25 October 2012
General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

24th & 25th Meetings (AM & PM)

UN Expert Calls for Boycott of International Businesses Profiting from Israeli

Settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories, in Third Committee

Also Hears from Experts on Myanmar, Rights of Migrants,

Internally Displaced Persons, Enforced Disappearances, Religious Freedom

A United Nations expert today called for boycotting businesses that were profiting from Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands until they brought their operations in line with international human rights and humanitarian law, as he presented his annual report to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).

Richard Falk, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, also encouraged civil society to bolster efforts to hold those businesses accountable through legal and political initiatives at the national and international levels.

He drew attention to important developments in international law and related standards concerning businesses and human rights, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human rights and the United Nations Global Compact.  With those in mind, he had contacted the 13 multinational companies highlighted in his report — headquartered in, among other places, France, United States, Sweden and the Netherlands — to give them an opportunity to respond.

“Businesses should not breach international humanitarian law provisions,” he said.  “Nor should they be complicit in any breaches.”  They might otherwise be subject to criminal or civil liability, which could extend to individual employees.

In preparing his report, he had received “a massive amount” of information from civil society and others documenting the involvement of businesses in Israeli settlements, he continued.  The companies highlighted constituted a small number of the many profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise.  His report also recommended that an advisory opinion be sought from the International Court of Justice regarding the responsibility of businesses in relation to the economic activities of settlements that are established in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

More broadly, he said “the scale of Israel’s settlement enterprise, especially the massive financial investment in it, appears to confirm Israel’s intention to retain control over much, if not all, of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”.  Israeli settlements controlled over 40 per cent of the West Bank.  Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli citizens had already been settled in Palestinian territory, 200,000 of whom had settled in East Jerusalem.  In the last year alone, the settler population had increased by over 15,000 people.

He urged Israel, which had not cooperated with him in fulfilling his mandate, to implement its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations and ensure that private businesses operating in Palestine were accountable for any activities that adversely impacted Palestinians’ human rights.

Also today, the Committee heard from Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, who said reforms in that country continued to move at a rapid pace.  Considerable progress had been made, including in the area of human rights.  “There is no doubt that Myanmar will continue to experience many dramatic changes in the months and years ahead,” he declared.

Presenting his report, he said important progress had been made in negotiating ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups.  The signing of the Joint Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers marked another achievement.

But he remained concerned at recent violence in Rakhine State, where all communities were suffering, as well as at continued allegations of human rights abuses in conflict-affected ethnic border areas, including Kachin, where he had heard charges of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, torture, use of landmines and recruitment of child soldiers.

The Government needed to address such allegations as a priority, he said, and provide the United Nations with regular, independent and predictable access to all in need of humanitarian assistance.  He also called for addressing endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community and reviewing the 1982 Citizenship Act.  There had been large anti-United Nations and anti-Rohingya demonstrations in recent months.  The true test of democratic reforms taking place would be the Government’s response to views that challenged its policy.

Myanmar was also set to experience dramatic economic development and he called for urgent attention to land and housing rights, as there had been an increase in land confiscations, land grabbing and forced evictions.  He concluded by expressing his appreciation of the Government’s engagement, acknowledging its greater openness in discussing human rights issues.  “Such reflection and willingness to seek assistance in addressing capacity gaps bodes well for the future reform process.”

Responding, Myanmar’s representative thanked the Special Rapporteur for his presentation, but noted it should have been more constructive.  Myanmar had indeed placed human rights at the heart of its peaceful democratic transition, as seen in the creation of the independent Human Rights Commission and the first United States-Myanmar human rights dialogue held last week.

Moreover, legislative reforms were underway and the country had recently acceded to two more human rights instruments, he said.  Prisoners of conscience had been granted release and further amnesty had been made.  “We are fully committed to reaching long-lasting peace with all ethnic groups,” he said, adding that violence in Rakhine State had nothing to do with racial or religions oppression.  The commune had been blown up by miscreants spreading fake photos on social media.  Humanitarian assistance was being provided to affected people without any hindrance.

He said Myanmar was changing in the right direction and would continue to do so resolutely.  It should be viewed in a new mindset.  The time had come to end country specific resolutions, which should give way to encouragement and support.

The Committee also heard presentations by:  the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; the Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances; the Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants; and the Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 29 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion on human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.

For its discussions, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/67/333), which covers the period from August 2011 to July 2012.  The report says it has been a “remarkable year of promise and change” in Myanmar.  The new civilian Government headed by President Thein Sein undertook significant reform measures to consolidate democracy by building new institutions; enacting new laws in active sessions of the national parliament and regional assemblies; reaching out to various ethnic groups to promote peace and national reconciliation; releasing significant numbers of political prisoners, including some of the most prominent figures; and taking measures to carry out economic reforms aimed at transforming the largely centralized economy into an increasingly market-oriented one that is open to foreign investment and trade.

The changed political environment, following the meeting between President Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in August 2011, resulted in the revision of the electoral laws that has enabled the National League for Democracy to return to the electoral fold after more than 20 years and to convincingly win 43 of the 45 seats in the by-election held on 1 April 2012.  The past year has also witnessed a steep change in the engagement between Myanmar and the international community.  The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to Myanmar’s hosting of the 2014 ASEAN summit.  In the same period, the resumption of high-level bilateral engagement with Myanmar by the United States, the European Union and other interested countries brought about major shifts in their policies, including the review, suspension or lifting of their sanctions against Myanmar.

With the United Nations, there was a new expansion in relations that enabled engagement on the normalization of restricted programmes and greater cooperation with the various agencies of the Organization in support of the country’s all-around political and socioeconomic development and in meeting humanitarian needs.  The Secretary-General visited Myanmar from 29 April to 1 May 2012, his third visit to the country.

A note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document A/67/379) addresses Israel’s compliance with its international legal obligations in relation to its occupation of Palestinian territory.  The Special Rapporteur focuses on the legal responsibility of businesses, corporations and non-State actors involved in activities relating to Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.  He reiterates his request to Israel to cooperate with his efforts, noting that Israel has not cooperated with many other important initiatives of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council relating to the occupied Palestinian territory.

As such, the Special Rapporteur calls attention to the grave circumstances of the Palestinian people, living under prolonged occupation and with no realistic prospect of its termination in the near future.  The United Nations has a great responsibility to do everything possible to avoid the economic, political and cultural exploitation of Palestinians and their natural resource endowment.  Among other recommendations, he calls on Israel to desist from settling its population in the occupied Palestinian territory, begin dismantling its settlements and returning its citizens to its own territory, namely:  the Israeli side of the Green Line, in accordance with international law, numerous Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall.

A note by the Secretary-General transmitted the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (document A/67/289), Chaloka Beyani, which outlines his activities between August 2011 and July 2012.  It also gives a thematic review of achievements and new challenges, as well as trends, relating to internal displacement over the past two decades, a theme that marks the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the mandate.  He concludes that “impressive” advances in the response to internal displacement have been achieved in the last 20 years, at the normative, operational and institutional levels.

At the same time, the report states, internal displacement remains one of the world’s most significant human rights and humanitarian challenges, as millions of people were displaced each year by conflict, disasters and development projects.  Megatrends such as urbanization, human mobility and population growth and increased competition for scarce resources are likely to further affect internal displacement patterns.

