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Human Rights Council concludes general debate on the thematic reports and promotion and protection of all human rights

04 June 2013


4 June 2013

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its general debate on the thematic reports by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Secretary-General and on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.

In the general debate, speakers raised issues concerning discrimination against women and children, especially in relation to their right to nationality and registration, the right to education, and the right to freedom of expression. In relation to the latter, some delegations said that in certain cases conscientious objection to military service ran counter to the equal application of national legislation and compromised the national defence system of smaller States. Concerns were also raised about restrictions imposed on non-governmental organizations in several parts of the world. Speakers said that provisions placed by States on funding, particularly foreign funding, for civil society actors could have an adverse effect on the progress of the human rights agenda. A series of non-governmental organizations also spoke about violations of various human rights in a number of States.

Speaking in the general debate were Russian Federation, Norway, Cuba, Iran, Lebanon, Singapore, Denmark, Iraq, Iceland, Slovakia, Mexico, Namibia, Croatia, Albania, Hungary, Togo, Council of Europe, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and Algeria.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, COC Nederland, International Service for Human Rights, Open Society Institute, Canners International Permanent Committee, Amnesty International, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Action Canada for Population and Development, Union of Arab Jurists, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Watch, Society for Threatened Peoples, European Centre for Law and Justice, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Indian Council of South America, Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale, World Barua Organization, Equality Now, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Comité International pour le Respect et l’application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, International Humanist and Ethical Union, British Humanist Association, Centre for Inquiry, World Muslim Congress, International Educational Development, International Muslim Women’s Union, Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs, World Federation of Democratic Youth, International Movement Against All forms of Discrimination and Racism, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik, France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterand, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, Liberation, International Buddhist Relief, Franciscans International, and Presse Emblème Campagne.
The general debate opened on Monday, 3 June, in the afternoon and a summary of the meeting can be found in HRC/13/68.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Egypt, China, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.

The Human Rights Council will next meet at 11.45 a.m. today to hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, followed by a presentation of reports by the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Belarus and Eritrea.
General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development

Russian Federation said that there was a broad range of human rights instruments available to States today, including those promoted by civil society. Russia believed the Human Rights Council must denounce double-standards and confrontation in furthering the human rights agenda. In Sochi next year, Russia would host the Winter Olympic Games, which it believed was an important opportunity to promote human rights through sport.

Norway said it supported the work of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of association and assembly, and welcomed his latest report on the protection of human rights defenders and civil society actors with respect to their funding sources. Restrictions placed by States on funding, particularly foreign funding, could have an adverse effect on the progress of the human rights agenda.

Cuba said that there was no right to conscientious objection to military service and it did not agree with the Special Rapporteur on this topic. The defence of States was an obligation of citizens. However, in Cuba there were alternatives to military service and exemption from bearing arms, though not from service itself, was allowed on religious grounds.

Iran said that there should be a holistic approach to human rights, the realization of which deserved closer attention from the Council. Iran was pleased that the right to development had been incorporated into the work of the United Nations, but said that much work remained to be done in that area. A legally binding framework at the international level was needed to ensure the right to development.

Lebanon said that the conclusions of the thematic reports could serve as a source of inspiration for further work. Lebanon had created a Ministry to look into all requests made by civil society on nationality and a new bill on nationality had been proposed in June 2012. Lebanon affirmed the importance it attached to women’s rights and empowerment, and said that it was amending its legislation to remove barriers which may slow down the process of reform.

Singapore said that it did not recognize conscientious objection to military service. Exercise of the right to freedom by individuals was subject to the general good of society and public order. In cases where the State needed to establish public order and security, the laws of the State had to prevail. In Singapore, citizens were required to serve in the military regardless of ethnicity.

Denmark said the strong focus on women’s rights at this session was welcome; it was regrettable that in the twenty-first century, empowering women and the link between women’s rights and human rights still had to be made. As the matter slowly climbed the ladder of world attention, violence against women remained at the foot of the ladder. The Council had an obligation to help it get off the first rung.

Iraq said that some non-governmental organizations had distributed a document about the judiciary in Iraq that was wholly misplaced and failed to take into account the current attacks by terrorists in the country. The justice system in Iraq was free, fair and independent. The rights of the victims of terrorism had to be taken into account.

