UN Expert Tells Third Committee No State Free from Human Rights Violations, Accountability System Must Be Effective in as Many States as Possible

27 October 2009
GA/SHC/3960

UN Expert Tells Third Committee No State Free from Human Rights Violations, Accountability System Must Be Effective in as Many States as Possible

27 October 2009
General Assembly
GA/SHC/3960
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Third Committee

30th & 31st Meetings (AM & PM)

UN Expert Tells Third Committee No State Free from Human Rights Violations,

Accountability System Must Be Effective in as Many States as Possible

Committee Hears from Human Rights Council Experts on Education,

Extrajudicial Execution, Foreign Debt, As Two-Week Debate Continues

No State was free from human rights violations and the challenge for the United Nations was to ensure that the system of accountability it established could function effectively in relation to as many States as possible, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as it continued its discussion on ways to protect and promote human rights.

Philip Alston, who was joined during the interactive morning session by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, as well as an Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, suggested that the current accountability structure seemed, from his vantage point, to be impaired.

“When a wide range of large and important States does not permit United Nations scrutiny of alleged killings over a period of almost a decade, there is something badly amiss with the system,” he said, emphasizing that more than two‑thirds of the States he had approached to arrange a country visit had rejected his request or failed to respond.  Strikingly, this applied to nearly a quarter of the membership of the Human Rights Council. 

He acknowledged that no State had an obligation to admit a Special Rapporteur.  But, the lack of engagement constrained his ability to conduct his work and meant that some of the world’s worst alleged instances of extrajudicial executions were going unexamined. 

Of the States he had visited, he underscored the prevailing atmosphere of impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya.  In the former, he said the Congolese army was comprised of a makeshift coalition of former militia groups, which was heavily prone to violence and which was being fully supported by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

He stressed that the United Nations should no longer support the policy of permitting impunity under the slogan “peace first, justice later” and should, among other things, insist that all members of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) be required to wear uniforms that identified their names and unit affiliation to remove the absolute anonymity currently enjoyed.

His comments on Kenya -- where he said death squads killed hundreds arbitrarily and brutally and no actions had been taken to investigate the post-election violence in December 2007 and January 2008 that led to the killings of more than 1,000 people -- prompted a vigorous response from that country.  Among other things, Kenya’s delegate suggested Mr. Alston’s call for the removal of Constitutional office bearers was illegal, and by going beyond his mandate, he had “completely rubbished” the Code of Conduct that governed special rapporteurs.

In response, Mr. Alston said allegations by the Kenyan delegation had already been shown to be entirely without foundation, particularly after the African Group called for his censure in the Human Rights Council, and he was saddened that they were repeated here.

Earlier in the meeting, Cephas Lumina, the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said the financial and economic crisis threatened the full range of human rights.

“This is not only unacceptable, but it also challenges the very foundation of human rights -- the principle of human dignity,” he said, stressing that from a human rights viewpoint, the main concern should be to establish a new economic order that promoted economic prosperity, supported social systems and enhanced the enjoyment of all human rights for all people.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Munoz Villalobos, stressed that preventing a person from learning was paramount to denying them life.  Moreover, educational systems that were structured purely by a “utilitarian paradigm” could strengthen prejudice and marginalization.  States needed to interpret the concept of education broadly and promote a lifestyle of learning, which was the only way to lead to respect and understanding between people.

As the Committee continued its general discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights during the afternoon, many speakers underscored the tension between international standards and national peculiarities inherent in discussions of such rights.  At times, the debate focused on the utility of country-specific resolutions, with some countries, like Malaysia, suggesting the wider membership was increasingly opposed to, and uncomfortable with, such texts.

The Malaysian delegate said that, while the international community should treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis, political considerations had come into play in too many cases.  This made work on human rights seem like an attempt to assert the superiority of the strong over the weak.  Surely, this was not the right approach, if the aspiration was the highest standards of human rights.

Underlining the need for the fair and equitable evaluation of human rights standards, the representative of Egypt said international action should take an objective approach to those rights and aim to maximize the chances of realizing common goals.   Singapore’s delegate said that while diversity was no defence for human rights violations, neither should that diversity be overlooked in the pursuit of a better world for all.  An approach of humility and accommodation might help everyone find common cause in this issue.

Several delegates praised the Universal Periodic Review as a significant institutional development that offered the means for further dialogue among all Member States, with some suggesting it as a good alternative to the country-specific resolutions.

However, the representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the General Assembly could not stay silent in the face of human rights violations.  For its part, the European Union would continue to call attention to violations that demanded consideration and action by all States and would again table draft resolutions to that end.

Echoing him, the representative of the United States said country-specific resolutions at the United Nations were one way for Governments to demonstrate their collective will to address serious human rights situations.  They also provided space for human rights defenders to carry out their efforts.  The work of special procedures mandate-holders also offered monitoring mechanisms and recommendations that could guide reform.  Overall, however, the United States was committed to principled engagement and would seek cooperative approaches.  It would strive to encourage discussion.

Also speaking during the general discussion were representatives of Japan, Belarus, Norway, Brazil, Malaysia (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Viet Nam, Cuba, Iran, New Zealand, Philippines, Indonesia, Cyprus and Benin.

The representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iran and Pakistan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again at 10 am. Wednesday, 28 October to continue its general discussion on 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.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to hear presentations by:  the Special Rapporteur on the right to education; the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  Following those presentations, it was expected to continue to general discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education

VERNOR MUÑOZ VILLALOBOS, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said, since 2005, he had presented various reports to the General Assembly, the former Human Rights Commission and now the Human Rights Council, where he had identified the challenges and “terrible weight” felt by vulnerable communities, because States had not complied with their obligation to provide them with a quality education.  Throughout the course of this work, he had consulted with numerous ministers of education, grass-roots movements, research institutes and schools. 

As Rapporteur, he grew to realize the importance of constantly being open and prepared to learn continuously about the different “contexts, contents and processes” involved in implementing human rights obligations.  Human beings could not help but want to learn; the learning process and life process were one and the same.  When a person was prevented from learning, it was like they were being denied life.

Learning could be stimulated and developed through education systems, he said.  The right to education was a legally protected human right and a condition of evolution.  But, while education systems promoted learning, systems that were structured purely by a “utilitarian paradigm” could strengthen prejudice and marginalization.  To build a society free from marginalization, therefore, States must promote high quality education, through processes beyond the formal education system, and which was carried out in both formal and non-formal contexts within the community.

The education process and the process of “social learning” was sustained by communities, he said, and was fundamental in creating a responsible citizenry that was aware of their human rights.  Such processes were currently being integrated in the national institutions of various regions and countries.  The European Commission and the Council of the European Union had adopted documents on lifelong learning, which they said were important for promoting social inclusion, active citizenship and social development.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was also carrying out activities through its Institute of Lifelong Learning.  He also knew of examples where civil society and universities worked together to offer ongoing learning.

The importance of continuing education in promoting an active citizenship was emphasized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said.  That notion had been affirmed by the United Nations through its International Year of Human Rights Learning, which began on 10 December 2008.  The General Assembly had sketched out the basic aspects on learning in human rights, saying it was an integral process that went on throughout a person’s life and touched all strata of society.  Such learning promoted respect for the dignity of others and taught ways to promote respect across societies.  Learning activities must be truly transforming if they were to enable people to acquire a deep understanding of human rights, and to teach people how to relate to others in a spirit of solidarity.

He welcomed the role of the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council, which was discussing a draft declaration on education and training in human rights issues.  He stood ready to support it, hoping it would provide a clear and detailed definition of those concepts, and that it would provide suggestions for educational activities based on respect for equality and non-discrimination.

Promoting human rights learning at the community level was a global challenge, he said.  Society needed to promote a lifestyle of learning, which was the only way to lead to respect and understanding between people, and to liberate people from poverty and humiliation.  While formal forms of education could provide information about human rights, real learning provided the motivation to fully implement those rights.  Human rights learning should include training, and the dissemination of information for creating a rights culture and to mould attitudes. 

He said learning about human rights was a prerequisite of lifelong learning and vice versa.  Government policies and development processes must be reviewed to ensure that they genuinely promoted high quality education, and were serving to create opportunities to bring about the full enjoyment of humanity’s achievements.  Of the initiatives that had been launched, he cited the concept of creating “cities of human rights”, where communities sought to promote dialogue to improve the life and security of all.  They sought to consolidate human rights through networks.  In Albania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania there were striking cases of human rights learning, as part of curricular and extra-curricular areas.  Benin, Costa Rica, Austria and Switzerland had taken the lead in promoting human rights learning in the informal arena.

Governments could work with civil society to create and implement lifelong learning initiatives and build human rights approaches to learning, he said.  In Africa, that included adult literacy programmes.  Kenya’s “post-literacy” programmes were an example of non-governmental initiatives that were later given support by the Government, which offered Kenyans opportunities to continue learning after having gone through the basic literacy programme.  Since 2002, those programmes had been fully funded by the State.  Initiatives could be local, regional, national or international -- the Third Age University in Toulouse, France, was one concept that had spread throughout Europe, and was moving to South Africa and Australia.

The concept of education needed to be interpreted broadly, he said.  He urged the international community to cast a critical look at States’ educational proposals in all modalities, adding that they should go beyond a utilitarian approach to education.  He noted also that lifelong learning and human rights learning were interdependent, and helped give root to a spirit of mutual cooperation through a constant promotion of knowledge and attitudes.

Question Time

The representative of Switzerland said the Special Rapporteur had shown the difference between human rights education and human rights learning.  While different, they were complementary.  But, it seemed that some pitted human rights education against human rights learning.  Thus, he asked how these two ideas could be brought together.  Could the Special Rapporteur also explain how they formed a whole?

Sweden’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted the report’s statement that education was an organizing principle of every society and could, as such, entrench discrimination and prejudice.  How could this entrenchment be prevented from happening?  Echoing Switzerland, she asked how education systems could better promote the notion of human rights learning.  How could human rights be incorporated in adult learning?

The representative of Canada said the Special Rapporteur’s activities since his last report highlighted a number of interlinked issues, including integrating education in peace processes and using education as a means of responding to gender violence, among others.  Canada also welcomed the report’s approach towards lifelong learning.  How did the Special Rapporteur plan to incorporate these themes into his ongoing mandate?  Canada agreed that the responsibility for lifelong learning lay with the State.  But, in practice, civil society also participated.  Given the challenges girls and women faced in accessing education, could the Special Rapporteur analyse how wider access could be ensured with respect to lifelong learning?