He recommends that States adopt a comprehensive policy for addressing internal displacement.  For African Union States, he urges implementation of the Kampala Convention, and for Member States of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the Pact on Security, Stability and Development.  At the international level, he urges, among other things, continued work by regional organizations on all aspects of internal displacement, including with regard to implementation of regional instruments.

The Secretary-General’s report on the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (document A/67/271), which summarizes States replies to a 3 May 2012 note verbale from the Secretary-General inviting Governments to transmit information pertaining to the implementation of resolution 66/160 (2012), entitled “International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance”.  Replies have been received from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Morocco, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The report also includes information on the activities carried out in relation to the implementation of the resolution by the Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, United Nations agencies and organizations, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Next, the Committee had before it a note by the Secretary‑General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/67/383), which notes the “dramatic and accelerated changes” encouraged by the continuing reforms, and emphasizes that human rights should lie at the heart of the process, with the legacy of the past informing it.  No prisoners of conscience should be left in jail, and Myanmar must tackle its human rights challenges in order for democratic transition and national reconciliation to make progress, the report says, adding the international community should also ensure that human rights considerations remain at the forefront of its engagement with Myanmar during this period of transition.  Among the report’s recommendations, its says the Government should ratify the core human rights treaties and ensure follow-up to the recommendations made by human rights mechanisms; address continuing allegations of human rights violations in conflict-afflicted areas; engage ethnic groups in serious dialogue to resolve long-standing concerns and to forge durable political solutions.

Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (document A/67/303), which provides an overview of his activities, including country visits, communications and other activities.  The report focuses on the right to conversion, distinguishing it into four subcategories:  the right to change one’s own religion or belief; the right not do be forced to convert; the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion; and the rights of the child and his or her parents in that regard.  He calls upon States to consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion.

Among his recommendations, the Special Rapporteur says States should clarify such rights and repeal any criminal sanctions that directly or indirectly threaten punishment against converts; reform any family law provisions that may amount to de jure or de facto sanctions against converts and their families; ensure that, when attending school, children are not exposed to religious instruction or ceremonies against their will or that of their parents or legal guardians; and religious leaders and opinion formers should acknowledge that not only is conversion to their own religion or belief protected, but any decision to replace one’s current religion or belief with a different one, or to adopt atheistic views, is equally protected.

Finally before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, (document A/67/299) submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 66/172.  The thematic section of the report is dedicated to the consequences of climate change for migration, identifying the places and persons most affected and considering where climate-change-induced migrants are moving towards.  It then considers how international law approaches the matter of climate-induced migration, including how it must be acknowledged that many will fall between the categories of voluntary economic migrant and refugees.

States will have to acknowledge that forced migration may encompass a range of situations and may need to recalibrate their rules for such persons, the report says.  The Special Rapporteur takes note of the political engagement that will be required on the issue by a range of actors, including governments, the international community and civil society.  Among its recommendations, the report says States should work together to reduce climate change, and should also devise and implement local, national and regional migration policies to appropriately respond to the complex issue of climate-change-induced migration.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestinian Territories

RICHARD FALK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territoriesoccupied since 1967, said Israel continued to refuse to cooperate with his efforts to fulfil his mandate.  Such cooperation was a legal obligation incident to United Nations membership, made clear in the United Nations Charter.  Israel had a long track record of non-cooperation with the Security Council, General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and he urged considering decisive and firm action to persuade Israel to fulfil its obligations as a United Nations member.

He said his report focused on the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, underlining the legal responsibility of selected Israeli and international businesses that were profiting from Israeli settlements.

Updating the Committee on Israel’s efforts to transfer its population to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said Israeli settlements controlled over 40 per cent of the West Bank.  Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli citizens had already been settled in Palestinian territory.  Around 200,000 of them had settled in East Jerusalem.  Over the past decade, the settler population had grown at an average 5.3 per cent each year, compared with 1.8 per cent in Israel.  In the last year alone, the settler population had increased by over 15,000 persons.

The scale of Israel’s settlement enterprise, especially the massive financial investment in it, appeared to confirm Israel’s intention to retain control over much, if not all, of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  As the occupying power in Palestine, Israel was obliged to implement its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations, as well as ensure that private businesses operating in Palestine were held accountable for any activities that adversely impacted on Palestinians’ human rights.

He went on to say that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human rights and the United Nations Global Compact were important developments.  Principle 1 of the Global Compact stated that businesses should respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.  The Compact had stated that the Guiding Principles provided the content of Principle 1, and thus, formed part of the commitment taken by the Compact’s 8,700 corporate participants.  Principle 2 of the Compact stated that businesses should ensure they were not complicit in human rights abuses.  His report also made clear that international law standards also applied to businesses and referred to guidance developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in that regard.

“In short, businesses should not breach international humanitarian law provisions,” he said.  “Nor should they be complicit in any breaches.”  If they did, they might be subject to criminal or civil liability.  The companies highlighted in his report constituted a small number of the many companies profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise.  He had received “a massive amount of information” from civil society and others documenting the involvement of businesses in Israeli settlements and he would address that topic in future reports.

His main recommendation was that the businesses highlighted in his report – and the many others profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise – should be boycotted until they brought their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law.  He encouraged civil society to bolster efforts to hold those businesses accountable.  His other recommendation concerned a request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, in regard to the responsibility of businesses in relation to the economic activities of settlements established in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

He had contacted the companies mentioned in his report to allow them an opportunity to respond, including:  Caterpillar Incorporated, Veolia Environment, G4S, The Dexia Group, Ahava, the Volvo Group, Riwal Holding Group, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard, Mehadrin, Motorola, Assa Abloy and Cemex.  Meaningful and helpful responses had been received from Assa Abboy, The Dexia Group, G4S and Cemex.

Question and Answer Session

When the floor was opened for questions and comments, Malaysia’s delegate asked about prospects for a two-State solution, given the increased number of illegal settlements being built and reports of increased violence by settlers.

The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine said the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to end human rights violations by Israel against Palestinians had been crucial in an appalling situation that was only growing worse.  Palestinians understood their plight had not been forgotten.  The Special Rapporteur should be applauded, as his work had been made more difficult by Israel’s violation of its obligations to cooperate with his mandate.  She called on the United Nations to compel Israel to fulfil its obligations.  Israel also had cut ties with the Human Rights Council and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and she wondered about the consequences about that decision.

Second, she asked about the crucial role of civil society against the Israeli occupation, and how civil society could be strengthened to reach an even larger audience and pressure companies that were supporting Israeli occupation.  While General Assembly resolutions were important, Israel had trampled on the hundreds of resolutions passed on its illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  She asked about other options to strengthen civil society in the most effective manner.

The representative of the European Union reaffirmed his commitment to a two-State solution, since heeding the aspirations of the region was a crucial element for lasting peace, as were the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.  He underlined the applicability of the First Geneva Convention, in that regard.

He said settlements, the barrier and home demolitions were illegal.  They obstructed peace and threatened the two-State solution.  He urged Israel to immediately end settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and deconstruct the outposts it had built since March 2001.  The European Union reaffirmed its commitment to implementing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements, with regard to settlement products.  The European Union did not support sanctions.  It supported the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Norway’s delegate regretted Israel’s lack of cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.  The expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land violated international law.  The deteriorating human rights situation in East Jerusalem was further cause for concern.  Israel’s expansive settlement policy threatened the two-State solution and she called on Israel to ensure that Palestinians enjoyed their full human rights.  Norway encouraged businesses to respect human rights, avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address human rights impacts.