Iceland shared the deep concern over the violence in Syria and asked for the right to safe passage for humanitarian actors to Syria. It highlighted the plight of women and girls in Syria and backed the deliberations of the Council in its consideration of gender-based discrimination, particularly the annual full day of discussion on women’s rights to take place tomorrow.
Slovakia said that the right to nationality was important and should be carried out in compliance with the right to non-discrimination. Women were vulnerable to becoming victims of multiple discrimination, including in relation to their right to nationality. National legislation had to follow the best interest of the child, whether born in or out of wedlock, to avoid discrimination. Closer cooperation between regional human rights mechanisms was needed.

Mexico said that it had been actively promoting the right to identity and legal nationality of every individual and had submitted a resolution on registration. Mexico had also promoted accessibility to registration and identity, encouraging all States in the American region to take steps in that direction. Mexico underlined that without an identity citizens were denied access to education, housing and healthcare, and so equality of rights was compromised.

Namibia said that it called upon all countries which had not provided the right to education in their legal framework to incorporate that right in their legislation. In Namibia the right to education was respected and free education was provided in accordance with international treaties and norms. Namibia reiterated its call for the immediate and unconditional lift of the embargo which had been illegally imposed on the people of Cuba and violated their human rights.

Croatia was pleased to have read that there had been significant legal developments in recognition of conscientious objection to military service at the regional and international level. However, it was concerned to read about reports of repeated trial or punishment as well as of ill treatment of unrecognized conscientious objectors.

Albania said that women’s rights were one of the most important human rights issues on Albania’s human rights agenda. It attached great importance to women, not only by enriching its legislation but also by taking concrete and firm steps to protect and enhance women’s rights. Albania had put strong emphasis on the issue of education of women and it was proud that two thirds of all graduates from public universities in the country were women.

Hungary said that in the months following the first dialogue with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that took place in September last year, the comprehensive revision of Act XXVI of 1998 on the rights and equal opportunities of persons with disabilities had taken place, in consultation with civil society and this was based on the concluding observations of the Committee.

Togo said it had deleted any discriminatory statutes with regard to women and nationality from its constitution; all children born in Togo were given Togolese citizenship and women who obtained Togolese nationality through marriage retained it even after divorce.

Council of Europe said linguistic rights were only effective if they were exercised in the public sphere and the Council of Europe had reaffirmed the protection of minority language rights through its instruments. It encouraged States to adopt laws to recognize and protect minority languages.

United Nations Children's Fund, in a joint statement with the World Health Organization, welcomed the day of discussion on women’s rights at the Council and said it was timely due to the health effects, namely child mortality, of the suppression of women’s rights. The annual deaths of millions of children and adolescents were not just a health emergency but a human rights issue worthy of attention from the Council.

Algeria said that it was intensifying efforts to ensure the right to peace, and welcomed the draft declaration on the right to peace. It pointed out that the scope of that right in recent years had been altered and affected by the global financial crisis and its consequences. Algeria paid close attention to the right to self-determination, but there were obstacles to the realization of that right by some peoples due to foreign domination.

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said that the work on sexual orientation and identity carried out by the United Nations was important, but violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons was systematic and ongoing, so further collective action was needed in this area.

COC Nederland said that a comprehensive system of healthcare should be available to everyone without discrimination. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons often experienced barriers to accessing adequate healthcare, which severely compromised the enjoyment of their fundamental right to health.

International Service for Human Rights said that in 2012 the High Commissioner presented a report that found that violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were extensive, systemic and took place all over the globe. Many Member States had still failed to take action. It was important that the issue remained clearly on the agenda of the Human Rights Council.

Open Society Institute said that discrimination and access to nationality was one of the main causes of statelessness and disproportionately affected women and children. The report offered a set of recommendations that would hopefully be useful. States needed to do more than remove discriminatory laws and policies.

Canners International Permanent Committee said that in Pakistan violence in the streets had become a way of life, as could be seen during the election, and there was also extremist religious violence in the country. It was incumbent on Pakistan’s polity and non-governmental organization community to support the Baloch quest for self determination.

Amnesty International regretted that some States were uncooperative with the instruments of the Human Rights Council such as the refusal by Bahrain to allow the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit it among allegations of human rights abuses. Selective cooperation was unwelcome.

International Fellowship of Reconciliation said it welcomed developments in the issue of conscientious objection to military service made by the Council and criticized Armenia and the United States for the prosecution of conscientious objectors.

Action Canada for Population and Development said that the gender composition of national human rights institutions needed attention under the Paris Principles. National human rights institutions needed to mainstream gender equality.

