Skip to main content

Press releases Human Rights Council

Human Rights Council opens thirty-second session, hears an update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

HRC opens 32nd session

13 June 2016

High-level Dignitaries from Switzerland, Viet Nam and Azerbaijan address the Council 

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its thirty-second regular session, hearing an address by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in which he updated the Council on the activities of his Office.  The Council also heard from Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, who spoke on behalf of the host country, Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of Viet Nam, and Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan.

Opening the session, Choi Kyong-lim, President of the Human Rights Council, stressed that those responsible for the despicable terrorist attacks in Orlando, Damascus, Halgan, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and elsewhere had to be held accountable.  To commemorate its tenth anniversary, the Human Rights Council would hold a high-level panel this afternoon.  This session, for the first time, all 193 United Nations Member States were present.  Mr. Kyong-lim briefed delegates on the action taken on the reported threat against a non-governmental organization representative during the thirty-first session of the Council, and called for extreme vigilance against reprisals, on or off-line.

In his remarks on behalf of the host country, Mr. Burkhalter said that for the past 10 years, the Human Rights Council had become an instrument to react to any crisis around the world.  It had proven to be highly responsive to human rights violations and to tackling new issues resulting from societal change.  Despite the efforts, 10 years had not been enough to significantly advance the respect for human rights: human rights violations continued to be a widespread reality, especially in fragile contexts and in failing or authoritarian States.  That was why, for the next 10 years, the Council would have to be able not only to respond but to anticipate and prevent human rights crises.

In his oral update to the Council, High Commissioner Zeid stressed that the non-cooperation by some Governments would not result in the Office remaining silent in its scrutiny of their human rights situation and he urged every State to fully comply with international human right norms, particularly in situations of conflict.  Refugee law must also be respected, especially the principle of non-refoulement, and the countries of Europe had to find a way to address the current migration crisis in a manner that respected human rights, including in the context of the European Union-Turkey agreement.  He expressed his concern about the increase in the detention of migrants in Europe, including in “hotspots” in Greece and Italy, to which even unaccompanied children were frequently subjected, and deplored the widespread anti-migrant rhetoric in some European countries.  Another great concern was the narrowing of democratic space in many countries around the globe.

High Commissioner Zeid spoke of concerns about the situation in Turkey, South Caucasus, Hungary, Poland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, Mozambique, Gambia, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Latin America, El Salvador, Venezuela, Argentina, the United States, and about Afro-descendent representation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The High Commissioner also welcomed developments in Azerbaijan, Mauritania, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Myanmar, Guatemala, Malawi and Tanzania.

Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of Viet Nam and Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan also addressed the Council.

In the general debate on the High Commissioner’s update, delegates recognized the enormous challenges in the world today, and stressed that more effort and resolution were needed to address terrorism, migration, and climate change, among others.  Speakers urged the recognition of the right to development as a stand-alone right, warned against the danger of dissolving it in the notion of mainstreaming, and said that the Agenda 2030 was a crucial tool to address exclusion and social inequalities in many countries.   Speakers also were concerned about the human rights situation in a number of countries.  Several delegates stressed the need for an adequate approval of the High Commissioner’s Change Initiative by the Fifth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, while others urged the High Commissioner to maintain his independence, despite the pressure.

Speaking were Morocco on behalf of the International Organization of la Francophonie, Iran on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Netherlands on behalf of the European Union, the Netherlands on behalf of a group of States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Egypt on behalf of a Like-Minded Group, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Qatar, Cuba, Germany, Ecuador, Switzerland, Ethiopia, France, Maldives, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Belgium, Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Namibia, Georgia, United Kingdom, China, Portugal, India, Morocco, Venezuela, Botswana, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ghana, Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Thailand, Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Turkey, Norway, Sierra Leone, Kuwait, Japan, Armenia and the United States. 

Armenia spoke in right of reply

The Council will resume at 3 p.m., to hold a high-level panel on the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council.

Opening Statement by the President of the Council

CHOI KYONG-LIM, President of the Human Rights Council, opening the session, said that the Council was meeting in the wake of despicable terrorist attacks in the cities of Orlando, Damascus, Halgan, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and elsewhere.  He extended his condolences to the families of the victims, and insisted that those responsible had to be held accountable.  The Council had a busy three weeks ahead of it. This afternoon, the Council would hold a high-level panel in commemoration of its tenth anniversary.  He also informed that representatives from 16 Member States that did not have a permanent mission in Geneva would be present at this session, which would therefore have universal participation for the first time.

