Third Committee Hears Presentations from Six UN Human Rights Experts, As Debate on Promotion, Protection of Human Rights Continues

23 October 2009

Third Committee Hears Presentations from Six UN Human Rights Experts, As Debate on Promotion, Protection of Human Rights Continues

23 October 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Third Committee

26th & 27th Meetings (AM & PM)

Third Committee Hears Presentations from Six UN Human Rights Experts,

As Debate on Promotion, Protection of Human Rights Continues

Address Religious Freedom, Adequate Housing, Extreme Poverty,

Violence against Women, Human Trafficking, Human Rights Defenders

States would better serve their societies -- particularly vulnerable groups like women, the extreme poor and trafficked persons -- if they took a human rights-based approach in designing and implementing social, economic and cultural policies, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told today as it rounded out its first week of discussions on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Hearing from six Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs on a number of issues that ranged from human trafficking and violence against women to the right to adequate housing and freedom of belief, the Committee continued to engage with some of the most difficult and complex challenges facing their countries.

As one expert -- Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living -- stressed, States must ensure that, in their efforts to protect people from one threat, such as the effects of climate change, they did not unintentionally violate other human rights.

She suggested that negotiations on how to combat climate change would be much different if a human rights angle were introduced.  In particular, people needed to be informed, in order to participate in decision-making on any adaptation, reconstruction or relocation process.  In turn, this participation would strengthen the resilience of their communities.

Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, touched on this delicate balance between different rights in her comments on the introduction of stricter counter-terrorism, security and anti-extremism laws following 9/11, which had often had a significant restrictive impact on civil society.  She stressed that, while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did allow for the restriction of the right to freedom of association because of national security, such restrictions must fulfil other conditions.

Magdelena Sepulveda Carmona, Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, called on the Third Committee to encourage Member States to incorporate a human rights perspective into their responses to the global financial crisis.  Lessons of past crises showed that States could address the negative impact of the current one on the poor by establishing and expanding social protection systems.

To be successful, however, the misconception that social protection systems were not affordable, or that they created dependency, must be overcome.  In that regard, she highlighted far-reaching studies from the International Labour Organization (ILO) showing that most countries could not only afford a basic package of social security, but that such schemes actually contributed to a country’s economy.

The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, also urged Member States to fight that surreptitious transnational crime in a sprit of cooperation and with a human rights perspective.  She proposed a global action plan with quantifiable time-bound targets to galvanize the political and economic will of Members States.  In particular, such a plan should facilitate sustained technical assistance for identifying and protecting victims and should link anti-trafficking initiatives to the Millennium Development Goals to address the root causes of human trafficking.

Rashida Manjoo, the newly installed Special Rapporteur on violence against women, explained that her predecessor’s 2009 thematic report to the Human Rights Council argued that the primacy accorded to political and civil rights -- or “first generation” rights -- had perpetuated a bias towards violations of human rights in the public sphere.  Indeed, the report looked at the link between violence against women and women’s access to economic and social rights -- or “second generation” rights -- like the right to housing, land and property, food, water, health, education and the rights to decent work and social security.

She said the report demonstrated that economic and social security was crucial for empowering women and preventing violence against them.  The report also made a strong appeal for the adoption of an integrated perspective that combined the obligations set out in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Earlier in the day, the Committee heard from Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, who said that in the five years since she took up her mandate, it had become clear that religious intolerance was not a natural outcome of diverse societies, but once the roots of intolerance took hold, it was hard to contain.  In that context, prevention was key to creating an atmosphere of religious tolerance.  The structure of the State, its governance methods, educational policies and commitment to basic human rights were central ingredients in either preventing or contributing to friction.

During the interactive portion of her presentation, many delegates requested more information on educational methods that would promote tolerance of beliefs.   Jordan’s representative asked how society could teach children to respect their peers irrespective of religion and to see beyond religious symbols, such as a headscarf, turban or cross.  Several delegations also raised questions about the double discrimination of race and religion, with Malaysia’s delegate pointing out that there was an instrument to address discrimination based on race, but not on religion.

Ms. Jahangir agreed that the links between race and religion were not widely understood, with laws frequently confusing the two.  But she did not believe the international community was ready to have a convention on religious freedom.  Instead, she reiterated the need for education, as well as heightened public awareness.  Education was also important in teaching tolerance to children, particularly by orchestrating meetings between children of various faiths and communities, which had shown some success.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 26 October, to hear statements from the Special Rapporteurs on the right to education, the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and on the human rights of migrants.  It was also expected to hear from the Secretary-General’s Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

The Committee will also hear the introduction of the remaining reports related to human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.  It was also expected to begin its general discussion on these topics.


The Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) met today to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Before the Committee was the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (document A/64/159), which brings up a series of new challenges in the context of freedom of religion or belief.  The Special Rapporteur stresses that theistic, atheistic and non-theistic believers, as well as those who do not profess any religion, all have an important role to play in building pluralistic societies of the twenty-first century.

In some places, freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject to limitations -- the Special Rapporteur is concerned that, on the one hand, many believers are prevented from identifying themselves through the display of religious symbols (such as head coverings) and that, on the other hand, people in different countries are required to publicly display those religious symbols.  The Special Rapporteur is concerned, as well, about instances where State authorities censor, monitor or even write sermons of religious leaders.  The freedom to train, appoint, elect or designate by succession appropriate leaders is curtailed in some countries.  He says that to foster a climate of religious tolerance, States should take a clear and human rights-based approach on the question of religious tolerance.

The Special Rapporteur stresses the importance of protecting the freedom of religion or belief of refugees and asylum-seekers.  The problem arises when, after having arrived in the country where they are seeking asylum, those individuals convert to a religion that would make them prone to persecution in their country of origin, if they were to be returned.  In the assessment of such asylum applications, suspicions often arise regarding the sincerity of asylum claims.  The Special Rapporteur reiterates that such post-departure conversion should not give rise to a presumption that the claim is fabricated.

The situation of children and their freedom of religion or belief also received specific mention in the report.  In particular, the Special Rapporteur is concerned at reports of preaching of religious hatred and the exploitation of children in a systematic and organized fashion for the ends of militant groups.  The report describes the outcomes of visits to Turkmenistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, and announces upcoming visits to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Chile in November 2009 and January 2010.

Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living:  The right to an adequate housing (document A/64/255).  Submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 6/27 by Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik, the report discusses how the impacts of climate change have consequences for the fulfilment of the right to adequate housing.  It also provides an overview of the scope and severity of climate change, as well as its implications for extreme weather events, its impact on urban and rural areas, human mobility and small islands and low-lying coastal zones.  The relevant international human rights frameworks and obligations are outlined in connection to the right to housing and discuss the essential role of international cooperation to address the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Among the Special Rapporteur's preliminary conclusions are that industrialized countries must lead in reducing emissions levels and support developing countries in pursuing low-carbon development paths.  Further, the consultation and participation of concerned communities in decision-making must be ensured in planning and implementing mitigation and adaptation project.  Such adaptation projects should not rely on technologies that are not relevant to local environments, and all adaptation efforts should give priority to the needs of the most vulnerable.

The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General by which he transmitted the report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty (document A/64/279).  The report was submitted in accordance with resolution 8/11 of the Human Rights Council by the independent expert, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, who paid particular attention to social protection and social security systems.  It addresses the impact of the current global financial crisis on people living in extreme poverty and the enjoyment of their human rights.

Among other things, the report stresses that the crisis offers an opportunity to move beyond the restructuring of the global financial and monetary systems and to place people at the centre of policy measures by enhancing social protection systems from a human rights-based approach.  The report describes how human rights standards provide a normative framework for the adoption of social protection measures and provides guidance for their design, implementation and evaluation.

The report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children (document A/64/290) says there is still ambiguity with regard to the criteria being used by many countries to identify victims of trafficking.  Screening procedures often do not comply with the rights-based approach and sometimes woefully fail to respect the right of victims to privacy and confidentiality.  In some cases, victims are treated as criminals and deported with no opportunity to receive assistance as trafficked victims.

A proper repatriation process takes into account the safety of victims, says the Special Rapporteur.  Trafficked persons should not be detained, charged or prosecuted for the illegality of their entry into or residence in countries of transit and destination, or for their involvement in unlawful activities that result from their situation as trafficked persons.  States should provide training, particularly for labour inspectors, which will improve understanding of the interface between migration and trafficking and enhance mechanisms for the identification of persons trafficked into exploitative labour and mixed migration situations.

The Special Rapporteur notes that operational guidelines, procedures and tools for identification have been developed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which have experience in working with trafficked victims.  He recommends their wide dissemination.  Direct assistance to victims of trafficking requires resources and, where the Government is not providing such services, it should fund the non-governmental organizations that provide them.  Referral mechanisms must be in place to refer victims and potential victims to governmental and non-governmental agencies for assistance.

Among his other recommendations, the Special Rapporteur says States are urged to ensure adequate psycho-social, medical and legal assistance to all victims of trafficking.  They must ensure that child victims of human trafficking are not subjected to criminal procedures or sanctions for offences related to their situation as trafficked persons.  Men should also be seen as victims of trafficking, with an equal right to protection and assistance.

Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (document A/64/226).  Submitted by Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya in accordance with General Assembly resolution 62/152, the report sets out the reasons for revisiting the subject of the right to freedom of association five years after the submission of the previous report.  It also provides an analysis of the legal framework for the protection of the right to freedom of association at the international and regional levels, as well as an analysis of what constitutes permissible restrictions.