The United States representative encouraged the Special Rapporteur to consider human rights and lifelong learning in the context of the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide.  Could he suggest how it could be ensured for this segment of the population?  The United States was encouraged by the discussion of open learning and distance education.  How could Member Sates and United Nations development agencies incorporate long-distance learning into lifelong learning initiatives?

Cuba’s delegate highlighted her country’s “Yes, I Can” literacy programme that had been used all over Latin America.  Could the Special Rapporteur expand on what social institutions were most committed to learning at the community level?

The representative of Benin said his delegation was delighted to see the issue of lifelong learning in the current report.  Two years ago Benin had tabled a resolution on lifelong learning and today’s report showed that that initiative was right.  He would like the Special Rapporteur to go a little further in explaining human rights learning and what value it could bring to the international community.  Also, what was the citizen’s role and what would they be enabled to learn?  Moreover, was human rights training that was targeted to the police or the gendarme a form of lifelong human rights learning?  What place did human dignity have in the whole human rights process?

Cameroon’s delegate recalled that that the Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa had significantly assisted in strengthening capacity and promoting and protecting human rights through its human rights training and awareness-raising programmes.  Cameroon would again table a resolution on the Centre.

The representative of the European Commission said the report was highly relevant to a number of the Commission’s initiatives to mainstream human rights issues.  It was also supporting such learning around the world.  Noting that the report highlighted the need for progressive and continuing human rights lifelong learning, he asked what the entry points for doing so were.  What were best practices in incorporating human rights training?

Morocco’s delegate reminded his colleagues there was a draft resolution on human rights learning and education being prepared in Geneva by the Human Rights Council.  A conference had also been held in Marrakech on 16 and 17 July 2009 on mainstreaming human rights learning.  He asked for further clarification on the difference between human rights education and human rights learning.  Was one concept more limited than the other?

Costa Rica’s representative said his country had worked to promote education and recently had worked to train educators on human rights learning.  He noted that there was confusion over the definitions of human rights education and learning.  Could the Special Rapporteur provide more clarification on how they were complementary and how they could reinforce each other?

Responding, Mr. MUNOZ congratulated those Governments that had embarked on progressive education initiatives.  Looking at the progress made in education in past decades might lead States to feel satisfied with their advances.  Indeed, UNESCO stated that 60 million more boys and girls were in school compared to 50 years ago, and 100 million adults benefited from educational opportunities.  Judging by those numbers, it would seem that the world had genuinely made progress.  And yet, never before had so many educated people killed so many other educated people; and never before had the world experienced monumental problems resulting from environmental destruction, or as a result of humiliation, marginalization and discrimination against their fellow people.  It had once been suggested that the 20th century was the most violent century in human history.  It begged the question -- what were education systems for?  Did society want to fuel violence?  Was that what society educated itself to do?  Education that failed to promote human rights was useless and of low quality.  Including human rights within the curriculum was a prerequisite for human development.

He said human rights education did not only consist of curricula and study programmes.  Society must also change the administration of, and methods used in, education, and must change the way in which teachers were trained.  Teachers must be brought to a position where they could satisfy the hunger for human rights education. 

He said lending a person his or her dignity meant giving that person the full possibility to carry out his or her sense of responsibility and to enjoy his or her rights.  In that sense, human rights learning was the only formula that could bring about “dignity” and enable humanity to move forward as a species.  Human rights education went far beyond the traditional educational arena.  People learn human rights at home and through interaction with each other.  Human rights learning must be made into a life practice. 

In addition, human rights must be seen as the building block of meaningful relationships, he said.  It must fuel educational activities, and be the foundation for developing students’ capacity for critical thinking.  These days, there was an undue emphasis on socialization and the accumulation of information, setting aside character-building and instilling a sense of responsibility in students, in a way that encouraged respect for equality and anti-discrimination.

He stressed the need for a type of education that combated patriarchal thinking and promoted gender equality, and one that extended a sense of inclusiveness to people who were traditionally marginalized.   Only around 1 to 5 per cent of disabled people were fully integrated into educational processes, due simply to architectural obstacles, or because teachers were not familiar with sign language or audio-visual teaching methods.  States needed to reform the curriculum, train and include disabled teachers in their educational systems, come up with the right educational content, and give teachers the knowledge and tools to recognize differences between people and to act on it.

There must be human rights training within communities to advance the development process, he added.

Statement of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt

CEPHAS LUMINA, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said his report focused mainly on the issue of illegitimate debt and was intended to stimulate debate on that concept.  He sought to underline its relevance to global efforts to find a just and durable resolution to the debt crisis that has plagued developing countries for decades.  In contrast, he would focus his remarks this morning on human rights and the global economic crisis, sovereign debt in the context of the crisis and reform of the global economic system.

Before doing so, however, he emphasized two aspects of the written report. First, the human rights principles of participation, inclusion, transparency, accountability and the rule of law and non-discrimination provided universally recognized standards against which the legitimacy of debt could be assessed.  Second, the principle of shared responsibility of the debtors and creditors lay at the core of an equitable global financial system.  He also reported that the Human Rights Council had decided to allocate budgetary resources for regional multi-stakeholder consultations on the development of draft general guidelines on foreign debt and human rights.

He said vulnerable groups, including women, children, migrants, minorities and persons with disabilities, not only suffered from ongoing discrimination and abuses of power, but had been disproportionately affected by the global economic crisis.  The crisis threatened the full range of human rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living, and the rights to health, housing, work and education.  The World Bank estimated that 90 million more people may be forced into severe poverty above the roughly 200 million who had slipped into extreme poverty as a result of the 2008 food crisis.  Some 400,000 more children would die before the age of five, because their families could not afford food or basic medical care for preventable diseases.

“This is not only unacceptable, but it also challenges the very foundation of human rights -- the principle of human dignity,” he said.  If the protests over food and fuel prices in 2008 provided any guidance, there was a possibility of social unrest, as desperate people vented their frustration over the Government’s inability to protect them from the crisis.  Further, many of those affected were denied access to information and the right to participate in Government policy decisions concerning the crisis.

He said that, despite the obvious human rights implications of the crisis, human rights language had largely been missing from discussions on it.  The human dimension had been recognized, but the need for a human rights-based response had gone unacknowledged.  However, the effect of the crisis on the enjoyment of human rights was an important factor in framing States’ responses.  The June 2009 United Nations conference on the crisis had failed to reaffirm the human rights obligations in the crisis and, while commendable, Group of 20 efforts also ignored this facet.

But, under human rights law, States had the primary responsibility for creating conditions in which all persons living in their territories could enjoy the full range of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. They had the duty to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights at all times, but particularly in times of crisis.  Governments also had binding obligations to ensure that their economic and social polices were consistent with human rights standards and the principle of non-discrimination required that they ensure all measures adopted in response to the crisis avoided disproportionate effects.  He underscored that international human rights law did not prescribe a specific economic system, but did provide a clear and universally recognized framework that could be used to guide the design and implementation of measures to address the crisis.  It also provided minimum standards against which the actions and omissions of Governments could be assessed.

He went on to say that the crisis raised the disturbing prospect of mounting debt levels in developing countries.  These increases were attributable to the rapid lines of credit from various multilateral financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which were ostensibly designed to assist developing countries mitigate the impact of the crisis and the global downturn in trade.  Expanded debt cancellation and grants -- not loans -- should be urgently considered as a way to increase the fiscal capacity of the Governments of developing countries, but also to avoid an accumulation of unsustainable debt.  Developing countries should also have access to emergency funds.  Further, all States must support global efforts being taken to address the issue of illegitimate debt.

He stressed that the global economic system had failed to assure basic human needs or the conditions in which everyone could enjoy an adequate standard of living.  It had instead engendered high levels of poverty and inequality that had been exacerbated by the current crisis.  The crisis had not only highlighted the current system’s flaws, but afforded an opportunity to rethink governance and accountability at both the national and international level.  There was a need for a coherent effort towards the design of a new framework that placed people -- not profit -- at the centre of economic policymaking.  While welcome, the Group of 20’s efforts to initiate some reform of the World Bank and the IMF were inadequate and did not correspond with the realities of the emerging global economy.  It was also regrettable that the G20 had designated itself as the “premier forum for [our] international economic cooperation”, which was a role clearly provided to the United Nations by its Charter.

He said the world community needed to recognize that low-income countries were an essential part of the global economy.  Moreover, those countries, whose economies were overwhelmingly dependent on an export-driven model of growth, had been particularly hard hit by the crisis and their voices must be heard.  Indeed, the crisis was a global problem requiring a global solution that included the participation of all countries on an equal basis.  Again, the United Nations provided such a forum.

As the international financial institutions were reformed, he said measures should be taken to ensure that they operated in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various human rights treaties.  Low-income and other developing countries needed greater representation beyond the percentage proposed by the G20.  Legal provisions should also tackle abusive practices of hedge funds, “vulture” funds and credit-rating agencies.  From a human rights viewpoint, the main concern should be to establish a new economic order that promoted economic prosperity, supported social systems and enhanced the enjoyment all human rights for all people.

Question Time

The representative of the United States said her Government appreciated the challenges faced by developing countries facing large debt burdens, and had provided assistance to several countries through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative and other debt relief programmes.  However, international borrowing, when properly managed, could help reduce poverty and promote implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  In doing so, borrowers and lenders must exercise appropriate due diligence.  However, her Government would question the way the issue of debt and the attainment of human rights goals was framed in the report.  International capital flows and human rights were complementary, not at odds with each other.  It was possible that the proposed new debt frameworks and legal concepts could restrict developing country access to funding in the future.

Lesotho’s representative said small countries were being required to take on more debt against the backdrop of the economic slowdown.  There was already too much debt on their backs.  The economic crisis had affected Government programmes.  Would the Rapporteur share his opinion on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) proposal for a debt moratorium?

The representative of Cuba voiced appreciation for the Rapporteur’s efforts to find a definition for illegitimate debt.  At the moment, developing countries were funding the opulent lifestyle of the North, and the developing world’s indebtedness was having a marked effect on the enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to development.  Her Government supported his conclusions and recommendations concerning the need to restructure the unjust international order, given the financial, energy, food and environmental crises going on at this time.