The President said he would continue following up on all allegations that were brought to his attention of acts of reprisal and intimidation that were carried out in connection with the Human Rights Council, its mechanism and procedures.  Acts of intimidation and reprisal were taking different shapes.  Nowadays, platforms of social media, including Twitter, were widely used by all concerned, including Human Rights Council participants.  Unfortunately, they may also be misused as a means of attacking and threatening human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations (NGO) or the Council’s Special Procedures mandate-holders. It had been brought to his attention that during the thirty-first session, a member of a national delegation had misused social media to deliver a message that could be construed as a serious threat against an NGO representative attending the session.  That was completely unacceptable and should be denounced in the strongest terms.  He called on everyone to be extremely vigilant, in all cases of potential reprisals, on-line or off-line, adding that social media should be used to promote and protect human rights and not the opposite.

Statement by the Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland

DIDIER BURKHALTER, Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the host country, condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Orlando, United States, and extended sympathy to families of the victims.  The Human Rights Council was 10 years old and it was now time to give it a new dimension and to listen to it more carefully.  That was why Switzerland had decided to launch today, June 13, an appeal to the international community to strengthen the links between human rights, development and peace and security and call for the bringing of those pillars of the United Nations closer together.  Switzerland had welcomed the first session of the Council 10 years ago because its creation had revitalized the work of the United Nations on human rights.  The Council had become an instrument which was ready to react to any crisis around the world; its Universal Periodic Review had become a driving force for the improvement and advancement of human rights on a universal scale, while the Special Procedures had become the Council’s eyes and ears. 

Over the past 10 years, the Council had proven to be highly responsive to human rights violations and to tackling new issues resulting from societal change, but despite the efforts, 10 years had not been enough to significantly advance the respect for human rights: human rights violations continued to be a widespread reality, especially in fragile contexts and in failing or authoritarian States.  The most egregious human rights violations often happened in situations of armed conflict and that was why, for the next 10 years, the Council would have to be able not only to respond but to anticipate and prevent human rights crises.  Human rights violations and lack of guarantees for fundamental freedoms for all individuals were indicators that peace and security were at risk.  In order to strengthen the Council’s impact in the field, Switzerland, supported by 61 States – was launching today an appeal to strengthen the links between the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, to strengthen conflict prevention through a better use of available information, and to put human beings at the centre of all United Nations efforts, in particular activities related to conflict prevention.  The challenge for the next decade consisted of increasing the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and there was potential for progress everywhere, be it in Geneva, New York or in the field.  Armed conflict continued to cause untold human suffering, which could only be reduced by a common will and a common responsibility assumed by nations that stood genuinely united.

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA'AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that his Office’s scrutiny aimed at assisting States in improving their protection of human rights.  He much regretted non-cooperation by some Governments, which would not result in the Office remaining silent, but would on the contrary create a presumption of major violations, and may deprive local and national actors of the opportunity to explain and provide information about events.  In every situation of conflict, the principles of distinction, proportionality, precaution and necessity must be strictly observed, he said, urging every State to fully comply with international human right norms.  All political detainees should be released, independent national institutions and civil society organizations must be free to raise their voice, and freedoms of expression, assembly and association must be respected.  The actions of the police, security forces and all other agents of the State must be in line with relevant human rights obligations and minimum standards.  Economic, social and cultural rights were vital, and their respect must include equitable access to resources, services and opportunities.

Refugee law must also be respected, the High Commissioner noted, especially the principle of non-refoulement.  The only sustainable way to resolve today’s movements of people would be to improve human rights in countries of origin.  But meanwhile, the countries of Europe had to find a way to address the current migration crisis in a manner that respected human rights, including in the context of the European Union-Turkey agreement.  He expressed concern about the worrying increase in the detention of migrants in Europe, including in the “hotspots” – essentially vast mandatory confinement areas in Greece and Italy.  Even unaccompanied children were frequently placed in prison cells or centres ringed with barbed wire, which was never in the best interests of the child.  He strongly recommended the comprehensive collection of data by the European Union on the detention of migrants in all Member States, and deplored the widespread anti-migrant rhetoric there. 

The High Commissioner said he was alarmed by widespread destruction in south-east Turkey due to the use of heavy weapons, and remained acutely concerned about the harassment of civil society organizations and journalists.  He also expressed concerns about allegations of violations of international law in the South Caucasus, and called for significant efforts to address the situation of displaced persons.  In several countries of central and south-eastern Europe, including Hungary, Poland and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, he was concerned by challenges to the independence of the rule of law institutions, and by narrowing democratic space, including multiple cases of harassment or persecution of journalists.  He welcomed the recent release of civil society actors and journalists in Azerbaijan, and invited authorities to undertake meaningful steps towards widening space for civil society and safeguarding freedom of expression.  In the Russian Federation, more than 90 non-governmental organizations were now listed as "foreign agents”, he regretted, urging the authorities to amend the legislation in line with their international human rights obligations.  In Ukraine, he expressed concerns about the increasing violations to the ceasefire and the presence of heavy weaponry on both sides of the contact line.  Only full implementation of the Minsk Agreements by all parties could protect civilians and restore hope for a lasting peace. 