The report also describes the case law and work of the monitoring mechanisms at the international and regional levels, showing how the different systems complement and reinforce each other. It also outlines the main trends in the implementation of the right to freedom of association.  Among its final recommendations are that States should not criminalize or impose criminal penalties for activities that defend human rights.  Laws governing the creation, registration and functioning of civil society organizations should set up clear, consistent and simple criteria to register or to incorporate a civil society organization.  Moreover, non-governmental organizations that meet all prescribed administrative criteria should be immediately able to register as legal entities.  Any restriction regarding the registration of organizations must be fully compatible with article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Statement of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

ASMA JAHANGIR, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said her service, which started in July 2004, had been a sorrowful and rewarding experience.  On the one hand, it had been sorrowful because of daily reports of fear of violence and seclusion that people across the world had to bear simply because of their beliefs, with women and religious minorities the victims of the worst religious intolerance.  On the other hand, it had been rewarding to see Governments, groups and individuals take up the hard challenges posed by the forces of intolerance that existed in a number of societies.

“It is quite clear that as long as discrimination on religious grounds persists at the national or global levels, tensions will deepen and, indeed, also be exploited by various religious, political as well as militant forces”, she said.  Her work indicated that religious intolerance was not a natural outcome of diverse societies, but was all too often manipulated by the few groups of individuals for various reasons. Religions and beliefs were highly emotive, and once the germs of intolerance spread, it was hard to contain them.  Intolerance bred intolerance and curing it took far longer than instigating it.

In that context, prevention was key to creating an atmosphere of religious tolerance, she said.  The structure of the State, its governance methods, educational policies and commitment to basic human rights were central ingredients in either preventing or contributing to friction.  Religious bigotry was not confined to any one region or nation and, in fact, denial of freedom of belief in one region or country could trigger reactions in another part of the world.  The basic principles of freedom of belief must find equal respect in all societies, and recognition of the interdependence and universality of human rights was crucial in that effort.

The discrimination suffered by members of religious minorities all over the world was the most prominent example of a negative general pattern, she said.  The means of such discrimination included, among other things, Government registration of believers, laws that openly discriminated against individuals on the basis of faith or lack thereof, as well as denial of education and employment, and the threat of violent acts.  Moreover, the treatment of immigrants and the reluctance of host societies to socially accommodate or absorb the culture of the new arrivals was also a serious concern.  In some cases, Governments had devised ways to screen out migrants due to their religious practices.

Women also remained a persistent target of religious intolerance, with their rights violated in the name of religious belief, or “modernism” in a self-righteous manner.  In some countries, women were required by law to cover their heads, while in others, they must remove any religious symbols to work in public institutions or attend public schools.  In light of all this, she reiterated that the fundamental objective should be to safeguard both the positive freedom of belief, including the voluntary display of religious symbols, as well as the negative freedom of not being forced to display any religious symbols.

She went on to note that many children had been indoctrinated with religious intolerance and were used by certain non-State actors to perpetuate violence in religion’s name.  She was also alarmed at reports of preaching religious hatred and the systematic and organized exploitation of children by militant groups.  State authorities had overlooked this for too long.  Also concerning was the abuse and violence against children accused of witchcraft.

She said she had also been made aware of situations in which communities had been subject to critical analyses, ranging from a merely theological point of view to the most extreme forms of incitement to religious hatred and violence.  To that end, she stressed that the debate about limitations to freedom of expression should be anchored in the relevant existing international framework.  Each set of facts could only be assessed and adjudicated by a judge or impartial body according to its own circumstances.  Another area of concern was the targeting of places of worship, which violated the rights not only of a single believer, but of the group.  She underlined the General Assembly resolution, 55/254, on protection of religious sites in that regard.

She noted that some restrictions and violations were more prevalent in particular regions or countries, and may not constitute general global patterns.  Among them were restrictions posed on different forms of religious expression, undue State interference in religious teaching, and dissemination of relevant publications, and the discrimination or persecution of individuals who changed their religion.  On the latter, she emphasized that theistic, non-theistic and atheist believers, as well as those who did not profess any religion or belief, were equally protected by international human rights law.  Moreover, there was a particularly concerning trend of rising numbers of laws or bills aimed at limiting the freedom of religions or belief of individuals or communities.

Against this backdrop, the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief must include a preventive dimension.  Due attention should be given to early signs of intolerance that may not constitute human rights violations themselves, but that may ultimately lead to religious discrimination.  Proactive strategies should be devised by States to foster a climate of religious tolerance.  Political leadership must take a human rights-based approach on the question of religious tolerance and communicate its position clearly.  Beyond legislation, States could give space for dialogue and cultural expression, encourage public figure to make public statements denouncing acts of intolerance, and provide quality education.  States should also refrain from interfering with the freedom of thought, conscience and religion of individuals; the rule of law and the functioning of democratic institutions were prerequisites for these strategies.

Question Time

The representative of Switzerland underscored the complementary nature of the freedom of religion and freedom of belief.  It was up to States to raise the awareness of its citizens on those freedoms.  Was there a place for freedom of religion or belief in human rights education policies?  He reaffirmed the importance of the “individual dimension” of freedom of religion or belief.  Throughout history, Switzerland had seen various successive wars of religion, and he believed that only tolerance and mutual respect brought peace.

Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Special Rapporteur’s report was an important reference for the resolution her Government was preparing on the elimination of discrimination based on religion or belief.  The European Union was concerned by the prevailing discrimination against individuals who had changed their religion.  Children, especially girls, were being forced into marriage, upon which they were converted to a different religion.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says no one should be subject to such coercion.  What measures should States take to safeguard the child’s rights to freedom, and to balance that right with the concept of parental rights and duties?  Educational institutions should find ways to ensure that their education promoted tolerance and mutual practices.  Did the Special Rapporteur have good practices to share in that regard?  States must also ensure discriminative violent acts by non-State actors were prohibited by law.  How should States empower minorities to tackle discrimination against them?  In what areas could the empowerment of minorities be of importance?

The representative of Chile said preventing intolerance with education was important.  States needed to cooperate in that respect.  He asked for examples of good educational programmes, and whether work on education at the regional level could reach the general population.

Jordan’s delegate expanded on a question asked by the representative of Switzerland, asking the Special Rapporteur to shed more light on education as a means of enhancing the rights of everyone to exercise their freedom of religion or belief in school.  How could society teach children to respect their peers irrespective of religion, and to respect the girl who wore a scarf, or the boy who wore a turban or cross?  How could society teach children to see beyond those religious symbols?

The representative of Canada voiced concern over the trend of indoctrinating and using children to perpetrate violence in the name of religion.  She called on States to end the preaching of religious hatred by militant groups.  The Special Rapporteur had recommended creative, proactive strategies to that end, and to provide access to education that promoted tolerance.  What best practices could she highlight in that regard?  Also, with respect to minorities and incitement of violence in the name of religion, what could Government do to avoid religious conflicts?  The Special Rapporteur had a role in detecting early warning signs.  How did she identify such early warning signs?

New Zealand’s representative asked for the Special Rapporteur’s opinion on ways the international community could ensure that the situation of children and their right to religion or freedom was improved.  How should States eradicate prejudices that were incompatible with the freedom of religion or belief, in schools?

The representative of the United States said her country had learned through time that free expression strengthened social stability, by fostering a climate of respect among diverse communities.  She was also interested in early warning signs, and wanted to understand the role of religious leaders in identifying early warning signs.  Could the Special Rapporteur comment on outreach to religious leaders, and their relationship with Governments around the world?

Serbia’s representative recalled the Special Rapporteur’s visit to her country in April and May.  Serbia was multinational, multicultural and multiconfessional, and its Government looked forward to further cooperation with Ms. Jahangir.  In Kosovo, Ms. Jahangir had seen for herself the disturbing instances of discrimination against non-Albanians in the region, particularly against Serbian orthodox believers and their religious sites.  Various interlocutors, speaking anonymously, had said that they had not seen any warning signs.  Many churches had been burned since 1999.  During riots in 2004, five medieval churches were burned, desecrated or completely destroyed.  No person had yet been held responsible for those crimes, or been prosecuted.  How could such impunity be better addressed?

The representative of India said his was a secular country, although there were both problems and advantages in being multireligious.  The wearing of headgear or dresses, largely acceptable in India, contrasted with some countries, which had strict laws against it.  Tolerance was not just a matter of education.  In cases where countries had explicit rules against it, how could the State encourage the concept of tolerance?  On racial profiling, which he noted had increased after 9/11, it was not truly racial, but religious profiling.  Because of the 9/11 event, one religious group, in particular, had “stayed in people’s minds”.  It was a social problem that needed a concerted effort to tackle, beyond education or raising awareness.  How could that problem be tackled in a more comprehensive manner?  It was particularly pertinent now, given the easy movement of people across different places.  People tended to get discouraged by profiling based on religion.

Qatar’s representative said her country rejected any form of incitement, denigration, and persecution under the pretext of freedom of expression.  What were States doing to take legislative measures to combat such actions taken under such pretexts?  Had there been progress in changes in removing obstacles to freedom of expression, especially for people in certain States who wear hijab or other Islamic clothes?

The representative of Ethiopia asked what kind of balance could be struck between freedom of religion and the obligation of citizens to obey the laws of a country.

The representative of the Observer Mission of the Holy See voiced appreciation for the Special Rapporteur’s support for the freedom to adopt and change religion, both of which were affirmed in the United Nations’ founding documents.  He appreciated her attention to minorities, and in her encouragement to States to be proactive in ending discrimination against that group and against migrants.  Religion values contributed to lasting peace across cultures and societies and to justice in the world.  There was a need to foster respect for the beliefs of all, and to invest in the education young people.  Also, it was important to underscore the important role of parents in fostering respect for people, regardless of their background.

Responding, Ms. JAHANGIR said the pivotal question asked by nearly all delegations touched on education and what could be done to provide quality education to children.  A lot of work was being done in that regard in many countries, as well as at the regional level.  She cited work in India where the focus was on studying syllabi to identify their possible biases in favour of or against different beliefs.  Those investigations suggested it was necessary to consider whether a lesson gave a sense that one religion was superior to another.  Also important was looking at the images being used, such as of women.  In many regions, including South Asia, the kind of intolerance that was seen, even in pluralistic societies, was quite worrying.  She urged Member States to study the “ Toledo principles”.