Responding, Mr. LUMINA said he agreed with the United States that debt itself could contribute to the development efforts of the developing countries.  But, he was concerned about the implication that the borrowing countries had the necessary policy space to fully do so.  He did not agree with that position. Throughout his mandate, he had emphasized the need for responsible lending on the part of lenders and responsible borrowing on the part of borrowers . But, too often borrowers found themselves without the necessary policy space to carry their development policies forward.  This was the result mostly of conditionalities. Much had been said on such conditionalities and their limits on policy space, and he would not go into it here.

He further stressed that a key part of his mandate was the elaboration of draft general guidelines on foreign debt and human rights, which were designed to promote responsible lending and borrowing.  Their particular emphasis was that the debt obligations did not impair the ability of States to ensure human rights.  He noted that he was working with UNCTAD on this effort.

Responding to Lesotho, he said he was aware of the proposal for a debt moratorium, but he cautioned that such a moratorium was a temporary measure that ultimately ignored other factors -- which included the fact that these countries depended to a large extent on exports, even though the current global trading environment did not favour the developing countries.  Thus, to his mind, a moratorium assumed too much in allowing for a postponement of payment.  Of course, if it could take some pressure off these countries, he could support it.  But, he continued to argue that more long-term solutions were needed.

He thanked the Cuban delegation for its support for his mandate.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, stressed that no State was free from human rights violations.  Thus, the challenge was to ensure that the system of accountability established by the United Nations could function effectively in relation to as many States as possible. 

He said that a number of States had extended invitations to him for country visits over the years.  They included the United States, Brazil, Afghanistan, Colombia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  But, more than two-thirds of the States to which he had addressed a request to visit had rejected the request or had not responded.  Particularly striking was that it included almost a quarter of the membership of the Human Rights Council.  Eleven Council members that had not extended an invitation for a visit were:  Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.  Of that group, only Mexico had indicated that it might consider a visit.

He said while it was true that no State had an obligation to admit a Special Rapporteur, it constrained his ability to conduct his work.  It also meant that some of the worst alleged instances of extrajudicial executions in the world remained unexamined. 

“When a wide range of large and important States does not permit United Nations scrutiny of alleged killings over a period of almost a decade, there is something badly amiss with the system,” he said.

In the year ahead, he planned to examine the legal framework relevant to the practice of “targeted killings”, and other issues that had arisen in relation to his mandate.  His most recent report had focused on killings by vigilantes and mobs, which was a widespread, and often ignored, phenomenon.  Covert or overt official involvement in those killings was common.  Where senior officials did not publicly denounce instances of vigilante killings, there was a reasonable presumption that they had failed to take the measures required of them under human rights law.  States should introduce a system of penalties designed to ensure that appropriate measures were taken, especially where police or municipal authorities had failed to reduce or eliminate vigilante killings.  Prompt investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators was crucial.

He described his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo a week and a half ago.  He had received compelling evidence in relation to at least 50 killings or more by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) of civilians, and the rape and abduction of some 40 women in Shalio, North Kivu, between 27 and 30 April 2009.  About two weeks later, that incident gave rise to apparent retaliation killings of at least 96 civilians by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) armed group.

He said the incident highlighted three issues:  one was the extent to which the FARDC remained a makeshift coalition of former militia groups, too many of whom remained untrained, unreliably paid, often undisciplined and heavily prone to violence.  The second was that those forces were being fully supported by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  Third was the atmosphere of impunity.

He reported that, when asked, MONUC officials gave generic assurances, but far too few specifics to be able to reach any satisfactory conclusions.  A full MONUC accounting of the steps it took subsequent to the Shalio massacre would be welcome.  As for the atmosphere of impunity, he said that after he had made a statement on the Shalio massacre in Kinshasa, the Information Minister stated that the Government had been aware of it, but was not prepared to take action against Lieutenant Colonel Innocent Zimulinda, the commander responsible.  The Minister cited, as grounds, that Mr. Zimulinda’s arrest would have had worse consequences than the crimes of which he was accused.  The same Minister had been known to call human rights groups “humanitarian terrorists”.  The Minister was also overseeing the accreditation of journalists; the country had seen a dramatic reduction of freedom of the press. 

He said the state of impunity was illustrated even more by the fact that MONUC officials had themselves indicated that they would not take steps to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda, an FARDC commander whose whereabouts were well-known and for whom the International Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant.  The United Nations should no longer support the policy of permitting impunity under the slogan “peace first, justice later”.  The Security Council should insist that all FARDC members be required to wear uniforms that identified their individual names and unit affiliation, which would at least remove the absolute anonymity currently enjoyed by soldiers, who looted, raped and killed at will.

He said there needed to be a more concerted international campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army, which continued to be active in the country, contrary to the position of the Government.  The Republican Guard should be fully integrated into the FARDC.  There was strong likelihood that, in the future, it would become an uncontrollable and explosive obstacle in the way of free elections and democratic governance.  Prison conditions must be urgently addressed.  Indeed, after his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he was more convinced than ever that the Human Rights Council should immediately appoint a Special Rapporteur on the rights of detainees, an area that was chronically neglected around the world.

Turning to Kenya, he described the existence of death squads that killed hundreds arbitrarily and brutally.  He had called for the Police Commissioner to be dismissed, whose responsibility had been documented.  He had since been relieved of his command, but was promoted to another high Government post.  There had been no serious Government investigation, and none of the perpetrators had been arrested or prosecuted.  In addition, there were instances of torture and unlawful killings by the police and military in Mt. Elgo, which were likewise not investigated.  Finally, he turned to instances of post-election violence in December 2007 and January 2008 where over 1,000 people had been killed.  In absence of Parliamentary action, the International Criminal Court had announced it had begun investigations, which he warmly welcomed.

In Colombia, the most prominent issue concerned “false positives”, in which victims were lured under false pretences by a “recruiter” to a remote location, killed by the military, and reported as combat killings in order to gain rewards for their killers.  He had found no evidence that the killings were directed from the top, but it had also been clear that those killings had not been carried out by “a few bad apples”.  Their sheer number, geographic spread and diversity of military units implicated seemed to indicate that they were carried out systematically, by significant elements within the military.  While important measures had been taken, there continued to be strong indications that many military judges ignored presidential directives and Constitutional Court rulings, and did all in their power to thwart the transfer of human rights cases to the ordinary justice system.

On the United States, he said he had made a report to the country’s Government on his mission, but had since heard nothing.  Of the concerns he had raised, one had grown in importance since June:  the use of unmanned drones or predators to carry out targeted executions.  While there might be circumstances where the use of those techniques was consistent with international law, it could only be determined in light of information about the legal basis on which particular individuals had been targeted.  The measures needed to be in conformity with international humanitarian law principles of discrimination, proportionality, necessity and precaution.  Steps must be taken retroactively to assess compliance.  Unless the United States Government addressed those questions, it would increasingly be perceived as carrying out indiscriminate killings in violation of international law.

Question Time

Kenya’s representative said that, following the 2007 election violence, his country faced profound challenges in ensuring that its constitutional order was maintained.  Several reforms had been initiated, including reform of the governance, justice, and law and order sector; as well as reforms in the judiciary and criminal justice system.  Other reforms targeted public service and the police and aimed to punish and end impunity.  Land reforms were also being undertaken and corruption was being eliminated.  The Government was also enhancing safeguards for the protection of human rights and electoral reforms.  Other various legislative reforms had been undertaken.

He stressed that Kenya supported the work of the special procedures mandate-holders and had welcomed and worked with several of them over the years.  His delegation reaffirmed Kenya’s commitment to fulfilling its obligations under international instruments to which it was a party.  It would not shy away from inviting and engaging with mandate-holders under the Code of Conduct, as approved by the General Assembly.  However, Kenya expressed grave concern at the manner in which the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had carried out his mission in Kenya this year.  His call for the removal of Constitutional office-bearers and name-calling was not only unprecedented, but illegal.

He said the Institutional Building Text and the Code of Conduct adopted by both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly did not allow any special procedure to interfere with the political set-up of any Member State.  This particular mandate-holder clearly went beyond his mandate and “completely rubbished” the Code of Conduct.  This amounted to interference with the Government’s existing political structure and internal organization.

He said that, besides the report’s unusual language, Kenya could not help but notice that it bore resemblance to one that had been prepared earlier by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and which had been issued prior to his report.  The fact that the report was prepared for the Special Rapporteur was a clear violation of the letter and spirit of the Code of Conduct and called into question his independence and credibility in discharging his mandate. If that trend was allowed to continue, it would harm this important mechanism.

He noted that the Special Rapporteur chose to make his report known through a press conference prior to sharing it with the host Government, thus violating the Code of Conduct.  Not unexpectedly, the report had generated heated debate at the Human Rights Council and had left it with no option but to adopt resolution A/HRC/11/L.8 entitled “Enhancement of the System of Special Procedures”.  It required the mandate-holders to adhere to the Code of Conduct. Moreover, several delegations had hoped for a censure of this particular mandate-holder.

Sweden’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed that the punishment of death should be reserved for only the most serious crimes.  The European Union strongly condemned the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  States that condoned or supported vigilante killings were in violation of their obligations under, among other things, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Where vigilante killings persisted over time or where local authorities had not taken steps to end them, National Governments should take steps to end them.  What were best practices in this respect?

She asked what steps the international community could take to prevent killings in the provinces the Special Rapporteur had reported on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The European Union also welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to investigate killing in Guinea.  Did the Special Rapporteur intend to seek a visit to Guinea to ensure full accountability?  The European Union noted with concern that Kenya had been unable to establish a tribunal on the recent post-election violence.  Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on recommendations he had made to Kenya in that regard and provide more detail on a police oversight body?  Could he provide an update on the elaboration of a framework for targeted killings?

The representative of Switzerland asked what steps human rights organs could take to restrain vigilante killings, which were so widespread.  When could he publish his thinking on this topic?  Her delegation was also concerned that so many countries -- particularly those who were members of the Human Rights Council -- had not acceded to the Special Rapporteur’s requests.  What could be done to urge States to accept these invitations?  Could the Special Rapporteur share any models for inspiration on the position of a Special Rapporteur on the rights of detainees?

The United States representative appreciated updates on the Special Rapporteur’s visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia, among others.  She stressed that the situation he termed “targeted killings” were governed by international humanitarian law.  There was a long-standing disagreement on whether this was covered by his mandate.  Nevertheless, the United States continued to support the Special Rapporteur, even as it disagreed with his interpretation of his mandate.  It agreed that States should investigate and prosecute vigilante killings, but there was a distinction between those that broke national laws and those that rose to international human rights violations.  Could a more robust judicial system deal with these issues?