She supported his calls on businesses and States to ensure implementation of the Guiding Principles in businesses operations.  Norwegian businesses were encouraged to adhere to the Guiding Principles.  The Council of Ethics of the Government’s pension fund provided advice on whether companies were in line with established ethical guidelines.  It had divested from companies with activities in the Palestinian territories.  She asked what the United Nations could do to strengthen awareness and address the challenges presented in the report.

Senegal’s delegate asked about measures to be advocated or implemented to ensure better human rights protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Egypt’s delegate said the report referred to 8,000 companies participating in the Global Compact.  Of those, how many were involved in trade agreements with Israel that involved products from settlements?  He also asked about the trend of incitement to violence by Israel in the Occupied Territories, and further, about international standards being applied as regards detainees legally and illegally held by Israel.  What was the impact of recent Israeli laws, as regards limiting financing to non-governmental organizations and curtailing their ability to operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

The representative of the Maldives supported the Special Rapporteur’s work, saying the occupation had lasted almost half a century.  He called on Israel to cooperate with the United Nations, including the Special Rapporteur, to analyze the impact of occupation.  His Government was concerned by the Special Rapporteur’s findings.  While the Maldives had expressed grave concern at the dual legal systems for the prosecution of Palestinians, it was also concerned by prolonged detentions and the use of internment, which contravened international law.

He said the accounts of extrajudicial executions were shocking.  The Maldives believed in the protection of human dignity and was disturbed to see the demolition of Palestinian structures.  Israeli policies had been denounced by the International Criminal Court, which demonstrated Israel’s failure to meet its responsibilities towards the community of nations.  Until Israel and Palestine were able to stand side by side as two independent States, there would be no movement on Middle East peace.  Palestine must be recognized as an independent State.

Syria’s delegate said the Special Rapporteur’s reports referred to his difficulties in executing his mandate.  Israel continued to evade its responsibilities and had decided to end all cooperation with the Human Rights Council.  “This is a serious deterioration which will erode the foundations of any solution that might lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state,” she said.  That showed the United Nations inability to take measures to address Israel’s flagrant violations.  Stability could not be achieved in the region while Israel ignored international law.  She asked how the report’s recommendations could be implemented.

Iran’s delegate asked what must be done to end the occupation and, in the short-term to alleviate Palestinian suffering, particularly of women and children.

Responding, Mr. FALK urged a focus on whether, given what was happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it was still helpful to reaffirm the two-State solution without further discussion.  “It is irresponsible, in my judgement, to ignore the blatant and cumulative impact of Israeli occupation via the accelerated expansion of settlements and moves to proceed toward the legalization of 100 or so outposts that are unlawful even under Israeli law,” he said.  That would be tremendous encroachment on what had been thought to be a future Palestinian state.  There must be discussions on whether the two-State solution was viable and, if it was, how should it be handled given Israel’s defiance.  To act as if nothing had changed seemed to endorse the ignoring of Palestinian rights, including to self-determination.

As to what more could be done by civil society or the United Nations to alleviate Palestinian suffering and call attention to the “unprecedented” occupation that had lasted more than 45 years, he said:  “it is an intolerable burden on the development of life,” especially in Gaza, which had been subjected to an unalleviated blockade for more than five years and existed as a “captive society” that had lost its possibility for normal life.  It was urgent that the world community find new ways to indicate its seriousness about the combination of Palestinian suffering and Israeli defiance of international law, and the minimal expectation Israel would cooperate with the United Nations and its various procedures.  “The credibility of the United Nations is at stake if it merely gives lip service to these concerns and does not take concrete, tangible action,” he asserted.

Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons

CHALOKA BEYANI, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said this year marks the twentieth anniversary of his mandate, and his report provided an opportunity to reflect on the developments concerning protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs), changing realities and new trends relating to their human rights.  States were increasingly incorporating the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, while at regional and sub regional levels, intergovernmental organizations had also acknowledged them.  But, the number of IDPs worldwide and the variety of both longstanding and new challenges were as complex as ever, with some reflecting changing realities and important global trends.

“Mega trends such as natural disasters and climate change were expected to amplify the extent and patterns of internal displacement in the future, including adaptation and therefore mobility of populations, relocation, and rapid urbanization”, he said.  According to estimates, in addition to the 26.4 million persons internally displaced at the end of 2011 due to armed conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations, a further 15 million persons were newly displaced during that same year due to sudden onset natural hazards.

Likewise, rapid and often unplanned urbanization was another trend likely to affect the dynamics of internal displacement.  “In many cases, those moving to large urban centres are often situated in precarious areas subject to natural disasters such as mudslides or flooding.  The risk of mass evictions for safety or development reasons may be high.  At the same time, those displaced by natural disasters or conflicts may also look to urban centres to rebuild their lives and search for employment, thus putting additional pressures in these areas,” he said.  Further, the extent to which climate change would interact with other trends, such as rapid urbanization, must also be considered as well as responses to IDPs living outside camps, in places like urban areas, since they composed the majority of all IDPs.

Over the course of his reporting period, Mr. Beyani continued close cooperation with all relevant actors to mainstream the rights of IDPs, and also undertook training and capacity building activities in cooperation with others.  He had also participated in a number of key events promoting and raising awareness of the Kampala Convention, and engaged with a number of States such as Afghanistan, Kenya, and Nigeria in their efforts to develop or strengthen their domestic frameworks for internal displacement.  However, it was important to stress the development and implementation of national IDP frameworks - an effort that would require sustained support over a number of years, including from the international community.

Since assuming his mandate in 2010, the situation of internally displaced women had been one of his chief priorities; in September 2012, his mandate held an expert workshop in Geneva, during which it sought to review achievements related to women and displacement over the last 20 years, and assess challenges and possible directions for the future.  The findings would be incorporated in his next thematic report to the Human Rights Council.

In July, he undertook an official visit to Côte d’Ivoire at the invitation of the Government, and commended the Government for its efforts in cooperation with the international community re-establishing law and order and ensuring returns of IDPs, estimated at 1 million at the height of post-election crisis in March 2011.  Although they were no longer visible in camps, there was still a strong need to address their human rights, assistance and protection needs; many lost their homes, lands or loved one and returned to dire situations.

“In some communities, returnees and others continue to hide in the forest at night to fear of attacks,” he said.  The timing of his official visit to Côte d’Ivoire also coincided with the attack on the Nahibly IDP camp of 20 July 2012.  That attack was a disturbing event that must be condemned, and which reflects the need for dialogue and reconciliation.  He continued to follow the issue and hoped the relevant authorities would address it appropriately.  He also encouraged the international community to continue supporting human rights and peace building activities, as well as Government reforms in the justice and security sectors.

Question and Answer Session

The representative of Switzerland thanked him for the report and assured its continued support.  She asked what factors were crucial for carrying forward the protection of IDPs at the national level and regional level in regards to the Kampala Convention.  What link or synergies did the Special Rapporteur see between his mandate and Switzerland and Norway’s Nansen Initiative?