In her view, it was also useful to visit schools and talk to youth, because that was the most useful way to determine the actual level of tolerance in society.  She believed that if you taught children about religion where there were strict “yeses and nos”, you bred fear in children.  Considering at what age religion was put into education this was a very controversial subject, and work was being done in the United Kingdom about it.  Some experiments looked at giving children the chance to study the religion of their choice.  But, some of those did not seem widely feasible.  In Central Asia, religion was taught as a single topic and had had some success.

Overall, she stressed that, while that was a difficult decision for Government, they should be even-handed.  Moreover, they must insist that the level of religious education be in proportion to the age of the child.  Another important factor was teacher training, who must be well versed and have a non-biased attitude.  Orchestrating meetings between children of various faiths and communities was also very important, and had shown some success.  When children did not speak about religions and people of other faiths -- topics about which they were naturally curious -- they often began to harbour suspicions about the other religions.

She went on to highlight another area of concern regarding the isolation of some children.  Indeed, in a number of countries, there was a segregation of faith communities, meaning that a school was predominantly focused on that community’s faith, and the rare child from another faith received no support.

Regarding conversion or change of faith, she said it was difficult to know if the conversion was by force or not.  To that end, she referred to complaints she had received from parents about their children being kidnapped in marriage.  In some cases, the wife might testify that she had converted willingly, only to say later that she did so only after being threatened.  For her part, the Special Rapporteur considered those reports to be warning signs of possible patterns.

She said there were many stories of people being killed because they had converted or were considering doing so.  There was also a question of how to mainstream minorities.  There were many answers, but they should all be approached from the question of accommodating those minorities, who should be as long as those religious practices did not infringe on the rights of others.  Indeed, that balance should be governed by that principle.  It was, she supposed, a violation of human rights to have a law that prohibited freedom of religion or that asked individuals to succumb to a certain religion.

On the recruitment and indoctrination of children, she cited reports of different institutions that took children -- be they orphanages, prisons or schools -- and preached hatred to them or presented other propaganda.  State monitoring was very important, in that regard.

On violence prevention, she noted that access to decision makers and authorities for religious minorities was typically very limited, which limited the possibility of early warnings.  Sensitization of law enforcement was very important in improving access.  Once the early warnings were spotted, political leadership had to play a role to prevent the eruption of violence.  Further, the relationship between Governments and religious leadership was also very difficult, with Governments often acting very defensively when it came to those interactions.  But, she recommended that Governments be able to asses and give each religious leader the quantum of success they received in their own community.

She went on to observe that, when violence was propagated in the name of religion, Governments were hesitant to come forward to condemn that violence.  If taken too far, people might interpret such a reaction as meaning it was their right to be able to express themselves in such a manner.  Also, judges and politicians had to be sensitized on the wearing of religious symbols.  Finally, the cases where women were discriminated against in very public places had been glossed over too often, but must be addressed.

Concluding, she said the links between race and religion were not widely understood, with laws frequently confusing the two.  There was growing awareness of the right to freedom of belief and the need for tolerance.  Indeed, education was very important, but more important was public awareness.

Egypt’s delegation asked for more information on the cooperation between the Special Rapporteur and the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Worker and Their Families.  Also, could she say more about studies being conducted by certain regional groups, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and violence that targeted some religions?  He asked if the dialogue regarding changes of religion should be with the religious organizations.  For Egypt, it was essential to promote tolerance.  Could she say more?  Also, on the veil, what did she mean that the veil was a symbol that sometimes invited violence?  Were there instances in which religious and racial discrimination were combined?

The representative of Malaysia noted that, in the context of racial discrimination, there was an instrument with which it could be addressed.  In religious discrimination, that was not the case.  How could States thus address it?

In response, Ms. JAHANGIR said she worked regularly with the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers, as well as other mandates and procedures.  She had, indeed, seen the reports on religious defamation cited by the questioners.  Much had been written on that subject by special mandate holders, where incitement to violence, or discrimination based on religious hatred, were taken as threshold indicators for defamation of religion.  Most complaints were looked upon as warning signs or indicators of where prevention was needed; only in a few cases were they put to a test to determine if they formed violations.  She said the process gave people an avenue to communicate instances when they felt aggrieved, and where there was prejudice.  Even if there was no violation yet, the early warning signs afforded by those complaints was part of prevention, which was valuable in itself.

She did not know what was meant by the questioner on reverting to religious institutions.  It was an individual’s right and up to their own inner self how they wanted to be converted and what faith they wanted.  The woman who was forced to convert had feared that, if she returned to her original religion, she would not be accepted by society.  While the Special Rapporteur saw the value of talking to religious institutions and leaders about such cases, the State also had a role to play in protecting complainants.

On the question regarding negative aspects of religious symbolism, which she said had become a reason for exercising an extreme form of intolerance, she said everyone had a responsibility to condemn persecution of women for covering their head.

On double discrimination, she said she was aware that the Third Committee was beginning to look at discrimination not just of race, but of religion.  She did not believe the international community was ready to have a convention on religious freedom.  There had to be a better understanding and more consensus on the question, which was still highly contentious.  At some point, the distinction must be made between racial and religious discrimination.  At the moment, in order to give relief to victims, all States had agreed to “let it pass”.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on Housing

RAQUEL ROLNIK, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, focused her statement on the effects of climate change, saying those negotiations would be much different if a human rights angle were to be introduced.  Rising sea levels threatened to overwhelm small island States, where almost half a million people currently lived.  It had led to flooding of coastal dwellings, and erosion of infrastructure that provided essential services, and was potentially threatening entire countries.  Urban and rural settlements located in coastal areas were due to face serious risks, due to sea-level rise, since it increased exposure to, among other things, rising water tables that could undermine building foundations and contaminate ground water with saltwater.

She said people of the lowest incomes tended to be located in the most hazard-prone sites in cities.  Among urban dwellers in low and middle-income nations, around 1 billion people lived in crowded slums or informal urban settlements, many located on sites at risk from flooding or landslides.  Places constantly affected by floods, landslides and earthquakes attracted poor people, because land and housing was cheaper.  There was a lack of alternative, affordable and safer sites for them to move to.

She said disasters caused by extreme weather reflected a failure of urban planning.  Guaranteed access to affordable and well-located housing was needed, to avoid unplanned settlement expansions.  Housing for the poor should be placed at the centre of urban planning.  Because climate change was causing substantial human mobility, with people being driven from their land by advancing deserts and failing pastoral farming systems, the resulting migration to urban areas was placing even more pressure on existing housing and urban conditions.

She stressed that international human rights standards and the right to adequate housing must be respected during any adaptation, reconstruction or relocation process.  The human rights framework for evictions and displacement was applicable to any type of displacement.  But, forced relocation to “safer” places should never be an excuse to take over community territories, homes and means of livelihood.  Only in extreme emergencies could due process be of lesser importance, and they must be part of preparedness planning and of longer-term relocation processes.

The human rights norms highlighted the need for international cooperation to address the unequal burden falling on those least able to confront its damages, she said.  Indeed, the heaviest impact of climate change fell on countries and people who had contributed least to the problem.  International support for their adaptation was essential to increase their resilience, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called on States to protect the climate system “on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities”.  Commitments towards adaptation assistance should be additional and distinct from regular development assistance.

But, in designing measures to protect people from the effects of climate change, States must also ensure that they did not result in unintended violations of other human rights.  All of the affected should participate in the design and implementation of such strategies.  They must be ensured of the necessary infrastructure, services and warning information that might prevent extreme weather events from becoming disasters.  Mass evictions were sometimes conducted without adequately addressing international standards.  She was particularly concerned about some Government policies adopted after a disaster that did not allow low-income people to return to their original areas; those lands had been transferred to higher-income residential, commercial or industrial use.  For example, in some countries, after a tsunami, villages were forced to relocate and tourist businesses had expanded their operations into their land.

She stressed that relocation should never result in homelessness, and that alternative accommodation should be provided as required by international human rights standards.  They must not be too far from their income-earning opportunities to avoid dependence on the use of long-distance transport, which would not only result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, but also increased marginalization.  People needed to be informed, in order to participate in decision-making on housing.  In turn, their participation would increase the likelihood of their being more responsive to human rights vulnerabilities and be better positioned to strengthening the resilience of their communities.

As the world prepared to gather in Copenhagen to define the world’s future climate change framework, she called for human rights to be central to that framework.  The decisions taken there must be in full compliance with human rights norms, including the right to adequate housing.

“I believe climate change represents an opportunity for reflection and debate on how to improve territorial planning and housing policies”, she said, adding that she would continue exploring the issue of adequate housing in connection to large-scale population resettlement, and in connection to prevention in the context of natural disasters.  She would welcome input from Member States in those areas.

Question Time

The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the report’s recognition of the impact climate change would have on the poor.  The Union would commit at Copenhagen to limiting emissions to levels that would result in no more than two degrees of warming.  The report further noted the need for developed countries to lead, and the Union, for its part, would make commitments on the order of 20 per cent reductions below 1990 levels by 2020.  How could the European Union support the most vulnerable countries, particularly in adapting?  Did the United Nations plan to produce guidance to States on the recommendations made in the Special Rapporteur’s report?

Brazil’s delegate highlighted the focus in the Special Rapporteur’s report of those living in informal settlements, which were usually located in the most hazardous areas, as in Brazil’s shantytowns.  He said Brazil’s President had increased efforts aimed to improve the conditions of those settlements.  He wondered if the Special Rapporteur could provide more information on how international cooperation could be harnessed to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

The representative of the Maldives, noting his country’s particular vulnerabilities to climate change and the shortage of available land there, said both had significant implications for the development of adequate housing.  To pursue its policies of adequate housing for all citizens, the Government of the Maldives aimed to target the poorest and approach development through a decentralized manner.  His country believed in leading by example and had pledged to become carbon-neutral in the next few years.  However, other countries had legal and moral obligations to reach an effective agreement at Copenhagen.