Canada’s delegate said covert and overt official involvement in these vigilante killings was more widespread than generally acknowledged and called for a human rights perspective.  What steps could States take to ensure they were not supporting these vigilante killings in any way?

The representative of New Zealand agreed that no State was free of human rights challenges.  She commended those States that had cooperated with the Special Rapporteur in the past year and encouraged those that had not responded to do so as soon as possible.  Regarding his report on vigilante killings, her Government asked for more concrete details on the sort of analysis he thought was necessary to address these problems.

In response, Mr. ALSTON said the response from the Kenyan delegation did not indicate measures taken in response to his recommendations.  No significant steps had been taken in response to impunity; large-scale killings by police remained utterly unaddressed.  Yet, in the midst of those concerns, the delegate raised the conduct of the Rapporteur, while the killings were not important.  It was regrettable that the speaker had raised allegations that had already been shown to be entirely without foundation, and he was saddened that they were repeated here.

In calling for the police commissioner’s dismissal, he had been accused of interfering with the country’s political set-up.  He countered that a country that had a set-up that enabled a police commissioner to oversee death squads, and did nothing about that police commissioner, was not on strong grounds to complain that the Rapporteur was interfering by calling for that commissioner to stand down.

On the accusation that his report had been prepared by the national human rights commission, he said “not one single word” came from that body.  That accusation was a grave insult, and was without foundation.  While the report shared some of the findings of the Commission, his was more wide-ranging and used none of the same language.  That accusation was simply a smear.

On accusations that the report was not shared with the Government before the press statement, he informed the Committee that the Minister of Justice was fully and comprehensively briefed on the report on the day before the press conference.  The same Minister resigned a month later, announcing to the press that she was worried about her own security at the hands of the Kenyan police.  In addition, on the morning of the report’s release, it had been sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which received it hours before the press statement.

Finally, regarding calls for his censure over that matter, he said the censure did not happen, because the facts on which the African Group based its criticism of him were false.  The Prime Minister of Kenya had appeared before the Human Rights Council.  In a statement he had prepared for the Council, he had congratulated the Rapporteur on his work.  Kenya had received enormous assistance from the United Nations, through Kofi Annan’s contributions after the election, and the Rapporteur’s contribution in drawing attention to the rampant killings that went unpunished.  The Prime Minister had indicated strong support for the Rapporteur’s mandate and work. 

Mr. ALSTON said he regretted having to speak in such terms.  It was only because the killings had not been responded to at all.  A variety of fabrications were used to attack the message-bearer, rather than to address the issues.  He was pleased that there were individuals, such as the Prime Minister, who were keen to bring about reform.  He encouraged them to address the recommendations in his report.

Turning to the representatives of Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand and the United States on the question of vigilante killings, he said his goal had been to place the issue on the radar.  There were no solutions.  It seemed to him that people were sympathetic towards vigilante justice.  He had heard comments by Government and civil society alike who deplored the situation of crime in their countries, saying the criminals deserved to be killed.  There was a sense that vigilante justice was “doing the right thing”.  But, he stressed that mobs were uncontrollable, and using them as instruments of justice could undermine the effectiveness of forces of law and order in the long run.  The issue must be acknowledged, and perhaps future Rapporteurs could focus on the subject more carefully in countries where vigilante justice was left unaddressed by the Government.  It raised issues of state responsibility.

In terms of what local authorities could do to curb instances of vigilante justice, he pointed to a precedent that had been set and used by the Untied States to respond to lynchings in the South, which were a form of vigilante justice.  In the beginning, local officials had done nothing about them.  It had then been decided at the Federal level that penalties would be lodged against local officials, such as the mayor or police chief, if they were found to be in an area where lynchings had taken place.  They would be fined.  That policy created a strong incentive for those authorities to stop allowing lynchings.

In response to the question on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and how to prevent a repeat of killings in Bas Congo around the time of the last election, he said the State needed to address the issue of impunity.  So far, the Government had done nothing.  When he visited Bas Congo, he was prevented by the Governor from meeting anyone:  witnesses were harassed; and the lawyer who had organized the meeting had been detained by police and released only after his intervention.  Impunity reigned in the province.  Until it was stopped, there was likely to be hundreds more killed in the lead up to the next election.

In Guinea, he welcomed the establishment of an international commission of inquiry by the Secretary-General.  He had long requested a visit to the country.  Major incidents and killings in that country had not come out of the blue; they were the result of a series of unpunished and uninvestigated killings.

He noted the comments of the United States on targeted killings.  The Human Rights Council and the General Assembly had consistently taken the position that it should take up the issue of unlawful killings in times of armed conflict.  The recent Goldstone Report, and questions about Sri Lanka, were examples of where those bodies took up cases of violations of international humanitarian law.  There were many other examples.  If he had gone by the United States position, he would not be reporting about occurrences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because they would be covered by the law of armed conflict.

Turning to the use of drones and predators to carry out killings, he said that depending on the study, anywhere from 30 per cent to 95 per cent of targeted killings were carried out through those techniques.  Such remote-controlled aircrafts remained unchecked by rules governing international humanitarian law.  It was essential for the United States, or any other States that resorted to those techniques, to engage in an open discussion on steps that could be taken to insist on at least minimal accountability.  It was not acceptable for a national intelligence agency -- and it was said that the CIA operated a large majority of those weapons -- to determine, in complete isolation, who, when and where they would kill, and for them to insist that they were not subject to human rights or humanitarian law.  He expressed hope that the issue would be addressed more constructively by the current United States administration.

On the suggestion that a new Special Rapporteur on rights to detainees be set up, he agreed that such a person would cooperate with regional counterparts.  There was an active one in the inter-American system.  While he knew of one in the African system, it was possible that a lack of resources might be proving a hindrance.  He stressed that detainees and prisoners were utterly neglected in many countries and that the human rights community had not given them due attention.  They would benefit from a new Rapporteur who worked with States to provide minimally humane conditions for prisoners.

The representative of Botswana said his delegation had carefully studied the report, particularly its focus on vigilante killings.  His delegation expressed disappointment by the approach by certain delegations that were always desperate to infuse controversial discussions where they were not relevant.  This was usually done under the disguise of support for the special procedures.  Botswana trusted the special procedures would maintain their independence.

India’s representative thanked Mr. Alston for his presentation, which seemed to suggest that the problem of vigilante killings affected many countries.  But many countries had penal codes that addressed this issue, including India’s.  Her delegation felt that the problem was not one of absence of laws, but a failure of implementation.

The representative of Australia agreed that all States should comprehensively ensure that they neither directly, nor indirectly supported vigilante killings.  She also asked how a national special tribunal could effectively curb unlawful violence in Kenya.

Responding, Mr. ALSTON said he had only reported briefly on the situation in Colombia.  One reason was that the final report was not out.  Another was that he had enjoyed a very significant level of cooperation with the Colombian Government. He emphasized this, he said, to dispel any sense that the unfortunate interaction with one delegation was typical of how he did business.  Indeed, he had met for two and half hours with the President of Colombia, even though the meeting had been scheduled for 30 minutes.  They had had a full and productive discussion, and since then he had received indications that his recommendations were being taken seriously.  He believed his forthcoming report could be used as a blueprint of sorts for reforms there, and he considered this a model exchange that was indicative of the role a Special Rapporteur could play.

On the establishment of a national tribunal in Kenya, he said that, in that regard, the country had shown a significant capacity in one area:  the report from the Commission headed by Justice Philip Waki.  The Waki Report was a model of self-examination.  The problem was that it recommended a range of steps needed at the national level that, so far, had not been taken.  He understood there were continuing discussions on establishing a tribunal of a hybrid nature that could include an international presence.  His only concern was that something effective be done to end impunity.

He said India’s representative was, unfortunately, entirely correct.  His report was necessarily abstract.  Its main objective was to say that, when he looked around the world, there were many instances where vigilante killings were shrugged off.  The problem was that more specific recommendations had to be tailored to a specific context, including why laws that already existed were being overlooked.  In some instances, this was a matter of policy neglect.  In others, countries had developed legal systems, but had problems implementing them.

He said Botswana’s comments could not be more appreciated.  He thought the independence of the Special Rapporteur gave enormous credibility to the United Nations human rights system.  He understood that individual Governments would never welcome the visit of many Special Rapporteurs.  However, he noted that even Kenya -- which had disagreed with him today -- had welcomed him, and this was more than many countries had done.  Whatever else was said, his interaction with that country had given rise to an important dialogue.  He, thus, highly endorsed the comments from Botswana.

The Committee then resumed its general discussion on human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.

Statements

NORIHIRO OKUDA ( Japan) underscored the numerous and continuing obstacles to economic prosperity due to the prolonged global economic and financial crisis. Under the circumstances, it was vitally important to promote and protect human rights around the world and attend to the needs of vulnerable groups, including women and children.  While doing so was primarily the responsibility of individual States, the international community could and should express concern, where warranted.

His delegation was encouraged by efforts and progress being made by the Government and people of Cambodia in the area of human rights and democratization, as that country came to terms with its tragic past.   Japan strongly supported the Khmer Rouge trials and welcomed the recent consensus adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on technical assistance and capacity-building in Cambodia, which also extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  The resettlement of a number of internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka must be addressed as a matter of highest priority and in close concert with international organizations and donors.   Sri Lanka’s work on human rights and humanitarian issues should also be more widely publicized. 

He underlined Japan’s belief that bilateral efforts, including dialogue on human rights issues and development assistance, could create synergies with multilateral efforts, and welcomed the recent inauguration of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  The trend within ASEAN towards expanded cooperation in the area of democratization was also welcome.

He stressed that the country-specific special procedures mandates did not compete with the Universal Periodic Review, but complemented it.  Where there were continued systematic and serious human rights violations, the special procedures should play the maximum role possible in effecting improvements.   Japan deeply regretted the serious human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reported by the Special Rapporteur on that country, particularly the infringement of the right to food.  There had been no developments on the abduction issue, despite the agreement concluded in August last year.  If the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were to take action in good faith, Japan would respond positively.   Japan also urged the Government of Myanmar to release all political prisoners and take steps to promote a fully inclusive democratization process.

MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said that when the 2005 World Summit endorsed the institution-building package that established the Human Rights Council, it provided clear guidelines on the conduct of mandate-holders, launched the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, and the review process of the mandates of special procedures.  The intention was to create an institution that set confrontations aside to ensure that all human rights mechanisms could play their roles, without tilting the focus towards certain rights at the expense of others.  The Summit also signalled its support for the Human Rights Commissioner, reflected in its doubling of the budget for her office over 5 years.  But, at the moment, some parties were attempting to impose “new notions” that did not have international consensus.  Others strove to impose their custodianship over certain human rights situations, while still others were “assailing” the Human Rights Council by accusing it of “focusing on certain issues”.

He said international action must be steered towards maximizing the chances of realizing common goals.  It should be directed at confronting the sense of superiority of certain parties, who believed that their values, cultures and social and legal systems were superior to that of others.  It should take an objective approach to human rights, based on respect for international human rights and humanitarian norms.  In doing so, it should increase attention on the right to development, which was intrinsically related to other rights.  It should restore balance between the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council in supervising the activities of the Human Rights Council, special procedures and treaty-bodies, and ending the use of the Security Council as a tool to politicize human rights questions.  There should be a clear commitment not to surpass the mandate of the Third Committee as the technical negotiating body of the General Assembly on human rights issues.  There should be a clear commitment not to sidestep the Human Rights Council through country-specific resolutions, or by appointing people to United Nations development programmes to monitor human rights situations only in developing countries, while none existed in developed countries.

He said the budget for resident coordinators should be increased, so they could play their role in national capacity-building.  The imbalance in geographical distribution among staff must be corrected.  The budget for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should be righted, to decrease dependence on earmarked funding.  At the same time, national efforts to combat extremism and discrimination should be reinforced.  The international community should demonstrate a stronger commitment to respect human rights, while countering terrorism.  Egypt was taking steps to promote and protect human rights in line with international principles, by, among other things, preserving the independence and authority of the judiciary and abolishing hard labour sentences.  It was considering replacing its emergency law with a new anti-terrorism bill.  It was promoting the advancement of women, by setting aside seats in parliament for women.  Egypt took part in the African Peer Review Mechanism and it was looking forward to the review of the Human Rights Council next year.

IRINA VELICHKO ( Belarus) said the human rights situation of every country had to be understood in the context of its specific history and culture.  This was precisely why Belarus had submitted a resolution on the fair promotion of human rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly at its sixty-first session.  Currently the United Nations had a mechanism to consider the human rights situation of all countries, and her delegation was satisfied with the way the Universal Periodic Review was being implemented.  Indeed, that mechanism encouraged countries to take a responsible approach to human rights issues and it was important to maintain an atmosphere of trust in regard to its functioning.  Further, the thematic procedures of the Human Rights Council promoted a constructive dialogue between the human rights bodies and Member States.

She recalled that the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons had visited her country earlier this year.  Belarus intended to cooperate with other mandate-holders as well.  It had also recently concluded work on an approach to human rights standards within the judiciary.  She stressed that open dialogue and cooperation, rather than manipulation of human rights issues, was the route to ensuring that human rights were promoted and protected.

MONA JUUL ( Norway) said women and girls were regarded as lesser beings in many parts of the world.  Their equal value and dignity was being ignored or denied.  Countries could gain much by ensuring equal opportunity for women, through systematic policies to empower them legally, economically and politically.  Indeed, the Human Development Report would seem to indicate a strong correlation between the level of gender equality and the growth and prosperity of countries.  Violence against women was deeply rooted in inequality and discrimination, and as the world aimed to address sexual violence in conflict, it must also maintain its struggle against other forms of violence, such as rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, crimes committed in the name of honour and domestic violence.  She noted, as well, that laws against such acts were of little use, if victims did not have means to seek justice or were too scared to expose their perpetrators.

She observed that discrimination against women was the rule, rather than the exception.  Laws restricted their movement and their ability to own or inherit property.  Practices such as male guardianship put women at risk of being subject to abuse inside and outside the home.  Women’s access to basic services was unequal to men’s, or even denied, affecting their children in turn.  She said promoting the equal participation of men and women was a priority of the Norwegian Government.  The Human Rights Council was due to review Norway’s report in December, as part of the Universal Periodic Review.  The Government had taken pains to be self-critical of its performance, including in facing the challenge of gender inequality.

Turning to freedom of expression, she said the free flow of information and ideas was a cornerstone of democratic society.  Norway would present its biennial resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights defenders, as well as on the protection of, and assistance to, internally displaced persons.  It also looked forward to constructive cooperation with others to reach consensus on a text dealing with the rights of internally displaced persons.  Against that backdrop, Norway welcomed the adoption last week of an African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

REGINA MARIA CORDEIRO DUNLOP ( Brazil) recalled that the plenary of the General Assembly had last year reaffirmed the principles and relevance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during the sixtieth anniversary of that Declaration’s adoption.  It was appropriate to recall that commitment today. Brazil was convinced of the importance of furthering the promotion and protection of human rights, especially when the observance of those rights was impaired by challenges, such as the financial and economic crisis.  It welcomed two resolutions, in that regard, by the Human Rights Council.  Brazil believed that human beings should be the focus of all efforts to deliberate on resolutions and decisions during this session.  Moreover, there was no hierarchy in human rights.  If the agreements reached to advance certain rights bore concrete, positive fruit on the ground, it worked for the advancement of all rights.

Underlining the importance of cooperation and the need to support the human rights mechanisms that had been established over the years, she reiterated the advantages of dialogue and negotiations to ensure the highest level of engagement of all relevant actors in the human rights field.  Only through such engagement could difficulties and obstacles be overcome and the world’s common goal reached. Brazil was fully committed to the United Nations human rights systems, in which the Human Rights Council played a fundamental role.  Indeed, that Council had shown it could provide ways to open up dialogue among all Member States.  The Universal Periodic Review represented a significant institutional development in this regard.  Brazil also kept a standing invitation to all special rapporteurs and other mandate-holders, and urged those countries that had not made such steps to consider doing so.

PER ÖRNÉUS ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said States had a duty to react to violations.  The General Assembly could not stay silent in the face of human rights violations.  The European Union would continue to call attention to violations that demanded consideration and action by all States.  Each State was obliged to bring to justice those responsible for violations of human rights, although he recalled that under the concept of “responsibility to protect”, as unanimously agreed at the 2005 World Summit, it fell primarily to each country to protect its civilians from mass atrocities. 

He added that the European Union was willing to discuss situations in an open and frank manner, and would seek broad, cross-regional support for its initiatives within the General Assembly.  It would continue to push for action against serious human rights violations, especially when the countries in question remained closed to attempts by the international community and international mechanisms to cooperate to improve the situation.  That was the intention behind the draft resolution it planned to present on the human rights situation in Burma and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The representative of Myanmar raised a point of order, asking the Chairman to remind the representative of Sweden to use the official name of his country, upon which Mr. PENKE ( Latvia) did so.

Mr. Orneus ( Sweden) corrected his reference from “ Burma” to “ Myanmar,” saying the population there suffered from severe restrictions on the freedom of expression, assembly and association.  Over 2,000 political prisoners remained in detention, notwithstanding a Government pardon of prisoners earlier in the year.  The European Union condemned the verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi, and urged her immediate release and that of other political prisoners, so as to enable their participation in the 2010 elections.  It called on the authorities in Myanmar to cooperate with Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana.

Turning to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said the human rights situation there was grave and reiterated the European Union call to North Korean authorities to cooperate with the United Nations, particularly Special Rapporteur Muntarbhorn.  It was concerned over the severe punishment of North Koreans seeking to leave the country, and was also concerned about the situation of North Korean refugees and appealed to countries harbouring such persons to respect their obligation under international law.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea raised a point of order, asking the Chairman to correct the representative of Sweden’s reference to his country from “ North Korea” to its proper name.  The Chair did so.

Continuing, Mr. Orneus ( Sweden) turned to the situation in Darfur, Sudan, urging the Government of Sudan to end impunity and bring to justice those responsible for abuse, and to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.  The continued use of the death penalty, including sentences imposed on minors, was troubling.  While taking note of the decision in September to lift press censorship, the European Union also encouraged the Sudanese Government to continue working on establishing an environment conducive to elections, expected in April 2010.  The Sudanese Government was urged to remove restrictions on freedom of expression, and the freedom of assembly and association.  It was urged to bring to justice those responsible for abductions, rapes or sexual slavery.  It called on the Government to protect its population against attacks of tribal militias and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

On Zimbabwe, he expressed concern over persistent human rights violations, especially the harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, teachers, lawyers, farmers and diamond miners.  Reports of unsubstantiated legal measures against Members of Parliament and the renewed politically motivated detention of Roy Bennett were worrisome.  The European Union called on the Inclusive Government to deliver media reform and to ensure all State agencies respected the freedom of assembly and expression, and ended all forms of torture and incommunicado detention.

He said that, with regard to Iran, the European Union condemned the violence following the June elections, and was troubled by the high number of arrests, particularly of human rights defenders and political activists.  It was also troubled about the possible use of torture and excessive use of force by authorities and militia members.  It was deeply concerned by information, officially confirmed, that three individuals were sentenced to death after post-electoral mass trials.  It was further troubled by other serious human rights violations in the country, such as the high number of executions and continued occurrence of the execution of minors.  Some prisoners were being held for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and the European Union called for the release of all political prisoners.  The situation of Baha’i persons and other religious minorities remained serious.  He called on the Iranian Government to uphold the international obligation to safeguard religious freedom.

Turning to Sri Lanka, he reiterated the European Union’s call for an independent and credible investigation into alleged human rights violations.  It insisted that freedom of movement be granted to internally displaced persons still held in camps, and that the camps be transferred from military to civilian control, with unhindered access by United Nations humanitarian agencies and other aid organizations, also for protection work.

On Belarus, he underlined the need to address the human rights situation there.  It was concerned by continued harassment and intimidation facing civil society representatives, including human rights defenders, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  The European Union was concerned by Belarus’ restrictive mass media law of 2008.  It also regretted the continued existence of the death penalty in Belarus.

On Uzbekistan, he called on the authorities to free all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.  The country was also called on to allow unimpeded operation of non-governmental organizations in the country.  It must grant freedom of speech to the media, fully align its election processes with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments and implement the ratified conventions against child labour.