The disaster of Syria continued to deepen, High Commissioner Zeid noted, regretting the failure by decision-makers to take decisive action to end this conflict.  The serious and systematic crimes that were being inflicted daily on the people of Syria profoundly dishonoured all those responsible.  In Iraq, he was concerned about the situation of tens of thousands of civilians who currently remained trapped inside Fallujah, and urged the authorities to take immediate steps to redress the situation regarding people fleeing the outskirts of the city.  He was also profoundly concerned about the suffering of the people of Yemen, and strongly urged all parties to the conflict to abide by their international obligations, in particular concerning the protection of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid.  Tensions remained high across the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Israel, he noted, deploring violence against civilians on both sides.  The excessive use of force and the administrative detention of Palestinians without trial by the Israeli authorities were causes for concern.

Many migrants in Libya were being subjected to arbitrary detention; unlawful killings; torture and sexual violence; and abduction for ransom.  All cooperation measures between the European Union and Libyan authorities had to fully respect human rights.  High Commissioner Zeid remained concerned about the constant harassment of civil society organizations and human rights defenders, excessive use of force by security forces, and arbitrary arrests and detention in Egypt, and urged the authorities to reflect on the long-term implications of their policies.  With regard to Bahrain, he expressed concerns about severe restrictions on freedom of expression, which would not eliminate the people’s grievances, but rather increase them. 

The High Commissioner then welcomed considerable progress by Mauritania on the issue of slavery.  Condemning new waves of attacks by violent extremist groups in Mali, he insisted that all security forces should conduct counter-terrorism operations in line with international human rights standards.  Killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests by agents of the State or associated militia continued in Burundi, he said, expressing concern that some killings may be ethnic-based and condemning deeply disturbing allegations of ethnic-based hate speech against Tutsis by the Imbonerakure militia.  Calling for a clear and determined commitment to hold perpetrators of human rights violations in South Sudan to account, High Commissioner Zeid encouraged the prompt establishment of the hybrid criminal court.  In Sudan, the ongoing conflict continued to result in serious violations and large-scale displacement of civilians, he said, calling on the Government to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution processes laid out in the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, as well as with the work of the International Criminal Court. 

The peaceful transfer of power to the Central African Republic's newly elected President was an important milestone, he considered, encouraging steps towards the disarmament of armed groups, the protection of civilians and an end to impunity.  Regretting the resumption of armed confrontation in Mozambique, the High Commissioner urged the Government to do its utmost to hold perpetrators of alleged human rights violations to account, and to address the corruption that deprived so many of their economic and social rights.  Gambia's President had reportedly made statements which may constitute incitement to violence, he said, calling him to unreservedly guarantee the rights of all the people of the Gambia.  In the Republic of Congo, the High Commissioner was concerned about recent reports of human rights violations in the Pool region.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there had been a sharp reduction in the democratic space since the changes to the electoral law of January 2015.  All Congolese had a right to participate in the public affairs of their country, he insisted.  He was also concerned about heightened tension in Kenya, and urged the authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly and to investigate and prosecute the use of excessive force.  He then referred to findings by the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea that widespread, systematic and continuing crimes against humanity had been committed since 1991, and encouraged the Government to continue releasing political prisoners.  He welcomed Nigeria’s progress in addressing insecurity linked to the operations of Boko Haram, and encouraged it to address issues highlighted by militancy in the Niger Delta, including dislocation and environmental damage resulting from business activity. 

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan continued to rise and almost one third of the victims were children.  Serious human rights violations persisted in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was working to implement Resolution 31/18 and establish a group of independent experts, in order to recommend mechanisms for accountability, truth and justice for the victims of possible crimes against humanity.  High Commissioner Zeid expressed his serious concern about the dramatically increased number of brutal murders in Bangladesh that targeted freethinkers, liberals, religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.  He was concerned about the detention, interrogation and harassment of lawyers, Government critics and non-governmental organization workers in China.  Recent arrests of opposition members, officials of the National Election Committee and members of civil society in Cambodia indicated a drastic and deplorable narrowing of the democratic space.  The democratic space was also shrinking in the Maldives, where recent events, and the application of terrorism-related charges against opposition leaders, once again raised significant fair trial issues. 

In Thailand, the High Commissioner said the authorities had scheduled a referendum in August so that the public could determine whether or not to support the draft constitution, but the dialogue on the topic was limited and those who critically commented on the draft constitution had been detained and charged with sedition.  The people of the Philippines had the right to the rule of law and the High Commissioner reminded the incoming President of his obligations under international law, including to protect the people from extra-judicial assassination and violence.  High Commissioner Zeid welcomed the announcement that the use of excessive violence by the police against protesters in Papua New Guinea would be investigated.  The efforts of Sri Lanka to implement its commitments in Resolution 30/1 would require a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice that enabled it to pursue different processes in a coordinated, integrated and appropriately sequenced manner.  The formation of a civilian Government of Myanmar in March represented a watershed moment in the continuing transition to democracy; complex and wide-ranging human rights challenges remained, but they were not intractable and the High Commissioner pledged the support of his Office to support the Government in addressing them.

