|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
32nd Meeting (PM)
2007-2008 MARKED ‘INSTITUTIONAL RENEWAL’ OF UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS MACHINERY,
THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD, AS IT TAKES UP HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL REPORT
Council President Says ‘Implementation Phase’ Has Been Reached;
Two Groups of Countries Already Reviewed under Universal Mechanism
“2007-2008 ... marked the achievement of the institutional renewal of the United Nations human rights machinery” and was a fruitful period for the institution-building of the Human Rights Council, said the President of the Council, Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi (Nigeria), speaking to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as it took up the report of the Council.
“The tasks before us may be daunting, but with the support of all stakeholders, the Council will succeed in upholding the highest standards of human rights by all Member States”, said Mr. Uhomoibhi. Indeed, over its first two years of work, the Council had advanced sufficiently in its institution-building that it had now moved onto the implementation phase of its various mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review. The first group of States had been reviewed under that mechanism in April 2008, and a second group in May.
Along with the outcomes from that review process, Mr. Uhomoibhi said the report also contained more than 100 resolutions and decisions adopted by the Council during the reporting period, including the adoption of an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which had been “painstakingly negotiated” in Geneva and was now before the General Assembly for consideration and adoption. The representative of Portugal, whose delegation would introduce the draft resolution calling for the adoption of that protocol by the Assembly, said the intensive negotiations had produced the “best possible compromise” that would allow for a high number of ratifications in the future.
It was frequently through individual complaints that human rights were given concrete meaning, he said, where norms that might otherwise seem general and abstract were put into practical effect. The new mechanism would create a communications procedure for cases of alleged violations of all economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Covenant, similar to the one that existed for civil and political rights.
In addition to negotiating the draft protocol, the Council had also been seized with global events that constituted serious human rights violations, said Mr. Uhomoibhi. As such, it had dedicated numerous special sessions to some of those situations, including the human rights situation in Myanmar, human rights violations emanating from Israeli military attacks and incursion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and to the negative impact of the world food crisis on the right to food.
Now, the continuation of much of that work lay in the hands of the General Assembly, and Mr. Uhomoibhi urged Member States to give urgent consideration to a number of items included in the report, such as the draft optional protocol. In addition, he asked that the Assembly pay special attention to a resolution on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the occupied Palestinian territories, and a decision on strengthening the Human Rights Council, which would require the Secretary-General to present a report detailing the resources the Council needed to ensure the provision of necessary services and provide for the establishment of an Office of the President of the Council.
In the discussion that followed the President’s statement, many delegates expressed their support for such an Office, along with support for the draft optional protocol and the overall work of the Council. Recalling the “deficiencies” of the former Commission on Human Rights, the representative of the Sudan said the Council was a “prelude to a new era in human rights”, based on neutrality and objectivity, without giving privilege to any individual States. Similarly, the representative of Pakistan said the Council “raised new hopes” for creating a new, transparent and cooperative culture for promoting and protecting human rights.
However, such support was not entirely unanimous. The representative of the Republic of Korea said the reality was that the intensive debates, resolutions, and use of the periodic review process and special procedures, among other things, had not always met expectations. Speaking in slightly stronger terms, the delegate from the United States said that victims of human rights violations deserved better than what the Council had delivered in the past year. In particular, he referred to the Council’s disproportionate and biased actions against Israel, and its weakened involvement in certain country-specific human rights situations, specifically in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Member States should help the Council do more to help protect, and not erode, universal human rights.
The working relationship between the Council and Member States was brought up by a number of speakers in today’s discussion. Japan’s representative said, for example, it would be necessary for the international community to “speak with one voice” if the global human rights situation was to be improved. But, he said his Government considered it most appropriate for the Council’s report to be directly submitted to the General Assembly -- and not reopened in the Third Committee -- in order to show the proper respect for all the diligent work that had been done in Geneva.
Also speaking today were the representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), Belarus, Cuba, Bangladesh, Colombia, Algeria, Malaysia, China, Spain, Chile, Ukraine, Slovenia Egypt, Haiti and Israel.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply following the conclusion of the general discussion were the representatives of the Sudan, Cuba and Iran.
The Committee is expected to meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 3 November, to take up the elimination of racism and racial discrimination and the right of peoples to self-determination.
The Committee met today to take up the report of the Human Rights Council (document A/63/53 and Add.1), which includes the resolutions, decisions and president’s statements adopted by the Human Rights Council from 10 September 2007 to 18 June 2008, at its sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth sessions, and at its fifth, sixth and seventh special sessions. The resolutions adopted during the reporting period ranged from the establishment of funds for the Universal Periodic Review mechanism to the human rights situations in various countries. As well, the report includes the decisions adopted on the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review for the first 32 countries to undergo that process.