The United States representative said her country recognized that the impacts of climate change would disproportionately impact the world’s poorest.  To that end, President Obama had called for re-energized efforts to help developing countries adapt to that phenomenon.  While the United States disagreed with the report’s conclusions that there was an obligation for States to address climate change on the basis of human rights laws, it believed that States had an obligation to work through existing international mechanism in that regard.

Responding to the representative of Sweden, Ms. ROLNIK said the international debate on climate change mitigation had so far focused on pricing goods and damages, promoting the carbon credit trade, and producing carbon free goods.  Certainly, those things were important mechanisms, tools and instruments in dealing with climate change, to a degree.  But, they did not touch on the heart of the question.  Part of the tension in the debates revolved around assuring the right of developing and least developed countries to development.  Now that it was their turn to develop, they were being told it was not possible to develop under the same terms.  The focus on tools and innovations disguised the primary question; indeed, the benefits of technological innovation could only be reaped by those with money to invest and to be carbon-free.  Traditional people, with traditional relations to land and production and societal organization, were left behind in the name of mitigation and adaptation.

She said society sometimes went down paths that led traditional people on a turn for the worse.  As an example, fishermen who were told they could not live in such-and-such place because of sea-level rise were displaced and made to live in informal or planned settlements, without access to their means of livelihood.  Similarly, society invested in infrastructure in various areas, thus, displacing the people that lived there.  That was the wrong path.  It did not tackle the most important issue, which was how best to organize our territories in ways that did not have adverse impacts on wide-ranging areas such as social stability, global warming and the right to livelihood.

Focus was needed on increasing the participation and empowerment of affected communities, she said.  They knew their environment and territories and how to live in them.  That was hardly taken into account in plans designed by outsiders.

She believed that it was time to support a worldwide strategy to urbanize, regularize and invest in infrastructure, so as to protect unserviced, informal and unplanned settlements throughout the world.  Doing so would make them less vulnerable to global warming, and give them more access to the rights to health, education and adequate standard of living.

To the representative of the Untied States, she said she welcomed the idea of preparing guidelines on adaptation.  Existing international standards for protecting human rights were sufficient to deal with the issue, but the problem was lack of enforcement.  Development planners must be taught to incorporate a human rights perspective in their work.  For example, development-based eviction guidelines by her predecessor could be very useful in providing guidance.  She was now working to translate those guidelines into material for engineers and architects.

Returning to the case of Brazil, she acknowledged its investment in reducing vulnerabilities of urban, informal and unserviced settlements.  There was a tension between the desire to relocate and resettle communities and in serving and consolidating those settlements.  For instance, Brazil had just won their bid to host the Olympics.  In the location where the Olympics were set to take place, there were 90 slums.  Should they be relocated?  Should they be consolidated?  Just as with climate change, the Olympics were an opportunity to address such questions.

Responding to the representative of the Maldives, she lauded his Government’s efforts to raise attention to the issue of climate change and to address the issue of adequate housing for all.  That country operated on a most interesting principle:  it upheld the right for every adult Maldivian to have a piece of land.  Where the land was State-owned, it was easily provided.  But migration to the city and the increased concentration in one place was proving to be a challenge.  That situation brought up an interesting issue:  how to uphold the principle of allowing everyone a protected, rented place or self-owned home in the context of increased human mobility.  That question was especially pertinent, given that climate change would lead to more people being mobile.

The representative of South Africa asked if the Special Rapporteur had been able to think about the impact of the financial crisis on adequate housing.  Also, had she considered the role of non-State actors in aiding or restricting the human right to adequate housing?  Who in her view was responsible -- the State or the non-State actor -- in this matter?  What was her overall approach to this issue?

Ms. ROLNIK said she had presented a full report to the Human Rights Council on the impact of the financial crisis on the right to adequate housing, in which the strong link between the crisis and adequate housing had been clear.  That was true not only because the crisis had started in the housing sector.  A basic failure in housing policies in the last decades, especially in developed countries, but also in the framework that informed the global financial institutions, had shifted housing from a social policy to a commodity.

There were two dimensions to that crisis that she thought should be discussed.  Indeed, most recent and ongoing discussions had focused on the control of financial flows or diluting banks or not, among other things.  But a reappraisal of housing and urban policies was needed, and should return to the idea that adequate housing was a human right.  Thus, the “de-financerization” of housing was critical.

She agreed that non-State actors had been quite involved in crisis, but the State framework was clear:  In the context where the right to adequate housing was violated, the State had the responsibility to act and provide the remedy for those violations.  States must take the role they did have -- which was perhaps a regulating role, not an intervening one -- seriously.

South Africa’s delegate, noting the importance the report gave to climate change, said it was equally important to consider the financial crisis.  He proposed that the Special Rapporteur consider focusing on the issue in the future.

Statement of Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

MAGDELENA SEPULVEDA CARMONA, Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, said that, as she presented her report to the Third Committee for the second time, it was more crucial than ever for the Committee to examine the links between poverty and human rights.

Over the last two years, the world had faced a global economic crisis on a scale not seen for almost 70 years.  The historical peaks of food and fuel prices in 2007 were quickly followed by the financial meltdown of 2008.  Meanwhile, 2009 would be remembered for record job losses with the ILO estimating that 18 million to 50 million more people would lose their jobs compared to 2007.  Malnutrition was also expected to reach a historic peak of over 1 billion people.  During this year alone, between 55 million and 90 million more people would also be pushed into poverty, thus, adding to the 125 million that had already become impoverished due to the food crisis.

While alarming, those numbers did not show that the impact of those crises was felt hardest by the victims of the worst human rights violations discussed by the General Assembly each year.  There were women suffering from wide-ranging forms of discrimination, including lack of equal access to work, land and other resources.  Indigenous peoples and minority groups also suffered discrimination, and were often being further affected by climate change.  Disabled persons and migrant workers also suffered exclusion due to a shortage of opportunities.  Youth and the elderly were unemployed and frequently without social protection.  Children -- especially girls -- lacked proper nutrition and were taken out of school.

She said the crisis and its impact on the most vulnerable was, unfortunately, unfolding.  The Third Committee could, and must, play a pivotal role in encouraging Member States to incorporate a human rights perspective into their responses to it.  To that end, she underlined that her current report addressed the impact of the global financial crisis on people living in extreme poverty and the importance of social protection systems.  It emphasised that lessons of past crises showed that States could address its negative impact on the poor by establishing and expanding social protection systems.

She stressed that social protection systems not only helped alleviate difficult living conditions, but could protect everyone form future crises.  Ensuring access to such protection was not an optional policy choice or an act of charity, but an obligation enshrined in international human rights law.  The misconception that social protection systems were not affordable or that they created dependency must be overcome.  To that end, the ILO had undertaken far-reaching studies showing that most countries could afford a basic package of socials security and, in fact, that such schemes contributed to a country’s economy.

Noting the unprecedented political will seen in the $18 trillion rescue of the financial system, she said the tragic fate of those living in extreme poverty must be addressed with an equal seriousness.  That implied including significant investment in social protection as a key component of economic recovery packages.  While such a response had, for the most, been inadequate so far, the global financial and economic crisis must be seen as an opportunity to find innovative solutions in full compliance with human rights obligations.  People must be placed at the centre of policy.  Further, the global financial and monetary systems must be restructured.

Calling some of the most important initiatives to strengthen social protection, such as the World Bank’s Vulnerability Financing Facility and the commitments by the Group of 20, important but insufficient, she said it was time to ensure that the promises made at the Gleneagles Summit be kept.  The aid must be delivered.  Indeed, not only should official development assistance (ODA) be maintained, but it should be enhanced.

She stressed that extreme poverty did not happen by accident, and the global human rights framework could guide States in establishing stable and long-lasting social protection systems.  For her part, she would continue to analyse the human rights framework in the context of extreme poverty and would look specifically at ensuring the enjoyment of human rights by older persons and children.  She would also consider the gaps in attaining the Millennium Development Goals from the perspective of social protection.

Underlining that the eradication of poverty and the promotion of human rights were mutually reinforcing, she repeated that call in the context of the global financial crisis.  “Social protection systems are badly needed to achieve both objectives”, she said. “Without a serious investment in social protection, the poor will continue to be the forgotten victims of this and future crises.”

Question Time

The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about the impact of the financial crisis on the poorest.  17 October was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and had as its theme “children and families speak out against poverty”.  Children were particularly hard-hit by the crisis.  How could States address the disproportionate impact of the crisis on children?  On the draft guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights, she noted that the Independent Expert was due to present a progress report to the fifteenth session of the Human Rights Council, in which she was expected to provide recommendations on how to improve them.  What was her view so far?

Lesotho’s representative asked whether she would consider the impact of debt on debt-entrenched countries, especially given the financial and economic crises.  Among some people, it was thought that least developed countries were not affected by the crisis, because they were not major players in the world economy.  What did the Independent Expert think?  Also, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) raised the point of a debt moratorium for those countries.  What did she think of that idea?

The representative of Brazil said the Expert’s report had shed lights on the impact of the financial crisis on the poorest people and had stressed the need to strengthen national social protection systems.  It had underlined the fact that an effective response must tackle structural constraints that kept certain parts of the population in extreme poverty, by enhancing social protection networks.  That was what Brazil had been doing for years.  It now had new measures to create a secure income and jobs for the most vulnerable people by investing in labour-intensive areas.  It had cash transfer schemes, amounting to 0.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), which had the effect of reducing Brazil’s Gini coefficient by 21 per cent.  The Expert had recommended that States strengthen international cooperation to help each other meet the challenges posed by the crises.  Could she elaborate on any South-South cooperation measures?

