointed to the fact that the Nation State continued to disregard cultural and social diversity. It was truly urgent to make headway and train faculty members, strengthen the intercultural dialogue, and the dialogue among States, include migrant teachers in the regular educational system, expand the grant system, and strengthen programmes abroad. It was necessary to make progress in equality and justice in education, and strengthen the vision of education as a human right, and to this end, it was urgent that countries that received migrant peoples ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
1. Joint statement on behalf of: Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples; Europe-Third World Centre; American Association of Jurists; France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand ; World Federation of Trade Unions; and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom)
2. Joint statement on behalf of: Europe-Third World Centre; International Association of Democratic Lawyers; France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand; and American Association of Jurists.
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