The General Committee had asked for the report to be considered in a plenary meeting and in the Third Committee, on the understanding that the Third Committee would consider and act on all recommendations of the Human Rights Council to the Assembly, including those that deal with the development of international law in the field of human rights, without prejudice to the right of Member States to present resolutions and decisions on all issues considered in the report of the Council. Taking that recommendation into account, the Assembly will consider the report of the Council in a plenary meeting.
Introduction of Report
MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI, President of the Human Rights Council, drew the Committee’s attention to a number of resolutions included in the report that he said required urgent action. In addition, he presented a brief overview of the work of the Council during its sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth sessions and its fifth, sixth and seventh special sessions. During the reporting period, the Council had established new mechanisms and subsidiary bodies, undertook the process of review, rationalization and improvement of the mandates of Special Procedures, agreed on the modalities of the Universal Periodic Review and reviewed 32 countries.
Turning to the most recent developments of the institution-building process at the Council, he said that the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, which was the expert advice body of the Council, had held its inaugural session in August 2008 and had already started work on a number of thematic issues, with a view to carrying out appropriate studies and providing research-oriented advice. In the same vein, the Council had decided to give leverage to three important subsidiary bodies of the former Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, namely: the Social Forum, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Forum on Minority Issues. Consequently, those bodies now reported directly to the Council and, with those renewed or newly-created mechanisms and subsidiary bodies in place, the Council now seemed better equipped to actively address a variety of human rights issues in fulfilment of its mandate.
The report contained 106 resolutions, 35 decisions and five President’s statements adopted by the Council, he explained. He highlighted a number of those items, including the adoption of the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which had been painstakingly negotiated in Geneva and was now before the General Assembly for consideration and adoption. The Council had recorded another significant achievement by holding a special session on the right to food, which was the first time that the Council had dedicated a special session on a thematic issue. Along those lines, the Council had introduced the modalities for holding thematic panel discussions, which would enable the Council to focus on a discussion with prominent experts and representatives of national human rights institutions and civil society from different regions of the world.
Mr. Uhomoibhi also drew attention to the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review and the first two groups of States to have undergone the process. So far, the Council had reviewed 32 countries, and, based on the current timeline, all Member States were scheduled to be reviewed by 2011. During the same period, the Council had reviewed the mandates of some 24 Special Procedures, both country and thematic. Since the seventh session in March 2008, a number of Special Procedure mandate holders had been appointed or renewed, with due consideration given to regional and gender balance. In addition, and in accordance with its mandate, the Council had been seized with events in some parts of the world that constitute serious human rights violations. As such, the Council had dedicated its fifth special session to the human rights situation in Myanmar, its sixth special session to human rights violations emanating from Israeli military attacks and incursion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and in the seventh such session to the negative impact of the world food crisis on the right to food.
Turning then to the ninth session, which had concluded in September 2008, he highlighted texts that required urgent consideration by the General Assembly, along with the optional protocol to the International Covenant to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In particular, he noted resolution 9/18 on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the occupied Palestinian territories, which recommended that the report of the fact-finding mission be considered by the General Assembly, and decision 9/103 on strengthening the Human Rights Council, in which the Council requested the Secretary-General to present a report detailing the resources required to ensure the provision of necessary services and recommended to the Assembly to ensure the establishment of an Office of the President with adequate staffing resources.
“The year of 2007-2008 can be considered fruitful in terms of institution-building, and it marked the achievement of the institutional renewal of the United Nations human rights machinery,” he said, while expressing his confidence that the Council was now in a better position to advance the course of protection and promotion of human rights. “The tasks before us may be daunting, but with the support of all stakeholders, the Council will succeed in upholding the highest standards of human rights by all Member States, as we have all rightly pledged to do when we decided to establish this unique body.”
PHILLIPE DELACROIX (France), speaking on behalf the European Union, thanked the President of the Human Rights Council for his report, which, as the Chair of the Committee had noted at the start of the meeting, would be considered by both the Third Committee and the General Assembly plenary, with the understanding that the Committee would consider the Council’s recommendations, while the plenary would consider issues relating to that body’s activities. For that reason, he would limit his comments today to the recommendations contained in the report and reserve his comments on the Council’s activities for the Assembly’s plenary meeting on Tuesday.
He said more needed to be done to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights of all people. That was true for as long as more than 100 million children continued to lack access to education, 3 million people continued to die of HIV/AIDS, and 850 million people continued to go hungry. The European Union attached great importance to the issue of economic, social and cultural rights, and its members had participated in negotiations on an optional protocol to the International Covenant on those rights, which the Human Rights Council had recommended for adoption by the General Assembly. He voiced hope that the optional protocol would be adopted by consensus.