Turning to the human rights issues in Latin America, High Commissioner Zeid expressed alarm about the financial crisis facing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and called on Member States from the Americas to come out in defence of their regional human rights system through regular financial contributions.  The High Commissioner shared the concern of many regarding the very high incidence of gun violence and gun-related deaths across the Americas, the highest in the world, linked to organised criminal gangs, which drove corruption of the judiciary and other institutions.  Violence in El Salvador had risen steadily; last year, this country had by far the highest murder rate of any country in the world not at war and such pervasive violence forced thousands of people to migrate, including unaccompanied children who feared they would be killed if they refused to enrol in gangs.  The High Commissioner urged firm action to increase public security in all the affected countries, with a focus on the respect of human rights and on strengthening the capacity of rule of law institutions. 

Regarding the situation in Venezuela, the High Commissioner said his Office shared many of the concerns of the Organization of American States, as well as the conviction that a solution to the current critical situation could not be imposed from outside but must come from Venezuelans.   The launch of a national dialogue on justice reform in Guatemala would hopefully be a decisive turning point in the fight against impunity and corruption, and would result in comprehensive reform to guarantee a fully independent and effective judiciary.  In Haiti, the High Commissioner took note of the Verification and Evaluation Commission’s recent report and invited all actors to work together to ensure a swift return to constitutional order.  He welcomed the landmark of accountability in Argentina and the historic ruling which had found 14 former military officials guilty of crimes and human rights violations, including torture.  The greatest threat to the dividends of peace in Colombia was the risk that violence and human rights violations would be generated by struggles for control of illicit coco growing and illegal mining, following demobilisation.

Many African Americans still struggled to achieve their rights to full equality in the United States of America, especially the poor.  There was a need for much more action to address structural racial discrimination in the country, and accountability and justice must be upheld in cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials.  The continuing low political representation of Afro-descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean continued to be of concern and the High Commissioner urged States to take action to reflect the diversity of their population in decision making bodies, including consideration of affirmative action policies.  The state of implementation of resolution 68/268 on treaty body strengthening was globally positive and the system was already making strides towards greater efficiency and effectiveness, as attested by the notable increase in State party reviews, examinations of individual communications and field visits.  As the world had learned from Ebola, major health emergencies were also human rights crises; the Zika epidemic continued to grow, with 60 countries worldwide now reporting cases, so there was an urgent need for a strong preventive and human rights-based approach in every one of those countries, as well as regionally and globally. 

High Commissioner Zeid recalled that today was International Albinism Awareness Day and he welcomed the adoption of a plan of action to address attacks against persons with albinism in Malawi, and the appointment, for the first time, of a person with albinism as a Deputy Minister in Tanzania.  The gruesome suffering that was inflicted on people with albinism would require much greater focus and support from many actors.  In closing, the High Commissioner stressed that conflict could be prevented, and peace, security and development could be strengthened or rebuilt, brick by brick.  Respect for human rights offered States a path towards greater stability, not less, and assistance in establishing that path was what the Office offered.

Statements by the Vice President of Viet Nam and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan

DANG THI NGOC THINH, Vice President of Viet Nam, said that the Human Rights Council’s biggest achievement was its successful promotion of dialogue and cooperation, particularly through the Universal Periodic Review.  Having twice presented reports to the mechanism, Viet Nam was well aware of its positive contributions, particularly in raising awareness on human rights, and Viet Nam would undertake a Masterplan to implement the accepted recommendations.  The number of burning issues facing the world and affecting the enjoyment of human rights demanded that the international community focus on dialogue and collaboration.  The Council was expected to give due attention to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development because of the close correlation between sustainable development and human rights protection. 
In Viet Nam, as a result of climate change, people’s livelihoods in central regions had been seriously impaired by drought and salinization, and given the urgency of the situation, Viet Nam, with members of the core group, would introduce a resolution on climate change and human rights.   Viet Nam would do its best to protect the fundamental rights of its people.  Turning to domestic achievements, she noted that during her country’s 15 years of implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, economic growth had not been the only focus: the poverty rate had been significantly lowered, primary education had been universalized, and there had been significant reductions of child and maternal mortality rates.  Much, however, remained to be done in the next 15 years to ensure the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.  It was thus critical to mobilize all resources for development.  Viet Nam was developing an action plan to implement those goals, and would work collaboratively to ensure that the 2030 Agenda was truly people-centred.  Viet Nam remained firmly committed to the key principles of the Council – protection and promotion of human rights worldwide.

