Protest Movements in Middle East, North Africa Reaffirm Reach of Human Rights Even Where Repression ‘Once Seemed Immutable’, Third Committee Told
Protest Movements in Middle East, North Africa Reaffirm Reach of Human Rights Even Where Repression ‘Once Seemed Immutable’, Third Committee Told
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)
Protest Movements in Middle East, North Africa Reaffirm Reach of Human Rights
Even Where Repression ‘Once Seemed Immutable’, Third Committee Told
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Presents Report on Work in Past Year;
Also Hears from UN Experts on Myanmar, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran
Recent events unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa underscored the pressing need to bolster human rights as the third pillar — alongside security and development — of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
“The protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa have reaffirmed the reach of human rights in areas where repression and a denial of rights once seemed immutable conditions,” Navanethem Pillay said, noting that her Office (OHCHR) had supported the quest for civil, political, economic and social rights, both at the national and international levels.
Ms. Pillay’s briefing on the work of OHCHR over the past year opened the Committee’s consideration of specific human rights questions, as well as the human rights situation in Iran, Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which featured the special rapporteurs tasked with investigating those matters.
Stressing that OHCHR sought to address rapidly unfolding developments and throw light on chronic human rights conditions, she said it also pursued a number of thematic priorities in collaboration with United Nations partners and human rights mechanisms. With the inauguration of a country office in Tunisia this year, it now supported 56 human rights field presences. And as multiple human rights crises erupted around the world in 2011, the expertise of its Rapid Response Section was solicited more than ever.
In that context, she said high‑level missions to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had been deployed to engage with transitional authorities and other counterparts. In July, a mission was sent to Yemen to conduct a preliminary assessment of the human rights situation there. OHCHR also supported independent commissions of inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria, where a fact‑finding mission had also been dispatched. “The value of commissions of inquiry is unquestionable as they are a key step toward accountability,” she noted.
Nevertheless, it had become increasingly difficult for OHCHR to keep pace with an expanded roster of additional mandates that sought to respond to fast-moving global events, she said. To cover current additional expenses, she had used a contingency fund that pulled from voluntary contributions, but that had been fully depleted earlier this year because of the missions to Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, for which no funding had been allocated. Indeed, in the present biennium, additional mandates were calculated at a cost of $17.6 million just for the human rights section, but only $1.5 million in additional allocations had been made. “We simply cannot continue at this pace,” she suggested.
She welcomed the General Assembly’s decision to consider ways to make essential resources available in response to urgent and time‑sensitive mandates created by the Human Rights Council, noting that different options being considered included proposals to review mandates and resource requirements immediately following each Council session. However, she also urged support from States to ensure that human rights could truly constitute the Organization’s third pillar and to respond to the legitimate demands of people around the world.
During a lengthy question-and-answer session, several State delegations expressed concerns that the OHCHR concentrated on civil and political rights at the expense of economic, social and cultural rights. Others worried discussions on sexual orientation constituted an attempt to introduce undefined notions that had no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument.
Responding, Ms. Pillay noted one lesson from the Arab Spring was that the people on the street were concerned about poverty, food and employment, as well as democracy and political participation, and she would continue to promote all human rights. Further, new rights were not being created. “We are trying to highlight that all people have the same rights no matter what they look like or where they come from or whether you approve of them or don’t approve of them,” she said, suggesting that greater support for action to address those problems more effectively might result if the focus was on the persons whose rights were violated.
Following Ms. Pillay this morning, Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, introduced the report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, which surveys key developments from 26 August 2010 to 4 September 2011 with a special focus on the ongoing political transition following national and state elections. Mr. Nambiar supplemented the report with a briefing on the latest developments of immediate interest to the United Nations.
“These developments are taking place in the context of a level of political activity across the country that was unseen for the past two decades,” he said, pointing to a meeting on 19 August between President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, the recent release of hundreds of political prisoners and critical legislative reforms, including to the Political Parties Registration Law.
He cautioned, however, that if not properly managed, the stresses and expectation inherent to any transition could exacerbate rather than resolve existing problems. “The authorities have a special responsibility to improve dialogue with all political actors; to end conflict and abuses in ethnic areas through peaceful settlements with armed groups; and to release all remaining political prisoners,” he said. “Pledges made must be fulfilled.”