SERGEI RACHKOV ( Belarus) said the volume of human rights mechanisms in relation to the Council had increased from those in existence during the time of the Commission on Human Rights. That situation reflected the active role that the Council would play, moving forward in the promotion and protection of human rights. Turning to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, he noted the “uncompromising but also constructive nature” of the review process, which was a sign of the increased maturity of the Council. Each State, including, to an equal degree, the least developed countries and most developed countries, were given important homework to do, which they were to carry out over the next four years. The Council would hopefully be able to preserve the atmosphere of constructive dialogue that had existed in the review process and which, in the end, would help to form new cooperative approaches to resolving human rights situations of concern.
The work of the Council, and its status and potential, had significantly exceeded the former Commission on Human Rights, he continued. Accordingly, the activity of the Human Rights Council should be accorded more space in the human rights system overall, in particular in terms of the balance of the working relationship between the Council, the Third Committee and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). There was a need to build closer cooperation between the Council and the OHCHR in their work, in order to ensure the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness. As well, since the international community had tired of politically motivated country resolutions that had nothing to do with human rights, that situation must now change. The monitoring of the implementation of human rights standards should now be focused in the Council, which had the necessary mechanisms to do the job most effectively. Meanwhile, the Third Committee should preserve its function of human rights standard-setting.
LUIS AMORÓS NÚÑEZ ( Cuba) thanked the President of the Council for his report and expressed hope that such exchanges would continue to take place. However, such dialogue should not be used to perpetuate double standards, or to perpetuate a spirit of selectivity in the desire to manipulate others for political ends ‑‑ a spirit that had characterized the “frenzied” Human Rights Commission. He recalled that the Non-Aligned Movement had prevailed over the small group of countries, and some powerful nations among them, that had conspired to frustrate the process of creating the Human Rights Council, and that replaced the Commission. It was uncertain whether the new organ would promote the human rights of the world’s inhabitants, however; that would depend on how well the Universal Periodic Review mechanism worked, as it must be carried out with impartiality and non-selectivity. If the review process was used as a time for countries to exhibit their power and influence, the Council would only be repeating the mistakes of the old Commission, which had functioned more as a court to judge countries of the South, while it turned a blind eye to violations taking place in powerful countries.
For its part, he said Cuba had expanded its cooperation with the United Nations human rights machinery. In 2009, it would present itself for review. He reiterated his Government’s will to cooperate with the Council, which he hoped would exercise respect for national sovereignty. Turning to the recommendations in the Council’s report, he pointed to the draft resolution on an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights, which must be adopted as soon as possible. In addition, it was enormously important for the Council to hold a session on the right to food and the food crisis, which was directly related to the issue of economic, social and cultural rights. It was important, as well, for the Advisory Committee and other subsidiary bodies of the Council, to take up their functions.
KIM PIL-WOO ( Republic of Korea) noted that the Human Rights Council had mainly focused on establishing an architecture and procedures for the first two years, since its 2006 launch. The year 2008 marked the first year of its full functioning, in which it had a tight schedule with three regular sessions, one special session and two rounds of Universal Periodic Review working group sessions. Throughout that time, he had sensed a strong shared determination among all members to push forward. It was believed to have played a part in delivering “real improvements in human rights situations in every corner of the world”. Yet, the reality was that the intensive debates, resolutions, decisions and use of the periodic review process, special procedures, and Advisory Committee and Complaint Procedure had not always met expectations.
Reflecting on the work of the Council, he said it was difficult to say, at this stage, how effective the Universal Periodic Review would prove in practice, though he shared the “prudent though optimistic” expectation concerning the value of the review process in improving human rights situations around the world. Close interaction among all relevant stakeholders during the preparation stage of each national report would be vital to the follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review. Concerns raised, and advice offered, during his country’s review process last May and June would provide valuable impetus for the Government to further bolster its commitment to achieve high standards in relevant human rights areas.
He said his Government shared the view that Special Procedures, together with the review process, should play a pivotal role in the activities of the Human Rights Council, and the two mechanisms should be nurtured in such a way that they complemented each other. The process of the review, rationalization and improvement of special mandates, underway within the Council since June last year, must consider the victims and the situation on the ground. For that reason, his Government firmly believed that country-specific mandates were required to continuously serve as the Council’s “eyes and ears” to monitor dire human rights situations. Further, the Council should address gross and constant violations by specific countries in a systematic manner, and country-specific mandates were the most effective tool for that end.
