|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
38th & 39th Meetings (AM & PM)
Voluntary Refugee Returns Worst in Two Decades; World Faces Quasi-Permanent
Refugee Situations in Areas of Never-Ending Conflict, Third Committee Told
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Addresses Committee;
Human Rights Council President Says Upcoming Review Should Be Pragmatic, Realistic
The past year has been the worst in two decades for the voluntary repatriation of refugees, and due to the changing nature and intractability of some conflicts, the world was now faced with “quasi-permanent global refugee populations,” the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told today by the head of the United Nations refugee agency.
Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said only around 250,000 refugees had returned home, or about a quarter of the annual average over the past 10 years, due in large part to “endless conflict,” with Afghanistan and Somalia being the most obvious examples. Ninety-six per cent of Afghan refugees were in Pakistan and Iran, and the remainder in 69 other countries around the world. Half of the nearly 700,000 Somali refugees were in Kenya, and a quarter in Yemen; every month, about 8,000 more left Somalia.
In its report to the General Assembly, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put the number of refugees worldwide at the end of 2009 at 10.4 million, with another 27.1 million displaced within their own countries due to conflict, with an unprecedented 15.6 million benefiting from UNHCR protection and assistance.
Altogether, there were 25 protracted conflict situations today in 21 countries, and half of all refugees for whom UNHCR was responsible had resulted from those situations, Mr. Guterres said. A new deal on burden-sharing was needed to ensure a match between the generosity of host countries and solidarity from the developed world. Every protracted situation needed a comprehensive approach, with solutions tailored to the circumstances of refugees, host countries and countries of origin. Refugee resettlement programmes were operating in two dozen countries, but there was a “huge gap” between the need for resettlement and available places. While 800,000 refugees qualified for resettlement, he said, there were only places for 10 per cent of that number every year.
Turning to persons displaced internally by natural disasters, Mr. Guterres proposed that UNHCR be tasked with leading the protection of disaster victims at the country level, as it was currently tasked to do at the global level. It would do so subject to a set of conditions: it would only become involved with the clear consent of the State concerned; if requested by the Humanitarian Coordinator; and if resources for responding to natural disasters did not impinge on UNHCR programmes for refugees or stateless persons. The mandate of UNHCR would not have to be changed, but the refugee agency believed that — with its expertise in registration and documentation, identification of vulnerable persons, and prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence — it had a duty to support Governments when natural disasters strike.
The Committee also heard today from the President of the Human Rights Council, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, at its afternoon session, who predicted “challenging” times ahead for the Council, as it embarks on a review process while trying to sustain the momentum it has built up since it was established in 2006. Launched in Geneva last week, the process was expected to be pragmatic and realistic, identifying areas where the Council’s effectiveness could be enhanced, he explained. The focus would be on how to create more impact on the ground, how to better address chronic and emergency human rights violations, and how to make the best use of available time and resources to fulfil the mandates given to the Council.
One aspect to be addressed would be the working relationship between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, he said. Whereas the Council could create mandates at any time, its proposals were considered by the General Assembly only once a year – a situation liable to delay the resourcing of new mandates and activities. Efficient support from the General Assembly was even more critical when the Council dealt with urgent human rights issues, the President said.
Questions and comments for the High Commissioner for Refugees were presented by representatives of Pakistan, Brazil, Norway, Yemen, the European Union, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Algeria, Costa Rica, the Russian Federation, Chile, Syria and Timor-Leste.
Participating in a general discussion of the report of the High Commissioner were the representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Angola (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Liechtenstein, Egypt, China, Sudan, Afghanistan, United States, Russian Federation, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand and Norway.
The representative of Estonia spoke in exercise of the right of reply in the morning session.
In the afternoon session, statements on the report of the Human Rights Council were made by representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Egypt, China, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Turkey, Thailand, Belarus, Cuba, Syria, Morocco, Canada, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, United States and Costa Rica. The Observer of Palestine also spoke.
The Committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 3 November, at 10 a.m. to resume its general discussion on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, the right of peoples to self-determination, and the report of the High Commissioner on Refugees.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to discuss questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions, and the report of the Human Rights Council.
It had before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/65/12). It provides an account of the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) between January 2009 and mid-2010 on behalf of over 36.5 million people, including 10.4 million refugees, and looks at major developments and challenges related to the protection, assistance and search for durable solutions for refugees, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and others of concern. It also discusses the Office’s internal reform process, ongoing efforts to tackle protracted refugee situations, and an overview of some of UNHCR’s global priorities. Partnerships and coordination with others, both within and outside the United Nations system, are also examined.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/65/12/Add.1), containing the decisions taken by the Executive Committee’s sixty-first session on 4-8 October 2010.
Also before the Committee was a report on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/65/324). Covering the period 1 January 2009 to 1 June 2010, the report was coordinated by UNHCR. It emphasizes the importance of humanitarian assistance in Africa, stating that a lack of investment in early recovery puts at risk the sustainability of durable solutions; therefore, organizations must synchronize their activities to avoid a transition gap. Experience also shows that conflict may reignite and lawlessness may spread when expectations for improved well-being and livelihood opportunities remain unfulfilled, whereas investing in basic services, particularly health and education, will facilitate the return and reintegration of displaced people in Africa, while also benefiting local communities.
Recommendations include: urging the international community to support African States with local integration by developing returnee areas and considering the needs of former host populations; calling upon African Union member States to sign, ratify and enact national legislation in accordance with the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa; promoting the self-reliance of refugees by removing restrictions related to freedom of movement, work and education from the Convention relating to the status of Refugees; and ensuring the access and security of humanitarian workers so that aid can be delivered safely during ongoing hostilities.
The reports of the Human Rights Council (document A/65/53, A65/53.Add.1 and A/65/53/Corr.1) contain resolutions, decisions, and President’s statements adopted by the Human Rights Council from 14 September 2009 to 18 June 2010, at its twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth sessions, and at its thirteenth special session. The addendum covers the fifteenth session of the Council from 13 September to 1 October 2010, pending the report of that session (to be issued as document A/HRC/15/60).
Finally, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on revised estimates resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted by the Human Rights Council at its twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth sessions (document A/65/333). It details budgetary requirements estimated at $4.7 million for the biennium 2010-2011 and $283,100 for 2012-2013, resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted by the Human Rights Council at its twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth sessions.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said last year had been the worst in two decades for the voluntary repatriation of refugees, with only around 250,000 returning home, or about a quarter of the annual average over the past 10 years. That was due to the changing nature and growing intractability of conflict. Afghans and Somalis were the most obvious examples of quasi-permanent global refugee populations, resulting from never-ending conflict. Ninety-six per cent of Afghan refugees were in Pakistan and Iran, and the remainder in 69 other countries. Fleeing insecurity or seeking opportunities elsewhere, young Afghans had been exposed to extreme risks, including mistreatment and forced separation from their families by smugglers. Half of the nearly 700,000 Somali refugees were in Kenya, and a quarter in Yemen; every month, about 8,000 more left Somalia.
“I do not believe there is a group of refugees as systematically undesired, stigmatized and discriminated against as Somalis,” he said. Somali refugees had died in deserts, been shot trying to cross borders, and subjected to security crackdowns and racist attacks. With limited prospects for durable peace, Somalis will continue to wander the world in search of safety.