MAHMUD MAMMAD-GULIYEV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, said that ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights had become one of the priorities of the State policy of Azerbaijan.  Legislative and juridical authorities had undertaken relevant steps in that regard.  Azerbaijan attached particular importance to cooperation with the Human Rights Council.  Azerbaijan closely cooperated with the United Nations human rights treaty bodies, regularly submitting reports on measures taken to implement the rights and freedoms stipulated in the relevant international instruments.  Special Procedures mandate holders had a standing invitation to visit Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan also attached importance to the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review, to which it had voluntarily submitted a mid-term report.  Growing intolerance was one of the negative trends of a contemporary world.  Azerbaijan, located at the crossroads of the East and the West, acted as an intercultural bridge between civilizations.  The Seventh Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations had taken place in Baku recently, adopting the Baku Declaration, which would serve as a guideline for States and international organizations in the promotion of intercultural dialogue and multiculturalism.  The establishment and successful functioning of the State Agency for Services to Citizens and Social Innovations helped promote good governance and fight against corruption.

The ongoing armed conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan had included ethnic cleansing by Armenia of more than one million Azerbaijanis living in those occupied territories.  As a result, Azerbaijan hosted one of the largest communities of internally displaced persons and refugees in the world per capita.  The conflict could be resolved only by ensuring full respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within its internationally recognized borders.  The Human Rights Council and its special mechanisms should play an increased role in the restoration of the violated human rights of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons.

General Debate on the Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Morocco, speaking on behalf of the International Organization of La Francophonie, welcomed the progress made on the reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire, which was encouraged to take further steps on the protection of human rights, primarily by reinforcing its national institutions.  The Organization of La Francophonie also welcomed the reintegration of the Central African Republic in the Organization, following the successful conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections.  Human rights continued to be violated in Burundi, whose authorities and other parties were asked to preserve the Arusha Agreement.

Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, strongly condemned acts of terrorism perpetrated by ISIS.  The Non-Aligned Movement also condemned violations against the Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities.  It was important to bear in mind States’ historical contexts while addressing human rights issues.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should address all human rights issues, including economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development.  The Non-Aligned Movement urged all States to refrain from imposing unilateral coercive measures, which were a violation of human rights. 

Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the vital contribution of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the work of the Council, and supported its independence and impartiality while calling for additional financial support.  The European Union paid tribute to the work of human rights defenders, and presented a new initiative to protect these vulnerable people.  The European Union was concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine and the illegally-annexed Crimea.  The European Union was facing a major challenge in responding to unprecedented migratory flows and remained steadfast in its commitment to guaranteeing the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement. 

Netherlands, speaking on behalf of a cross-regional group of countries, regretted that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to deteriorate in the wake of the electoral process, including sexual violence and shrinking of democratic space.  The group of countries called for the respect of human rights, the preservation of the independence of the judiciary, and the establishment of political dialogue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The group called on the Government and other stakeholders to ensure free, transparent and inclusive elections.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, condemned in the strongest terms all acts of terrorism, including by Daesh.  The international community was committed to implementing the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 in which the Council had a crucial role to play, in particular through strengthening the respect of all economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development which must be recognized as a separate right and not disappear in the notion of mainstreaming.  The Council must have a comprehensive dialogue about the High Commissioner’s Change Initiative and must be provided with information about the origin of all contributions to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with all necessary detail.  

Egypt, speaking on behalf of a Like-Minded Group, said that the High Commissioner should always be focused on the promotion and protection of human rights, including though non-selectivity, non-politicization and cultural diversity.  The Change Initiative seemed to have significant substantive implications in the management and operation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, hence the approval of the Fifth Committee was a necessary prerequisite for the implementation of the Initiative, which had already started at the Headquarters level.  The High Commissioner should consider the implication for all Member States in the elaboration of the management plan and operational priorities.

South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, reiterated their support for the work of the High Commissioner and said that earlier circulation of his update would be beneficial to the debate.  The recognition that human rights were universal and indivisible should be reflected in the output of the Office,  particularly in the more balanced and visible allocation of resources and support.  The repeated tragedies of migrants perishing in the Mediterranean in search for a better life were a stark reminder that more urgent attention should be paid to their plight.  Terrorism was another crucial issue that required the attention of the High Commissioner and his Office.

Qatar called upon the Office, within the framework of its activities, to avoid issues that did not enjoy consensus by States and were not part  of international commitments to human rights, and expressed concern about movements aimed at forcing such issues on the agenda of the Council and the Office.  Qatar reiterated that the Palestinian cause was a central cause, whose resolution was necessary for progress in the Middle East.  All crimes perpetrated in Syria were condemned.  The Yemen peace negotiations had to be supported.

Cuba stated that, since the creation of the Council, much progress had been made on the promotion and protection of human rights, but more needed to be done to prevent the politicization of that body.  Cuba informed that persons of African descent were adequately represented in the governing structure in Cuba.  Cuba firmly backed the efforts of President Maduro to preserve peace and democratic institutions.  Cuba asked that further actions be taken to ensure a more balanced geographic composition of the Office.