TAKASHI ASHIKI ( Japan) said the creation of the Human Rights Council was an important and welcome step in mainstreaming of human rights into the United Nations system. With regard to the Council’s report, however, his Government considered it most appropriate that it be directly submitted to the General Assembly, in order to show the proper respect for all the diligent work that had been done in Geneva. Those discussions should not be reopened in the Third Committee. In order to improve the human rights situation all over the world, it would be necessary for the international community to “speak with one voice”.
The Human Rights Council endeavoured to promote cooperation on the basis of mutual understanding, to be able to respond to severe and large-scale violations flexibly, and in a prompt and timely manner, he said. The Third Committee was a universal forum open to all, and its work should, therefore, be complementary to that of the Council. Member States must use the advantages of each organization in working to advance respect for human rights. Japan had undergone the Universal Periodic Review in May and was now striving to follow-up on the results. He expressed his Government’s hope that the Universal Review would become an effective instrument for the promotion and protection of human rights and that the Council would fulfil its potential, and provide prompt and appropriate responses to massive and grave human rights violations, wherever they occurred, based on mutual understanding and cooperation.
NAHIDA SOBHAN ( Bangladesh) thanked the President of the Council and expressed pleasure to see the report being discussed in the Committee. The Universal Periodic Review was a “significant innovation” in the field of human rights, and her Government had high hopes that the procedure would create an aura of mutual trust, confidence and understanding. Its strength lay in its universality, with all countries facing scrutiny, regardless of their region, size or influence. She expected that the periodic review process would develop into a meaningful mechanism, so that it was possible to get rid of controversial country-specific mechanisms. The principles of non-selectivity, universality and impartiality were important to the credibility of the United Nations human rights system, as was the satisfactory implementation of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. She expressed confidence that that mechanism would create an environment for the countries under review to comply with human rights standards, and said her country would undergo the process in February 2009.
She recalled that, last year, the international community had adopted a series of reform measures for the Human Rights Council. It appeared that the new Council was moving in the right direction, and that those mechanisms had been strengthened to the expectation of all members. Given the sensitivity of its mandate, it could not make any wrong moves; for that reason, it should continuously take stock of its operations and assess its performance in a way that was satisfactory to all member States. She had been pleased to see improvements made to the system, and that the appointment procedure of mandate holders had been streamlined. She cautioned against unnecessary proliferation and undue importance placed on certain thematic areas, but encouraged the international community instead to look for gaps or overlaps in their work and to deal with them accordingly. The Council should also avoid bringing in controversial issues through loopholes.
She attached great importance to the position of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in protecting human rights worldwide. She was confident in Ms. Pillay’s ability to carry forward the work of her predecessors. The Human Rights Council and the OHCHR should complement each other in the work of upholding human rights globally. She looked forward to discussions and possible solutions to that end, that would be acceptable to the Council, the Office of the High Commissioner and all Member States.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) welcomed the fact that the Third Committee was able to consider the outcomes of the thematic work of the Council and to evaluate its substantive recommendations. The adopted resolutions had allowed for progress in the institution-building process and the mandates covered in those resolutions covered relevant issues within the human rights agenda. It was essential to ensure that the discharge of the functions assigned to the different special procedures was in line with the code of conduct governing those activities. The thematic resolutions adopted during the reporting period provided a significant framework of standards and provisions that offered guidance for national actions and international cooperation. They were also relevant for the Assembly in the adoption of universal intergovernmental decisions aimed at the advancement of international law in the field.
Turning to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, she said that the commitments undertaken by States within that framework would allow for concrete progress in the situation of human rights at the global level. Colombia had submitted itself, voluntarily, to the mechanism and would be subject to its implementation in December. The national report was the result of an extensive process of internal consultations and dissemination, and that process alone had been an important experience and an opportunity for self-examination, which had helped to identify new actions and commitments to enhance the State’s essential mission of advancing human rights. Those actions and commitments would complement national policies that had already been implemented, such as the national Democratic Security Policy. Constructive dialogue and international cooperation could support significant progress on the national level. The Council had been created with that vision, and her Government was, therefore, fully committed to the Council and that approach, based on the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.
MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria) thanked the President of the Council and paid tribute to his predecessors. He expressed concern, however, at the lack of clear practice, since the Council’s creation, with respect to the allocation of its report, which was often done at the last minute, and which changed each year, depending on the content of the report. The arrangement adopted at the General Assembly’s sixty-second session, allocating it to Third Committee, could have been extended.