Altogether, there were 25 protracted conflict situations today in 21 countries, and half of all refugees for whom UNHCR was responsible had resulted from protracted situations, he said. To ensure a match between the generosity of host countries and solidarity from the developed world, a new deal on burden-sharing was essential. Every protracted situation needed a comprehensive approach, with solutions tailored to the circumstances of refugees, host countries and countries of origin. Refugee resettlement programmes were operating in two dozen countries, but there was a “huge gap” between the need for resettlement and available places. While 800,000 refugees qualified for resettlement, there were only places for 10 per cent of that number every year. The number of known stateless people in the world was 6.6 million, with unofficial estimates as high as 12 million; a number of States had taken legal steps to lower the risk of statelessness. In 2011, UNHCR would be advocating legislative reforms so that both parents would be equally able to pass their citizenship on to their children. Primary responsibility for the world’s 27 million internally displaced persons rested with States, but in many cases, the challenge of responding to internal displacement was simply overwhelming. States were urged to ratify the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, a pioneering achievement that was adopted at a Special Summit of the African Union last year.
Turning to persons displaced internally by natural disasters, Mr. Guterres recalled that UNHCR had been tasked with leading the protection cluster at the global level. However, at the country level, a gap existed, and with natural disasters more frequent and more severe, an ad hoc approach to leadership of the protection cluster at that level was no longer sustainable. UNHCR should be able to fill that gap, subject to a set of conditions: it would only become involved with the clear consent of the State concerned; if requested by the Humanitarian Coordinator; and if resources for responding to natural disasters did not impinge on UNHCR programmes for refugees or stateless persons. No change to UNHCR’s mandate was being suggested, but UNHCR believed that — with its expertise in registration and documentation, identification of vulnerable persons, and prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence — it was its duty to support Governments in times of natural disasters. Informal consultations on this matter had been taking place with members of the UNHCR Executive Committee.
Turning to internal reforms at UNHCR, he noted that it had increased its operations by 60 per cent, with about the same number of staff worldwide, and 30 per cent fewer staff in Geneva. Savings in staff costs enabled UNHCR to address critical gaps in other areas. Some reforms were ongoing in such areas as software, human resources and oversight. In order to fully fund its needs-based budget, or the Global Needs Assessment, new donors were being sought and ambitious targets were being set for fundraising from the private sector. The Global Needs Assessment would only work, however, if donors refrained from earmarking their contributions for activities outside established priorities. This year and beyond, capacity development at UNHCR would focus on protection and on emergency preparedness and response.
Several measures in that regard had been taken, he said, such as enhanced training opportunities and an urban refugee policy. As for emergency preparedness and response, the objective was to mobilize emergency personnel and to dispatch the first relief items within 72 hours, drawing from stockpiles of shelter and relief items for up to 500,000 people, over and above resources needed for ongoing programmes and without waiting for a funding appeal. Next year would be the anniversaries of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the birth of Fridtjof Nansen, the world’s first Refugees High Commissioner. Several activities were planned, and it was hoped that States would pledge concrete actions to address a variety of refugee-related challenges.
Questions and Answers
The High Commissioner then fielded comments and questions from the delegates.
Responding to Pakistan, he expressed appreciation for the exemplary partnership they had shown for decades. Not only had Pakistan been fully assuming its responsibility regarding Afghan refugees, even when it suffered from the dramatic impact of floods, which could have translated into a less open attitude, it continued working to help both its population affected by the floods and 60,000 Afghan refugees whose homes were destroyed by flooding. That was a demonstration of solidarity and a commitment to be appreciated by the international community. Regarding the huge impact of the presence of refugees in Pakistani society, his Office developed a project aiming at the support of host communities, which had not yet received meaningful support from the international community. He appealed to the international community to be more engaged, in order to help refugees and host communities that were sharing their resources, knowing they also lived in dire economic and social situations.
With regard to the programmes of Brazil, he said that the country was becoming an important donor to UNHCR, its asylum system was exemplary and it possessed one of the best legislative systems concerning refugees. Brazil accepted refugees within 72 hours of notice, which, given the complicated procedures, represented a great commitment. The country’s South-South cooperation and policies were also inspirational, such as its cash grants policies. Brazil’s policies had been extremely relevant for the United Nations and Governments around the world. He also underlined the need to make sure that migration policies were defined by States and that States managed their borders, but that needed to be done in a way that was protection friendly, according to international law.
Concerning Norway’s statement about reducing overhead to allow for more funding on the ground, he said that he fully agreed and that it was not right when a single cent was misspent when they had dramatic needs. His Office was committed to containing and reducing the percentage of the structural costs of its activities, so that they could spend money on those in need. It was necessary to focus not on the global budget, but on free funds, which could facilitate solutions in areas that were not in the global media and for which financial support was not enough.
He also thanked the representative of Yemen for the invitation to visit and said he would be in Yemen in January, for the third or fourth time. Despite challenges, Yemen had maintained an open door policy to Somali refugees, which served as a model. International solidarity to Yemen was of importance to help the country pursue its generous policy and keep its commitments.
Responding to the question of the representative of the European Union about bolstering international support for refugees in protracted situations, he said they had an initiative to deal with some situations, which had been blocked. Now they had a different solution, because it was necessary to look at each situation differently. In Nepal, resettlement was the main instrument. They had succeeded in achieving resettlement in some countries, as the United States, Canada and Australia had all offered places. With resettlement, they hoped to reduce long-term refugees. In the United Republic of Tanzania, the Government had given nationality to Burundi refugees. Regarding Afghanistan and Iran, he mentioned generous actions taken by the Governments to regularize the status of refugees and ensure that they had a better life. There were greater registration levels in Afghanistan, and they were working together in analysing the refugee community to see how there could be more opportunities for work.
In the Balkans, he said, they had succeeded in getting underway the “train” that had been stopped. There had been dialogue and cooperation to unblock the situation regarding Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia. There was a meeting in Belgrade, where those countries, along with Montenegro, passed a joint declaration that would allow receiving centres for refugees. They would continue to work there to try to find a solution for all refugees and to promote voluntary return to the Balkans. They were also working on the issue of internally displaced persons in Kosovo. In East Sudan, they were working with the Government of Sudan, had approved a strategy and were now trying to find out how to apply it, in order to improve the living situation of refugees from Eritrea. There was not yet a policy of local integration, but they were working on a policy of better living and working conditions in the region, with the commitment of the Sudanese Government.
As to the European Union’s question about projects to mitigate the environmental impact, he answered that a few analyses had been done, and they had two projects to be implemented. One related to improving the environment in camps. They had a partnership with companies on renewable energy and were trying to use solar energy and stoves, so that less wood would be needed to cook, which would improve the safety of women who had to go out and collect the wood. The second project involved the rehabilitation of areas where refugees were earlier taken in.
He also engaged in a back and forth discussion with the representative of Zimbabwe, who stated that the figures in the High Commissioner’s report concerning 110,000 people from Zimbabwe seeking asylum in South Africa was erroneous, that there had not been grounds for concern of either country, that no one could tell a host country or guest what the number of asylum seekers was, given that South Africa had stated that they had no disaggregated data based on the nationality of asylum seekers and that maybe someone had an axe to grind. The High Commissioner responded that, while the number of refugees from Zimbabwe was considerably smaller, 23,000, there was a very large number of asylum seekers, approximately 2 to 3 million. South Africa had a generous asylum system, granting the same rights to asylum seekers as refugees, and there were 220,000 new asylum seekers in South Africa, including from Zimbabwe. That did not mean that they were refugees, but that they had requested asylum. There was a large backlog, so the number of asylum seekers was a large one, and the Government would need to decide which would be recognized as refugees and which would not. With regard to the figures, he said that they had come from the South African Government, and his Office would be happy to correct the figures if they were not correct.