On Afghanistan, he said the European Union called on the Government of Afghanistan to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by women, both in practice and by repealing discriminating legal provisions, such as those in the new Shia Personal Status Law regarding persons belonging to the Shia minority.

On Pakistan, the European Union called on the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the full fundamental rights of all Pakistani citizens.  The European Union stressed the need to ensure the protection of the rights of persons belonging to all vulnerable groups, including women, children and minorities.  It was concerned by attacks against Christians in Punjab, and urged authorities to bring those responsible to justice.  The European Union encouraged Pakistan to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to establish a national human rights commission.

On Cuba, he said the European Union renewed its appeal to authorities there to free all political prisoners and human rights defenders, and to lift restrictions on the freedom of expression and the right to association.  It called on Cuban authorities to ratify the core human rights covenants and to keep reservations to a minimum.

He highlighted the concern at the human rights situation in Honduras since the removal of President Zelaya on 28 June, including, among other things, restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of association.  The Union reiterated its call to all parties to work towards a swift, peaceful and negotiated resolution to the political crisis and a return to democratic constitutionality in the country.

He went on to underline the Union’s concern at the serious shortcomings with respect to human rights in Saudi Arabia, where the extensive use of the death penalty was a source of particular distress.  Among other things, women continued to be denied a number of rights.  He called on Saudi authorities to realize the personal right to allow women to vote in municipal elections scheduled for next year and to remove existing extensive restrictions on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, as well as to ensure the freedom of religion or belief.

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said the Union was deeply worried about continuing violence at the hands of armed groups and the Congolese army as reported by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.  It was also deeply worried by two recent reports from the High Commissioner for Human Rights on serious violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law.  It called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to step up its efforts to fight impunity.

On Guinea, the Union was deeply worried by the violent and unacceptable crackdown by security forces on political demonstrations in Conakry on 28 September 2009.  He urged the authorities in Guinea to immediately conduct a thorough investigation and to cooperate with the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and the future United Nations commission of inquiry.  Moreover, a return to democracy and constitutional order should be allowed.

Finally, on Fiji, he said the erosion civil and political rights, civil society and democratic institutions continued to give cause for concern.  The abrogation of the Constitution and the dismissal of the judiciary by the President in April compounded the ongoing disruption of the constitutional order.  He called on the leadership to take urgent measures to restore respect for human rights and the rule of law and to make swift progress towards elections.

HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that the Association had inaugurated its Intergovernmental Commission on human rights last week.  That Commission was a historic milestone in ASEAN’s community-building process and was a vehicle for progressive social development and justice, the full realization of human dignity and the attainment of a higher quality of life for ASEAN peoples.  The process that culminated in the Commission was the result of the Association’s ongoing evolution and part of its strategic response to the new challenges of the twenty-first century.  According to its terms of reference, the Commission intended to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the ASEAN peoples and to uphold the right of people to live in peace, dignity and prosperity.  As a regional mechanism, the Commission would also promote human rights, while bearing in mind national and regional particularities, as well as mutual respect for different historical, cultural and religious backgrounds.  It would also take into account the balance between rights and responsibilities, while further complementing national and international efforts in this regard.

He said the principles guiding the Commission included, among other things: respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference in the internal affairs of States; adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government; the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedoms; recognition that the primary responsibility to promote and protect these rights and freedoms lay with each Member State; and the pursuance of a constructive and non-confrontational approach to enhance human rights.  With the strong political support of all ASEAN countries, the Commission was expected to fully carry out its mandate and functions.

MICHAEL POSNER ( United States) said the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall would take place next month.  1989 was a year of miracles throughout Eastern and Central Europe, reminding the world that profound change was possible when fuelled by a popular desire for freedom.  Quoting President Obama, he said power grew through prudent use, and security emanated from the justness of the cause.  It was in that spirit that the United States re-engaged with the international community.  Its role at the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council was guided by a fidelity to truth, a commitment to principled engagement and a desire to consistently apply international human rights and humanitarian law.  Believing in the importance of access to information, it would work with partners to protect freedom of expression. 

He said country-specific resolutions at the United Nations were one way for Governments to demonstrate their collective will to address serious human rights situations, and provided space for human rights defenders to carry out their efforts.  Through the work of mandate-holders, they offered monitoring mechanisms and recommendations that could guide reform.  Turning to Iran, where there were serious instances of human rights abuses, he said the United States Government was concerned over the brutal handling of post-election protests.  Many in the international community shared his country’s concern.  The Iranian Government had used public show trials to extract forced confessions from hundreds of citizens, some of whom were not politically active during the election.  Iran’s sentencing of Kian Tajbaksh to 15 years in prison was an example of the country’s failure to ensure due process.  The United States called on Iran to live up to its obligations towards its citizens.

He then began discussing the situation of human rights in Myanmar, calling it “ Burma”, upon which the Chair reminded him to refer to countries by their official name.  Continuing, Mr. Posner said the military Government of that country was denying a free press and independent judiciary.  The Government was severely restricting the activities of opposition groups and civil society.  Ethnic minority groups were particularly vulnerable, and many were subject to forced labour, torture and forced relocation.  He pointed out that Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under house arrest for the past two decades for her pro-democracy work, had recently been sentenced to an additional 18 months.

He then began discussing the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, calling it “ North Korea”, upon which the Chair reminded him to refer to countries by their official name.  Continuing, Mr. Posner said the people of that country suffered from gross human rights abuses and were subject to repressive Government policies.  Its Government denied its own citizens fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, religion, movement, assembly and association.  The Government attempted to control all information, including access to external media, and there was no press freedom.  Defectors were held in harsh prison camps.  Those that had escaped reported the occurrence of forced labour, torture, and forced abortions in the country’s extensive network of prison camps, and described witnessing public executions conducted without due process.

He urged the General Assembly to pass strong resolutions on those countries, and to reject no-action motions if they were introduced.

He stressed his country was committed to principled engagement and would seek cooperative approaches.  It would strive to encourage discussions.  But, discussions must not undermine the United Nations’ commitment to human rights and human security.  This was a long-term proposition; it could not hope to solve those difficult problems overnight.  He commended countries like Haiti, Cambodia and Somalia that had worked with the Human Rights Council on consensus resolutions for their respective countries, as well as numerous countries around the world where United Nations human rights field offices were based.  The United States was proud to be the top donor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He said the United States would seek ways to bridge differences.  Last month, at the Human Rights Council, the United States and Egypt had worked together on a resolution on freedom of expression.  It had engaged with countries from the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.  Issues of intolerance and offensive speech raised difficult and emotional issues.  But, together, they had achieved a consensus resolution with 50 co-sponsors on an issue that had previously divided the Council.  The resolution affirmed freedom of opinion and expression in combating racism and other forms of intolerance.

He said all United Nations members should embrace the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that the United States would try to lead by example.  President Obama’s decision to end abusive interrogations, to close the Guantanamo facilities, and to review security detention policies, was a demonstration of that commitment.  To combat attacks on religious freedom, the United States was actively working with other Governments and civil society to ensure that the right to believe and not to believe was respected.  It was concerned by the concept of “defamation of religions”, believing that it was being invoked to declare legitimate expression as illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death.  In his country’s view, the best way to address intolerance was to develop effective legal regimes to address acts of discrimination and bias-inspired crime.  There was also a need to develop education policies and intercultural dialogue that could have an effect on combating hatred. 

He said empowerment of women must also be a United Nations priority.  Also, citizens had the right to freely choose their Government, and in support of that freedom, the United States Government would co-sponsor a resolution on democracy.

NGUYEN CAM LINH (Viet Nam) aligning her remarks with those made on behalf of ASEAN said that promoting and protecting human rights had always been high on her Government’s list of priorities.  Human rights should be understood and implemented in a comprehensive and impartial manner.  At the same time, international human rights law would be most effective if it was implemented in harmony with specific historical, political, economic and social conditions, as well as the culture, religions, beliefs and customs of individual nations. International cooperation and dialogue, in this regard, should be conducted on the basis of, among other things, equality, respect of each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

She said Viet Nam had amended its Constitution, and enacted dozens of new laws governing all fields of life, in an effort to build a socialist law-governed State.  It had designed a Strategy on the Development of the Legal System until 2010, the Socio-Economic Development Strategy until 2010 and the Strategy on Judicial reform until 2020.  For these strategies to be fully realized, several measures had been put in place and had already resulted in the marked improvement in economic livelihoods, enhanced political participation and visibly higher enjoyment of civil, social and cultural rights.  An increase in per capita income and a sharp drop in poverty rates had enabled Viet Nam to guarantee the right to food and fulfil the Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction ahead of schedule.  Special attention was also being paid to vulnerable groups, including those victimized by unexploded landmines and the toxic chemical Agent Orange, left over from past wars.  Concrete entitlement policies had been adopted to provide them development opportunities and ensure their social inclusion.

Viet Nam was party to most core international human rights treaties, had ratified 17 conventions of the International Labour Organization and signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, she said.  It also supported the work of the Human Rights Council and proactively cooperated with United Nations human rights mechanisms.  It was finalizing clearance for a visit by the Special Rapporteurs on the rights to education and health care.  With its report presented under the Universal Periodic Review a few months ago, it had demonstrated its strong support for that process.  It had also participated in various regional and international conferences on human rights and actively engaged in the work that led to the ASEAN Commission on Human Rights.

TAN ENG TAT ( Singapore) said that, despite an international commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international consensus on human rights was still fragile.  While everyone expressed support for the ideal of human rights, it was an undeniable fact that, in a culturally diverse world, different views still existed on this issue.  Making progress on human rights would require accommodation and understanding of different national conditions.  Indeed, the diversity of the membership of the United Nations was a political reality that could not be wished away.  While diversity was no defence for human rights violations, neither should that diversity be overlooked in the pursuit of a better world for all.  An approach of humility and accommodation might help everyone find common cause in this issue.

Singapore believed that economic development was the necessary foundation of any political system that claimed to advance human dignity and that order and stability were essential for development, he said.  It would be a cruel joke for a Government to indulge in pompous claims of respecting human rights, when the basic human needs of its own people went unmet.  For Singapore, the exercise of rights must be balanced with the shouldering of responsibilities.  Equal importance was placed on the protection of societal rights and individual ones.  The balance between rights and responsibilities depended on each country and its stage of development, however.  His delegation did not seek to impose its views on others, as it was fully aware of its national circumstances.  The purpose of the Third Committee was to work for the general welfare of mankind, not to score debating points or produce resolutions that people only paid lip-service to.  On difficult issues, work should focus on expanding consensus.