He said the first three years of the Council had shown progress, even though that progress might seem insufficient. The Universal Periodic Review process had become operational and had completed two cycles so far, with 30 countries from different regions, and with different levels of development, having taken part. It gave hope to all countries that they could aspire to equal treatment, without exception. For its part, Algeria’s commitment to human rights was evident when it presented its candidature to the Council, and when it became one of the first countries to undergo the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. It had engaged in open and transparent dialogue with the Council, as part of the review process, which was much appreciated. The Government was determined to ensure follow-up to the Council’s recommendations, which it had voluntarily accepted. The Algerian Government, in turn, had considered the reports of other States. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism had only just started and had already revealed its potential in helping promote and protect human rights, which needed to be consolidated. Another major achievement in the field of human rights was the adoption by the Council of the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would allow those rights to receive the same treatment as civil and political rights.
IDREES MOHAMED ALI MOHAMMED SAEED ( Sudan) said the creation of the Human Rights Council constituted a new era in international relations, based on more friendly relations. In the past, the international community had been unable to respond to some human rights situations, and the human rights machinery had been in need of reform. “New blood” had to be injected into its veins, to better reflect the will of the people for development, peace and security. The creation of the Council had responded to the deficiencies of the former Commission and was a “prelude to a new era in human rights”, based on principles of neutrality and objectivity, without giving privilege to any individual States. All human rights were universal, indivisible, reinforcing and interdependent and should, therefore, be dealt with in an equal manner. Though mechanisms had been created to deal with violations of civil and political rights, no such mechanisms existed for social, cultural and economic rights. As such, he welcomed the approval by the Council of the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The experience of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was new, he said. The review worked towards inclusiveness, and avoided the selectivity that had paralysed the work of the former Commission on Human Rights. The High Commissioner should, thus, provide all assistance to that mechanism and provide States with the tools needed to prepare reports for that mechanism. The Sudan would submit its report to that mechanism in 2011, and it had already begun preparations in that respect. He expressed his delegation’s support for resolution 9/18, and he called on the international community to urge the occupying State referred to in that resolution to carry out its international obligations, and to stop its “denigration and its scorn” for legitimate international resolutions. In closing, he reaffirmed Sudan’s commitment to upholding human rights on the basis of dialogue.
ZAINOL RAHIM ZAINUDDIN ( Malaysia) said countries should not continue to pick and choose which rights they wished to highlight, or how those rights might be enjoyed. Nor should they seek to impose on others differing emphasis and urgency to human rights, due to domestic political expediency or external pressure. His Government, which was a Council member, held hopes that the Council’s work on a range of different issues would lead to tangible results in the promotion and protection of human rights. The discussions taking place at the Council were “healthy”, in his view. A vast majority of Member States was supportive of its work, especially in ensuring that the Council avoided the mistakes of the Commission on Human Rights, which had become highly politicized and which practised selectivity and double standards.
Notwithstanding the diverging views of Member States, he said the Council might yet prove to be a “better proposition”, especially if States engaged constructively in its work, rather than derided it. It would be disheartening if criticisms targeted at the Commission were used against the Council without allowing it to further develop, and without giving the Council the necessary resources to carry out its work. It was necessary to establish an Office of the President of the Human Rights Council, with adequate staffing resources, including the provision of the necessary equipment.
He said, from the discussions and results on country-specific resolutions at the past sessions of the General Assembly, it was apparent that the wider membership was increasingly opposed and uncomfortable with such resolutions. It remained to be seen whether the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was a better alternative, but it was hoped that States would seize the opportunity to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in a cooperative and constructive manner, as provided for by the review mechanism. Turning to a number of issues in the Council’s report, he said Malaysia viewed the right to development as central to the Council’s work. While governments were primarily responsible for creating the enabling national conditions for the realization of the right to development, it was also true that national policies were becoming increasingly intertwined at the international level. As a result, the policy space of national Governments was increasingly shrinking, and, for that reason, it was important that the Council work progressively towards operationalizing the right to development. He also acknowledged the contribution of non-governmental organizations in the area of human rights, and one of the notable features of the Council was to increase the space for their participation.
JOAO SALGUIERO ( Portugal) said the draft optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was the result of five years of intensive work and far-reaching open consultations and negotiations. His delegation believed that the present text was the best possible compromise and would allow for a high number of ratifications in the future. As such, Portugal would introduce, in the following days, a draft resolution that would adopt the draft optional protocol, as contained in the report of the Council, and he hoped the adoption would be by consensus. The new mechanism was regarded as “extremely important” by many Member States, and it would give true meaning to the proclamation of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights that all human rights must be treated in an equal manner and with the same emphasis.