Responding to Cameroon, he thanked the country for its generosity regarding refugees from Chad and Nigeria, as well as for development of legislative initiatives concerning the status of refugees. His Office encouraged countries to develop legislative measures so that status could be determined by the country itself.
He also welcomed cooperation with Algeria and the country’s assistance to refugees, given that it was an area where there were population movements, because it was a big transition country.
With regard to the question of the representative of Costa Rica about what could be done to render the work of UNHCR sustainable, he said that what was more important was the lack of a solution to the humanitarian problem, and that it was necessary to guarantee peace and make peace sustainable. What the UNCHR did was not most important; what the United Nations General Assembly did was extremely important.
Regarding the question of the representative of the Russian Federation about measures States could take to overcome statelessness, he said that statelessness was a key aspect in the recent development of activities, although it had been a forgotten issue. He encouraged States to sign the convention on the reduction of statelessness, as well as to assume a positive policy on nationality and modifying legislation to make it easier. Mothers and fathers should both be able to convey nationality to children, which was not the case in all countries. Efforts to grant stateless people all rights, with the exception of some political rights, and to regain nationality were taking place in many countries, such as Viet Nam, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and changes in legislation were taking place in Tunisia and Kenya, which were encouraging signals that States were focusing on the statelessness question.
Concerning the question of Chile about the role of regional organizations, he said that there were two organizations with which they were cooperating closely with — the European Union and the African Union. They were covering vast areas, such as the protection of refugees, construction of asylum frameworks and development of conventions on refugees and displaced persons. UNHCR was also in dialogue with American States and South-East Asian States, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other regional organizations. UNCHR intended to work as closely as possible with them all, in context of its mandate and what these regional organizations could do to preserve peace and prevent conflict.
Responding to the statement of support from Syria, he thanked the Government for its positive attitude, particularly considering the number of Palestinian refugees and the outflow of Iraqi refugees that had found an open door in Syria. These refugees had the capacity to live in towns and share the houses of the Syrian community, which was appreciated. He also underlined the positive attitude of avoiding “refoulement” and having a flexible approach.
Additionally, Timor-Leste noted its pleasure with the High Commissioner’s report and wished for a successful mandate.
THOMAS LAMBERT (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed his concern about the shrinking of humanitarian space, constraints on humanitarian access and the frequency of attacks against humanitarian personnel, which had hampered the work of UNHCR in delivering assistance to those in need. Voluntary repatriation figures had dropped to their lowest levels of the last years, he noted, putting UNHCR under pressure to secure alternative solutions. Further, opportunities for local integration also declined, while the demand for resettlement continued to grow. In that context, he encouraged UNHCR to strengthen its dialogue with relevant partners in order to promote durable solutions for refugees.
For its part, the European Union was working towards establishing a Joint European Union Resettlement Programme, on a voluntary basis programme — based on the Stockholm Programme — which aimed to increase the number of available refugee resettlement regions within the European Union member States. Further, it continued to improve its Regional Protection Programme, which enhanced national capacities to protect refugees living in regions close to their home counties, and improve refugee protection through solutions, such as voluntary return, local integration and resettlement. In response to the rapid pace of urbanization in many parts of the world and the growing number of refugees, which posed a major challenge to UNHCR, the new policy on refugee protection would provide many refugees with protection and support measures tailored to their needs. He called on UNHCR to further implement the policy and facilitate a discussion next year regarding its progress.
Next, he underscored the need for structural and management change across all UNHCR operations, and as such, welcomed the roll-out of the Global Needs Assessment System, whose first budget in 2010 created a new financial policy environment that helped trigger new challenges. The Union encouraged UNHCR to continue working closely with Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to strengthen the cluster coordination system and ensure the presence of leadership. In closing, he expressed hope that in 2011, the commemorations of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness would stimulate an increased number of ratifications and encourage the international community to increase its efforts to achieve durable solutions for refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and returnees.
ISMAEL A. GASPAR MARTINS ( Angola), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), recalled the critical role that UNHCR played in southern Africa. Internal reforms launched by Mr. Guterres were applauded by SADC; they had increased the efficiency of UNHCR in Geneva by more than 60 per cent, with a reduced number of staff. Progress under the Global Needs Assessment initiative was satisfying, but it was critical to review its funding. Insecurity and renewed conflicts in Africa had uprooted millions and prevented the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. New humanitarian crises had been generated by political instability and human rights violations in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the number of refugees had steadily declined, with the stable political environment in most countries in the Southern African region, together with growing regional solidarity and burden-sharing, contributing to that trend. From 2000 to 2009, the number of refugees in sub-Saharan Africa had declined from 3.4 million to 2.1 million.
Noting the security and socio-economic impact of refugees on developing countries which extend them asylum, he said prevention was essential in order to tackle the root causes of refugee outflows. Several approaches had been put forward by SADC Member States. Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo had initiatives aimed at helping refugees become self-reliant through education, employment, freedom of movement, birth registration and addressing the special needs of women, children and disabled persons. It was vital to have a comprehensive strategy to resolve the problem of refugees trapped in protracted refugee situations, and for local integration to be strengthened and living conditions improved. The United Republic of Tanzania had been generous in naturalizing 162,000 long-staying Burundians who had applied for citizenship.
The capacity of countries already facing tremendous social and economic hardship to withstand large numbers of refugees had been called into question, he said. The basic principles of refugee protection were not being upheld in a number of countries. Refugees had been arrested and detained without charge, or returned against their will to places where they might be endangered. Yet others were in camps or remote locations, exposed sometimes to banditry and rape. Many lacked social, economic and civil rights. He encouraged efforts by the African Union to address the problem with a humanitarian approach via the African Union Convention on Refugees. The fourth Dialogue on Protection Challenges in Geneva would provide tools for better coordination to ensure the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons. Next year’s 60th anniversary of UNHCR and the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 convention on the reduction of statelessness, were an opportunity to raise public awareness of refugee issues and to take stock of individual efforts towards addressing the needs of persons of concern.
GEORG SPARBER ( Liechtenstein) commended the High Commissioner for increasing the capacity of his office so to better serve the affected population, and for securing more financial resources as a result of internal reforms within his organization. He also noted the active approach taken by UNHCR, with the Office of Internal Oversight, in strengthening its security management, so that his staff’s safety could be ensured while fulfilling their duties. In that regard, he urged all States who had humanitarian workers in their jurisdiction to provide legal protection for such staff and to ratify and implement of the Convention on Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol.
Continuing, he said that refugees and internally displaced persons in camps or temporary settlements were entitled to their fundamental rights and that parties to conflict were obligated to provide civilian oversight in camps and to protect those populations, in particular children. Parties to conflict were also responsible for holding perpetrators of grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law accountable, and he pointed out that, if there was a lack of capacity for national prosecution, that the Security Council’s watch list and sanction regime, as well as the International Criminal Court, provided methods to ensure accountability. Those independent and objective judicial bodies were often the first steps toward post-conflict reconciliation, encouraging voluntary repatriation of refugees and the return of internally displaced persons. Concluding, he expressed concern for the 12 million persons believed to stateless, of which only 6.6 million had been identified by UNHCR. The “large shadow number”, he said, was symptomatic of the difficulty in stateless persons claiming their fundamental rights and their entitlement to participate at equal terms in society. To this end, he stated that Liechtenstein had affirmed its commitment to reducing statelessness through its recent accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons and to the 1961 Convention on the reduction of statelessness.