China’s representative said her Government also supported the idea of enhancing social protection systems.  Given the negative impact of financial and economic crises, Governments needed to formulate policies based on a human rights approach.  The Chinese Government was investing RMB 4 trillion on social development.  She asked the Independent Expert how developing countries could establish social development systems given their constraints, and how the wider international community could help.  She asked the Independent Expert to elaborate on the issue of a social protection floor and how it could be adapted on a larger scale.

To the representative of Sweden, Ms. SEPULVEDA said, when families were forced to find ways to cope, they often removed children, particularly girls, from school.  They ate different foods, sometimes resulting in poor malnutrition.  Past experience had shown that States tended to diminish investment in health and education during times of crisis.  A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed than more than 16 countries had considerably diminished their health budget already, affecting mothers and young children the most.  Therefore, investment in social protection was a must.  Some poor countries, like South Africa, were beginning to offer child grants (a cash transfer) with significant impacts in improving the quality of life of children.  Brazil was another good case where the State was taking measures to protect children, in particular.  There was a need to protect investment in education, as well.

On the guiding principles, which she recalled were crafted by the Subcommission on Human Rights, she explained that a resolution -- supported by more than 55 countries -- had entrusted her with the task of improving on those principles and submitting those recommendations to the Human Rights Council.  The potential impact of those guidelines could be crucial.  Its objective was to examine international standards and apply them to those living in extreme poverty.  She called on States to participate in the consultation process, so as to incorporate the views of all stakeholders.  It could become an important soft-law document of help to development practitioners.

In answer to the delegate of Lesotho, she said debt sustainability was a major factor needing to be addressed when seeking to improve the situation of those living in extreme poverty.  She noted that the Human Rights Council had appointed an Independent Expert on foreign debt, and so would not delve too deeply into the subject in her own work.  However, she stressed that, to protect those living in extreme poverty, developed countries must fully deliver on their promise on the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative and other multilateral relief initiatives.

To the representative of China, she said that to help developing States to create enough “fiscal space” to establish social protection systems, domestic efforts must be matched by international cooperation.  She raised a call to developed countries to ensure that their ODA was being targeted to the poorest countries.  In many instances, that was not the case.  In 2007, Iraq and Afghanistan received the largest proportion of ODA, although they represented less than 2 per cent of total population in developing countries.  Developed countries must accelerate aid effectiveness and implement the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action.  They must improve transparency in the aid process, and create a sense of ownership within recipient countries.

Another aspect that was crucial to combating extreme poverty was market access, she said.  It was important to reinvigorate the commitments made at the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Developed countries must provide duty-free and quota-free access to the products of less developed countries.  They must honour their pledge to eliminate agricultural subsidies by 2013, and increase financial and political support for aid-for-trade.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

RASHIDA MANJOO, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, explained that the 2009 thematic report to the Human Rights Council attempted to demonstrate how power operated not only through coercion, but also through the structure that governed the distribution and use of resources, benefits, privileges and authority within the home and society at large.  The report also focused on the feminist critique of the dichotomy drawn between political and civil rights (first generation rights) and economic and social rights (second generation rights).  The primacy accorded to political and civil rights had perpetuated a bias towards violations of human rights in the public sphere.  The report looked at the link between violence against women and women’s access to economic and social rights, such as the right to housing, land and property, food, water, health, education and the rights to decent work and social security.

She said the report demonstrated that economic and social security was crucial for enhancing women’s capabilities, their empowerment and for preventing violence against them.  The report made a strong appeal for the adoption of an integrated perspective that combined the obligations set out in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Current understanding and responses to violence against women should be broadened to take into account the causes and consequences of violence, which was so often evident in women’s poverty and labour exploitation, their socio-economic inequality with men, and their exclusion from decision-making, both in the private and public sector.

In addition to that 2009 thematic report, she discussed another study submitted to the Human Rights Council that had provided a comprehensive review of the last 15 years of the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.  A joint initiative with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it discussed the paradigm shifts that had taken place since the inception of the mandate, which had evolved to capture a wider spectrum of human rights violations and other phenomena that impacted on the violence against women -- from domestic violence to global trafficking and the effects of globalization on women.  The approach taken now was to emphasize the universality of violence against women, its varied form, the “inter-sectionality” of diverse kinds of discrimination against women, and its links to other systems of domination that were based on inequality and subordination.

“The mandate has and will continue to contribute to ensuring that violence against women is not understood in isolation from gender-based discrimination”, she said, “but is addressed as part of State efforts towards the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.”  States had the responsibility to eliminate violence against women through laws and policies, a responsive criminal justice system, and by providing social services and economic empowerment policies.  The due diligence standard required that States promote the right to be free from all forms of violence, both private and public.

She said the Special Rapporteur was found to have effectively addressed the dichotomy between private and public by expanding the accountability principle to include both State and non-State actors.  Through its work on situations of armed conflict, the mandate had demonstrated that sexual violence was not simply a by-product of war, but an integral part of wartime strategy.  It had shown that there was a strong link between wartime violence and patriarchal gender hierarchies.

She also said the mandate had served as a vehicle for the voices of the most vulnerable women, and had provided an additional forum to access justice and accountability.

In the last report by the mandate to the Assembly, her predecessor had informed the Assembly of visits to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and the Republic of Moldova.  Reports were also presented to the Human Rights Council.  Ms. Manjoo planned to visit Kyrgyzstan.  She hoped to hear responses from Jordan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe on visits to those countries.  She was also due to contribute to the follow-up report on technical assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the situation of women continued to be grave, despite recommendations made by the seven thematic special procedures last year to the Human Rights Council.  She had also reviewed the situation of violence against women in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the aftermath of the most recent military attacks.  In addition, she would participate in a number of regional consultations with civil society.

She said that, as regards her future work, she had identified two areas for further conceptual development:  the issue of redress and reparations for wrongs committed by the State and its agents and by non-State actors; and the issue of prevention measures.  She also hoped to further develop the concept of an inter-sectional approach to the many types of discrimination and human rights violations faced by women.  During her country visits, she would look to see how follow-up mechanisms could be strengthened and how to strengthen cooperation with other human rights mechanisms.  The upcoming Beijing +15 and the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and Security Council resolutions 1888 (2009) provided an opportunity to intensify efforts to protect, prosecute, prevent and provide for effective redress, and to meet the ultimate goal of the elimination of all forms of violence against women.

Question Time

Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted the request for a country visit to Kyrgyzstan, among others, by the Special Rapporteur and asked what improvements could be made to ensure better country cooperation.  What systems of empowering women were most effective in reducing the incidence of violence against them?  He asked for her thoughts on her work in relation to the composite gender entity.  Also, to what extent was violence against women sufficiently addressed in the Universal Periodic Review process?

The representative of Egypt wanted to know where the Special Rapporteur’s report, which was not yet distributed, was, and why it was not before the Committee.  She wondered how the Special Rapporteur perceived her role vis-à-vis the new composite gender entity, as well as other offices such as the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on violence against women and the rights of the child.

The representative of New Zealand said her delegation was acutely aware of devastation from natural disasters.  Gender-based violence was rarely addressed in disaster response planning, and she wondered if the Special Rapporteur had any thoughts on that topic, as well as if further research was available on it.

Switzerland’s delegate stressed that there had been strides made in combating impunity for violence against women.  What cooperation was she planning with the various players involved in those efforts?  Switzerland would be gratified to see more on the roles played by the host country in ending female genital mutilation.

The representative of Syria, calling attention to the Special Rapporteur’s comments regarding the situation of women in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, asked for her opinion on the serious violations by Israel against women in Gaza.  Could she provide a detailed report on the situation of women in the Occupied Territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan?

Norway’s representative asked why the issue of resource distribution imbalances rarely received any attention.

The representative of Israel said the protection of women’s rights in the context of all forms of violence should remain a major priority.  His delegation was concerned by the lack of national efforts and the general unwillingness to address the unequal access of women to resources and violence against them.  Israel was also particularly concerned by the ongoing instances in which women were recruited for terrorist acts.  Could she provide more information on that topic and share anything she had learned on it during any of her country visits?

Canada’s delegate noted that country visits had been valuable to States in protecting women against violence and urged all States to open their doors to her.  Canada was interested in some of the thematic reports the Special Rapporteur was considering, including in the implementation of due diligence standards.  Could she provide more information on that issue?

The representative of Guatemala thanked the Special Rapporteur and said she sometimes took the floor to ask why it could not be said that this was a fight to combat men’s violence against women.  When that discussion was held, the meeting was full of women.  What did that indicate about the work that was being done?  Indeed, violence against women should not be talked about as if it was spontaneous and came from nowhere.  Otherwise, what could be achieved?  What could be done to put a face and gender on all the campaigns being undertaken by the United Nations?

The representative of Australia said her delegation was deeply committed to ending violence against women.  Australia had adopted a plan that would address the dual concerns of preventing and ending violence over a series of three-year action plans.  How could it best develop performance indicators to provide some measure for future international comparisons?

Liechtenstein’s representative said the persistent gap between norms and implementation was a major concern of her delegation.  Impunity sent a message that male violence against women was acceptable.  In that context, she asked for more information on future priorities.

The United States representative welcomed Ms. Manjoo’s appointment and asked if she had any specific recommendations on how the various parts of the United Nations system could improve efforts to combat violence against women and to foster women’s self-sufficiency.

Ecuador’s delegate asked if the Special Rapporteur could address the situation of indigenous women in her work, keeping in mind that such women were not always covered in the mandates of non-governmental organizations.  Perhaps she could meet with indigenous women’s groups during her reporting.  Finally, was she working with women in parliaments around the world as part of follow-up to work being done and resolutions being passed in the United Nations?