The European Union’s representative asked what were the immediate steps the international community could take in regards to protracted displacement; what had changed in the United Nations approach to IDPs; what were the major challenges he had encountered with States; and how would he be working to persuade States and development agencies for the need for comprehensive IDP frameworks?

Canada’s representative said nowhere was the situation of IDPs as grave as Syria and his delegation called on humanitarian access without delay, and would welcome any information on actions that could be taken to alleviate that situation.

The representative of Norway asked how the humanitarian perspective could be strengthened in his discourse; did he see particular challenges with respect to IDP women and girls and what should be done to strengthen this protection and security?

Austria’s representative asked to share ides how his mandate could help implement normative frameworks at the national and regional levels; and what should be the main points, States, the United Nations and international community should focus on to find solutions to protracted displacement.

The representative of Azerbaijan said it would submit a report to the Special Rapporteur on IDPs from occupied Azerbaijan territories.

Syria’s representative said her Government made the utmost efforts to provide protection and support for IDPs through cooperation with international organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to meet their basic needs.  But, the situation in his country had developed for several reasons, mainly terrorist attacks financed by Arab powers and international entities, who were well known.  On the remarks of the Canadian ambassador about IDPs in her country, she said the best way to help them was lifting unilateral sanctions.  It was sincerely her wish to hear the thoughts of the Special Rapporteur on the extent of the impact of these unilateral sanctions.

Responding, Mr. BEYANI said reinforcement of complementarities between his mandate and the Nansen Initiative had begun.  Displacement was likely to be internal before it was external.  He looked forward to working and collaborating with the Nansen Initiative, much in the same way he worked with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

He had witnessed a growing trend of States asking to formulate frameworks at national levels for IDPs, but implementation was hugely important.  The dichotomy between an IDP protection mechanism and disaster preparedness at the national level usually lacked coordination and competed for resources – and as a result, IDPs fell through the cracks.  He advocated policies and laws that integrated them, and had seen such synergies in the Philippines and the Maldives.

Regionally, he worked with organizations on frameworks such as the Kampala Convention.  It was important that the initiatives came from States and regions themselves.  At the international level, he continued to affirm the Guiding Principles as the framework, but it must be marked by an equally robust institutional framework.  The response at the United Nations continued to be weak, though the cluster system was making gains.  More resources for IDPs were also required at the United Nations, he said.

On the question of protracted displacement, it had a number of reasons, the main being that the underlying cause of displacement continued.  The prime cause for that was continuing armed conflict, and the way to address that was peace agreements, as seen in Colombia and the Philippines.  Those needed to include the concerns of IDPs in the peace process.  Second, it was seen in unresolved territorial claims.  Durable solutions were usually applied to the last phase of displacement, but every time there was a movement of persons, there should be a move towards durable solutions.

Normative and institutional frameworks at the United Nations needed to be strengthened for IDPs, he said.  The degree of cooperation with States had improved very much, but it remained critical to obtain sustainable access to displaced populations, especially where conflict was still ongoing.  Granting access was a duty flowing from international humanitarian law.  Restricted activity was also still an issue that needed to be addressed comprehensively in the future, he said.

Thanking the representative of Canada for his remarks, he said Syria was a major concern to the mandate and that there were about 1.2 million IDPs in the country.  When the crisis broke out, the Government kindly notified the mandate.  The mandate followed it up to ensure there was a protective framework.  However, it had not yet received a response from Syria in its request to visit, and he reiterated the request to the representative of Syria.  His time was up, so he said he welcomed the comments from the representative of Azerbaijan and would visit the country.

Committee on Enforced Disappearances

EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, presented the first report of Committee, saying the body had been set up only a year ago.  Its first two sessions had been held in March and October.  They were short - four and five days respectively - but fruitful.  Outlining the Committee’s priorities, he said the first was to encourage full ratification of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which entered into force in 2010, once 20 ratifications had been deposited.

Two years later, there were 36 parties, he said, “slow and steady” progress, marked most recently by the ratifications of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Colombia, Peru and Mauritania.  The Convention had been signed by 59 other States since its 2007 opening for signature, most recently by Thailand this year.  He hoped that movement would continue.  Two optional procedures:  individual communications and state communications.  There had been two recent optional declarations from Austria and Germany, but less than half of the States parties had made such declarations.

“It took 30 years to get this very ambitious treaty, with a range of mechanisms for prevention, cooperation and urgent action,” he said.  Ratification was necessary because enforced disappearances affected the entire international community.

The Committee’s second priority was to acquire tools to work effectively, especially as regards reporting.  Article 29 of the Convention outlined that States should report on measures to comply with their commitments within two years.  Next year, the Committee would consider 20 reports from the very first States parties.  An innovative procedure had been set up to avoid backlogs in report consideration, as well as for addressing urgent actions and individual communications.

He went on to say that the Committee’s third priority was to cooperate with others, noting it worked with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and praising that body’s work against impunity over the last 30 years.  The Committee had noted the Working Group’s general observations defining the criminalization of enforced disappearances.  The bodies were complementary in their work.  The Committee had also had preliminary contacts with the chairs of the treaty bodies.  The Convention was unique and he urged developing its potential while, at the same time, respecting States legal security and the rights of victims.  “This is the first step on a very long road, but we are doing our utmost,” he said.

Question and Answer Session

The representative of the European Union said the Committee would play an important role in achieving universal ratification of the Convention.  He welcomed its collaboration with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, as seen in the publication of a shared declaration.  He asked about future areas of collaboration and action that could be taken to accelerate the universalization of the Convention.

Responding, Mr. DECAUX said the Committee’s collaboration with the Working Group was seen in a variety of ways, noting that for a long time there would be a need for the two bodies.  He noted the existence of both a committee and Special Rapporteur on racial discrimination, in that regard.

The Committee and Working Group must avoid gaps in the protection they offered, as well as competition or overlap between them.  “We must be sure we’re not both trying to do the same thing,” he said, noting the need to provide mutual support with a view to maximizing efficiency.  That called for a higher profile for those two bodies.  In awareness-raising documents, there must be a link between the Committee and the Working Group.  The Secretariat could assist, in that regard.

As for methodologies, he said both bodies must engage in reciprocal consultations, with a view to keeping abreast of work plans and visits, and to inform each other of their work so that a permanent synergy evolved.  There was no hierarchy, so they must find a way forward.  By way of example, he said it was the victims who decided which body to approach – the Working Group or the Committee - using the emergency appeal mechanism.  There were strict procedural rules for considering a complaint that would be followed.

Each body had competencies in terms of visits, he continued.  The Committees’ visits were carried out in response to a certain concern.  The Working Group’s visits and the Committee’s must be decided in close collaboration.  “We must not tread on each other’s toes,” he said, urging coordination in response to a request for a visit.

The Committee was the steward of the Convention, but before issuing general observations, it must become aware of the situation.  As such, the first round of State reports would be read before drawing up general observations.  As for awareness-raising, he said it involved all stakeholders and non-governmental organizations had a major role to play.  With United Nations assistance, activities could be bolstered by holding regional seminars.  His colleagues around the world were open to suggestions.

Argentina’s delegate was pleased the Committee had adopted its Rules of Procedure, and thereby completed work that would allow it to now focus on its monitoring work and assistance in the Convention’s implementation.  There was space for complementarily with the Working Group, she said, commending the decision to hold annual joint meetings and inform each other about activities.  The Convention was the first legally-binding instrument that recognized that the practice of enforced disappearance could be a crime against humanity, while outlining victims’ rights to justice and truth.  It filled a gap in the law, so that those responsible could be investigated.  States must make efforts towards its universalization.

She said enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions happened around the world and those responsible must be punished, urging all States to adhere to the Convention.

Mr. DECAUX said the Committee was forward-looking and he echoed the call for the Convention’s universal ratification.  States also must be punctual in submitting reports, which would set a good standard.

Working Group of Enforced Disappearances

OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, gave a brief history of that body, saying that it was established in 1980 in response to the disappearance of people, mainly in Latin America.  For years, it served as the communications channel between Governments and families.  During its first 10 years, it had received thousands of new cases and exposed the fact that disappearances were being used to terrorise people in times of crisis.  It helped to identify what enforced disappearance meant, paving the way for the General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

He went on to say that the Working Group had fully supported preparation of a new Convention and an independent Committee to help it in its work.  To date, it had referred 53,778 individual cases to States around the world and cleared up 448 cases.  It still had 42,000 cases before it, all of which had occurred since 1945.  Clearing them required State cooperation.  In that context, he appreciated the additional human resources provided to the Working Group in 2012, as the cumulative impact of a lack of staff had led to a backlog in dealing with hundreds of cases.  Those resources should continue to be made available.

Detailing its work, he said the Working Group visited countries every year to investigate cases and study legislation in light of the Declaration.  This year, it had travelled to Chile and Pakistan and he was grateful for the cooperation received by those countries.  In addition, it had worked closely with other bodies, and followed legal developments in other organs.  Notably, it had consulted with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which dealt with the general issue of missing persons, regardless of why they were missing, whereas the Working Group dealt with enforced or involuntary disappearances, which was a crime.

In the future, it would work with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.  They would meet together next week and the Chairs were in regular contact to discuss matters of common concern.  He also appreciated the “tireless” efforts of victims associations, non-governmental organizations, lawyers and others working to find out what had happened to disappeared persons.  Threats and reprisals continued today, and extended to victims’ families and the human rights defenders working on their cases.  He called on States to punish perpetrators and protect those working on enforced disappearances.

He said enforced disappearances persisted.  He was particularly concerned by short-term disappearances of victims held in detention without legal protection.  In some cases, they were released after having been tortured or never having been brought before a judge.  This year marked 20 years since the General Assembly adoption of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  Next week, the Working Group would hold an event, sponsored by the International Organization of la Francophonie, to commemorate it.

Question and Answer Session

Chile’s representative said his country had provided more than $150 million to victims of enforced disappearances and erected memorials in an effort to ensure continued public awareness of this issue.  He asked about criteria for the Committee and Working Group, suggesting it might focus on countries that had not ratified the Convention.

The European Union‘s representative asked about the importance of country visits to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, as it saw a number of countries had not responded, including Iran and Syria.  Also, he asked how reporting cases of enforced disappearances could be improved and how could civil society be involved in the process.

Responding, Mr. FORUVILLE said visits of the Working Group were a minimal part of its work and in general it happened after close cooperation for a number of years on cases and implementation of the Declaration.  The visit was also a point of departure for a new kind of cooperation, in which members of society were galvanized on the issue.

He said he had made requests for visits to Iran and Syria.  On Iran, they had an agreement in principle, but had not yet set a date.  Empirically speaking, he said there were reports on enforced disappearances that had occurred under certain circumstances and there had been a regional role.  In Africa, there had been very few cases reported, although the Working Group had heard there were enforced disappearances on the continent.  To resolve that, the Working Group mandate should be made more widely known.  The phenomenon could also be more clearly identified in countries.  There was a perception that it occurred in mostly Latin America, but that was quite a long time ago – these things happened throughout the world.  Also, the international community had to adapt its capacity to react, so that protection could be provided to families that had been subject to forced disappearances.

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, presenting his report, said reforms continued to move at a rapid pace and considerable progress had been made, including in the area of human rights.  “There is no doubt that Myanmar will continue to experience many dramatic changes in the months and years ahead.  Going forward, however, and at each step of the way, it is vital to have a clear sense of the human rights situation, so as to ensure that ongoing reforms build on positive developments and effectively tackle remaining challenges,” he said, adding it would be a missed opportunity if human rights principles and standards did not lay at the heart of reforms underway.

As Special Rapporteur, he hoped to continue to encourage and support the Government to build on positive developments.  “We should all acknowledge and commend the Government of Myanmar for what has been achieved thus far, which I have previously stated has improved the country’s human rights situation.  Yet, recent developments highlight that Myanmar continues to grapple with ongoing human rights concerns that could pose risks to the reform process.  This has been demonstrated no more clearly than with the recent violence and continuing tensions in Rakhine State in which all communities have suffered.  I am concerned that the violence has continued and that more people have lost their lives and homes in recent days,” he said.

It was vital the Government and all concerned prevented further violence and defuse tensions between the two communities, and he remained concerned at exaggerations, misinformation and distortions in the media and on social media sites.  All concerned parties must work together to counter inflammatory images and language that incited hatred or promulgated discriminatory views and prejudice.  He hoped the investigation committee established by Myanmar’s President would investigate allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State as a step towards holding those responsible to account.

“However, I have been informed that the committee is facing obstacles in conducting its work, including accessing individuals and communities affected by the violence in Rakhine State,” he said, hoping the committee would address deep-rooted prejudices and discriminatory attitudes based on ethnicity and religion that were underlying causes of the conflict.  He called on the Government to address endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community and ensure respect for their human rights, which should include a review of the 1982 Citizenship Act.  “I am also concerned that a staff member of the United Nations, whom I met in Insein Prison during my last visit, and four international non-governmental organization staff members remain in detention in connection with the violence that occurred in Rakhine State and I again call for their release,” he said.

He noted important progress had been made to negotiate ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups, as well as other achievements, such as the signing of the Joint Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  However, he remained concerned at continuing allegations of human rights violations in conflict-affected ethnic border areas, including Kachin, where he received allegations such as extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, torture, use of landmines and recruitment of child soldiers.  The Government needed to address such allegations as a priority, and provide the United Nations and its partners with regular, independent and predictable access to all in need of humanitarian assistance.  “With a new civilian Government that is undergoing a democratic transition there is, in my view, no justification to continue to prohibit access to communities affected by conflict and in need of assistance.  This is clearly a human rights issue,” he said.

The new Peaceful Demonstration and Gathering Law had brought praise for the Government, but had disproportionate restrictions.  There had been large anti-United Nations and anti-Rohingya demonstrations in recent months, yet other demonstrations had resulted in detention and prosecution of organizers and demonstrators.  “The true test of the democratic reforms taking place will be the Government’s response to views and gatherings organized which challenge Government policy,” he said.  And, although restrictions on the media and internet had eased, journals and publications still had to be submitted to the press regulatory body, enabling possible censorship and prosecution of journalists to continue, and prolonging an environment of self-censorship.

Visiting prisoners of conscience in detention had been a central part of his mandate, he said.  He welcomed the release of prisoners of conscience in July and September, but continued to urge the Government to work with relevant stakeholders to identify those who remained in detention, noting that release of those prisoners must be without any conditions.  His report also highlighted ongoing allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.  The serious attention of the Government was required to prohibit and prevent it immediately, including the necessary reform and training of prisons and police departments.  Truth, justice and accountability measures were also essential to ensure Myanmar did not repeat past human rights violations.  He had discussed with different stakeholders the possibility of establishing a truth commission, and recommended consultations on whether one was feasible.

Myanmar was also set to experience dramatic economic development over the coming years, and steps needed to be taken now to ensure those developments contributed to the fulfilment of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.  Land and housing rights required urgent attention, as there had been an increase in land confiscations, land grabbing and forced evictions.  He ended his statement expressing appreciation for the Government’s engagement and cooperation, acknowledging its greater openness in discussing human rights issues.  “Such reflection and willingness to seek assistance in addressing capacity gaps bodes well for the future reform process,” he said.

Question and Answer Session

Myanmar’s representative thanked the Special Rapporteur for his presentation, which reflected a number of positive developments and steps, but noted it should have been more constructive.  Myanmar had embarked on a path of peaceful democratic transition at a pace that surprised everyone.  The Special Rapporteur had recommended putting human rights at the heart of this process, and that was exactly what it had done.  One of the steps had been the establishment of the independent Myanmar Human Rights Commission, and just last week the first United States-Myanmar human rights dialogue was held in the capital.  Legislative reform was also in progress, as recently Myanmar had acceded to two more human rights instruments.

In order to promote civil rights, peaceful assembly and protests had been allowed, reflecting growing freedom of assembly in the country.  “Even our critics now admit Myanmar’s media reform is the most dramatic and visible one,” he noted.  Budget allocations had increased four-fold in health and two-fold in education this year.  And, with regard to prisoners of conscience, many had already been granted release and further amnesty had been made, while “we are fully committed to reaching long-lasting peace with all ethnic groups”.

On the situation in Rakhine State, that was just communal violence between two groups, and nothing to do with racial or religious oppression.  The commune was blown up by some miscreants who spread fake photos on social media, while the unrest had caused loss of life on both sides of the community.  Humanitarian assistance was being provided to affected people without any hindrance.  His delegation regretted the commune clashes in recent days, resulting in 12 dead and 50 wounded and destruction of 1,000 buildings.

The Government was doing its best to restore law and order and stability and bring those responsible to justice.  That would require better access to education and job opportunities to bring lasting stability.  The Government was seeking lasting solutions in its investigation commission, and a number of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur were underway.  However, it seemed that some recommendations did not give much thought about their broader affects on stability and reconciliation in the country.

The report also continued unfounded allegations on other conflict-affected areas, and he hoped those would disappear, as stability was restored to those areas.  Myanmar was changing in the right direction and it would continue to do so resolutely.  It should be viewed in a new mindset.  The time had come to end country specific resolutions, as now was a time for encouragement and support.

Malaysia’s representative, speaking on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said Myanmar was beginning a new page in its history and the region supported and encouraged the democratic developments, calling on the international community to do so as well.  He reiterated the call for the lifting of all sanctions on the country immediately.

The European Union’s representative asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the Myanmar Human Rights Commission’s role in the future and suggest areas of international assistance that would be of help to its work.  What methods did he recommend to the Government for it to draw on in the process of implementing international rights instruments?  What were priority areas of assistance for the international community — including the United Nations — at the current stage in reform, and how could stakeholders promote the issue of business and human rights in the country?

The Republic of Korea’s representative said his Government would like to continue to engage with Myanmar in its transition, commending it on its progress.

The representative of Canada said her country had responded to progress by suspending sanctions and plans were underway to open an embassy in the country.  She asked what role could be played by parliament and civil society to promote reconciliation.

Indonesia’s representative called on the international community to step up efforts to help Myanmar in its reform agenda.

The representative of Norway said there were still human rights issues in Myanmar that called for attention, and asked about the role of the United Nations and international community in resolving the conflict in Rakhine State.  Also, how might the Special Rapporteur engage to ensure implementation of the guidelines on business and human rights in the country?

Next, the representative of the United States thanked the Special Rapporteur for his balanced report.  Last week, the United States and Burma had conducted their first human rights dialogue.  Michael Posner of the United States Department of State led an interagency delegation — which included representatives from the White House, Office of the Vice President, Department of Homeland Security, United States Agency for International Development and the Department of Defence — to discuss a full range of issues.  Those talks represented a whole-of-Government approach to addressing outstanding concerns.  The results had been assessed as “very positive”.

She asked for a status update on the prospects for a new law on non-governmental organizations, as well as on the commission set up to investigate violence between the Rohingya and other communities.

Czech Republic’s delegate was disconcerted by the release political prisoners who now lacked social services and passports, and faced problems of finding employment.  She asked if the Special Rapporteur shared the belief that the release must be followed by rehabilitation.

She asked about additional measures to facilitate their rehabilitation.  She agreed the rights and needs of those affected by conflict must be addressed, as must the root causes of the conflict.  What steps could be taken to advance the Government’s dialogue with minority groups?  The Government must establish truth, justice and accountability measures.  One step could be a law on the status of the human rights commission that was created to investigate reports of violence.

Japan’s delegate supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, noting that the release of prisoners of conscience was a substantial development.  She also welcomed Myanmar’s dialogue, including its human rights dialogue with the United States.  Japan had implemented projects, including for Myanmar’s national races, and had hosted a meeting in October where it announced it would implement an “arrears clearance operation”.  Japan would continue to play a role in facilitating Myanmar’s early engagement with the international community.

The United Kingdom’s delegate said the Government was making progress, especially with the release of political prisoners, easing of media restrictions and commitment to addressing human rights issues.  It had also reached ceasefires with 10 armed groups.  She urged the Government to allow unhindered humanitarian access and encouraged steps to national reconciliation.

Violence in Rakhine State was a serious concern and she called for an immediate end to it.  “We recognize this is a complex situation”, she said, reiterating the calls for the provision of full humanitarian access and for charges of human rights violations to be addressed.  There was a need for a long-term solution in Rakhinethat respected all members of the population.  She asked how the international community could ensure that the Government sought a long-term solution in that State.

Thailand’s delegate commended Myanmar for its steps towards national reconciliation to bring about economic and political transformation.  Human rights should be at the heart of that process.  She appreciated the legislative and administrative reforms, including the revision of the criminal act.  The United Nations’ involvement was crucial in that regard.  She called for providing sustainable assistance for improving the Rohingya human rights situation.

She also requested views on how to encourage progress in Myanmar.  The next phase should include economic and development actors to work towards prosperity.  In Rakhine, she commended Myanmar for engaging, including through its invitation to the Special Rapporteur, among others, to observe the situation on the ground.  A durable solution would be achieved when the root causes were addressed.  She urged close cooperation with others to that end.  Thailand was ready to cooperate with Myanmar and the United Nations in support of the country’s development efforts.

Switzerland’s delegate viewed positively the developments in Myanmar’s human rights situation, but was concerned by violations in Rakhine and elsewhere.  He called for guaranteeing humanitarian access.  He asked for clarification on the civil society’s structure and how it could be supported by the international community.  He also asked how the international community could best support former political prisoners of conscience after their release.  He supported the recommendation regarding the need to address deep rooted prejudices against religions and asked the Special Rapporteur to address that point.

Argentina’s delegate agreed with the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, which showed that the process should be deepened.  There were several challenges and authorities must make additional efforts.  He noted the need to adopt an interdependent approach to all human rights.  Social inclusion and the exercise of citizenship could not be separated on the road to a democratic transition.  There must be a strong civil society.  Finally, truth, justice and accountability must be addressed, so that violence did not recur.  There was no single model to deal with the past and he encouraged Myanmar to explore various alternatives for working with the Special Rapporteur in such efforts.

Responding, Mr. QUINTANA recognized the progress being made in Myanmar.  “We have to recognize this has a positive impact on human rights,” he stressed.  Human rights must not be excluded from the Government’s political agenda.  For any democratic transition to be successful, democracy must coincide with human rights and development.

On Rakhine, he said community violence was affecting all groups in that state.  The Government was trying to control the situation to avoid further loss of human rights and life.  The root cause of that situation was discrimination against Muslims.  He had underlined that in prior reports and was stating it again after having visited in August.  He hoped the enquiry committee and the Government would investigate that situation.

He went on to say there were still hundreds of political prisoners in Myanmar.  A local United Nations worker was being detained in connection with the situation in Rakhiine, suffering under arbitrary detention and should be released.  The question of human rights and business was important.  He urged the Government to address that issue, saying there was also a United Nations working group on that issue.

Finally, he said civil society was needed in the democratic transition process.  He recognized the progress that had been made, and the General Assembly had played an important role in that success through resolutions and dialogue.  The Government’s behaviour offered an example for the special procedures system.  He hoped to continue his work in that manner, as there was much more to be done.

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion

HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said the thematic focus of his interim report was on the right to conversion, which must be understood through four different perspectives.  First, he said it was generally agreed that within the ambit of freedom of religion or belief the forum internum — the internal dimension of a person’s religious belief related to conviction — enjoyed absolute protection.  Thus, right to conversion — in the sense of changing one’s own religion or belief — had the rank of an absolutely protected right within the freedom of religion or belief, and did not permit any restrictions.

Next, he said the right not to be forced to convert — or reconvert — also fell within the ambit of the forum internum.  It was implied in the right to conversion itself.  States were obliged to ensure that the authority of State agents and institutions was not used to coerce people to convert or reconvert.  That was also relevant with regard to non-State actors or third parties, such as private individuals or organizations.

Further, the freedom of religion or belief was not confined to a person’s forum internum, he continued, but also included the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in external acts like worship, observance, practice and teaching.  That also covered non-coercive attempts to persuade others.  Such manifestations did not enjoy absolute protection.  But international human rights law deemed that the burden of proof always fell on those arguing on behalf of restrictions, not those defending a right to freedom.  Any restrictions deemed necessary must meet all criteria laid out in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In that context, he cited the Covenant’s article 18, on respecting the liberty of parents to ensure the religious education of their children, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recalled that parents’ rights must always be seen in conjunction with the human rights of the child.  The General Assembly had urged States to ensure their constitutional and legislative systems provided effective guarantees of freedom of religion or belief to all.  But, he had received numerous reports of violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in the broad area of conversion.

Apart from being exposed to social pressure and public contempt, converts often faced insurmountable administrative obstacles when trying to live in line with their convictions, he said, noting that in a number of countries, they risked losing their jobs, having their marriages nullified and losing custody of their children.  In some States, converts might face criminal prosecution.  Serious violations also occurred as regards the right not to be forced to convert.  Members of religious or belief minorities often experienced pressure to join a religion or belief deemed “more acceptable”.  Such abuses could be addressed by Governments and non-State actors.

In addition, many States imposed tight legislative or administrative restrictions on outreach activities, he said, unduly limiting the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion.  He had also received reports about repressive means of targeting children of converts or religious minorities.  States were obliged to consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief.  Recommendations in his report concerned legislation, administration, education and other areas, aiming to ensure respect for the dignity and freedom of all people.

Question and Answer Session

Canada’s delegate said the report had a useful assessment of ways in eliminating all forms of intolerance.  His Government had made freedom of religion a foreign policy priority and was working to create an office of religious freedom that would protect religious communities around the world.  Canada was deeply concerned at various situations in which people faced difficulties in practicing their faith.  It was important that everyone be able to practice their faith in security.  There was a role for Governments and, in that context, he asked for best practices for States in providing effective protection of converts and those facing pressure to reconvert.

The representative of the European Union supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.  He asked about the rights of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children.  He asked how to ensure that the rights of the child were upheld without upsetting the rights of the parents.  He also asked what national authorities could do to protect converts from discrimination.

The representative of the Netherlands attached great importance to the freedom of religion and belief.  Today’s topic was sensitive.  But, intolerance for individual choices constituted discrimination and even persecution and the United Nations must maintain a constructive dialogue on that matter.  He welcomed paragraphs on the concept of choice and asked about opportunities for enhancing that concept.  He also asked about the needs of peoples with atheistic beliefs in the area of protection.

The representative of the United States welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report and looked forward to further collaboration.  She was pleased that he had attended the first experts meeting on implementing Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 (2011) last year.  She hoped that other such meetings would continue to generate best practices for States.

She agreed that the freedom of religion or belief was strongly linked with the freedom of expression.  Article 18 of the Covenant outlined the right to adopt a religion or belief of choice.  She asked what constituted a forced conversion and for comments on the conditions that fostered the practice of freedom of belief.

Liechtenstein’s delegate asked about privacy rights related to a person being persuaded.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said States must guarantee freedom of speech.  At the same time, missionary activities should not offend the religious sensibilities of others.  A belief in god — or a lack thereof — must also be protected by States.  People should be able to express themselves freely, as long as they were not violating national laws or international standards.  If any outreach violated the human rights of the listener, agencies must take the necessary action.

The representative of the United Kingdom noted a great deal of valuable information in the Special Rapporteur’s report.  She welcomed the defence of the freedoms of religion or belief, and of expression.  But, she questioned the statement that, where a State religion existed, it adversely affected minorities.  She asked about the misunderstanding of conversion and about the State’s role in challenging negative perceptions.

Austria’s delegate shared the Special Rapporteur’s focus on condemning violence against religious minorities.  Also, she agreed that the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration, as regards the right to religion or belief.  The freedom of religion or belief should include a strong communication dimension, she said, and asked for details on recommendations for national strategies.  She also asked if a country visit to Viet Nam had been discussed in the dialogue between that country and the European Union.

China’s delegate said all countries should take steps to combat religious discrimination and intolerance, so as to promote harmonious coexistence.  She reminded Canada of a “common sense issue”, in that Falun Gong was not a religion.  It was a cult.  She hoped Canada would focus on resolving the human rights issues in its own country.

Germany’s delegate highlighted the Special Rapporteur’s reference to freedom and its limits, noting that the burden of proof fell on those arguing for restrictions on such freedom.  She agreed that parents had the right to ensure the religious education of their children, in line with their convictions.  Also, children had a right not to be converted.  She asked for more information on that topic.

Iran’s delegate asked for views on instances of Christians insulting and attacking religious sanctity.  She also asked if the freedom of expression would be addressed in the Special Rapporteur’s next report.

Viet Nam’s delegate took note of the recommendations on freedom of religion or belief.  On the rights of conversion, Viet Nam recognized religion and belief as among the basic needs of people.  The constitution outlined that people shall enjoy the freedom of religion and belief.  Moreover, all religions were equal before the law.  The principle of non-discrimination in that context was reflected in the criminal procedure code and the law of the land.  Legal religious organizations were also protected by the law.  The State paid due attention to complaints.  She also pointed out that the number of religious followers and places of worship had increased sharply in recent years.

Responding, Mr BIELEFELDT said human beings had a huge diversity of convictions; that was why human rights law recognized the holder of convictions, not the convictions themselves.  Freedom of religion or belief must have broad applications.  Choice was a legal concept, giving people breathing space, while children’s rights and parents rights were important and often violated, parents were the trust holders of children’s rights.

On communication between different religions, he said it was of the utmost importance.  Religious outreach should also be done in a respectful way, but restrictions should not be imposed just because people did not like it.  Non-discrimination was indeed the overarching principle, while the connection between freedom of religion and expression had been discussed in workshops this year.  One of the main messages from the workshops was that the chief way to counter hate speech was more speech.  To disrespectful moments like the Muslim video, an appropriate response would be peaceful protest.  Restrictions were not appropriate.  Rising up against hate speech was a broad responsibility that went far beyond making certain acts criminal.

He concluded by saying that he had received a request to visit from Viet Nam, but the schedule needed to be worked out.

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants

FRANÇOIS CRÉPEAU said environmental change as a result of global warming was now a certainty, and that would likely play a significant and increasingly determinative role in international migration.  “In particular the effect of climate change will impact not only on physical ecosystems, but will also have adverse consequences on livelihoods, public health, food security and water availability.  Given that climate change will likely play a significant and increasingly determinative role in international migration in the near future, I have thus dedicated my report on this issue,” he said.

Climate change induced migration, like all migratory movements, was complex and multi-causal, which may be driven by multiple push and pull factors, he continued.  It would also be difficult to isolate the effects of climate change from other environmental factors, thus identifying those who had migrated solely as a result of climate change may prove impossible.  Environmental conditions had always influenced migration patterns, and in the context of climate change, the rate and scale may be multiplied.  However, accurate statistical data was not readily available and he called for more rigorous scientific, empirical, sociological and legal research in that field.

Developing states that already faced environmental stresses were likely to be most affected, including mega deltas, polar regions, small island States, low lying coastal areas and arid regions.  However, he said, no country was free from natural disasters and slow-set environmental changes.  Also, given that the ability to migrate depended on mobility and resources, migration opportunities might be least available to those most vulnerable to climate change, resulting in people trapped in locations vulnerable to environmental hazards.  “Moreover, where climate-change-induced migration is forced, people may be migrating in an irregular situation and therefore may be more vulnerable to human rights violations through the migration process,” he said.

No single international human rights treaty was designed to deal with climate change-induced migrants, but existing law provided a range of protections.  He called for a more concerted application of those norms to the situation of climate-change-induced migrants.  Migration should be considered a key adaptation strategy; preventing such migration might in fact lead to accelerated human rights abuses and to future migration crises.  “Thus I would like to emphasize that accelerated migration should be considered as not only a challenge but as a solution to climate-change induced displacement,” he said, stressing concerted political engagement would be required by a range of actors, including governments, the international community and civil society to devise appropriate strategies to address climate-induced migration.

He said the key activity in the first year of his mandate was his thematic study on the management of the external borders of the European Union and its impact on human rights of migrants and the findings and recommendations would be presented at the Human Rights Council next June.  Turning to the 2013 High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, he emphasised it must not exclusively posit the global debate on migration within paradigms of development, security and law enforcement.  He remained concerned by the lack of effective human rights mainstreaming in the current debate on the global governance on migration to date, and hoped the dialogue would ensure human rights were brought to the forefront of the discussion.  The focus of his report next would be on the global governance process on migration, analyzing whether human rights were effectively mainstreamed in these processes.

Question-and-Answer Session

Mexico’s representative said his delegation shared the vision that a human rights framework needed to be implemented in migration and development policies, serving the societies of destination, transit and origin.

The European Union’s representative asked the Special Rapporteur to provide specific policies and programmes to better address the needs of climate change-induced migrants, and how the framework of international law could aid low lying island States before climate change resulted in a worst case scenario.

The representative of Bangladesh said donors should come up with generous support so that migrants who were victims of climate change could live a life of dignity.

Senegal’s delegate asked what measures should be taken to prompt a massive ratification of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Switzerland’s delegate said it was important to emphasize that forced displacement had a negative impact on development in entire regions.  He asked to what extent the Special Rapporteur saw potential linkages between the Nansen Initiative and his work on climate change-induced migration phenomenon.

Nigeria’s delegate encouraged the Special Rapporteur to make more country visits, particularly to those affected by climate change in Africa, which she believed would help him present more comprehensive reports.  She also asked if he had specific proposals in mind for country visits on this sensitive, difficult to tackle topic.

Responding, Mr. CRÉPEAU said there was a need to develop a consciousness on urban planning and concrete policies on facilitation for migration.  Urban areas were already facing pressures that were difficult to cope with.  Research on the extremely complex issue had to be developed for better understanding.  People did not necessarily move to better safety; they often moved to better places, but they would soon not be able to live there either.

Guidelines for internal displacement needed to be implemented, while on international displacement, he agreed it was a sensitive topic, but that “territorial sovereignty could not be the alpha and omega of migration policies”.  Human rights needed to be taken into consideration, but migration policies were still driven by economic considerations.  Changing attitudes towards migrants was important and States had a major role to play in leading it.  It would be important to tell people that migrants would come, and it could not be stopped.  On climate change issues, it was important to prepare the ground, because it affected each and every country.  “We have the time now, if we start now, to have regional agreements in place,” he said.

On the question from Senegal, he said that Convention did not create a revolution for migrants.  They already had rights.  That Convention, which had made some progress, was blocked by politics, rather than law.

The Nansen Initiative was also extremely important, but must be complimented by others, especially regional initiatives, supported by donor countries.  Meanwhile, he said, more country visits to Asia, as well as Africa, were planned for his mandate in the near future.

Committee on Migrant Workers

Taking the floor, Mr. EL JAMRI described the work as well as the challenges of the Committee that monitors the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  The Convention had, to date, been ratified by 46 countries, he said, noting that there were more than 200 million migrant workers worldwide.  Research had shown that the protection of migrant workers had a positive impact on migration, as well as economic and human development, he said.

He stressed the importance of the Convention as a framework for, among other things, the formation of legislation.  To promote the ratification of the Convention, he had issued a joint statement last December with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, appealing to States to ratify and implement the instrument.

Turning to the work of the Committee, he said it had examined reports from 21 States.  It had also prepared a first draft of its general comments on the situation of migrant workers in irregular situations, which would be revised and placed on the Committee’s website.  He regretted that many States were late in submitting periodic reports, and that some reports were as much as five years overdue.

Following its April 2011 session and after discussions, the Committee decided that it should consider at least nine States parties per year beginning in 2014.  In addition, two two-week sessions would, in 2014, replace the current session schedule, he said.  To ensure working method transparency, he had informed States parties of the relevant procedures, he said.

With only 46 States parties, ratification continued to be a big challenge to the international community, he said, emphasizing that the Committee was available to assist any State that wished to ratify the Convention.  He said he was honoured to participate in dialogues and meetings on strengthening United Nations treaty body system, including in Addis Ababa and in Geneva.

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For information media • not an official record