SOHA GENDI ( Egypt) said the report of UNHCR reflected a number of achievements, but she was concerned about the availability of adequate resources to finance its activities. It needed to maintain the sustainability of pledges and increase them, regardless of international crises, whether economic, financial or any other. Particular attention should be turned to the protracted refugee situations in recipient developing countries. Priorities in the near term included the consolidating of international efforts toward elimination of the inherent causes of conflict; addressing the protection of refugees in the human rights context; implementing the principles of solidarity and partnership in addressing the situations faced by refugees; and securing conditions that encouraged voluntary repatriation.
She said her country was actively involved in efforts to develop the principles of the International Refugee Law to invigorate initiatives to cope with the changing international environment. It was also actively participating in reform of the High Commissioner’s office, as well as its programs and activities, which must take into account new challenges and repercussions, including those presented by natural disasters and climate change. A balanced framework would need to take budgetary constraints into account, so as to fund core programs and still enable it to address emergency situations. Finally, there should be a more equitable geographical distribution of jobs to correct the current imbalance in favour of developed countries, particularly at the higher levels.
ZHOU NINGYU ( China) said the global refugee situation remained “grave and complex”. In 2009, there had still been 10.4 million refugees receiving assistance from UNHCR and more than half had been trapped in that situation for a long time. While wars and conflicts remained the main causes of the refugee problem, natural disasters had also led to mass displacement of people. Furthermore, the current global economic downturn, food and energy crises and worsening security environment for humanitarian work had all added to the difficulties faced by refugees and Internally Displaces Persons. Through multilateral agencies such as the United Nations, countries should be helped to achieve peace, stability and development to eliminate the causes of the refugee problem. Countries needed to work together to devote more attention to the problems of refugees and internally displaced persons, adopting comprehensive measures to address both its symptoms and roots.
Given the global nature of this issue, countries needed to work in solidarity, sharing the burden to find a durable solution. Since developing countries were shouldering the brunt of the burden of sheltering the refugees, developed countries and United Nations agencies should provide them with more financial and technical assistance. “Great love knows no boundaries,” he said, and in that spirit, disaster preparedness must also be improved so that internally displaced persons could return home at an early date. He added that China appreciated the work of UNHCR and hoped it would continue its pragmatic cooperation with Governments, while China was also ready to further its cooperation and make due contributions to protect refugees.
NAJLA A. H. ABDELRAHMAN ( Sudan) renewed the Government’s commitment to work with UNHCR to improve the living conditions of refugees and promote efforts from relief to development. Noting that 36.5 million people in the world were being cared for and given assistance by UNHCR, particularly in protracted situations, Sudan stated that a renewed international commitment was needed. Sudan renewed its commitment to achieving a national strategy regarding refugees, out of its culture of helping those who needed help and shelter, and its commitment to international norms and covenants. Sudan had opened its doors to host refugees and provided services and protection for them. It established a national committee regarding refugees in 1965 and a high commissioner for refugees in 1968, as a counterpart to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Sudan had a large presence of refugees and internally displaced persons, in large part because of conflicts. UNCHR in Sudan carried out such services as providing education and shelter. Sudan participated in the international forum concerning refugees, using the Geneva Convention of 1951 and the protocols of the African Union of 1967, as well as other legislation, as its benchmark concerning the welfare of refugees.
With regard to durable solutions for refugees, Sudan stated that it was carrying out voluntary repatriation programmes, after providing all the basic needs, as well as a favourable environment for the reintegration of families. Sudan was in communication with UNCHR, which also worked to provide donor countries with information about the whereabouts of refugees, as well as the provision of food, education and healthcare. Sudan obtained financing by means of agreements with donor countries, and refugees in the country enjoyed all rights, such as freedom of expression and education, based on the relevant conventions. The Government’s comprehensive peace agreement ensured the stability of refugees from neighbouring or third countries, and, as war had come to an end in Darfur, the Government was securing for refugees, a dignified life, moving them from relief to development. Pointing to global trends, including urbanization, food scarcity and climate change, as well as the traditional impact of violence, Sudan called upon the international community to solve the age-old phenomenon of refugees through concerted efforts. Donor countries were also asked to meet their obligations regarding financing development projects, as well as to denounce such problems as rebellions and child recruitment in camps, which exacerbated the problem.
ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) stated that “regrettably, due to reoccurring instability and violence,” Afghanistan had one of the greatest numbers of refugees in the world. Noting that more than 5.5 million Afghans had found their way back since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he said that number translated into a population increase of 20 per cent within the past eight years – an adjustment with which any country would struggle, let alone one emerging from three decades of conflict. Moreover, the majority of Afghan refugees had been living in exile since the late 1980s, a reality which further complicated any reintegration process. While the overwhelming majority of Afghan refugees had returned from Pakistan and Iran, 2.7 million still remained in both countries.
“Guiding a sustainable repatriation which prioritizes reintegration will continue to be the focus of our discussions with the Governments of Iran and Pakistan during our respective Tripartite Commission meetings in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” he asserted. Much progress had been made in the past nine years’ still much remained to be accomplished. Relative to previous years, recent repatriation had stalled, linked to the twin threats of terrorism and insecurity. And as security deteriorated, internal displacement had grown – over 100,000 persons. The successful homecoming of its people abroad remained a main concern of the Government. Increasing absorption capacity would be crucial in that regard and thus constitute the centre piece of the nation’s efforts. To that end, Afghanistan would improve capacity in relevant ministries, foster greater inter-ministerial coordination, and mobilize additional resources with support from its international partners.
FREDERICK D. BARTON ( United States) said his country was a strong supporter of UNHCR and its work. UNHCR was an invaluable partner in efforts by the United States to provide humanitarian assistance to those who needed it most, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Colombia. Its global reach, protection expertise and critical role in resettlement efforts made American support for UNHCR imperative, in order for there to be an effective humanitarian response. He encouraged UNHCR to promote accession to international conventions on refugees and stateless persons in the context of the anniversary of its establishment.
UNHCR had been at the forefront of reform within the United Nations system, he said. Its efforts to decentralize, reduce Geneva-based staff, introduce global needs assessments into its budget appeals, and improve its personnel system were strongly supported by the United States. UNHCR should finalize its actions as close to its target dates as possible and consolidate internal reform efforts. It was also important for UNHCR to be able to show the tangible impact of reform on the lives of beneficiaries. The United States looked forward to updates on the connection between human resource management reforms and the priority objective of UNHCR: to strengthen protection capacity in response to threats to humanitarian and asylum space; and to enhance its emergency preparedness and response capability. The next couple of years would be key. UNHCR had undertaken an extraordinary range of reforms; it now needed to ensure they become part and parcel of the way it did business. Success would set a glowing example for the rest of the United Nations system.
VLADIMIR ZHEGLOV ( Russian Federation) said that the Government considered international cooperation in the humanitarian area an important part of maintaining peace at the national, regional and global levels. The status of refugees, the basis for which was provided by protocols, was purely humanitarian and non-political. The Russian Federation supported the efforts of UNHCR, as well as its standards in responding to mass forced displacement. The Government also believed in the need to look at each individual possibility of local resettlement. It was counterproductive and dangerous to issue appeals for displaced persons to return at any cost, in the absence of a guarantee of safety, or to use refugees for political pretexts. The Russian Federation shared concerns about the shrinking of humanitarian space and, every year, his country accepted more refugees.