Germany greatly appreciated the High Commissioner’s frank assessment of human rights issues around the world.  Germany believed in the importance of prevention when it came to the protection of human rights.  Human rights should thus be put at the heart of conflict prevention.  Germany would continue to work towards ensuring that the voice of civil society was heard.  Germany enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Office and was looking forward to further expanding that cooperation. 

Ecuador expressed support for the objective and independent work of the High Commissioner and his Office and said that it was important to avoid selectivity, politicization and double standards.  Ecuador underscored the importance of ensuring the rights based approach to the issue of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in different European countries, and the importance of the Agenda 2030 as a tool to address exploitation and social exclusion in many societies.

Switzerland stressed the crucial role of civil society in democracy and shared the High Commissioner’s concern about the reduced space for their operations.  Of concern were also the ever-growing restriction of the right to freedom of association in Russia, arbitrary arrests and judgements against civil society representatives in Bahrain, and the recent adoption of the law in Cambodia which restricted the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful demonstrations.  Switzerland called upon Egypt to decriminalize the freedom of expression and free those imprisoned for exercising this right.

Ethiopia said that climate change was one of the most daunting challenges the world was facing today and stressed that those countries which were least responsible for it were the ones which were most vulnerable to its diverse impacts.  The linkage between international migration and development was another critical challenge.  It was the responsibility of the international community to ensure that migration was safe and to protect the fundamental rights of all migrants.  Terrorism was a great hindrance to the enjoyment of basic human rights.  The international community must remain united and resolute to effectively address those challenges.

France said that 10 years after its establishment, the Council had a good record and had shed light on situations of grave concern.  Civil society organizations had a rostrum from which to speak, and the Universal Periodic Review was a valuable and unique tool to examine situations in all countries.  In many countries, there were, however, ever more restrictions on individual and public liberties in the name of security.  Those were the rights protected by international instruments which had been freely ratified by all.  The independent and strong word of the Office was more important than ever.  

Maldives was pleased to welcome 18 small island developing States at the Human Rights Council and thanked the donors and the Office for making universal participation at this session possible.  Maldives continued to express deep concern at the flagrant violations of human rights and mass atrocities, some amounting to war crimes, in Syria, Palestine, Iraq and many other countries.  Maldives was a country where democratic space was expanding, not shrinking, where the rule of law was upheld, and where offenders were given fair trials as per the country’s constitution and international obligations.

Russian Federation appreciated receiving regular updates from the High Commissioner.  The format of the provision of such updates was very useful, but it was regrettable that the delegations had not had a chance to receive the High Commissioner’s update in advance.   The basic efforts of the Office should be focused on providing technical assistance to countries, and it was concerning that more and more emphasis was being placed on monitoring.  Relevant national bodies and departments should be provided with support.  Functionaries of the Office of the High Commissioner should not comment on States’ voting positions.   

Saudi Arabia wished it had been possible to see the statement of the High Commissioner in advance.  Saudi Arabia stressed the place of Islam in the promotion of human rights in the country.  Appeals were reiterated to the international community to put an end to what was called the longest violation of human rights in history, the violations of human rights of the Palestinian people, which were the result of racist practices by Israel.  The suffering of the Syrian people was also noted.  Terrorism was condemned whichever form it took, and it was noted that terrorism could not be attached to any religion or ethnicity.

Algeria said that all human rights should be treated equally.  Countering terrorism meant ongoing mobilization and coordinated efforts to deal with the deep-rooted causes, in particular to root out its funding which came from paying ransom to terrorist groups when they took hostages.  Attention was also drawn to violations of human rights in Palestine and Western Sahara.   The importance of the provision of technical assistance when it came to the promotion and protection of human rights was also underlined. 

Côte d’Ivoire welcomed the attention paid by the High Commissioner to violations of human rights in questions of migration and unresolved conflicts, as well as his commitment to seeking solutions on the African continent, notably in Mali, South Sudan, Burundi and other locations.  Concern was expressed at the increase in terrorism and its impact on human rights.  Given the disastrous situation faced by migrants at the gates of Europe, the Council was called on to uphold the rights of those people.  Dealing with that crisis would have an impact on the credibility of the Council.

El Salvador stressed the need for States to work in unity to search for peaceful solutions and protect civilians.  The Government was employing steps to address the violence in the country in line with the law.  A respect for all was vital, regardless of their migratory status: all human beings had rights and those must be protected.  El Salvador agreed with the High Commissioner on his insistence to respect all human rights and stressed that the right to development was a challenge for all States, in which everyone must work together.

Belgium encouraged the High Commissioner to maintain his independence despite the pressure, pledged its support to the making of the Office more operational through decentralization, and agreed that the Council should play a greater role in preventing crises.  Belgium welcomed the attention to the situation in Burundi and expressed concern about the continuous degradation of the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Belgium called for enhanced protection of refugee women and girls who were especially vulnerable. 