Union of Arab Jurists said that in Iraq citizens protested about the violation of their rights through peaceful demonstrations which, however, were broken up by the use of force. The Council should look closely into the attacks on demonstrators in Iraq and put an end to the situation.

CIVICUS said that growing violence in several regions of the world, including countries of the European Union, was worrying. Guantanamo detention centre should close down. Laws restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly were unacceptable.

Human Rights Watch said that it was extremely concerned about restrictions on non-governmental organizations, particularly in relation to their access to funding. Ethiopia banned international organizations from carrying out their work, and the Russian Federation imposed restrictions on civil society organizations.

Society for Threatened Peoples said that the convergence of cultures via mutual respect and promotion of cultural diversity could create a synergy by which society as a whole developed steadfast respect for the fundamental human rights of each individual. However, this mutual respect for other cultures was not realised for many, especially minorities and indigenous peoples.

European Centre for Law and Justice said that for nearly a year Iran had tried to silence Saeed Abedini through illegal imprisonment, torture, and threats against his family, for having exercised his rights of religious freedom, expression and peaceful assembly. Without a fair trial, the court had sentenced him to eight years.

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said that human rights violations in Ethiopia were gross. The Government had continued the systematic restriction of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression. Terrorist activities were vaguely defined in the 2009 terrorism proclamation. Today, media practitioners faced charges such as treason and terrorism.

International Association of Democratic Lawyers said the protection of the right to freedom of assembly was an obligation of States; however some States were ignoring their obligations with the latest case being Turkey where violence was being perpetrated on peaceful demonstrators.

Indian Council of South America said that the rights of indigenous peoples were not being protected by international instruments; Bolivia was guilty of passing laws to circumvent its obligations. Agreements with puppet governments and institutions could not stand under international law and threatened the rights of indigenous peoples.

Organization pour le Communication en Afrique said human rights flowed from the right to citizenship and refugees in Western Sahara were under special pressure, especially women and children, since they had for many years remained unrecognized and subjected to violence.

World Barua Organization said that the north-eastern region of India was the setting of conflicts due to complex political and economic issues, which undermined the idea of India as a prosperous and functioning democracy. The Council should impress upon India to acknowledge the will of the people of the north east.

Equality Now said that Member States should review implementation of all associated regulations and processes to ensure that wider discrimination did not impact on the ability of women to pass their nationality freely to their children and husbands in practice. Member States should remove all discrimination with respect to nationality.

Organization for Defending Victims of Violence said that the majority of United Nations declarations and resolutions stressed the importance of the realization of human rights. The Council must consider commissioning a study on the influence of sanctions on the violation of human rights and the prevention of access to development.

Comité International pour le Respect et l’Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples said that persons displaced by armed conflict had to enjoy the right of free movement. It was concerned about the situation in the Polisario camps, where entire generations had been condemned to pass their lives in prison camps where they experienced all forms of human rights violations.

International Humanist and Ethical Union called upon the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to utterly condemn public executions and physical mutilations of anyone, to demand the abolition of the non-existent crime of witchcraft, and to insist that the death penalty be imposed only after due process in which the defendant had been properly represented.

British Humanist Association urged the Human Rights Council to make it clear that legal and administrative obstacles that restricted access to contraception and that denied a woman’s right to an abortion, especially after being raped or when her life was at risk, were utterly abhorrent to it.

Centre of Inquiry said the brutal tide of “honour killings” had to be stemmed and States could no longer offer legal or cultural protection for those guilty of perpetrating such violence against women. A culture of impunity had to end.

World Muslim Congress said the right to life was fundamental and that the Government of India had rejected calls to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings in Kashmir and other places and it was time for the Human Rights Council to encourage India to act.

International Education Development, Inc. said that Namibia was one of the few African countries to alleviate crushing child poverty and other countries in Africa were urged to develop similar programmes. The attention of the Council to “killer robots” was also welcome.

International Muslim Women’s Union said that women in India remained vulnerable and were too frequently victims of lethal violence, including sexual violence and several other forms of violence. India should repeal immediately laws which were contrary to international standards and allowed human rights violations.

Action Internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la region des Grands Lacs said that Morocco had made progress in the promotion and protection of the rights of women, and there were now women Members of Parliament and heads of companies. Nevertheless, women and girls were still subject to torture, violence, and other human rights violations, especially in the south of the country.