Attention needed to be given to strengthening national mechanisms for the protection and development of national systems, he said. It was also necessary to increase cooperation between UNCHR and States, based on the principle of reaching clear agreements on measures to ease the situation of refugees. The Russian Federation shared UNCHR’s concern about trends in which institutions of asylum were misused and the need to develop international criteria for determining the status of applicants. Situations where there were mixed migratory flows could discredit asylum. He also believed in the need to focus on statelessness, as well as the arbitrary deprivation of citizenship. Referring to Latvia and Estonia, the Russian Federation said that they had not solved the problem of non-citizens. There was work to be done on updating legislative provisions regarding improving the rights of refugees, although some progress had been made in a common approach on how to determine the status of refugees.
SHIGEHIRO NISHIUMI ( Japan), welcomed the new budgetary system and the Global Needs Assessment, as well as reforms to reduce spending by Headquarters, but expressed concern at the fact that there was a $1.3 billion gap in funding between the real needs of and current contributions to UNHCR. All activities related to raising awareness and funds should, therefore, be strengthened, he said. Massive natural disasters had taken place around the world over the past year, creating thousands of new refugees and internally displaced persons, increasing the important role of UNHCR. Better disaster risk reduction and preparedness could drastically reduce new displacements, and he called on Member States to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action “with all possible speed”.
UNHCR’s proposal to serve as lead agency for the internally displaced persons protection cluster in the event of natural disaster was appropriate, yet more clarity was needed on its role and ways it would cooperate with other international organizations in that field. Japan shared concern over shrinking humanitarian space, particularly violence committed against civilians by non-State armed groups and their efforts to hinder humanitarian activities; to ensure humanitarian access, all its activities should be neutral, impartial and independent, he said. Japan had been cooperating to the greatest extent possible with UNHCR in the fields of human security and peacebuilding. To date this year, Japan had contributed $143 million. It had implemented more than 50 projects in approximately 30 countries with UNHCR, and expected to further strengthen such cooperation. Also, Japan has started a three-year pilot project on resettlement of refugees – the first of its kind in Asia – that will take 30 refugees from Myanmar each year, as a small contribution to the effort to resolve that problem.
UMER SIDDIQUE ( Pakistan) said the issue of refugees must be seen in a holistic manner. The international community and humanitarian agencies alike had only concentrated on one side of the issue, ignoring the significant impact of refugees on the socioeconomic structures of host communities. Efforts must be redoubled to provide assistance to host countries. He encouraged the High Commissioner to undertake reforms with a view to responding to contemporary challenges, but not to shift its focus from its core activity: refugees. Pakistan, host to one of the world’s largest refugee populations, had felt negative economic, socio-cultural and security repercussions from that presence. Its resolve to fulfil its moral and humanitarian commitments towards Afghan refugees remained firm.
With that in mind, he said international resource pledges to Afghan refugees had fallen in recent years, affecting the assistance provided to them. The Government had devised a new Management and Repatriation Strategy for Afghan refugees, which took an integrated view of their needs by introducing changes in the visa regime, among other things. However, success would largely depend on the creation of “pull factors” inside Afghanistan, and both donors and the High Commissioner should focus on speeding reintegration, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in that country. Pakistan would adhere to the principles of voluntarism and gradualism in the repatriation process. It also would continue to work with the High Commissioner to provide Afghan refugees relief and temporary shelter, with a view to restoring their dignity and livelihoods. He urged the international community to play a meaningful role in that regard. Such actions must be undertaken without creating new political, economic or social frictions.
SARUN HAETANURAK ( Thailand) said UNHCR’s work was greatly appreciated, but would have to adjust to new realities, including an unprecedented surge in mixed migration. These days, it was not necessarily States and UNHCR that determined the status of migrants. People smugglers and human traffickers were getting into the game and were becoming “bigger, richer and smarter”. It was particularly concerning that sometimes smuggled migrants were passed off as refugees. It was increasingly difficult to secure borders and Thailand was, in collaboration with the Swiss Government, building its border management, and was also strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries. But, UNHCR must also make efforts, and in that regard, he welcomed its structural reform over the past few years, as well as the role played by the Office in the Bali process to hold annual dialogues on protection challenges. His country still sheltered over 100,000 persons displaced from neighbouring countries and, although there had been gaps of protection and finding solutions, Thailand was trying its best to close them.
Last year, Thailand launched, in cooperation with UNHCR, a pilot pre-screening project to speed up its admission system. There were also plans to expand Legal Assistance Centres that had been successful in several temporary shelter areas, while progress was being made on issuing birth certificates for children born from displaced persons. Thailand cooperated with UNHCR, International Organization for Migration and a number of third countries on resettlement programmes, but obstacles remained; last year, resettlement places met only 10 per cent of demand, while the financial crisis pressured Thailand and donors. But, it was even more worrying that the will to work together for the most durable solution had somewhat faded. “Despite the reiteration in last year’s Executive Committee conclusion that voluntary repatriation remains the preferred durable solution, we regret that this solution is viewed by some in a negative light, and if it continues to be seen this way, a quasi-permanent situation can easily turn into a permanent one,” he said.
MORTEN WETLAND ( Norway) said that UNHCR increasingly had to manage emergency or protracted situations, so there was a need for new operational measures and burden sharing. He stated for the record Norway’s appreciation of countries that hosted refugees, noting Pakistan, in particular, in that regard. He also spoke about the need for the strategic use of resettlement, particularly concerning Iran, and the need to assist with the voluntary repatriation of Afghans. Regarding the principle of asylum, he said there was a need to distinguish between migration and asylum, as well as to come up with a mechanism that took into account the legitimate concerns of States regarding migration. Norwegian policy was to ensure protection for those in need, using a broader definition. Border control was also of vital importance to ensure asylum.
With regard to internally displaced persons, he noted that the framework was inadequate in some countries and needed to be strengthened. His Government would continue its close cooperation on that topic, to ensure that the new mandate holder could fulfil all requirements. As UNHCR exercised its mandate, it needed to focus on gender, which would enhance the quality of its response, as well as intensify efforts concerning women, peace and security. UNHCR’s most valuable asset was its staff, which was putting its lives at risk to help displaced persons. Encouraging them to keep up good work, he stated the need for an impact analysis to harmonize entitlements of staff of different entities. As the goal of harmonizing should be balanced against getting the right staff, more clarity was needed regarding the proposal’s consequences. Additionally, current trends showed clear signs that climate change was causing harm. Upcoming conferences provided an opportunity to further discuss the issues of refugees and forced displacement.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Estoniawanted to clarify some gaps in the statement by her counterpart from the Russian Federation regarding her country’ citizenship policy. For the last 19 years, the Government had been addressing the question of persons with undetermined citizenship, with the result that the number of such persons had decreased five-fold. That trend had been reflected in UNHCR figures. Everyone had a right to choose his or her citizenship, and Estonia encouraged those with undetermined citizenship to apply for Estonian citizenship. All legal residents of Estonia had the right to vote, including those with undetermined citizenship, who enjoyed more rights than in many other countries. It was hoped that the clarification would give sufficient information to the representative of the Russian Federation.
Human Rights Council
In the afternoon session, the Committee heard a statement by SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW ( Thailand), President of the Human Rights Council. The fourth cycle of the Council, from its September 2009 session to the June 2010 session, had been intense and fruitful, with progress being made in further defining certain rights and aspects thereof. The first four-year cycle Universal Periodic Review had passed its two-thirds point, with 127 Member States reviewed so far. Besides traditional issues, the Council had addressed such topics as the impact of the global economic and financial crises on human rights, the protection of journalists in situations of armed conflict, and the adverse effects of toxic waste on human rights. It had also been seized with support for the post-earthquake recovery process in Haiti, the Israeli attack on the flotilla, and the human rights situation in Somalia.