Economic, social, and cultural rights and civil and political rights had a lot in common and were interdependent, he said. The realization of such rights as the right to education and health would contribute to the enjoyment of civil and political rights, and vice versa. The implementation of human rights -- all human rights -- was still, everywhere, a work in progress. It was frequently through individual complaints that human rights were given concrete meaning. In the adjudication of individual cases, international norms, that might otherwise seem general and abstract, were put into practical effect. Though some States were not, for now, in a position to envisage becoming parties to a new instrument created by the draft protocol, that situation should not obstruct the adoption by consensus of the resolution that Portugal would introduce.
GUO JIAKUN ( China) voiced the expectations of all sides that the Council would operate in a fair, just and objective manner. Human rights were inseparable from peace and development, and, as the main United Nations body for human rights affairs, the Human Rights Council should thoroughly discard the flaws of its predecessor -- the Commission on Human Rights -– and carefully handle today’s challenges through cooperation.
He hoped the Council would always work in the mode of dialogue on equal footing and respect for different views, in order to increase mutual understanding and common ground. In addition, he urged the Council to always adhere to the principle of harmonious cooperation, eliminate the “disruptive” effects of politicization and facilitate the smooth settlement of human rights issues, all with a view to advancing the cause of human rights. As long as all sides were engaged in constructive discussion, the Council would not fail to live up to the global community’s “ardent expectations”.
As a Council member, China attached great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights at home, he said, noting China’s support for the Council President, participation in the Council’s various mechanisms, and work to promote international cooperation on human rights issues. Last year, his country had served as coordinator of the Council’s Asian Group. In closing, he said China would continue to adhere to the spirit and objectives advocated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
ROBERT S. HAGEN ( United States) said that his Government’s concerns regarding the actions and overall trajectory of the Council had become even more pronounced over the past year. Numerous actions taken by the Council, during the reporting period, were contrary to its mandate, and, its positive actions had been outweighed by its negative actions and, sometimes, inactions. Such a situation eroded the United Nations role in promoting the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all persons. In particular, he referred to the Council’s frequent, disproportionate and biased actions against Israel, both in the past, and again in the current year. He also expressed his Government’s deep disappointment over the Council’s treatment of issues involving freedom of expression and religion, and it remained particularly concerned about the potential of some of the Council’s resolutions, in that regard, that could be interpreted so as to justify restrictions on those freedoms.
A further disappoint was the Council’s decision to weaken its involvement and mandate for action in Darfur, he said. As well, its approach to human rights situations in Zimbabwe, Cuba, Iran, Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was also of concern, and the elimination of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, similar to its elimination of the mandate in Cuba in the past, was a failure by the Council to use all the instruments at its disposal to protect human rights throughout the world. He also regretted the limits imposed on non-governmental organizations, in regard to the time they were given to speak and participate in Universal Periodic Review country discussions. Civil society was an essential partner to all Member States on human rights issues and could strengthen both Governments and societies. It was in the Council’s interest to work with them, and it was, therefore, regrettable that some members of the Council took an “us against them” approach to members of civil society. While expressing his delegation’s commitment to working with the United Nations and the Council in the future, he said that victims of human rights violations “deserve better than what the Council had delivered in the past year”, and Member States should help the Council to protect, and not erode, universal human rights.
GERARDO FUEYO-BROS ( Spain) said he welcomed the report of the Council, and supported adopting optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The existence of such a protocol would help reduce the “fragmented” approach taken towards economic, social and cultural rights, and was sure to have a positive effect for States who were party to that Covenant. The protocol would contribute to the prevention of human rights violations within countries, and help offer protection to victims. He said he hoped that the General Assembly would adopt the optional protocol in December, and commended the Chair of the Working Group in charge of preparing the optional protocol for her efforts.
RODRIGO DONOS ( Chile) said there was a disparity in the protection and international implementation of civil and political rights, versus economic, social and cultural rights. Since it came into force in 1976, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had an optional protocol providing for a system of individual complaints, in cases of violations. On the other hand, 34 years after the entry into force of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, no such instrument existed, and it would only be when the draft protocol was adopted that the situation would be redressed. Only then would the universal system of human rights protection have the necessary machinery to advance the effective protection of all human rights, on the basis of their universality, interdependence and indivisibility.
The draft protocol was the outcome of a lengthy process of discussion in the working group and represented the best agreement that could be reached, in view of the differing viewpoints, he continued. One of the main issues debated was the scope of the protocol, and Chile, from the outset, had supported the comprehensive approach embodied in existing article 2. The basis for that position was the mandate contained in article 3, which expressly established the obligation of States parties to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights, and article 5, which stated that nothing in the Covenant might be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to limit any of the rights recognized in the Covenant. He added that the adoption of that draft protocol was particularly significant, considering that 2008 was the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the international community was making progress in fulfilling the aim of that instrument.