In the afternoon, the Committee also heard from the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, who said upcoming by‑elections would be a key test of how far the Government had progressed in electoral reform. While he welcomed the release of an estimated 200 prisoners of conscience last week, he said there should be no prisoners of conscience remaining in detention at the time of the by‑elections.
Among the wide range of daunting challenges still facing the country, he said there was a critical need to clarify the practices, rules and procedures of the new national legislature. Technical assistance should also be sought from the international community to help reform the judiciary, which was neither independent, nor impartial, and also lacked capacity.
Responding to the presentations, Myanmar’s representative said the new President had set a clear goal to promote political, economic and social development with national reconciliation as one of its ultimate goals. With Myanmar passing through a highly significant transition to democracy smoothly and peacefully, he called for an end to the practice of submitting a country-specific resolution on it.
Also speaking today were Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 20 October, to continue its discussion on human rights with presentations by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to begin its consideration of specific human rights questions and situations, as well as the reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.
It had before it the Secretary‑General's report on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/66/343), which is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 65/225. The report provides an overview of the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in the country during the reporting period from August 2010 and August 2011. It contains information on the current level of engagement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. It also highlights efforts by the Government in providing humanitarian assistance with the help of various United Nations offices, such as the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It concludes with recommendations, addressed to both the international community and the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aimed at improving the human rights and humanitarian situation.
The Secretary‑General's report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/66/267), which is submitted pursuant to paragraph 30 of General Assembly resolution 65/241, covers the period from 26 August 2010 to 4 August 2011. During the reporting period, the remaining steps of the political road map led by the State Peace and Development Council were implemented, namely, the holding of general elections on 7 November 2010; the convening of the new Parliament in January 2011; and the transfer of power from the Council to the new Government on 30 March 2011. In the process, the Council was officially dissolved. On 13 November 2010, one week after the election, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released after seven years of house arrest.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary‑General on the situation of human rights in Iran (document A/66/361), which is submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 65/226. The report reflects the patterns and trends in the human rights situation in Iran and provides information on the progress made in the implementation of resolution 65/226, including recommendations to improve its implementation. In that resolution, the Assembly called upon the Iranian Government to address the substantive concerns highlighted in the previous report of the Secretary‑General (A/65/370) and the specific calls to action found in previous resolutions of the Assembly (resolutions 63/191, 62/168 and 64/176), and to respect fully its human rights obligations, in law and in practice, in relation to a number of specifically identified concerns.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary‑General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/66/322), which draws on his visit to Thailand from 13 to 17 June 2011 and on meetings held in Geneva and New York since March 2011. The Special Rapporteur provides an overview of the current situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which experienced one of the harshest winters in living memory, coupled with a squeeze on commercial imports and bilateral food assistance followed by an outbreak of foot‑and‑mouth disease during the reporting period. He then presents key conclusions and makes recommendations to both the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and to the international community, focusing on the situation of asylum‑seekers, human trafficking, food security, the health system, freedom of opinion and expression and political prisons. He notes that he had made numerous requests to visit the country. His latest, on 17 May 2011 was rejected and the Government stated its position was to “resolutely and categorically” reject the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary‑General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/66/365), which says this is a key moment in Myanmar’s history. There are real opportunities for positive and meaningful developments to improve the human rights situation and deepen the transition to democracy, and the new Government has taken a number of steps towards these ends. Yet, many serious human rights issues remain and need to be addressed. The new Government should intensify its efforts to implement its own commitments and to fulfil its international human rights obligations. The international community needs to continue to remain engaged and to closely follow developments. The international community also needs to support and assist the Government during this important time. The Special Rapporteur reaffirms his willingness to work constructively and cooperatively with Myanmar to improve the human rights situation of its people.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary‑General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (document A/66/374), which is submitted by Ahmed Shaheed in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 16/9. Mr. Shaheed officially assumed responsibility for the mandate on 1 August 2011 and, owing to his late appointment, the report focuses on his proposed methodology. It also catalogues the most recent trends in the human rights situation in Iran. Among other things, the Special Rapporteur stresses the urgency for greater transparency and cooperation from the Iranian authorities.