The mandate of Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of association and of assembly had been created, he continued, as well as a Working Group on the elimination of discrimination against women in law and practice. Inter-governmental working groups had been set up to draft the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training and to consider the possibility of a framework to regulate private military and security companies.
During the reporting period, the Council had adopted 81 resolutions, 72 decisions and three President’s Statements, he said. In addition, seven resolutions recommended for further action by the General Assembly had come out of the fifteenth session of the Council, including resolutions on follow-up to the fact-finding mission on the incident of the humanitarian flotilla, human rights and indigenous peoples, and elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. Also addressed to the General Assembly were resolutions on arbitrary detention, the right to peaceful assembly and association, the elimination of discrimination against women, and the regulation, monitoring and oversight of private military and security companies; these involved new mandates or activities that would give rise to additional resource requirements. Two further resolutions would have the General Assembly proclaim International Days for the right to truth concerning gross human rights violations, and for the victims of enforced disappearances.
The Human Rights Council was entering a challenging fifth cycle, he said. The pace and progress of its regular work had to be maintained, at the same time as the review process. Several principles would guide Mr. PHUANGKETKEOW’s term as President: a constructive and cooperative approach to human rights issues and situations; strengthening the capacity of the Council to make a real difference on the ground and to react to urgent situations in an even-handed way; and ensuring that all stakeholders were included in the work of the Council. The review process began last week with the first session of the Review Working Group; it was expected to be pragmatic and realistic, and identify areas where the Council’s effectiveness could be enhanced. The focus would be on how to create more impact on the ground, how to better address chronic and emergency human rights violations, and how to make the best use of available time and resources to fulfil the mandates given to the Council.
One aspect to be addressed during the review process would be the working relationship between the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, he said. Whereas the Council could create mandates at any time, its proposals were considered by the General Assembly only once a year, when required. Such a situation risked delay in resourcing new mandates and activities. Efficient support from the General Assembly was even more critical when the Council dealt with urgent human rights issues.
NICOLAS BURNIAT ( Belgium), on behalf of the European Union, said the European Union would address the Report of the Human Rights Council in its entirety only tomorrow in the Plenary of the General Assembly. He took the opportunity to refer to the Council’s report on its fifteenth session (A/HRC/15/L-10) and to recall the Union’s general comments pronounced on 1 October 2010 in relation to the statement made by the President of the Council regarding the dialogue between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Council. The Union noted the statement made by the President, with the understanding that it did not alter in any way the independence of the High Commissioner or her accountability to the United Nations Secretary General, in line with established United Nations rules and procedures.
MONZER SELIM ( Egypt) said that, in the last five years, the Human Rights Council had overcome some of the challenges that had hampered international efforts to consolidate universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably by unifying standards and adopting a constructive approach to key questions. To promote and protect all human rights, all States must commit to implementing the Universal Periodic Review, without exception. Governments must deal positively with special procedures, including by extending invitations for field visits and responding to communications. Mandate holders must restrict their activities to the scope of their mandates, provide objective reporting and verify the validity of the information included. Early warning mechanisms must be based on reliable cases of gross human rights violations. Moreover, States must not accuse or criticise certain countries to achieve political objectives.
For its part, Egypt had participated in the Periodic Review in June and was fully committed to addressing impediments to all universally accepted human rights, hesaid. His Government also was committed to developing the Council’s working methods, ensuring that cooperation existed between national institutions and the international community, as well as with existing human rights mechanisms. As current Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Egypt would ensure achievement of that objective during the ongoing review of the Council’s working methods in Geneva. The tendency of a few to impose themselves as human rights custodians must also be confronted, which, in turn meant confronting attempts to destabilize the principle United Nations organs and circumvent the Council’s mandate by presenting country-specific resolutions in the Third Committee. Egypt also looked forward to more efforts to combat all forms of discrimination, devoid of conditionalities or imposition of controversial notions.
ZHANG DAN ( China) said that, although there were still shortcomings and problems, the overall performance of the Human Rights Council had been good, which had contributed to the promotion of human rights worldwide. In light of that, China believed that the Review should evaluate the Council’s achievements and shortcomings over the years in an objective and even-handed manner, and make targeted improvements to make the Council’s work more in line with what was called for in the institution-building package and principles and spirit set forth in the General Assembly resolution. The Review process was not to reopen negotiations on the institution-building package, or seek to re-create the Council. Noting hope that all Parties would take a constructive approach to the dialogue, she stated that the Council might also wish to put forward recommendations on its relationship with the Third Committee, in order to define further their division of labour.
China had been working relentlessly to promote human rights at the national level and had conscientiously fulfilled its duty as a member of the Human Rights Council, she said. China would work with all parties to improve the work of the Council. Its aim was to have a Council that addressed human rights issues based on the principles of objectivity and non-selectivity, that facilitated international dialogue and cooperation on human rights issues, and that worked to advance the cause of human rights.
Mr. OMER ( Sudan) said that the Human Rights Council had shown that it was a step in the right direction and a building block in dealing with human rights. As discussions had started regarding the review of the performance of the Human Rights Council, Sudan affirmed the importance of the review topics, but understood that it would not amend the Council’s institutional structure. Sudan confirmed the importance of what was agreed upon regarding the formative basis of the Council, and not opening the door to reviewing that basis, which was launched years ago and had proven its effectiveness.
Sudan said that it was now preparing to submit a report within the Universal Periodic Review process in the first half of next year. Sudan was monitoring human rights developments in the country, after establishing an interim constitution in 2005, based on protecting those rights and helping citizens raise human rights standards. The most important improvement to human rights had been presidential and parliamentary elections. The political leadership showed its interest in the review reports and direct meetings with relevant experts to review all human rights developments. Darfur had also cooperated with independent experts, affirming Sudan’s deep belief in the continued role of the Council — away from politicization and based on constructive dialogue. It was important to focus on technical assistance and capacity-building, without relying on accusations that would affect the country involved. Additionally, Sudan expressed support for the Palestinian people and supported the promotion of their human rights.
MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) expressed “warm congratulations” to the Human Rights Council for its expertise in carrying out the Universal Periodic Review process, which marked a new era in the promotion and protection of human rights. Together with other traditional mechanisms, the Universal Periodic Review had helped to build a constructive dialogue between States, monitoring bodies and national State and non-State actors, aimed at useful and consensual reforms. Burkina Faso was a member of the Council and it was a mark of honour for it to fully and effectively carry out its mandate, as such.
For a developing country, producing reports – and doing so on time – was an additional responsibility that required expertise, as well as sufficient human and material resources, he said. It was for that reason that Burkina Faso called, once again, for strengthening of the technical and financial support of United Nations bodies and those of inter-State cooperation, thus enabling the sharing of best practices in elaborating reports and carrying out institutional reforms. In addition, given that complexity of evaluating human rights, and the differences in methodology between human rights instruments, work needed to be intensified on streamlining and harmonization, so as to ease the burden, particularly on developing countries.
ERTUĞRUL APAKAN ( Turkey) recalled the incident of 31 May in which a humanitarian convoy was attacked by Israeli forces on the high seas. Nine civilians had been killed and many others sustained serious injuries. An international and independent fact-finding mission was dispatched by the Human Rights Council to investigate. It interviewed 112 witnesses from more than 20 nationalities in a number of cities, which formed the basis of a report that contained compelling legal analysis and conclusions. It stated that the conduct of Israelis involved in the incident had been disproportionate, unnecessarily violent and unjustifiable on any grounds. International law and human rights law had been gravely violated.
The same report spoke of wilful killing and torture, he said. It identified violations of Israel’s obligations under human rights law and the illegality of the Gaza blockade. It was based on solid facts and legal documents and the vast majority of the international community stood behind it. Turkey expected a formal apology and compensation for the incident. No draft resolution concerning the incident had been submitted, but Turkey could revisit its position in the coming weeks, in consultation with others. The Secretary-General’s panel of inquiry has meanwhile been continuing its work; it had received a report from a Turkish commission of investigation that has inspected three ships in the convoy and heard a number of witnesses. Fighting impunity had always been an objective of the United Nations. “Justice is needed. So long as justice is not done, peace will be elusive,” he said.
JAKKRIT SRIVALI ( Thailand) said his country’s recent election to the Human Rights Council was an important impetus to reinvigorate efforts on promoting and protecting human rights at home, regionally and abroad. Further, his country’s election to the presidency was an opportunity to actively engage in improving the Council, which must complete its formal review next year. To prevent backsliding, the Council must move forward in four key areas.
The first area in which the Council should move forward was to improve its even-handedness, he said. The Council must constructively work with countries of concern by reducing the politicization of human rights issues. Next, the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism should focus on facilitation and implementation of recommendations as it neared the end of its first cycle next year, with 127 States actively involved in the process and 16 more now undergoing it. The landmark Mechanism had proven its usefulness as a complement to other mechanisms. The focus must now be on consolidating successes and ensuring implementation and follow-up. Further, he said the Council should improve its relationship with the special procedures mechanism by enhancing mutual cooperation and by building trust and confidence. Finally, the Council should streamline its work by reducing the proliferation of resolutions and focus instead on implementation on the ground for true impact. In conclusion and towards all those ends, his country would host a retreat on the review process on 8-10 December in Bangkok. He hoped it would provide an informal setting for frank discussions, not only for the 47 Human Rights Council members, but for all United Nations Member States.
LARISA BELSKAYABelarus) said that the Government had studied the Human Rights Council report and welcomed the Council’s work, as well as cooperation based on dialogue. She welcomed the Council’s holding of special sessions on Haiti and Palestine, which showed its expert potential and flexibility to deal with various important human rights matters. Its activities in the social, political, cultural and economic spheres showed that it was attempting to adopt a balanced approach – a trend that Belarus believed should be sustainable and irreversible. She welcomed the Council’s attention to the fight against the trafficking of human beings, believing that a factor to strengthen this could be a section devoted to that issue in the Council.
She also stated its support for the thematic reports on special procedures, which strengthened the review of human rights through established mandates. Her Government noted the need for strict compliance with the code of conduct by the special rapporteur and other experts. Belarus also stated that the Universal Periodic Review Process provided for the comprehensive assessment of human rights on the ground, although it categorically objected to the use of the Review to pressure States through politicized recommendations. Regarding a review of the Council in New York after the review in Geneva, Belarus believed that neither review should result in major changes. She would back only those that would not overburden the Council and did not undermine existing cooperation.
PABLO BERTI ( Cuba) said the Human Rights Council had been set up to replace a Commission on Human Rights that had been ensnared by confrontation and political manipulation. Despite its solid democratic basis, it faced significant challenges and threats to its work. It had not proven possible to put an end to country-specific mandates. Further principles of neutrality and objectivity had to be respected by its special procedures. Cuba had a positive view of the work of the Council; it had consolidated effective practices for a truly universal review of the human rights situation around the world, and demonstrated an ability to deal with emergency situations, such as the grave violations against the Palestinian people perpetrated by Israel.
With the first steps of the review process having been taken in Geneva, he stressed the need to follow the procedures set out by the General Assembly. The review was an intergovernmental process that should be transparent and inclusive. It should pass through Geneva first and then New York. No radical changes to the Council were necessary; the focus of the review should be on consolidation and dialogue. Cuba would object to the introduction of selective and discriminatory processes. Also, Cuba was willing to cooperate with the Council and the United Nations human rights machinery based on dialogue and mutual respect, national sovereignty and respect for the right of peoples to pick their own political systems.
MONIA ALSALEH (Syria), welcoming cooperation with the Human Rights Council, referred to the report’s mention of human rights issues in the occupied Golan and occupied Palestine. Despite two fact-finding missions regarding the Gaza conflict and the flotilla incident, Israel still refused to abide by any resolutions or to implement them. Despite calls not to impede fact-finding missions, to redress the situations of survivors and to protect people from attacks, Israel continued impeding the work of fact-finding missions. Perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity were boasting of their crimes with impunity, and international public opinion questioned the fact that they enjoyed impunity and were not being tried.
She called upon United Nations organs, including the Council, to shoulder their responsibility and take measures to achieve accountability with regard to Israeli violations, which had been documented in the Goldstone Report. Israeli officials should be pursued and punished for crimes in Gaza, to administer justice and prevent impunity. Syria referred positively to the report of fact-finding mission of the Council regarding Israeli aggression on the flotilla that was heading to Gaza on a humanitarian mission, and looked forward to the findings. She rejected all proposals calling for changing the agenda of the Council and any proposals that limited the opportunity for victims to reveal the violation of human rights that some States were trying to cover up.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco) said the Human Rights Council had carved a niche for itself. His country had been fully involved in its work, both as a full member and as a simple observer, contributing to strengthening its institutional framework. Morocco had participated in discussions at the very highest level, including the adoption of several important resolutions by consensus. It had also sponsored such initiatives as the declaration on human rights education. Morocco’s commitment had been stated by the country’s King.
The review of the Council should be done in a coordinated fashion in Geneva and New York, he said. It was an important milestone and a good time to draw conclusions, review what had been done in the past, and look to the future. Its objective should be a strengthening of the Council’s capacity and improving human rights on the ground. The Council could be made more responsive to crises, while remaining loyal to the principles of impartiality, universality, objectivity and non-selectivity. Also, it should be a transparent process.
NADYA RASHEED, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, fully supporting the Council, said the Goldstone Report and that of the Fact-finding Mission into the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance to Occupied Gaza were “significant” steps towards ending a culture of impunity that prevailed in her region. The Goldstone Report confirmed that Israel had committed serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law against Palestinians during its military operations between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. Nearly two years after that event, Gazans continued to live in ruins. A committee of independent experts, commissioned by the Council, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had established an independent, impartial commission to investigate the events, and that Israel had not.
She urged the international community to compel Israel to conduct an independent, credible investigation into those serious violations, in line with international standards. The report of the Fact-finding Mission into Israeli attacks on the flotilla concluded that Israeli forces violated international law during the interception of the “ Gaza freedom flotilla” and detention of peace activists. It also concluded that Israel’s use of force was disproportionate, that the blockade of Gaza was unlawful, and that Israel’s interception must be considered illegal. She supported all such conclusions, saying that the trend clearly presented in both reports had been seen in numerous others by independent fact-finding missions and special rapporteurs alike. Israel had systematically breached international law and could no longer continue to be treated as a State existing above the law. She called on all States to join in the fight against impunity.
JEFFREY HEATON ( Canada) said that he was pleased that the Human Rights Council had established mandates with regard to the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and to eliminating discrimination against women in law and practice. Stating that it looked forward to cooperation with the Council in the future, expressed concern about attempts to limit the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, which was important to its role as an advocate.
With regard to the upcoming review of the Council, he looked forward to strengthening its capacity to fulfil its mandate and seeking a more robust role for it to prevent further violations and to mainstream human rights through the United Nations system. The established working group should agree on more streamlined work and a balanced agenda. Canada was committed to strengthening the special procedures and defending their independence. Regarding the Universal Periodic Review, he supported creating a meaningful second phase that built on the first, and looked forward to ongoing fruitful discussions about the issue.
NOA FURMAN ( Israel) said today’s report and the series of resolutions it contained showed how far the Council had strayed from its founding principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. “Any objective and impartial examination of the Council’s recent report confirms its bias and obsession with Israel. My delegation notes that half of the report’s country-specific resolutions not dealing with technical assistance are targeted exclusively at Israel,” she said.
That blatant misuse and exploitation of Council proceedings and distortion of its mandate fundamentally undermined its legitimacy and prevented it from addressing many serious human rights violations in the world. Israel was a democracy committed to the rule of law and human rights, with an internationally respected judiciary and a pluralist and active civil society. It was also committed to engaging in candid and professional dialogue in United Nations fora, including before the Council’s Universal Periodic Review. But it could not accept a partisan report that perpetuated a politicized agenda. That approach should deeply concern anyone committed to promoting a responsible and universal human rights agenda.
TETSUYA KIMURA ( Japan) stated that Japan had actively participated in the work of the Human Rights Council as a member. Nevertheless, it recognized that there were some issues that needed to be addressed in order for the Council to more effectively and efficiently improve the human rights situation of the nations of the world. He welcomed the outcome of the first intergovernmental working group session on the Human Rights Council review, which took place in Geneva last week. Japan had submitted a written contribution to the session and continued to participate actively in consideration of the matter. In the view of Japan, the Third Committee should take advantage of its universal character, and coordination should be improved between the Human Rights Council and other United Nations organs, in order to make efforts in those areas of peace and security, development, and human rights mutually reinforcing.
In addition, he said the discussion should focus on the newly created functions of the Council, including the Universal Periodic Review, and discuss whether it was contributing effectively to an improvement of the human rights situation around the world, and how to follow up on its outcome. In addition, Japan had consistently held the position that the Report of the Council should be presented directly to the General Assembly, rather than to the Third Committee. Finally, Japan stated that discrimination continued to be practiced in places around the world against those afflicted with leprosy, a curable disease yet one shrouded in much misunderstanding. To help end that situation, Japan contribution to the process by which the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council drafted principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families. It also presented to the Council a draft resolution on the subject that was adopted by consensus last month. Japan was presenting another draft resolution on the topic that it hoped would receive the support of all Member States.
ZAHID RASTAM ( Malaysia) said the creation of the Human Rights Council had represented “a paradigm shift” from its predecessor. It was based on the principles of cooperation, dialogue and mutual respect. Its review was an opportunity to take stock and make adjustments to the institutional building package. The achievements of the Council, including Universal Periodic Review, had been examples of the international community’s success in promoting and protecting human rights. More could always be done, but as the Council matured, some thought should go into ways to streamline its work.
Malaysia disagreed that the Council lacked the capacity to respond to human rights situations; special sessions had demonstrated that it could, he said. Malaysia looked forward to the results of the intergovernmental Working Group in Geneva. It also acknowledged the contribution of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions; the Council had provided them with greater space for contributing to its work, and their participation should be in line with the Economic and Social Council and General Assembly resolutions governing their role.
JEONGA YU ( Republic of Korea ) said that Government welcomed the two new procedures established in the last session and viewed them as an achievement. However, it had become apparent that the Council needed work in further areas, such as to redouble efforts concerning the implementation of resolutions, as the real value of resolutions was their impact on the ground. The Universal Periodic Review process’ actual impact was also on the ground. She noted that strengthened cooperation should be rendered to special procedures.
In order to address the Council’s improvement, there needed to be deliberation over measures for discharging the mandate, she said. The Republic of Korea congratulated the Council on its functioning, and stated that the review in Geneva must be complemented by another status review in New York. Following the informal consultations to date, they had gotten off to a productive start. She also underlined the need to avoid duplication by the Third Committee and Council, her affirming Government’s continued commitment to promoting human rights for all.
JOHN SAMMIS ( United States) said the strengths and weaknesses of the Human Rights Council were reflected in the report of the Council. The United States was proud of many of the Council’s resolutions, including those on violence against Afghan school children, trafficking in persons, protection of human rights defenders, protection of human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS. It was especially proud of the Council’s renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert for Sudan, and new resolutions on Kyrgyzstan and Guinea. But the Council’s unbalanced and one-sided approach to the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories was disappointing. That approach was evident in the handling of the Goldstone mandate and report, and in the Council’s hasty establishment of a fact-finding mission with a flawed mandate to investigate the tragic incident aboard the Gaza-bound ships in late May.
When the United States joined the Council last year, it was with the willingness to support what the Council did well, and to challenge those aspects of the Council’s operation that undermined its effectiveness and mandate, he said. It was in that spirit that it would engage in the review process. The United States looked forward to working with the President of the Council and its membership in exploring ways to strengthen the Council and improve the effectiveness of its work.
EDUARDO ULIBARRI ( Costa Rica) said he placed special importance on the review process in the Council’s work, both within the Council and in the Assembly. Conversations should take place in an environment of earnestness and frankness regulated by objective parameters. The review provided an opportunity for the Council to be more proactive in promoting rights, to improve its response capacity and to make a better impact in the field. Analysis should include an evaluation of the tools and mechanisms available to the Council, so as to ensure they were “sufficient and effective”.
Based on his country’s perspective as an observer, he said, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism needed “fine-tuning”. Currently, recommendations for States were treated unequally and they were insufficiently articulated, which could impact implementation. The operation of the Troika should be improved, as should the support provided by the Human Rights High Commissioner’s office in the form of creating a guide for clustering and filtering recommendations. The content of each recommendation should be clear enough to present no obstacle to implementation. Further, he said region-specific Special Procedures should be established to improve field conditions. They should be used as an option to ensure an integral approach to human rights in all countries and regions. Procedures for widespread, equitable monitoring should be included. Flexible tools should be used when approaching country-specific situation. In conclusion, he said his country was a candidate for Council membership in 2011-2014. He requested and looked forward to Member States’ support to that aspiration.
Mr. PHUANGKETKEOW, the President of the Human Rights Council, took the floor again to reiterate his appreciation for the opportunity to meet with the Committee. He would be making a report to the General Assembly tomorrow. The fifth cycle of the Council would be challenging; it was embarking on a review, but at the same time it had to ensure that that review did not sidetrack it from its main work. Close cooperation with New York would be needed. The review was not a reform of the Council; its premise was to consider how to enhance the work and functioning of the Council in terms of the mandate given to it. All proposals that would lead to that goal would be welcome.
While many issues would be taken up, it was important for the review to be guided by three overall objectives, he said. Firstly, the review should lead to the Council having a greater impact on the ground. Second, it should ensure coherence between all mechanisms and procedures of the Council in the promotion and protection of human rights. The third objective called for exploring ways to enhance the capacity of the Council to deal with urgent and emergency situations in a constructive and even-handed way. In addition, consideration would have to be given into streamlining the work of the Council, so as to maximize the use of its time. The review being undertaken in Geneva was distinct from the one at the General Assembly, which was looking into the status of the Council. The President of the Council looked forward to working with the Third Committee and the General Assembly in advancing the review of the Council.
* *** *For information media • not an official record