CLAUDIA PÉREZ ÁLVAREZ ( Cuba) said the cause of human rights could only be tackled through cooperation and mutual respect.  She voiced hope that the Third Committee’s debates on those topics would be based on those principles.  At the moment, several obstacles impeded the enjoyment of human rights, as shown through the rhetoric heard today.  Countries of the South should form partnerships with each other to overcome those challenges to humanity, imposed on them from some capitals of the North, such as from countries in the European Union, which continued to look upon countries of the South with disdain and arrogance.  The people of the South were the cornerstone of action towards development; their economic and political systems were important sources of wealth.  Some countries were trying to impose economic and political models developed in the North’s centres of power, which was a true and serious form of violence against human rights. 

She said the people of the South were destined to satisfy their thirst for wealth and non-selectivity in their focus on human rights.  They had heard speeches today that provided long, unilateral and selective lists, compiled at the request of no one and motivated by an appetite for political domination.  Those speeches were repeats of previous speeches and were always accusing of countries of the South.  Countries of the South would not stand for such defamation against them.  It would counter those accusations with its own list of human rights violations in countries of the North.  The countries of the European Union, with their conquering past and supposed civilizing models, were themselves victims of growing internal violence perpetrated by xenophobic peoples and political parties.  Countries of the North were in no shape to impose patterns of behaviour on others, when it was their own economic models that had led to the most serious economic crisis the world had seen, causing hunger, chronic and structural underdevelopment, illnesses and so on.  The President of the European Union, Sweden, and the past presidency, were transit places for secret CIA flights, on which people were brought to be tortured.

She said references to Cuba in the European Union statement were completely false.  It referred to people who were on the payroll of the North, who frequently violated the rights of Cuban people.  Countries could not allow selectivity, double standards and hypocrisy to take over the United Nations’ human rights machinery.  Countries of the South must work together to prevent the North’s domination of the Third Committee and Human Rights Council.  She called on States to defend genuine cooperation and dialogue, universality, objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity.

FARHAD MAMDOUHI ( Iran) said the approach that some had taken to eliminate cultural identities had caused a setback to human rights, international cooperation and the enrichment of the cultural life of humankind.  Globalization had sharply revealed differences between cultures and given rise to a fear that cultural identities would be lost.  There had been trends in human rights that emanated from a sense of cultural superiority.  This had lead to selective approaches that amounted to discrimination and bias.  Overcoming this situation required cooperation within the international community.  It had to find a way to confront these challenges in a concerted manner that brought together stakeholders at all levels.

Against that backdrop, he stressed that the Non-Aligned Movement was in a distinguished position to do so.  Cognizant of the fact that cultural diversity was a rich asset of the world community; the Non-Aligned Movement had convened a meeting in 2007 on this issue.  It had adopted the Tehran Plan of Action that recommended, among other things, that a Non-Aligned Movement Center of Human Rights and Cultural Diversity should be established in Tehran.  Since its inception and with the support of the Iranian Government, the Center had embarked on a series of steps to further understanding of cultural diversity.  It had already published a book on the issue of cultural diversity, and a second book on the different positions of Non-Aligned Movement countries on human rights and cultural diversity was being complied.  For its part, Iran was determined to contribute to the Non-Aligned Movement’s understanding of cultural diversity and human rights.

JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) said his country had welcomed the opportunity to participate this year in the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process.  The General Assembly also had an important role to play in monitoring human rights abuses.  Turning to some of serious human rights situations in which dialogue had failed to yield results, he said that in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, there was mounting evidence each year of public executions, torture, and cruel and inhumane detention.  He called on that country to allow access to the Special Rapporteur as an essential first step in establishing a dialogue with the international community.  New Zealand would continue to provide humanitarian assistance and welcomed the establishment of the ASEAN’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights as a potential step in the right direction.

Turning to Myanmar, he urged that country to ensure that next year’s elections were free, transparent and inclusive, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the release of all political prisoners.  He welcomed the access provided to the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Myanmar, saying that now was the time to see tangible steps result from that dialogue.  On the “worrying” human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he supported greater protection of civilians and an immediate end to all violence, rocket attacks and settlement building.  He joined the call for easing border and movement restrictions into Gaza, and accepted that issues raised in the Goldstone report required serious consideration.  As such, all parties should urgently undertake independent investigations into human rights and other issues in the lead-up to and during the Gaza war.

Concerned at human rights violations after Iran’s June presidential election, he said it was unacceptable that Iran carried out discriminatory policies against ethnic and religious minorities.  Also, New Zealand had reservations about Afghanistan’s Shia Personal Status law and urged that more be done to ensure that it and other legislation was consistent with commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  In Zimbabwe, while he welcomed the power-sharing agreement, he was concerned at the slow progress of political reform and called on all parties to adhere to the Global Political Agreement.  In Fiji, New Zealand was deeply concerned at the deteriorating human rights situation since the overthrow of the elected Government in 2007, which had led to the revocation of the Constitution, among other things. He reiterated the call to return to dialogue with the global community and to hold early and free elections.

While New Zealand was proud to have included its name in the original Universal Declaration in 1948 and equally proud of its human rights record since then -– the country was under no illusions about the extent of the task still at hand.  In the 61 years since the Declaration’s adoption, New Zealand had been firmly committed to its ideals, domestically and internationally, and today reaffirmed that commitment.

HILARIO G. DAVIDE ( Philippines), aligning himself with the statement by ASEAN, said his country had a national commission that promoted human rights and a culture of human rights sensitivity.  Its “Human Rights Agenda 249” directed all Government agencies to respond swiftly to human rights-related issues, and to promote a strong human rights education, focusing on youth, the military and police.  It also called for the swift availability of legal and judicial redress for human rights violations.  Those actions provided the impetus behind the second Philippine human rights action plan for 2010-2014.  The Government planned to establish centres for human rights education all over the country to upgrade the current human rights education programme in public schools nationwide, and to stimulate human rights advocacy at the grass-roots level.

He said all reports of human rights violations, particularly of political killings, were taken with utmost seriousness by the Government.  The President had created an independent commission to address media and activist killings.  The Department of Interior and Local Government had created a Task Force to investigate alleged killings of media and political activities.  The armed forces had established a human rights office to investigate cases that might involve military personnel.  The Supreme Court had designated special courts to try cases involving killing of media and political activists.  But, while the conviction rate had been modest, the Government would not force quick convictions just for the sake of announcing achievements.  The Philippines’ commitment to human rights would be upheld, even in the midst of the financial and economic crisis.  In less than 11 months, it had been able to update its reporting on five major human rights treaty bodies.

On the subject of the rights of migrants, he urged States to examine the 2009 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report to clear up some misconceptions about migrants.  For instance, the report had found that fears about migrants stealing jobs from nationals, or placing an extra burden on local public services, or costing the taxpayer money, were generally exaggerated.  The Philippines believed that the Third Committee should take the opportunity to discuss how those misperceptions could impact the extent to which human rights were respected by society.  He pointed to the launching of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights as a vehicle for progressive social development and justice.  He hoped it could serve as a model for other regional groups.

HAMIDON ALI ( Malaysia) said the continued opportunity for Member States to engage with the mandate-holders within the context of the Third Committee was a useful practice that allowed for better understanding and awareness of the issues at hand.  The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.  The promotion and protection of human rights should be undertaken by all countries, with full respect for significant national and regional peculiarities.  The debate on human rights at the macro level of the United Nations -- including on the dichotomy between individual and groups rights or the universality of such rights -- was a healthy process towards reaching the standards enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But, in too many cases, political considerations had come into play and made the work on human rights seem like an attempt to assert the superiority of the strong over the weak.  In practical terms, this resulted in attempts to legitimize interpretations of human rights that had not been internationally agreed on, or recognized.  At the same time, Malaysia was dismayed that some countries continued to pick and choose which rights they wished to highlight or how those rights may be enjoyed.  Surely, this was not the right approach if the aspiration was the highest standards of human rights.

He went to say that Malaysia aimed to create an environment where all citizens could exercise their human rights.  It believed that the implementation of civil and political rights could only be fully exercised in a democratic environment.  Malaysia guaranteed these rights and the safeguards to embrace and preserve its multiracial, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.  It was acutely concerned with the increase in incidences of “Islamophobia” and incitement to racial and religious hatred.  It disagreed with the notion that defamation of religions was not an infringement of the human rights of the individual.  Indeed, defamation of religions constituted a derogation of the right of belief and was inextricably linked to incitement to racial and religious hatred.  Defamation of religions and freedom of expression were not mutually exclusive or incompatible. Ensuring respect of both could be balanced in conceptual, legal and practical terms, and in that respect his delegation welcomed the work by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He said the discussions and results of country-specific resolutions of the past General Assembly sessions indicated that the wider membership was increasingly opposed to, and uncomfortable with such resolutions.   Malaysia noted that the operationalization of the Universal Periodic Review was proceeding well and believed it represented a good alternative to the country-specific reports. For its part, Malaysia was undertaking efforts to review reservations made to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It was also in the final stages of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and was studying a number of other core human rights treaties.

DESRA PERCAYA ( Indonesia) said that, as one of the first countries to have been examined under Universal Periodic Review, his country had derived many benefits from the review, including enhanced collaboration with civil society, strengthened legislation and witness protection.  Recent democratic reform had enabled Indonesia to transform into a decentralized, democratic system, with all its dividends.  This year marked the final year of Indonesia’s second National Action Plan for Human Rights, and the Government was already preparing for the launch of the plan for 2010-2014, which would aim at facilitating the formulation of plans at the local level, and strengthening the implementation of the country’s international obligations, as well as proper follow-up of the recommendations of treaty bodies and special procedures.  This month, the country had also launched a national strategy on access to justice.

He went on to speak about the inauguration of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights on 23 October, saying that Indonesia had worked tirelessly towards the establishment of that body.  He encouraged the international community to provide support for that body.  On the international stage, Indonesia continued to be involved in a human rights dialogue with several countries, as well as the United Nations special procedures.  His country valued the visit of the Deputy High Commissioner in August this year, as well as that of the High Commissioner last year.  In December 2008, Indonesia had launched the Bali Democracy Forum as an avenue for advancing dialogue and sharing of best practices among the Governments of Asia and the Pacific.  Thirty-two countries representing various political systems had taken part in the Forum’s first meeting, and eight non-Asian countries had attended as observers.  Indonesia looked forward to hosting the next Forum later this year and invited countries in the region and beyond to participate in that event. 