The note by the Secretary‑General on the reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international independent commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire (document A/66/518) says that the reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire (A/HRC/16/79 and A/HRC/17/49) and the report of the independent international commission of inquiry established to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations of serious abuses and violations of human rights committed in Côte d’Ivoire following the presidential election of 28 November 2010, in order to identify those responsible for such acts and bring them to justice (A/HRC/17/48) are available on the Official Documents System.
Statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights
“The protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa have reaffirmed the reach of human rights in areas where repression and a denial of rights once seemed immutable conditions,” NAVANETHEM PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said as she presented her report (document A/66/36). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had sought to support that quest for civil, political, economic and social rights, both at the national and international levels.
With the inauguration of a country office in Tunisia this year, the OHCHR now supported 56 human rights field presences, including 12 regional presences, 13 country or stand‑alone offices, 14 human rights components in United Nations peace missions and 17 human rights advisers within United Nations country teams. In 2011, the expertise of the Rapid Response Section was solicited more than ever, as numerous human rights crises erupted. All of the Office’s presences were bolstered by activities at Headquarters and it leadership missions.
The OHCHR not only sought to address rapidly unfolding developments and throw light on chronic human rights conditions, she said, but pursued its thematic priorities often in collaboration with United Nations partners and human rights mechanisms. To strengthen human rights mechanisms and build up international human rights law, the Human Rights Council held three special sessions and the OHCHR had supported the Council’s multifaceted activities, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). At this point, 193 United Nations Member States had been reviewed through that process, and OHCHR had provided assistance to 40 countries. OHCHR continued to facilitate the work of the special procedures at Headquarters in the field.
With the establishment of two new thematic and two new country mandates, there were now 44 mandates, she said. A working group on human rights and transnational and other business enterprises replaced the independent expert on that issue, while the mandate on toxic wastes had been expanded to cover human rights implications of hazardous substances and toxic wastes. Special procedures still faced difficulties in securing approval to visit States and she urged the General Assembly to encourage intensified dialogue at all levels.
Among other activities, the OHCHR supported the preparation of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, which was adopted at the Council’s 17th session. The working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice held its first session in June and she was confident its future compendium on best practices would provide valuable guidance.
Turning to the work of the treaty bodies and noting the increase in their number, scope and workload in the last decade, she said their remarkable success had a downside: system overload. OHCHR had facilitated dialogue on that issue, including the May 2011 meeting in Sion, Switzerland with the chairs of the treaty bodies and almost 90 Member States. With discussions continuing, OHCHR hoped to produce a full commentary next year. Meanwhile, the treaty bodies’ jurisprudence had continued in earnest. For example, General Comment No. 34 on the interpretation of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been adopted. The Committee on Migrant Workers also adopted its first general comment on the rights of migrant domestic workers in December 2010.
She stressed that OHCHR continued to draw attention to human rights violations, including discrimination perpetrated against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender. In June, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 17/19 on that issue, which, among other things, requested OHCHR to commission a dedicated study for the Council’s 19th session. A series of expert workshops had been convened on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred. The Office also played a leading role in the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent, which resulted in an office‑wide Framework for Action to combat discrimination against afro‑descendants.
She said technical assistance had been provided to five countries for the development of national plans that translated international obligations to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination into national laws. OHCHR continued to support the work of the Forum on Minority issues, issuing two publications to that end. It had also launched the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Partnership with other United Nations partners.
To counter violence rooted in discrimination and inequality, OHCHR had organized an expert workshop in November 2010 to identify challenges, good practices and opportunities to eradicate violence against women, she said. A report on good practices and the remaining gaps in that regard was presented to the Council. Support to the Committee monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been increased. Further, 25 field presences provided assistance to States and civil society in 2010 on that issue, compared to four in 2006. As the vulnerability of the human rights of older persons came into increasing focus around the world, the Office had undertaken targeted research and advocacy and given support to the Assembly’s open‑ended working group on that matter.
Turning to human rights in development, she said the main theme of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development was “Development is a Human Right for All.” OHCHR participated in the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries held in Istanbul, Turkey. It had contributed to preparations for the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Summit and would support all Member States willing to show leadership in integrating human rights in their national development plans. The Office had also finalized a learning package on budget processes and human rights to support Member States in those efforts. That learning package and a “training of trainers” module was being piloted in Africa.