The SECRETARY of the Committee, responding to the representative of Egypt, explained that, in accordance with Human Rights Council 7/24, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, who had only recently been appointed, was permitted to provide an oral report at this session.

Ms. MANJOO then took the floor to respond to questions put to her by States.  First, she reiterated the point that she had only just begun her work, which started on 1 August.  Some issues brought up by States would require further work, and she would defer some responses to a future time.  She had been surprised to learn that her predecessors’ reports were not unavailable and encouraged States to obtain a copy of the 15-year review of the mandate from the Internet.

Responding to the representative of Sweden on permission she had sought for country missions, she explained that the Kyrgyz Government had granted permission already for a visit, but her predecessor had been twice unable to make the trip.  The other countries had not responded.  Besides reporting that situation annually to the Human Rights Council, she had no other way to obtain their permission.  She turned the issue back to Member States, asking them how they thought she should proceed.  For her part, she could only request or accept invitations.

On the question of economic empowerment, she stressed that there were systemic structural issues that the mandate had not sufficiently engaged with:  access to education, labour market, fair labour practices and fair pay.  A recent report in a British newspaper relating to the national rail services had shown that women were paid less, were sexually harassed and left jobs because of gender inequality, racism and other “intersections” in the jobs they occupied.  Denial of access to education and fair labour practices, and the inability to deal with sexual harassment and unfair disparities in pay, were among the problems that faced women in the public sphere.  Privately, lack of access to education led women to be dependent on male partners.  Customs and traditional practices in some parts of the world also prevented women from engaging in life outside the home because of their traditional primary role as caregivers.  She noted that, in some places, people made the choice to be caregivers, but that was not true for all parts of the world.

Turning to the new United Nations gender architecture, she said she was excited at the prospect of different entities coming together to examine their synergies and gaps in action.  The entities did already collaborate with one another, but it was true there were still silos.  There was valuable work being conducted by each of those entities at the moment, making this an exciting time for discussion.  She would like very much to work on a steering committee in building the gender architecture, if such a committee existed.  She had done something similar in South Africa, where three national bodies were successfully integrated.

On the Universal Periodic Review process, she said she had been reading reports and recognized that there were attempts to “engender” the process.  She looked forward to providing advice on that.

To the representative of Egypt, and who would oversee implementation of Security Council resolution 1888 (2009), she said there was a role for her in that, namely in reporting.  But, the mechanics were yet to be worked out.

In terms of other mandate holders, she said there were many with overlapping -- though not duplicating -- needs and concern.  Some had suggested that a forum be started to discuss linkages between the mandates.  Most were already working together to issue joint letters of allegations, alerts and so on.  Some had submitted joint reports -- for example, her predecessor had submitted a joint report with the Special Rapporteur on torture.  She was now finalizing a joint report with the Independent Expert on adequate housing.  Such joint work was an ongoing process in the special procedures division at the High Commissioner’s Office.  But their inability to hold meetings due to limited resources was a real constraint.

On natural disasters and violence against women, she said she had not addressed that issue directly, but indirectly through a study of violence at internally displaced persons camps.

On female genital mutilation or cutting, she said that issue was, indeed, being addressed.  She informed the Committee that an event would soon be held in the Gambia, on 10 December, to celebrate the stopping of that practice, involving both circumcisers and communities.  Though there might not be a law against it, such social mobilization efforts to change those practices were taking place.  They were seeking to find more honourable ways of affirming culture, instead of using tradition to violate women’s rights.  Education had played a huge role in the Gambia to bring them to that realization.

On the report regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territory, reflecting her predecessor’s visit in 2005, she said resource constraints were limiting the mandate to two missions a year.  There was a continuum of violence there, where oppression that resulted from patriarchy was feeding into the occupation.  There was follow-up work to be done to study violence before, during and after conflict, and to discover what the impacts of continued occupation were on women and children.

To the representative of Norway, she said she agreed that systemic structural problems needed to be addressed, and she was hopeful that she could deepen her work in that area in the next three years.

To the representative of Israel, she said failure to take action at the national level was of serious concern.  The very first Special Rapporteur had sent a questionnaire to Governments to seek information on laws to prohibit violence against women, and had received 29 responses.  That seemed to indicate non-responsiveness at the national level, which needed addressing.  The second Special Rapporteur had asked about due diligence practices, receiving responses from 63 States.  One of the expected outcomes of the Secretary-General’s campaign was the development of national action plans.  The Division for the Advancement of Women had a website collating that information, and had received 83 responses regarding national initiatives.  She encouraged Committee members to urge their Governments to respond.  Non-governmental organizations were a useful resource, but the challenge lay in clarifying their data with Governments, which was hard to do if Governments were not responding.

The representative of Canada had asked about legal norm development, to which she said implementation at the national level was a huge problem.  The law was not a panacea for social ills.  States must consider how to address social norms and values that violated women’s rights through laws and other means.  But, while many countries had appropriate laws, implementation was a challenge.  Moreover, in some cases, good laws and practices at the federal level did not permeate to local levels.  Ultimately, service delivery took place at the local level.

To the representative of Guatemala, on why society persisted with language that said “violence against women” and not “men’s violence against women”, she said she agreed that the violence against women was predominantly men’s violence against women.  While it might not change anything to call it “men’s violence against women”, “we need to call it as it is”.  Men’s violence against women was epidemic.  The Commission on the Status of Women had held a session on the role of men and boys.  But, whether it was through courts or non-governmental organizations, work done so far was not responsive to systemic structural problems, and did not address social norms and values.  Nor did it mobilize social action to change existing structural imbalances.  For Governments that did fund men’s programmes, she urged them to build systems to monitor those programmes.  She had received complaints from Asia and Africa that men’s programmes had depended patriarchies.  While it was important to deal with the perpetrators of violence, some thought needed to be given on how to go about it.

She congratulated the Government of Australia on creating a national action plan.  One of her predecessors had conducted a study on indicators, and she would follow up on it.

To the representative of the United States, who had asked about more collaborative work with other United Nations bodies, she said she reported to the Commission on the Status of Women and the Human Rights Council every year.  Her predecessor had started a conversation with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, but since that Committee sat only three times a year, it was difficult.  There was also a lack of resources of the part of her office.  But, they had begun informally to examine how to share information from their country missions.  Perhaps Member States should consider a resolution to mandate the two to work together.

To the representative of Ecuador on the issue of indigenous peoples, she said that, through her work with the women’s movement in South Africa, she had developed an attuned sense about neglect and exclusion, and how easy it was to exclude certain groups of people from the mainstream.  It was something she would share at regional consultations.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons

JOY NGOZI EZEILO, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, said her current report focused on identifying, protecting and assisting victims of human trafficking.  That issue had not received adequate attention form Member States, despite its importance in combating trafficking in a holistic manner.  Only 24 of 86 countries responding to the 2008 questionnaire indicated those were priorities.  She hoped the report would initiate a dialogue and provide States with practical guidance in that area.

She said the first step in providing trafficked victims with protection and assistance was their proper identification, especially since a failure to do so left them open to being charged or prosecuted for their activities in their destination countries.  Many victims of trafficking remained unidentified or misidentified, and screening procedures often did not comply with a rights-based approach or failed woefully in respecting the rights of the victims to privacy and confidentiality, including voluntary agreement to cooperate with authorities in the investigation process.  Understanding the definition of trafficking was critical in making a proper identification of victims.  Despite many excellent guidance materials for that process, ambiguity in the criteria being used by many countries remained, as did capacity gaps among national law enforcement agencies.

Turning to the issue of protection, particularly in the context of criminal proceedings, she said States should implement measures to ensure victims were not forced to testify, or that their continuing stay in the receiving country or access to other types of assistance was contingent on testifying.  Also, trafficked victims should not be detained, charged or prosecuted for their involvement in unlawful activities when it was the result of being trafficked.  Moreover, the legal framework for the protection of victims needed strengthening, particularly with respect to victim witnesses who often had real fears of retaliation.  Thus, witness protection programmes should provide, among other things, secure and safe accommodation; relocation for safety reasons; escort to and from court; trials conducted in chambers; free medical treatment; and free legal assistance.

She stressed that assistance to victims was an integral part of ensuring full rehabilitation, reintegration and redress for victims as a matter of right.  It was also essential to prevent revictimization or retrafficking.  Among the key assistance services which Member States should provide was the provision of adequate sheltering, counselling and health-care services, particularly with respect to sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and pregnancies.  Translation and language support, as well as legal representation before and during all criminal, civil, administrative and other proceedings, was also needed.  Victims should not be returned or repatriated to their countries, if there are fears of persecution or other repercussions.  Rather, they should be allowed to stay in the destination country.  Where repatriation occurred, return should be voluntary and should be accompanied by support, in order to prevent retrafficking.

In all that, she said building the capacity of relevant officials, such as police, immigration and embassy staff, as well as labour inspectors, was needed.  They should be properly trained in the national and international legal and policy framework for identification, protection of and assistance to trafficked persons, with clear emphasis on respect for the human rights of the victims.  Moreover, in relation to vulnerable groups such as children, refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees and Stateless and internally displaced persons, a more responsive framework was needed.  For example, States had a responsibility to adopt a child-centred approach to child victims of trafficking.  Special guidelines were needed to identify child victims.  Improved access to education for children who were at risk of being trafficked was also central to reducing their vulnerability.

Turning to her country visits, she said she had been impressed by the political commitment demonstrated by Belarus to combating human trafficking.  Still, assistance needed to be provided in a more holistic, integrative and rehabilitative manner.  In Poland, she had noted the scale of human trafficking had been aggravated in the five years since that country had joined the European Union and had become a part of the Schengen area.  Poland was being transformed from a source country to a transit and destination country.  Progress was being made in combating human trafficking, but she was concerned by the lack of a comprehensive and unambiguous definition of trafficking in criminal law, as well as by cases in which victims received no compensation and little assistance.  In Japan, the number of persons trafficked for labour exploitation, in addition to sexual exploitation, was noteworthy.  While the Government had embarked on impressive legal and administrative reforms, she was concerned by its non-ratification of the Palermo Protocol and its unclear identification procedures for trafficked people.