World Federation of Democratic Youth said that it was alarmed about the situation of human rights in Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation. The rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and association were being violated. The Council should pay serious attention to the situation and should investigate the human rights situation in the region.

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism said that it collectively and strongly welcomed the call from the Special Procedures for the strengthening of protection for victims of cast-based discrimination, which remained widespread and deeply rooted and the level of impunity was very high. It urged all Governments of countries concerned to address the situation.

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy said that all people had the right to self determination. Reference was made to a past incident where hundreds of thousands of Sikhs were butchered in India, simply because they were not Hindu. However the courts had acquitted the mastermind of the massive killing. Where should citizens go for justice?

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik with reference to the right of free and fair elections said that on June 14 2003, Iran had once again conducted unfair elections that were not free, and women had been barred from participating in these elections. Increasingly numerous parties and groups in Iran were being prevented from any public activity. Two presidential candidates from 2009 were in still under house arrest.

France Liberties and Danielle Mitterand Foundation expressed concern over restrictions of freedom of association in Western Sahara. They called for the Human Rights Council to suspend Morocco’s participation in its activities.

International Human Rights Association of American Minorities said that the army of India stood accused of extrajudicial killings in Kashmir and the Indian Government had to stand up to its commitment to investigate this.

Liberation said that all people had the right to self-determination and seven states of north-east India had not enjoyed this right since independence from the United Kingdom. A “colonial Indian mindset” resulted in human rights abuses in the region and the Council should send a fact-finding mission to the area.

International Buddhist Relief said that caste-based violations of human rights and discrimination on the basis of descent in India affected 250 million Dalit persons who were a minority by virtue of being an excluded community. The Council should call upon India to end its structural discrimination against the Dalits.

Franciscans International said that in Papua, Indonesia, the right to freedom of expression was under threat. Indonesia repeatedly denied the existence of political prisoners in Papua, contrary to reality, and the suppression of political protest in the region only fuelled existing resentment. Indonesia should release all Papuan political prisoners.

Presse Emblème Campagne said that journalists were vulnerable because of their reliance on online communication. During the ongoing civil war in Syria, technological means were being used to localize and target journalists. Internationally binding rules were needed to protect journalists and media workers.

Right of Reply

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply with regards to a statement made by Azerbaijan, said that the delegation had tried to orient the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health by its subjective opinion, presenting it as an accepted terminology, raising territorial issues and once again misleading the international community. Instead of creating new terms or expression it was necessary to use existing terminology from United Nations documents concerning the usage of the name of territorial entities. The Council was not the proper forum to discuss political and territorial issues.

Egypt, speaking in a right of reply, referred to the statements made by Ireland on behalf of the European Union and by the United States. It reiterated the President’s signing of the hosting agreement of the Regional Office of the High Commissioner for Northern Africa, and that this was an expression of Egypt reaching out to the international system of human rights. Egypt was taken aback by the statement on the debate on the Bill of Law in Egypt. The debate was a purely internal affair and was taking place with society-wide consultations. It was premature and unwise to prejudge the results of the debate.

China, speaking in a right of reply, said that it was opposed to the wrongful and unsubstantiated statement delivered by the Society for Threatened Peoples. The Chinese Constitution and laws clearly provided all of its citizens with the full right to freedom of expression. Of course citizens had to abide by law and were subject to criminal responsibilities, as was the practice in other countries in the world.

Ethiopia, speaking in a right of reply, said that allegations made against it in previous statements were unfounded. Ethiopia guaranteed the realization of the right to freedom of association as enshrined in its Constitution and as enshrined in international law. Ethiopia’s Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism of 2009 was promulgated after extensive reviews and was based on best practices; it promoted the right of people to live in freedom and security. Its objective was to fight terrorism in all its forms and it was being applied for this sole purpose.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply, responding to the statement by Armenia, reminded the delegation that several Security Council resolutions and General Assembly resolutions clearly mentioned the Nagorno Karabach region as part of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan referred to further resolutions on the need for a strategy for the south Caucus and that reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Armenia, speaking in a second right of reply, reminded the delegation of Azerbaijan that there had been about 20 years of negotiations on a peace settlement in Nagorno Karabach and that it was unacceptable of Azerbaijan to dispute agreed terminology in United Nations documents and procedures.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a second right of reply, said that because the Human Rights Council was a United Nations body Armenia must respect the appropriate terminology in its references to the Nagorno Karabach matter. 

For use of the information media; not an official record