Republic of Congo deplored the late availability of the High Commissioner’s remarks and requested that the Council be informed about the conclusions of the recent working visit to the Republic of the Congo by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic.  Congo was still awaiting the report of the Special Representative on his visit, but nothing had been mentioned in the press on his concern about the security plan.  Congo had agreed for a team from the Office of the High Commissioner to evaluate the security and humanitarian situation of displaced persons in Pool region. 

Bangladesh emphasized that migration was a universal phenomenon caused by many reasons.  It was not a product of only one cause.  The overarching mandate of the protection and promotion of human rights entrusted to the Office and the Council also included the promotion of the right to development.  It was regrettable that climate change had not been given adequate importance and necessary financial resources in the work of the Office.  Dependence on extra-budgetary resources implied substantial risks for the Office, noted Bangladesh.

Indonesia said that the tenth anniversary of the Council provided an opportunity for taking stock and reflecting on the achievements and performance of the Office.  The Council and the Office should be partners to States on the promotion and protection of human rights.  Further measures should be taken to enhance the Office’s work on the right to development.  Since 1998, Indonesia had been implementing national plans of action on human rights, which had helped mainstream those rights and significantly strengthen the human rights legislation.  

Namibia stated that the most vulnerable people in the world continued to find themselves in more challenging situations, which only further increased their vulnerability.  The field presence and work done by the Office was crucial and important in all respects, and it enabled the Council to fulfil its mandate and to act in a timely and effective manner.  It was important that geographical representation was ensured in the Office, as it contributed towards its effectiveness.   Namibia reiterated its support for the people of Palestine and for a referendum in Western Sahara.

Georgia said it was the collective responsibility of the United Nations to undertake all measures to protect civilians.  Work on implementing international human rights and humanitarian law should continue without impediments.  There was an alarming situation in Georgia’s occupied regions, which had turned into black holes after refusals to allow visits by United Nations mechanisms.  Serious human rights violations continued to be reported in the occupied areas.

United Kingdom thanked the High Commissioner for his update.  The situation in Yemen was of concern, as was the growing pattern of intimidation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In Burundi, the Government was called on to continue cooperating with the independent United Nations investigation.  Engagement on Sri Lanka was welcomed.  The United Kingdom was convinced the international community had to respond to the root causes of the migration crisis, not just its consequences.

China said the Office of the High Commissioner should carry out its work in strict accordance with its mandate, improving its work in certain areas.  While promoting the mainstreaming of human rights, it should avoid setting agendas for other United Nations agencies; endeavour to safeguard the intergovernmental nature of international human rights mechanisms; and listen to suggestions by States on how to improve its work to promote the right to development.  The High Commissioner had disregarded facts and made wanton criticisms of China’s judicial sovereignty which was unacceptable for China, which was a country based on the rule of law

Portugal expressed concerns about violations of the rights of children, and sexual abuse against them, in the context of armed conflicts, including by United Nations peacekeepers, and called for further efforts to ensure accountability for perpetrators.  Together with Brazil, Portugal would be presenting, at this session, the first ever draft resolution on mental health and human rights.  Portugal acknowledged the sustained efforts by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to mainstream economic, social and cultural rights throughout its work. 

India took positive note of the High Commissioner’s focus on migration, discrimination, and treaty body strengthening.  India emphasized the need to ensure respect for the agreed provisions of human rights treaties in that regard.  It underlined the importance of transparency in the functioning of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and in the use of its resources.  India called for stronger focus on the right to development. 

Morocco said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights played an important role in promoting human rights.  Morocco supported its independence, called for additional resources to be allocated to its activities, and welcomed the Office’s work on the right to development and violent extremism.  Morocco reiterated its support for a peaceful resolution of conflicts with the involvement of local populations and while respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty of affected countries.  The tenth anniversary of the Council was an opportunity to step up efforts to promote and protect human rights and security. 

Venezuela  said that financial speculation and attacks on Venezuela’s national currency were carried out by foreign forces in cooperation with their Venezuelan allies.  A true democracy existed in Venezuela and political activities were carried out in an unrestricted manner.  Some sectors of the opposition were using undemocratic means to engage with the legitimate Government of Venezuela.  Nonetheless, the Government was ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition.

Botswana commended the Office of the High Commissioner for the technical support provided to countries emerging from conflict.  It was essential that the Council continued to play a central role in condemning human rights violations around the world.  The international community needed to ensure greater coherence between peace and security, development and human rights, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was a step in the right direction.  The Syrian authorities were urged to allow humanitarian access to all besieged areas.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia said it was faced with one of the most difficult crises since its independence, but all political parties were engaged in finding a way to overcome it.  All pardons had been revoked, opening the door for the Special Prosecutor to continue investigations into the cases of corruption.  The Government was also continuing efforts to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, which was one of the highest priorities, and a number of amendments had come into force in that regard. 