MINAS A. HADJIMICHAEL ( Cyprus), aligning himself with the statement delivered by Sweden for the European Union, said since its independence, Cyprus had relied heavily on the principles of the United Nations in maintaining its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.  As a result of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the subsequent military occupation of nearly 37 per cent of the country’s territory, the Cypriot people had been denied their basic right to peaceful existence.  About 43,000 Turkish troops maintained the occupation today, with the accompanying human rights abuses, including the denial of the right to property, the destruction of cultural and religious heritage, unlawful exploitation of property belonging to nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees, the suffering of many families whose relatives were missing and whose fate was still unknown, and forcible division, along ethnic lines.  These massive violations of human rights were reported and repeatedly condemned by numerous United Nations resolutions and several times by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Cypriot Government was grateful to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and the Committee on Missing Persons for their efforts to exhume, identify and return the remains of missing persons.  A series of Security Council and Assembly resolutions reflected the universal condemnation of Turkey’s invasion and called for the tracing of missing persons.  It was long overdue for Turkey to adhere to humanitarian principles and international practices regarding the fate of missing persons, he said.  The destruction of the religious and cultural heritage in the occupied part of Cyrus was an example of the crimes against Cyprus, as well as a crime against humanity.

Despite the numerous United Nations decisions and resolutions and the efforts of the international community, the violations of human rights in Cyprus had continued to affect the lives of the Cypriot people for more than 35 years.  A year ago the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot leader began ongoing negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem, aiming at creating a bizonal, bicommunal federation, with political equality as defined in Security Council resolutions.  Cyprus was the common homeland of the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, not an occupying Power.  The Government’s goal was to restore the human rights and basic freedom of all citizens of the Republic, regardless of their ethnic background.  The United Nations decisions and resolutions on Cyprus had provided the country with the support to continue its struggle for a solution to its political problem.  This solution would end the occupation and reunite the island and the two communities, as it restored and safeguarded the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people as a whole, he said.

BERTIN BABADOUDOU ( Benin) said he had not taken the floor in earlier discussions on the rights of women and children, not because their rights were not important, but because their rights fell under the overall grouping of “human rights”.  People must recognize the link between “human rights” and the daily lives of individuals -- for instance, in their need for subsistence.  But, at times, that link was not fully recognized.  The rules governing people’s existence were subject to controversy and suspicion; politics had taken precedence over people’s ability to enjoy their rights.  Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people found themselves pitted against each other, with some not able to enjoy their rights fully.

Following the Secretary-General’s report “In Larger Freedom”, he said the international community had decided to resurrect human rights as the Organization’s third pillar.  There was an attempt to return to concepts of “dignity” and “liberty” as they were meant to be used, in line with what was outlined in the United Nations Charter.  The Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review mechanism were then set up to de-politicize the human rights machinery.  But, once more, it would seem that politics had taken the upper hand.  There were some people who used the Human Rights Council as an instrument of revenge, where a new group of people were taking revenge on the first group of people.  The Government of Benin was unswerving in its support of the Human Rights Council, and hoped that the upcoming review would be used as a chance to fine-tune its procedures, mandate and governance, while keeping political considerations at a minimum.  The international community must decide to act in good faith and with political courage; the truth was that no State was free from human rights violations.

He asked whether it was more fair to protect the human rights of the strongest, or whether society should protect the rights of the weakest?  The reality was that many people suffered.  There were those who had no access to health care and lived on $1 a day, or were victims of female genital mutilation.  They were absent from the decision-making process.  The time had come to look in the mirror and confront the real challenge of human rights.  It was time to give the people of the world the means to subsist.  His delegation had introduced a draft resolution on the International Year on Human Rights Learning based on the belief that sustainable development could only be based on the shared responsibility of citizens.  It was citizens who created wealth and spread that wealth.  Their awareness of their rights was necessary for their effective participation, whether that awareness came through formal or informal learning.  Last year, he had linked the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals with programmes to disseminate information about human rights through the police, and public administration and justice systems.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said he was responding to comments by the United States and the European Union and, if time allowed, Japan.  He stressed that the United States was responsible for the division of the Korean people.  His country rejected the hostile policy of the United States to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Its intention was clear:  covering up its crime of dividing the Korean peninsula in two, thereby imposing suffering on the people there, as well as its racial discrimination, killing and robbery at home and its massacre of innocent people in other countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan.  Only when the Third Committee took steps to end the submission of texts from the United States and other countries that gave rise to distrust, could it discharge its mandate.

The remarks of the European Union were so distorted and fabricated it was not worthwhile to comment on them.  The European Union espoused the protection of human rights only in name.  Its move was meant to tarnish the reputation of his country in the eyes of the world community, in order to bring a change to the leadership of the country in conspiracy with the United States.  During today’s session, the representative of the European Union said it would continue to call attention to human rights violations that deserved the world’s attention.  However, he forgot to mention the violations going on in its own countries, including the violations of the human rights of migrants and immigrants, among many others.

To Japan, he said the forced sexual slavery of women and girls was the worst kind of human rights violation.  The same standards must apply to the most powerful countries, as to the weaker.  National interest should not be disguised as human rights discussion.  He stressed that Japan was in no position to talk about the grave violations of other countries.

Next, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took the floor to respond to the report made by Mr. ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, earlier in the day.  He said the report had contained errors and did not reflect the true realities on the ground, because it had been based on information gathered over a short period of time and in a small part of his rather large country.  As regards the matter of impunity, he said operations initiated by President Kabila to fight corruption had begun to bear fruit, called “Operation Zero Tolerance”.  He acknowledged that much needed to be done to build his country’s capacity, however.  In terms of prison conditions, he said the Government had initiated a process of prison reform.  As regards the rebel groups that had committed violence, including sexual violence, he said perpetrators would be brought before the courts.

Relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the International Criminal Court (ICC) were the very model of cooperation, he continued.  He noted that Congolese citizens appearing before the ICC were there through the good cooperation of the Government.  As regards Jean Bosco Ntangana, he said the country was trying to re-establish control over that part of the country where acts of violence, such as sexual violence, were occurring at the hands of armed rebel groups.  As for the Republican Guard, he said the Government’s attempts to reform the army and police were benefiting from the support of its bilateral partners.  The Special Rapporteur did not mention that fact.  The Government was fully engaged in bringing those reforms to a successful end, hopefully bringing peace to the country and solidifying its territorial sovereignty, including in troubled regions.

Also speaking in the right of reply was the representative of Sudan, who said he regretted the critiques lobbed against it by the European Union.  They came at a time when the human rights situation in Sudan had improved, as widely recognized by others including the Human Rights Council at its eleventh session.  The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan had lauded the Government’s work, which had enacted laws and raised awareness on human rights issues.  There were also third party reports citing drops in tension and in crime rates against women.  There were different commissions established in the three regions of Darfur to oversee the situation of women and to protect them from acts of aggression in refugee and internally displaced persons camps, together with the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur.  He had been surprised by comments from the European Union regarding the execution of minors, since a law established in 2008 had raised the age of criminal responsibility to 13 years and said that executions could not be carried out on those less than 18 years of age.  In addition, the Government had granted amnesty to children who were recruited by the Justice and Equality Movement.

Sudan had also taken note of reports by the previous Rapporteur and by Special Representative Coomaraswamy, which provided backing for what he had just recounted.  Next, on kidnappings in the region, he said it seemed the European Union had not contacted those responsible for investigating those kidnappings.  The investigators were working with aid organizations to pursue the criminals and bring those responsible to justice.  Different administrations in Sudan had taken the initiative to strengthen judicial institutions and had nominated capable judges, who were recognized by third parties as such. 

He asked to know the European Union’s position on people working in the international humanitarian sector.  He noted that some organizations were well-received by the European Union, but leaders of anti-government movements were not welcome on European soil.

The representative of Sudan was then interrupted by the Chair for having gone over his time limit, leading the representative to explain that he was close to completing his statement but that, since translation was lagging, he ought to be allowed some leeway.  The Chair once more reiterated that the speaker’s time was up.

Exercising the right of reply in response to Sweden’s statement on behalf of the European Union, and the United States, Iran’s representative said it was disappointing to hear from the European Union an unfair and incorrect judgment of human rights in Iran.  Undisputedly, the European Union had ignored Iran’s progress in human rights.  It had also selectively pointed its fingers at developing countries in pursuit of its global agenda.  These proponents of human rights could not be proud of their own record in the human rights area. They turned a blind eye to the violations in their own countries.  Indeed, these events were unfolding while the member States of the European Union were, according to numerous reports, suffering from such things as racial discrimination, Islamophobia and discrimination against Arabs, Muslims, gypsies, Roma and other minorities.  There were also reports of the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners.

This same pattern of human rights violations was also true of the United States.  Among others, indigenous peoples, racial minorities and immigrants suffered discrimination on account of Government policies.  There were also reports of mistreatment of prisoners by United States law enforcement, including the death of 59 people after they were shocked with Tasers.  Thousands were detained in high security units where they had few freedoms.  Civilians were also being unlawfully killed by United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, including, among other incidents, the 19 September 2009 killing of three women and five men in a village near Tikrit.

Exercising the right of reply in response to the European Union, Pakistan’s representative said the democratically elected Government of his country needed no lessons in the area of human rights.  It was completing parliamentary procedures to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  It was also working to establish a national human rights commission in accordance with the Paris Principles.  It had an independent judiciary, as well as an independent and highly active civil society.  It also had a free and active media.

He said it was unfortunate that the representative of the European Union highlighted issues in the developing world, and he underscored the violations of rights and violations of minorities in European countries.  His delegation had also expected the European Union to mention ongoing human rights violations in the Middle East, such as in Gaza.  Surprisingly, these had not been mentioned in the statement and raised questions about the objectivity of the European Union’s statement.

The representative of the Republic of Korea then took the floor to make a comment on the management of the meeting by the Secretariat and the Bureau.  He said he had expected to deliver his country statement on the subject of promotion and protection of human rights this afternoon.  But, he had had to defer his right to speak because delegations had wanted to exercise their right of reply.  It was his hope that, in the future, the Bureau and Secretariat would inform Member States ahead of time regarding changes to the speakers’ list.  The Chair responded that he would do his best.

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