ROMAN TODER ( Ukraine) said his country adhered strictly to international human rights instruments, and had supported the reform of the former Commission on Human Rights, and its subsequent replacement by the Human Rights Council. It took active part in the work of the Council and spared no effort in promoting its use as a tool for constructive dialogue and for strengthening cooperation among States on the implementation of international human rights standards. The Ukraine’s re-election to the Council this May was evidence of other countries’ confidence in its adherence to that purpose.
He went on to say that the Council was well-positioned and equipped to serve its goal. But, institution-building was a continuous process, and for that reason, the Council should continue to develop itself under the guidance of its expert advisers. He was glad to see that the system of special procedures had been preserved in the structure of the Human Rights Council, as an independent mechanism in its own right. In 2006, the Ukraine had made an open invitation to all special procedures, and the Special Rapporteur on arbitrary detention was now visiting the country. The Council should pay attention to the need for prevention mechanisms, and to speak clearly against situations that might bring about gross violations, such as crimes against humanity and genocide. Now was the time to take resolute action to benefit the victims of hunger, climate change, discrimination, intolerance, arbitrary arrest and torture and other human rights violations. Countries must build a strong foundation for the protection of human rights, through a robust treaty system, as well as by promoting human rights education in primary and secondary schools. The Ukraine intended to double its efforts at building relations with United Nations human rights mechanisms, and in achieving all international human rights standards.
FARUKH AMIL ( Pakistan) said his country valued its membership and association with the Human Rights Council, a body that “raised new hopes” for creating a new, transparent and cooperative culture for promoting and protecting human rights. Following its initial phase of institution-building, it was poised to become more effective.
Noting that the Universal Periodic Review had completed its first cycle, he said Pakistan had been among the first countries to undergo review, a “rewarding” experience, in that it had benefited from consultation with national non-governmental organizations and observations by Member States. While the Council had “done well” in building institutions, conducting the review and relaunching the special procedure -- no small achievements -– there was “no room for complacency”, as there was a long way to go in promoting and protecting human rights.
EVA TOMIC ( Slovenia) noted that the Universal Periodic Review process was a positive innovation of the new Human Rights Council, and the first two rounds of the review process had gone very well. Unlike some that had spoken in the current debate, her delegation did not think that the mechanism should replace country-specific resolutions. Rather, it should complement those resolutions. Slovenia also supported the establishment of a proper and effective Office of the President of the Council. However, on that issue, it would be important to note that there was, currently, a “disconnect” between the activities in Geneva and New York.
She suggested that the “once per year report” of the Council was not a sufficient enough channel for the exchange of information between the two cities, and she recommended that such communications could be enhanced through more informal briefings, to help bridge the activities in New York and Geneva. She also expressed her delegation’s support for the draft optional protocol, which was a long overdue and important international instrument. The adoption of that protocol would be an important and symbolic gesture in the sixtieth anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
WAEL M. ATTIYA (Egypt) said he welcomed the holding of a meeting to consider the report of the Human Rights Council on its activities, and to review all matters pertaining to human rights, especially after having held thematic debates at the expert level last year on the promotion of rights, which eventually led to the adoption of recommendations on the Council’s institutional structure. The establishment of the Human Rights Council had opened up a new era of common action on human rights, based on consultation and buttressed by technical and financial structures, and without attaching importance to certain human rights to the detriment of others.
He said he welcomed progress made on implementation of the institutional framework developed last year, and noted the positive developments in the special procedures area, as well as progress regarding complaints procedures and the creation of a forum on minority issues. He stressed the importance of achieving “complementarity” between national human rights bodies and international human rights bodies and all existing human rights instruments. The world must commit itself to implementing the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in all States on an equal footing, without exception. States must oppose the tendency shown by some to want to be the guardian of human rights in the world, for no sound reason other than that their values, culture and social system was felt to be supreme compared to others. States must address attempts aimed at disrupting the balance among United Nations bodies, specifically by using the Security Council as a way of politicizing human rights issues and to interfere with the prerogatives of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, with respect to the Human Rights Council. They must address attempts to interfere with the Human Rights Council through parallel structures, such as through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offices in developing countries.
He said it was important to promote an early warning system that was founded on well-documented information that was non-politicized, and with the cooperation of country missions mandated by the Human Rights Council, especially in the case of States under occupation or in conflict situations. Such work would require funds estimated at $3 million, in addition to technical assistance already being provided by the Human Rights High Commissioner for capacity-building purposes, to be provided in a manner that ensured complementarity between that Office and the Council, as well as between the international community and national Governments. The adoption of a protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was important for restoring balance between those rights and civil and political rights, and drawing attention to such rights, as the right to development, which would facilitate the achievement of all other rights without conditionality.