Ghana regretted that systemic and gross human rights violations continued to be reported worldwide.  Ghana was particularly concerned about the situation of those affected by armed conflicts, including women and children, and called upon States to live up by their commitment enshrined in the United Nations Charter to protect all civilians without distinction of any kind. 

Republic of Korea said that the recent conviction of the former President of Chad for crimes against humanity had sent a clear signal that no one was above the law, and that perpetrators would face justice.  The Republic of Korea urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to respect and promote the rights of its people, and to comply with United Nations human rights instruments, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul and the Special Rapporteur appointed by the Council.  The Republic of Korea was committed to collaborate with the Office while respecting its independence. 

Nigeria noted the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ reference to Nigeria’s success in combatting Boko Haram.  It reiterated its firm commitment to respect international human rights law in doing so, as per the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.  The Government was addressing the issue in the Niger delta through political dialogue, and had taken proactive measures to strengthen and enhance the mandate of the anti-corruption body.
Thailand expressed concern at the increase of violent incidents around the world, and reiterated its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, noting that Thai agencies  were considering recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review to see how they would implement the accepted recommendations.  A draft constitution had been circulated nationwide, and soon the Thai people would vote in a referendum on the future of the country.

Ireland said that issues brought to the Council’s attention today were deeply troubling and should serve as a call for action to promote and protect human rights worldwide.  A significant part of the High Commissioner’s role was to alert the international community to crises, and the question was asked whether the international community was responding to situations of concern.

Brazil said that as the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council was celebrated, renewed challenges had to be dealt with, as well as patterns of widespread violations of human rights.  In times of political tensions, human rights were not a luxury, but they were the foundation for a better future for all.  Brazil continued to work proactively, noting that vulnerable populations continued to deserve the international community’s attention.

Egypt regretted that the update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights had not been made available prior to the general debate.  It encouraged the High Commissioner to address human rights violations without polarization.  Allegations raised by the High Commissioner on the situation in Egypt did not relate to human rights issues in the country, and were based on reports by illegal organizations. 

Turkey did not agree with the High Commissioner’s assessment of the situation in the country, and recalled the Government’s efforts to collaborate with international and regional human rights organizations.  Allegations had been made by terrorist groups, and were ill-founded.  Turkey applied the highest standards of human rights protection, and ensured freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  Investigations were systematically conducted in case of abuse.

Norway said that intimidation against human rights activists, lawyers or journalists could never be justified for ensuring security and stability.  Norway was concerned about cases of reprisals, which undermined the credibility of the United Nations.  Norway was opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, and called on all States to adopt a moratorium on its use.  More needed to be done to translate the Council’s work into concrete results on the ground. 

Sierra Leone asked what more the Council could do to ensure necessary actions were taken, noting that countries often simply reacted to the aftermath of crises.  All parties were called on to respect international law and ensure the full application of normative international standards.  States had to ensure accountability.  The question was asked if there was nothing more the international community could do to address the massive loss of life of asylum seekers.

Kuwait welcomed the remarks made by the High Commissioner, noting that Kuwait’s region had been witnessing a lot of challenges.  Kuwait condemned the occupation of the Palestinian people.  Condemnation was expressed for military actions taking place in Syria, and a call was issued to stop attacks against heavily populated areas.  Kuwait welcomed the high-level meetings during the session, and reaffirmed support for the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Japan expressed thanks for the update provided by the High Commissioner, and noted that the prolonged Syrian crisis should obviously be addressed from a human rights perspective.  Human rights violations in and by “North Korea” continued to be cause for concern.  Gender issues were very important, and Japan supported the empowerment of women, hoping also to contribute to initiatives related to gender during the coming session.

Armenia said that the military aggression by Azerbaijan in April 2016 had led to attacks against civilians, including children.  The presence of a mission of the Office of the High Commissioner in Karabakh was of great necessity.  Armenia remained concerned about continuing atrocities in Syria, including against the Armenian minorities.  Armenia also echoed the High Commissioner’s concerns in relation to the situation in Turkey.  It welcomed the important recognition by Germany of the Armenian genocide. 

United States referred to a growing crackdown on civil society and a deepening intolerance for dissent in Russia.  It remained deeply concerned by gross and systematic human rights violations in the “DPRK”.  It was also concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Gambia, including arrests of political prisoners and hate speech by the Gambian President.  The United States was also concerned about the trying of civilians in military courts in Thailand, without fair trial guarantees. 

Right of Reply

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply, said that the international community was to a certain extent perplexed in trying to define how to deal with the delusional leadership of Azerbaijan.  The Azerbaijani Government was wrong to believe that an occasional release of political prisoners would protect it from scrutiny for human rights violations and atrocities committed in recent years.  The conflict in Nagorny Karabakh must be resolved on the principle of equal rights and the right to self-determination.


For use of the information media; not an official record

Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr