23 February 2021
The Human Rights Council this afternoon continued its high-level segment, hearing addresses by 29 dignitaries who elaborated on their national efforts to promote and protect human rights and to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and who also raised human rights violations in a number of countries.
Speakers said that in the middle of a global health crisis, human rights and democracy were under threat. The COVID-19 pandemic had been used as an opportunity by some States to erode democratic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. Vaccine nationalism was prevailing, with the World Health Organization report in January stating that only 10 countries had bought 95 per cent of the vaccines produced worldwide. Multilateral cooperation was necessary in developing recovery strategies and more resilient economies. Donors and international financial institutions were called upon to relieve the debt burden of developing countries, so they would not be faced with the choice of servicing their debts or providing for healthcare. All States were called upon to respond to the Secretary-General's call for a global ceasefire.
The following speakers took the floor: Kazembe Kazembe, Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage and Acting Minister for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of Zimbabwe, Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund, Gail Taxeira, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance of Guyana, Shireen Mazari, Minister of Human Rights of Pakistan, A.K. Abdul Momen, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, Gordan Grlić-Radman, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, Luca Beccari, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Economic Cooperation and Telecommunications of San Marino, Nikos Christodoulides, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, and Othman Jerandi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia.
Also speaking were Nikola Selaković, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, Dinesh Gunawardena, Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Fuad Mohammad Hussein, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, Alexandra Hill Tinoco, Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, Dmytro Kuleba, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad, Head of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, Choi Jong-moon, Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, Alaa Roushdy, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, José Antonio Dos Santos, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, Albrecht Freiherr von Böselager, Grand Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Stuart Minchin, Director General of the Pacific Community, Yousef Al Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council's forty-sixth regular session can be found here.
The Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 February, to conclude its high-level segment and to hold its general segment. It will then proceed to hold four separate interactive dialogues on the High Commissioner's report on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, on the oral update of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, on the High Commissioner's report on Sri Lanka, and on the High Commissioner's report on Nicaragua.
KAZEMBE KAZEMBE, Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage and Acting Minister for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs of Zimbabwe, reiterated Zimbabwe's commitment to continue to enhance its cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms. The COVID-19 pandemic had had a devastating impact, as the health sector had to bear with the pressure of the effects of the disease and the economy had suffered significantly as tourism earnings declined. Zimbabwe had adopted various intervention strategies to control the spread of the virus, ranging from national lockdowns to regulation of gatherings and non-essential movements by the public, and additionally had finalised a vaccine deployment framework. In September 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe had launched the National Development Strategy for 2021-2025, establishing a wide-ranging thematic approach to macroeconomic stability, inclusive growth and good governance.
NATALIA KANEM, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, stated that the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to turn back the clock on women's health and rights. Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights were increasingly contested - but the Population Fund would not retreat from fulfilling existing pledges and commitments. Ms. Kanem asked States for their strong support for sexual and reproductive health rights, and for gender equality in 2021 and beyond, as their protection was essential to the realization of human rights for all. As the Population Fund moved forward with the new Strategic Plan 2022-2025, it would be focusing on translating the Nairobi Commitments into action, and the Universal Periodic Review represented a unique space for doing so, while the partnership with national human rights institutions was similarly critical.
GAIL TAXEIRA, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance of Guyana, emphasised that no nation had been left untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Guyana had increased access to social services, including mental health support services, enforced a strict policy of non-discrimination for COVID-19 treatment, and increased testing centres in all areas, particularly in rural and indigenous communities. Guyana was simultaneously grappling with the effects of climate change, experiencing unpredictable and abnormal weather patterns with increased intensity, which required greater investment. Ms. Taxeira expressed appreciation to the Council for the capacity building support received under the Trust Fund for Small Island Developing States and pledged to ensure the fulfilment of recommendations.
SHIREEN MAZARI, Minister of Human Rights of Pakistan, noted that the global human rights landscape presented a bleak picture as state-sponsored Islamophobia was on the rise. Pakistan had started its fourth term as an elected member of this Council, and would continue to make positive contributions. Institutional oversight at home remained robust, while Pakistan was following up on recommendations of treaty bodies and had already set in place a human rights curriculum in schools. Pakistan's policy of smart lockdown had saved lives and livelihoods. Ms. Mazari reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccine must be made a global public good. She said India was exploiting the pandemic to increase the pace of its colonisation project in occupied Kashmir, employing demographic engineering, which could be a major precursor to the genocide of the Kashmiri people. The Council must consider establishing an independent commission of inquiry there.
A.K. ABDUL MOMEN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, stated that the Government had been relentlessly working to establish the rule of law, access to justice, and gender equality in Bangladesh while ensuring the freedom of expression and the rights of minorities, children, and persons with disabilities. In responding to COVID-19, human rights remained at the centre of all prevention, preparedness, containment, and treatment efforts. Bangladesh reaffirmed its commitment to the Council and its strong support for the Universal Periodic Review, noting that it continued the provision of shelter to over a million forcibly displaced Rohingya refugees, which came from its unwavering commitment to human rights. Climate change remained a priority issue, and its human rights implications deserved serious attention; global leadership should come forward to establish the idea of climate justice.
JOSEP BORRELL FONTELLES, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, said that in the middle of a global health crisis, human rights and democracy were under threat. Protesters had taken to the streets in Belarus, Russia, Chile, Lebanon and Hong Kong. There was unacceptable repression against peaceful protesters in Russia. The European Union expected a complete and transparent investigation into all alleged violations and abuses in Belarus. He reiterated the European Union's call on China to comply with its obligations and protect human rights, including in Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, further urging China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including High Commissioner Bachelet. The European Union further called on China to respect fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. The situation in Tigray in Ethiopia was alarming, and in Myanmar, the European Union called for democracy to prevail. The world needed human rights.
PRADEEP KUMAR GYAWALI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, said the world was still suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Nepal appreciated vaccine support from India and China. Nepal's commitment to human rights was unequivocal, as illustrated by its adherence to core human rights instruments. Nepal had abolished the death penalty, and freedom of religion was guaranteed. Nepal had incorporated sustainable development in its national development plan and was committed to ensuring all human rights for all women and girls, as well as to all persons with disabilities. The impact of global warming was of particular concern to Nepal. Two independent commissions were investigating human rights violations in connection with conflict. Nepal's third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review had been successfully concluded, and reviews under several treaty bodies were in progress.
GORDAN GRLIĆ-RADMAN, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, expressed support for the Council's system of Special Procedures, and reiterated Croatia's support for their integrity and independence, noting further that it was the thirtieth anniversary of the Working Group on arbitrary detention. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was crucial; Croatia in 2020 had been among the first countries to be reviewed virtually. Croatia and Afghanistan had led efforts on a General Assembly resolution in response to the pandemic; the resolution emphasized aspects of the gender dimension of the crisis. Listing past and upcoming forums in which Croatia held important functions, such as the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2023, he also outlined priority areas of work for Croatia, which included, inter alia, support for European Union priorities, support for vulnerable groups, and fighting the death penalty.
RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, said COVID-19 had affected human rights around the world. The Council needed to strengthen its role in ensuring health for all, including access to vaccines: vaccine multilateralism needed to triumph over vaccine nationalism. The human rights situation in some countries was worsening, and the Council needed to intensify efforts toward the fulfilment of the human rights of persons in Palestine. There also needed to be greater synergy with regional mechanisms, which was vital to address human rights challenges. On Myanmar, the international community must support efforts toward democratic transition; Indonesia stood ready to contribute. Everyone needed to redouble efforts to protect human rights in the present difficult situation, and politicization of the Council must not be allowed to happen.
LUCA BECCARI, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Economic Cooperation and Telecommunications of San Marino, said the promotion of human rights had always been central to the foreign policy of San Marino. The work of the Council, including through its Universal Periodic Review, was an ongoing process which did not allow for exceptions. The COVID-19 pandemic had revealed the need to focus on multilateralism to solve problems. The international community was living through a period of profound change. In the past year, the lockdown had been felt more strongly by persons with disabilities, the elderly, women and children. Last year's data on domestic violence was alarming, and it was essential to address the needs of persons with disabilities, who had suffered reduced access to services and education. San Marino continued to pay attention to the death penalty, and renewed its appeal to States which still applied it to abolish the death penalty or at least apply a moratorium.
NIKOS CHRISTODOULIDES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, said that multilateralism was being challenged by the worst global crisis since the Second World War, which was inevitably impacting the human rights situation. Cyprus was committed to promoting human rights, fighting against human trafficking, supporting gender equality and protecting cultural rights. For the first time, Cyprus would be a candidate for the Council for the period 2025/2027. States were bound by the Secretary-General's Call for Action on Human Rights. A voluntary national review of Cyprus on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals would be submitted ahead of the high-level political forum in July. Despite the pandemic, the arrival of migrants and refugees via the eastern Mediterranean route had continued unabated and Cyprus was receiving the highest per capita number of asylum seekers in the European Union, with the vast majority of them hailing from Syria.
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, said that in November 2020, Ecuador had become the first country in the world to ratify the 27 legally binding international human rights instruments. At this session, Ecuador would present a draft resolution on guaranteeing the right to health through equitable and universal access to vaccines as the response to pandemics and other health emergencies, and States were invited to support it. Young people and adolescents must all have access to technology. The Permanent Representative of Ecuador in Geneva would continue to act as Chair of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group tasked with drafting a legally binding international instrument on transnational corporations and other enterprises and their human rights obligations. Gender equality was a national priority, and the protection of the rights of people with disabilities was recognized globally.
OTHMAN JERANDI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, said that Tunisia was developing its legislation to mainstream human rights, despite many economic and security challenges as well as difficult regional challenges. In 2012, the Constitution was adopted guaranteeing basic freedoms and women played a central role in building democracy and development. Efforts were underway to set up a transitional justice process. The current health crisis was unprecedented and a true threat to the right to life, health and education. Multilateral cooperation was necessary in developing recovery strategies and more resilient economies. Donors and international financial institutions were called upon to relieve the debt burden on developing countries, so they would not be faced with the choice of servicing their debts or providing for healthcare. All States were called upon to respond to the Secretary-General's call for a global ceasefire.
NIKOLA SELAKOVIĆ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, said that so far 850,000 citizens had been vaccinated and this would increase to one million by the end of February. More than 20 years since international presence was established in Kosovo and Metohija, there were still approximately 200,000 internally displaced persons in Serbia. The international community was called upon to continue its efforts to secure conditions for the sustainable return of internally displaced persons. He called for the continuation of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo in an undiminished scope and with an unchanged mandate. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo must remain engaged in the field of human rights protection which in the case of the Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija was a matter of survival in that territory.
BRUNO EDUARDO RODRÍGUEZ PARRILLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, stressed that the existence of a high-quality and universal-coverage health care system guaranteed the right to health of all Cubans. They had four vaccine candidates each at a different phase of clinical trials. The wealthiest nations of the West were trying to hoard the means to fight the disease. The World Health Organization reported in January that only 10 countries had bought 95 per cent of the vaccines produced worldwide. Cuba had shared its experience in managing the pandemic and had sent 56 medical teams of the Henry Reeve International Contingent to 40 nations and territories. The trade and financial blockade imposed by the United States had been brought to an extreme with the outgoing Government of Donald Trump and including Cuba in the unilateral spurious list of State sponsors of terrorism.
NANAIA MAHUTA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had been used as an opportunity by some States to erode democratic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. New Zealand regretted that ongoing conflicts around the world - including in Syria and Yemen, continued to result in serious human rights abuses. Violations against minorities - including the Rohingya and the Uighur, continued to be deeply concerning, as did the military coup in Myanmar. The international human rights system, including this Council, provided a framework for collaboration on human rights, and an opportunity for all States to engage as equals regardless of size, holding each other to account. New Zealand's human rights engagement continued to prioritize gender equality and women's empowerment, the rights of persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, the death penalty, and democratic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly.
DINESH GUNAWARDENA, Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, underlined the challenges Sri Lanka was facing from separatist terrorism. Terrorism put at risk the most important human right, the right to life, and as such he regretted the resolution brought against Sri Lanka. Despite this rejection, Sri Lanka's Government was committed to remain engaged with the Council. Sri Lanka had made progress in implementing commitments such as the appointment of a commission of inquiry, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, de-mining, and creating new jobs. Democratic elections had also taken place last year. All of this was achieved despite the country battling COVID-19, and he regretted that despite these achievements, a country specific resolution was being tabled based on the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a report that Sri Lanka rejected. The many challenges facing the world called for solidarity among members, rather than division and rancour.
FUAD MOHAMMAD HUSSEIN, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, regretted that the pandemic had led to a sharp drop in the price of crude oil, Iraq's main export, which had impacted the country's welfare spending. However, a new budget had been adopted which allocated money to those affected by the pandemic, whilst Iraq continued to strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, especially those to improve women's empowerment and their security. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for October 2021, with the United Nations observing them. Following demonstrations last year, the Government had prosecuted members of the security services who had acted violently towards protestors, and additionally a supreme commission had been established to investigate abuses of power and corruption by the State. The Minister reiterated Iraq's right to use the death penalty in certain cases, and stressed that it was applied in accordance with the rule of law, and with the approval of the President.
ALEXANDRA HILL TINOCO, Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, stated that El Salvador was striving to provide healthcare to its people, and in this regard all actions taken during the pandemic emergency were primarily to protect public health. In January 2021, the World Health Organization had recognised the success of the holistic strategy implemented in El Salvador. The first batch of vaccines had now been received and would soon be distributed. The Minister underscored that El Salvador appreciated the aid it had received from the World Health Organizations and other partners in response to both the pandemic and recent tropical storms. She informed that El Salvador had also established an interim institutional mechanism to follow up on its human rights obligations. The National Early Childhood Policy was an initiative aimed at providing holistic care to children under the age of seven, and against the backdrop of the pandemic, a programme of broadcasts was being disseminated to those suffering from school closures.
PÉTER SZIJJÁRTÓ, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, believed the Council could only be successful if it became a venue for constructive dialogue, rather than a venue for naming and shaming certain countries. The Minister regretted that the current session would again discuss the biased agenda item 7, singling out Israel. He also raised the issue of national and linguistic minorities, stressing that Hungary supported all initiatives that protected their rights. Hungary's Government was deeply committed to upholding freedom of religion and belief, particularly defending Christians who faced violence and persecution in the Middle East, spending over $50 million on this programme. Regarding migration, Hungary called on the application of international law, stressing the temporary nature of the right of any migrant to remain in a safe country. Hungary also reiterated the right of countries to protect their external borders as a means of protecting their citizens.
DMYTRO KULEBA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, emphasised that the most violent intolerances took place in conjunction with mass human rights violations by authoritarian regimes. This was proven by the last seven years of Russian armed aggression against Ukraine that had resulted in over 40,000 killed and 44,000 wounded since 2014, while 1.3 million people had fled their homes. Already this year, three citizens of Ukraine had been sentenced on fabricated charges, adding to the existing 100 political hostages, mostly Crimean Tatars. Ukraine would continue to use all available mechanisms to lift Russia's grasp over Crimea and the Crimean Tatar parliament. Adherence to human rights was not always considered as a criterium for Council candidates, something that was made clear during last year's election. As such, Ukraine called on all members to work together to uphold the credibility and relevance of the Council.
AWWAD BIN SALEH AL-AWWAD, Head of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, thanked the High Commissioner and her Office for their efforts made to promote and protect human rights. Saudi Arabia had implemented 90 historic reforms over the last few years with regards to human rights. These reforms represented significant progress in the civil code, criminal code, evidence code and more, taking into account both Islamic values and international standards. The rights of women had experienced significant progress, with a number of laws being amended in July 2019. The whole world was facing COVID-19 which had killed millions, and in this context the Government had embarked on a number of measures to reduce the impact of this pandemic, supporting the private sector and paying salaries. Saudi Arabia supported peace in Yemen and sought to neutralise Houthi terrorists, asking the Council to respect cultural diversity and the principles of non-selectivity.
CHOI JONG-MOON, Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, noted that the world was still under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Council must continue to address this sombre reality, offering rights-based guidance to ensure inclusive recovery. The Republic of Korea sought to bring the Council's attention to the human rights implications of new and emerging technologies. The use of sexual violence as a war tactic was unacceptable, and it was crucial to not forget the victims and survivors, such as the "comfort women" victims of World War II. Continuous support for refugee women and victims of gender-based violence in conflict communities was a priority for the Korean Government. It was also endeavouring to substantially improve the human rights of the "North Korean" people in cooperation with the international community, and sought to continue cooperating closely with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.
ALAA ROUSHDY, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, reminded the Council of the extraordinary circumstances under which this session was being held, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic emphasised the importance of multilateral cooperation. Egypt was diligent in responding to communications from mandate holders in spite of the pandemic. Some members sought to use the Council for political ends, undermining the work of this body. Egyptian national efforts to promote human rights included organising legislative elections under strict COVID-19 related precautions, yielding to unprecedented levels of representation of women and youth. To limit the spread of COVID-19, Egypt had expanded health care and social protection coverage and decreased prison crowding through a presidential pardon of 30,000 prisoners. Egypt continued to cooperate with the human rights machinery and looked forward to continued dialogue based on mutual understanding and trust.
JOSÉ ANTONIO DOS SANTOS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, emphasised that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, multilateralism was becoming an essential tool to coordinate comprehensive response efforts. Paraguay was in constant cooperation with the Council and mandate holders, and was ready to provide technical cooperation. As a member of the Council, Paraguay sought to strengthen the body by promoting the implementation of its recommendations. Stronger institutions were needed, said Mr. Dos Santos as he highlighted the SIMORE Plus tool that integrated sustainable development and civil society participation as a significant contribution that was being reproduced in seven countries in the Americas. Paraguay recently presented its national report for the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and was looking forward to presenting its main achievements, progress and challenges to the international community.
ALBRECHT FREIHERR VON BÖSELAGER, Grand Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Sovereign Order of Malta, said human rights violations in "forgotten" areas of the world, including the Horn of Africa, the Caucasus and the Middle East, showed the need for peaceful coexistence and dialogue between religions. The COVID-19 pandemic had aggravated problems in the area of migration, which was linked to modern slavery and human trafficking. Turning to social phenomena exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that the digital divide risked marginalising people, and that artificial intelligence needed to be inspired by solidarity and generosity. Freedom of religion was a core right, and in the face of human rights violations, faith-based organizations often provided the most reliable aid. Closer inter-religious dialogue was fundamental in helping victims of ethnic or religious hostilities.
STUART MINCHIN, Director General of the Pacific Community, said there was a need for a more contextualized and community-driven approach to development, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed gaps in the international community's approach to working together on such issues. He encouraged United Nations Member States, secretariats and agencies to adopt a people-centred approach to development which would allow communities' voices to be heard. The Child Rights Committee's March 2020 meeting held in Samoa was a true example of such an approach, which had reached rights-holders directly. The United Nations treaty-based programmes should take such an approach more regularly, notwithstanding the fact that the COVID-19 crisis would pass.
YOUSEF AL OTHAIMEEN, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the COVID-19 pandemic had profoundly affected all aspects of life, noting that in Palestine, Israeli human rights violations, including the inhumane treatment of prisoners, might amount to war crimes. In Jammu and Kashmir, the international community needed to work toward the settlement of the issue. With regard to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the international community should extend its assistance to Azerbaijan. The situation of the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar was of great concern, and in Sri Lanka, it was concerning that Muslims were denied the right to bury the victims of COVID-19 following Islamic rules. Mr. Al Othaimeen outlined initiatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation aimed at, inter alia, supporting freedom of religion, inter-religious dialogue, and preventing violent extremism.
MARIJA PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, underscored the importance of a human rights-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis was far from over, and the right to health would assuredly remain key, a goal to which the Council of Europe was proud to contribute to alongside other aspects of the 2030 Programme of Action. The Council of Europe and the United Nations did not just share a belief in human rights, but also faith in multilateralism. Delineating certain areas in which progress had been made, such as legal instruments on the protection of children and of the environment, artificial intelligence, and a representative focused against racism, she added that the Council of Europe's representative on migration and refugees had participated in the European Review of the Global Compact for Migration. Monitoring bodies of the two Councils should be open to the idea of coordination, to avoid duplication.
For use of the information media; not an official record