MARIE-LAURENCE PÉAN MEVS ( Haiti), taking the floor very briefly, welcomed the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and the work done by the independent expert in relation to Haiti. Her delegation counted on the support of the international community to help her country recover from the enormous losses post-hurricane, and to guarantee her citizens full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
TIBOR SHALEV-SCHLOSSR ( Israel) said his Government appreciated the President of the Council’s efforts to lead the deliberations of the Council in a balanced manner. Still, he asked the President what had been done, and what would be done, in order to guarantee a fair and balanced treatment for all countries in the Council. In particular, he referred to the “singling out” of Israel in the Council’s agenda with a special item, and asked when the content of the special mandate on the territories would be reviewed. His delegation also took note of the fact that such a review had even been requested by the mandate holder itself. Finally, he asked what had been done to ensure that the “Durban II” Conference would not become, itself, a platform for racism or incitement to anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism, and would not follow the example of the original conference on the same issue.
Rights of Reply
The representative of Sudan responded to the statement by the representative of the United States, saying he regretted the latter’s expression of frustration over his Government’s views not being heeded. It would seem the United States much preferred having a Security Council with a limited number of members than the Human Rights Council with its present structure. The United States delegation was the only one that had voted against the right to development. Because its proposals had not been adopted, and because it had been marginalized and isolated by human rights institutions, its only recourse was to oppose the reform of the Human Rights Commission. Instead of a Human Rights Council that would promote cooperation amongst States, the United States promoted confrontation and preferred to exercise the “logic of force”.
He said that the United States feared it would not attain candidacy to a body such as the Human Rights Council because its human rights record was “sad” and marked by racial discrimination against its African, Asian and Arab citizens, and dotted by secret courts, set up under the aegis of the war on terror. The Guantanamo Bay prisons were an affront, given that country’s claims to be a defender of human rights, and he said he would be curious to hear what the United States would say in its defence, if it were to undergo the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
Further, he said the United States rejected any criticism of Israel and used its veto power to protect the tyrannical authority of Israel, which violated the rights of Palestinians. The United States did not take a responsible position against the occupation of the Palestinian people, who were subject to massacre and deprived of their dignity and human rights. The United States Government would always adopt an agenda item on not criticizing Israel. For its part, Sudan had cooperated to address problems and difficulties relating to the war in Darfur, and would do everything to promote human rights. He asked for the United States to open the doors to Guantanamo Bay, so the world would know what was happening there. In fact, they should close down the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and release the prisoners.
The representative of Cuba responded to the representative of the United States, repeating his statement from earlier, that countries should not make use of the dialogue process to perpetuate double standards, or manipulate the forum for political purposes. It would seem that the United States was trying to ensure that that dialogue process failed. It was clear why the United States was discouraged by the Council –- the United States could not control it or subject it to its “designs of domination”, as it used to do with the Commission on Human Rights, where it prevented the international community from examining the torture centres based on Cuban territory that it occupied illegally, namely Guantanamo Bay.
He said the United States was attacking the Council because it did not have the courage to integrate itself into the human rights monitoring process, in contrast to Cuba, a country which it criticized. Cuba would soon subject itself to review by everyone, which the United States did not dare do, out of fear for its negative human rights record, having conducted unilateral wars, violated the United Nations Charter, conducted massive bombings of civilians in foreign countries, and having brought death to thousands of people out of the pretence that they were searching for weapons that were nowhere to be found. It was also responsible for the degrading treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, which, again, he noted, was being occupied by the United States illegally. Similar violations were conducted at Abu Ghraib prison, and torture centres operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. A country that practiced waterboarding and other torture methods had nothing to teach the international community, in terms of respecting human rights. If it was to become part of the Human Rights Council mechanism, that country would be exposed for being a liar and a violator of human rights. The United States attacked the Council mercilessly, because it had lost its privileges. Its Government should realize that the world was changing, and that they should change with it. They should exercise more humility, as they reflected on what was happening in their country.
Similarly, the representative of Iran said that the United States stand on the Council and its desire to not have the Council function in an impartial manner was understandable, since the United States did not want to come under its review. The Human Rights Council should pay special attention to the situation of human rights in the United States, in addition to the human rights violations committed by that country all over the world. Indeed, his delegation felt it would be timely for the Council to hold a special session on the human rights situation in that country, as it had done for other places.
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