She urged Member States to take seriously the recommendations in her report, and underlined the need for their concerted efforts to combat that complex and surreptitious transnational crime.  A global action plan with quantifiable time-bound targets was imperative in galvanizing the political and economic will of Members States within the framework of the Palermo Protocol and the Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Trafficking.  Such a plan should facilitate sustained technical assistance for identifying and protecting victims.  It should also link anti-trafficking initiatives to the Millennium Development Goals to address the root causes of, as well as the push-and-pull reasons for, human trafficking.  In closing, she urged States to take concerted steps to fight trafficking in a sprit of cooperation and with a human rights perspective.

Question Time

The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said victims of human trafficking deserved a great deal of support, protection and assistance.  What was the Special Rapporteur’s first recommendation to States to address the root causes of trafficking, and what prevention mechanisms should they put in place?  Strong cooperation among Governments, civil society and non-governmental organizations was needed to combat human trafficking.  Did her mandate allow her to foster such cooperation?  If it did not, what would she recommend?

The representative of Yemen asked how diverging views could be brought together to achieve consensus on that issue.  Also, what were the ways and means to reach the shared objective of ending trafficking in persons?

Chile’s delegate noted her country’s concerns on the lack of widespread ratification of the Palermo Protocol and asked the Special Rapporteur why it was not widely ratified.  Moreover, how did that affect international coordination?

The representative of Egypt noted that the whole African Group, as well as the members of Non-Aligned Movement, was behind that issue.  It seemed that serious activity and cooperation was in the offing, including through the Palermo Protocol and the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  She sought further information on coordination, which seemed to be the major obstacle to widespread cooperation.  The number of States that had not ratified the Palermo Protocol was over 60.  How could cooperation be achieved through a global action plan?  She further noted a recent panel from the OHCHR, which included four persons from diverse regions of the world who had been trafficked and which should have been attended by delegations to the Third Committee.  It had underlined that, if the world community now was not going to come together, the whole international effort is going to be a “big fat failure”.

The United States representative said her country had found that victim care was resource intensive.  There was also a need to be flexible, since no two situations and no two victims were alike.  How could countries with limited resources focus on victim care?

Australia’s delegate stressed her country’s willingness to work in coordination with other Governments and civil society to end human trafficking.  For its part, Australia had an anti-trafficking policy and wondered how States could raise awareness of trafficking outside the sex industry, particularly in the labour market.  Australia was, she noted, committed to closing perceived gaps on the Palermo Protocol.

The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) asked if the Special Rapporteur could elaborate on concrete measures to design a fair compensation scheme for victims.

The representative of the Philippines remarked that a strong human rights perspective was not always part of efforts to combat trafficking, which often had more of an anti-crime angle.  How could countries be encouraged to strengthen the human rights and gender dimensions of anti-trafficking measures?  Noting that women were sometimes found to be agents of trafficking, she wondered if any work had been done in that area.

The representative of South Africa asked about coordination, particularly between the Human Rights Council and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  How did Special Rapporteurs factor themselves into overlaps in the mandates of those bodies?  He also noted that national Governments were also struggling to manage such overlaps themselves in the fight to end human trafficking and requested her comments in that regard.

The representative of Thailand said that, as a country of destination, source and transit, it recognized the magnitude of the issue and understood the vulnerability of migrants from neighbouring countries.  In 2008, an anti-trafficking in persons act had come into force.  Measures and assistance to trafficked victims were put into place.  The trafficked persons, regardless of nationality and legal status, were considered victims that required protection and assistance.  Thailand now had nine temporary shelters for trafficked victims, including one for men and boys.  Since the issue involved questions of demand and supply, she urged the international community to allocate ample resources to deal with that crime.

The representative of Belarus voiced support for the Special Rapporteur and thanked her for the briefing and report.  Both gave food for thought.  It was time to transform those ideas into collective and effective action.  She appreciated the assistance, recommendations and expertise which the Special Rapporteur shared with the Government of Belarus during her visit earlier in the year.  She asked the Special Rapporteur for her view about the proper role of civil society in drafting United Nations documents dealing with human trafficking.  Some Members thought such work should be left to Member States, alone.  Others believed that some documents should include the opinion and proposals of civil society.  Many of those who had participated at yesterday’s event had witnessed the readiness of civil society to represent the views of those who knew what trafficking meant from personal experience.

Responding, Ms. EZEILO said she had not met a single country opposed to the idea of combating human trafficking, which was a modern-day form of slavery.  She lauded the European Union for its action on human trafficking.  She had just come from a European Union inter-ministerial forum working within the Council of Europe to combat trafficking.

She said that, as a priority, nations should ratify the Palermo Protocol.  They should each have a national rapporteur on the issue.  Reliable data on trafficking was scarce, especially data disaggregated by sex and age.  A rapporteur could help with coordination on collecting such data and other trafficking-related work.  It was also important to have a national plan, under which countries could bridge the knowledge gap between law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and so on.  It was sad to look at countries that did not have a mechanism for prosecuting traffickers.  Countries needed to be comprehensive in their definition of trafficking.

On best practices, she said she planned to showcase States that were doing well and were worthy of emulation.  She looked forward to including a collection of best practices in her future report.

Turning to the representative of Yemen, she said that, during the General Assembly special session on trafficking, she had presented a paper on a global plan of action, in which she had tried to convince States of the added value of such a plan.

To the representative of Chile, she said she had frequently asked States why they had not ratified the Palermo Protocol.  Most said they had national laws already in place, leading her to argue back that the Palermo Protocol was an international accord and was, thus, different from national laws.

In answer to the representative of Egypt, she said she agreed that yesterday’s panel discussion had been useful in illustrating how victims were being traumatized by the process.  She herself knew of a 14-year old who had been abducted and trafficked, and had borne two children as a result.  That girl was now trying to return to school.  The physical and psychological damage was permanent, bringing up the issue of compensation.  She would continue to give visibility to trafficked victims in her work.

On how to achieve greater coordination, she noted that the work currently being conducted by agencies and organizations was not bringing about sufficient progress.  There was a need to introduce more innovative approaches that were victim-centred and incorporated a gender perspective, and also included a prevention angle.

To the representative of the United States, she said poor countries had sought her advice on their financial problems.  Some of those countries were major source countries.  Countries such as the United States and Japan had done a lot in terms of assistance, and all States should do more.  There must be a framework for international cooperation that took into account poverty and other root causes of trafficking.

To the representative of Australia, she affirmed the importance of regional work, and commended the work of Australia in the Pacific region and in the Bali Process.  Since special rapporteurs were under-resourced, they were unable to visit more than three countries a year.  Thus, it was useful to work with regional mechanisms to get their messages across.  She looked forward to working with the Bali Process within the Palermo Protocol to address gaps.

She thanked the IOM for its work in providing direct assistance to victims.  Experts in the field were currently considering how to develop a scheme for fair compensation.  Many countries believed that criminal proceedings were not appropriate places to ask for compensation, and instead victims were often expected to begin separate civil proceedings.  That tended to delay the entire compensation process.  However, in Belarus, people could ask for compensation at the time the case was being prosecuted, which was worth noting.  Another issue revolved around adequate compensation.  Even if there was a mechanism for compensation, the compensation received was often very low.  There was a need for training to sensitize the judiciary.  One judge she knew of had given a fine that was “really nothing”; that tended to undermine the whole idea of punishing traffickers.

To the representative of the Philippines, she agreed that the international community should take a holistic approach to trafficking through the human rights perspective.  Security Council resolution 1812 (2009) had made it clear that her mandate should integrate both human rights and the gender and age perspective, which she appreciated very much.

On findings from the report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that a majority of recruiters were women, she noted that that was true and that quite a number of them had been convicted.  At times, victims became oppressors, even women who themselves were trafficked.  They were told that if they could bring in “x” number of girls, they could gain their freedom.  Something should be done about that.

In June, three mandate holders -- in trafficking, slavery and sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography -- had met to talk about enhancing their effectiveness without duplicating efforts.  There was also a relationship with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants.

She commented on the multitude of national bodies and that dealing with all those bodies could be confusing -- there were border guards, homeland security officers and so on -- and the lack of cooperation among them, and competition among those bodies sometimes posed frustrations.

To the representative of Thailand, she said she thought their new law was a step in the right direction.  She had asked for a country visit and looked forward to being able to go there one day.  She appreciated the fact that the Thai Government had set up a shelter for men and boys.

In answer to the representative of Belarus, she said the United Nations could not dispense with civil society.  She asked that States “carry them along”.  They were very helpful in providing support services.  In Poland, there was especially good cooperation between State and civil society, where civil society had taken part in forging a national action plan.  Victims who benefited from services provided by non-governmental organizations were often different from those picked up by law enforcement agencies.  Moreover, civil society organizations were on the ground; they were the change agents.  No country was perfect, and each needed to be reminded of areas where they needed improvement.  The Office of the Human Rights High Commissioner had prepared draft guidelines on human trafficking, and it was an especially useful document for States seeking to discover a human rights perspective on trafficking.  She urged countries to obtain a copy.

Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders

MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said that she had carried out country missions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and had recently visited Colombia.  Both missions had provided her with insights, and she would submit reports to the thirteenth session of the Human Rights Council.

She said her current report focused on the right to freedom of association, the content of the right and its implementation in practice.  It was an update of the report submitted in 2004 by the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders.  It provided an analysis of the relevant legal framework of the right to freedom of association at the international and regional levels.  It also contained an overview of the jurisprudence of international and regional mechanisms for applying the framework.

She registered her concern over the growing trend in adopting restrictive laws to govern non-governmental organizations, aimed at the disruption and, in some cases, the complete elimination of their work.  Freedom of association under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights meant the right to found an association or to join an already existing one.  It also covered the collective right to perform activities in pursuit of the common interests of its members.  It implied the right to choose the organization to which a person wanted to belong.  A situation where new organizations were not permitted on the basis that one already existed in the same area was not fully compliant with that right.

She said that, in the wake of 9/11, some Governments had introduced new and stricter counter-terrorism, security and anti-extremism laws.  Such legislation had a significant restrictive impact on civil society, especially on organizations monitoring human rights violations and which took a critical stance of Government actions and policies.  While the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did allow for the restriction of the right to freedom of association because of national security, such restrictions must fulfil other conditions.  Sometimes, restrictions were proclaimed through decree, which did not conform to the requirement that they be restrictions “prescribed by law”.  Further, security and anti-terrorism laws were increasingly vague, and their broad definition lent themselves easily to misinterpretation or abuse.

She noted instances where Governments were turning to subtle means of restricting civil society through the judiciary or public administration.  Existing laws were often applied to the detriment of a healthy civil society.  Ambiguity, lack of transparency and burdensome and lengthy procedures all had the potential of restricting the right of freedom to associate.  She had also observed open interference with the operation and functioning of civil society organizations, when Government authorities directly appointed or removed members of the governing body of the organization, or declared that decisions taken by the board were valid only if a Government representative participated at meetings.

She observed that numerous civil codes and anti-extremism laws contained vague provisions such as “humiliating national pride” and “attacking honour and dignity”, which were used to retaliate against critical human rights activities.  It was her view that non-governmental organizations should be able to carry out their activities without registration, if they so wished.  But, non-governmental organizations should also have the possibility to register as legal entities and to be entitled to the relevant benefits.  One disturbing trend was the criminalization of activities carried out by unregistered groups.  In addition, many countries had put in place legislation that significantly restricted the ability of human rights organizations to seek and receive funding.

She ended by commending Governments that had created an enabling environment in which non-governmental organizations in the area of human rights could operate, especially those that made it easy for them to register, imposed less restrictions, and whose procedures were not cumbersome and allowed appeal or review processes and foreign funding.  She exhorted States to allow freedom of association without registration, as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.  They should not require re-registration or impose undue penalties on groups.

She added that laws governing the creation, registration and functioning of civil society organizations should be written and should set up clear, consistent and simple criteria to register or to incorporate a civil society organization as a legal person.  States should ensure that existing laws and regulations were applied in a transparent and less burdensome or lengthy manner, to avoid restricting the right of freedom of association.  The registration process should be prompt and expeditious, easily accessible and inexpensive.

Other recommendations included that their right of appeal against injunctions should be made clear, and there should be a right to review decisions to terminate groups, performed by an independent review body.  Reporting obligations should be simple, uniform and predictable.  There should be room for warnings, to give non-organization groups time to correct administrative infractions.  They should be given room for critiquing Government and they should have access to foreign funding.

She said now was the time for learning from best practices.  She had tried to point out certain outstanding issues for States to consider, so as to allow civil society to operate in a way that contributed to the democratization process.

Question Time

The representative of Switzerland noted that, instead of openly prohibiting non-governmental organizations, Governments were using more subtle means.  The strict application of rules and laws on non-governmental organizations was done at the expense of a functioning independent civil society.  What was the most appropriate response from the international community to those acts?  Was the Universal Periodic Review a proper instrument for dealing with that issue?  If so, what means were there for follow-up?

Canada’s delegate expressed her delegation’s deep concern about the deteriorating conditions in which the defenders of human rights around the world worked.  She urged countries to take steps to redress the matter.  She asked what the international community could do to deter Governments from criminalizing the work of such organizations.

The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said some of those governmental actions seemed aimed at the restricting and even eliminating non-governmental organizations or unregistered groups, especially where they resulted in detention.  That undermined the right to freedom of association, which underlined the United Nations position on human rights defenders.  Could the Special Rapporteur identify any examples of good practices?  Besides recommending that any raids by police should be conducted on foot and with relevant legal warrants, what other safeguards could be put in place to protect such groups from harassment?  On the issue of the vague definitions of terrorism, she wondered if Ms. Sekaggya had had any contact with her colleagues who had mandates relating to the freedom of expression or the protection of human rights while countering terrorism.  How did she anticipate working with those mandate holders in the future?

Norway’s representative stressed that freedom of association was an essential element of a functioning civil society, as well as the Declaration on human rights defenders.  While her delegation agreed that the rules for registration should be clear, what examples should States look to in that regard?  Also, could she elaborate on how restrictions affected women?

The United States representative said human rights defenders were often subjected to human rights violations themselves, as they worked to expose such abuses in their societies.  The United States encouraged the Special Rapporteur to protect those human rights defenders.  What countries, she asked, imposed the greatest obstacles to human rights defenders on their right to freely associate?

Ireland’s delegate asked if the Special Rapporteur could elaborate on the burden re-registration procedures had on non-governmental organizations.  What impact could independent judicial reviews have on curbing that practice?

The representative of the United Kingdom, aligning herself with the comments made on behalf of the European Union, asked how the Special Rapporteur would use her role to affect the situation of human rights around the world.  Could she identify best practices in the treatment of non-governmental organizations?  What plans did she have to encourage countries to use best practices?  The United Kingdom was particularly concerned about repressive measures taken against civil society, including in Iran and the Russian Federation.  Did Ms. Sekaggya have any plans to visit those countries?

Australia’s representative said the right to freedom of association was fundamental to civil society.  She welcomed the views of the Special Rapporteur on what best practices existed regarding non-governmental organization guidelines.

Cuba’s delegate asked for clarification on paragraph 123, which said that Governments should allow non-governmental organizations to receive foreign funding, as well as paragraph 94, which explained how a series of restrictions were established by Governments to prevent money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.  She agreed with the latter guidelines and suggested that the Special Rapporteur extend the reading of those restrictions to groups that provided funding to destabilize other Governments.  She further suggested that that should also include groups that were not non-governmental organizations nor individuals working to promote human rights, but represented foreign interests working against a country or a region.  Also, was it possible for the Special Rapporteur to have contact with the group dealing with mercenaries?

The delegate of India asked how States could reach a balance regarding legitimate concerns on money-laundering and financing for terrorism and restricting the work of non-governmental organizations.

The representative of Chile expressed confidence in the work of the Special Rapporteur.  She repeated the question asked by the representative of Ireland on re-registration.  She looked forward to the seeing the Rapporteur’s work in the Latin American region.

The Observer of the European Commission asked what was the best way to engage with partners on non-governmental organizations laws.  The question of restrictive NGO laws was brought up by African civil society at a meeting in Europe.  Those members of civil society had written a joint recommendation on that topic.  Also, observing that foreign funding often disqualified civil society organizations from participating in consultative processes, he asked how she intended to address that issue.

Ms. SEKAGGYA said it was important that there be convergence among States on the role that civil society played in the democratization process.  There should be procedures for freedom of association that should not allow for re-registration, which placed civil society in limbo.  The looming prospect of re-registration made them timid; they lived in fear of not being registered one day in the future.  All civil society organizations should be considered legal unless there were circumstances that warranted a review.  In such cases, they should be put through review, rather than be asked to re-register.

As for what the international community should do to strengthen freedom of association and the work of human rights defenders, she said the Universal Periodic Review process was a good place to learn about best practices.  Since all countries reported to the Human Rights Council, they could put forward measures regarding registration, and so on.  Last year, her report was focused on how the issue of defenders could be included in the Universal Periodic Review process.

A random study of countries had been done to determine best practices that could be used as models, she said.  Those countries appeared in a report she had produced.  However, that report did not point out countries that “did not do things in a proper way”.  She urged countries to study the list and to amend their own rules to promote the best interests of human rights defenders.

On how she worked to protect defenders that were thrown in arbitrary detention, she said, in general, special mandate holders made urgent appeals, issued recommendations, produced thematic studies and conducted country visits.  But, she cautioned that most special mandate holders were limited in their ability to seek information on the ground, due to resource constraints.

On foreign funding, she reaffirmed the fact that the Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders had declared that the work of human rights defenders should be lawful.  Those carrying out their work in a lawful manner should be assisted in their operation, since they contributed to the democratization process of a country.  If there were suspicions that they were being used for unlawful purposes, then they should be investigated, reviewed and brought to justice.  She noted, however, that many non-governmental organizations were being restricted in their work, despite the fact that they were operating within legal bounds.

Returning to the topic of good practices, she referred to the relevant chapter in her report.  Some good practices included having a review process in place, and having independent registration institutions.  The report talked, as well, of types of machinery that could deal with registration in an independent and less burdensome manner.

Touching briefly on gender issues, she said most such issues revolved around the criminalization of activities, non-registration and other obstacles to stymie their operation.  When looking at the gender dimension, States must be aware of those problems.

She said she would address other questions through her website, in view of the short time remaining.

Right of Reply

Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, Iran took the floor to respond to comments by the United Kingdom concerning the situation of human rights defenders in his country.  He pointed out that it was deeply unfortunate that manipulation and abuse of the United Nations human rights mechanisms had become a tradition of certain States in advancing their political purposes.  It was a gross distortion of facts to cast doubts on the situation of human rights defenders in Iran.  The Government had taken a number of steps to guide the work of non-governmental organizations.

He said a number of non-governmental organizations and Governmental entities were active in promoting human rights.  In the Government, those included, among others, the human rights council of the judiciary, the President’s office for women and family, the office for supporting the rights of children, and the provisional council for ensuring the fulfilment of citizenship rights.  Those bodies had taken many measures and had been highly active in promoting human rights standard.  A number of bodies in Parliament were also working on the rights of migrants and immigrants, as well as women and children in Iran.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.