Outlining concrete examples of the Office’s advocacy of economic, social and cultural rights, she said training activities had been conducted in 14 countries. OHCHR had assisted in 42 land disputes in Cambodia and offered legal advice in the context of debates on Colombia’s Law of Victims and Land Restitution. In other areas, she had chaired the Global Migration Group, which issued a landmark statement calling on States to protect the human rights of migrants in irregular situations. OHCHR was also leading United Nations efforts on transitional justice. In Nepal, it supported victim participation in transitional justice dialogues, provided training on elements of truth‑seeking bills, and convened three consultations on those bills. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, OHCHR provided technical advice on a draft law to establish special chambers for prosecuting violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law.
To combat impunity, the Office was contributing to making elements of Security Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) and 1960 (2010) on conflict‑related sexual violence operational, she continued. The report of her high‑level panel on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was launched in March 2011 and the joint Human Rights Office/MONUSCO had been strengthened to assist in follow up to the report’s recommendations. Pilot reparations initiatives were being implemented with cooperation from UN‑Women. At the same time, OHCHR continued to advocate for detainees regarding the right to judicial review for their detention by an independent and impartial court.
She further stressed the need to propagate human rights education as a means to combat impunity, strengthen accountability, the rule of law and democracy. Indeed, recent developments in countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as other situations, had highlighted the critical need to develop sustainable ways to prevent the escalation of violence and protect civilians. High‑level missions to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had been deployed to engage with transitional authorities and other counterparts. In July, a mission was sent to Yemen to conduct a preliminary assessment of the human rights situation there. OHCHR also supported independent commissions of inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria, where a fact‑finding mission had also been dispatched. “The value of commissions of inquiry is unquestionable as they are a key step toward accountability,” she said.
With the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, OHCHR had finalized an Operational Concept on the Protection of Civilians for mission planning, she said. A stock‑taking exercise on resources and capacity needed to implement such mandates had also been conducted. While saying that the principles underlying OHCHR’s work in that area were the complementary and mutually reinforcing nature of international and human rights law, she stressed that the imperative of civilian protection was not exclusive to situations of full‑fledged hostilities. In an increasing number of countries, large‑scale crime exacted an enormous toll on human rights and seriously eroded the State’s democratic functioning. “But the fight against crime, if not carried out in full respect for human rights, can also result in further attacks on the rights of those it seeks to protect,” she said, noting that she had raised this issue during a visit to Mexico.
Concluding, she said it had become increasingly difficult for her Office to keep pace with the multiplication of mandates and requests for assistance. She welcomed the Assembly’s decision to consider ways to make essential resources available quickly in response to urgent and time‑sensitive mandates created by the Human Rights Council. She also urged support from Member States to ensure that human rights could truly constitute the third pillar of the United Nations and respond to the legitimate demands of people around the world.
Question and Answer Session
Kenya’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, said it was grateful for engagement and supported the High Commissioner, but was dismayed by historical bias that overly concentrated on civil and political rights, without economic, social and cultural rights. African countries would have liked to have seen proposals that promoted synergies between those interrelated rights, since the interdependence between development and human rights was well recognized. The African Group believed the Office of the High Commissioner should enhance capacities to provide technical support to Member States whenever requested so they could fulfil obligations. It was also important that the High Commissioner’s staff composition reflected diversity of the human race — the imbalance of composition of the staff undermined and delayed collective human rights worldwide.
The Group appreciated efforts to eliminate discrimination, but it was concerned by concepts or notions that fell outside the human rights framework. The frontal and highly politicized approach to human rights issues at times detracted from attainment of those rights worldwide. It involved more than identifying wrongdoers or extorting culprits to do more; it required cultural sensitivity, humility, resources and efforts in areas such as education and hunger ending and institution building. He called for more support and partnership within the Office and the international community.
Suriname’s delegate said realization of Millennium Development Goal 3, to promote gender equality and empower women, was one of the most important, but fulfilment was rather slow. He asked whether the Office would initiate plans to assist Member States in that regard. Noting that the High Commissioner also spoke of combating impunity in armed conflict, he asked whether related laws also applied to peacekeepers while on peacekeeping operations.
Mexico’s delegate asked what action the Office was continuing to prevent the violation of human rights of migrants.
Norway’s delegate asked how the Office worked with other institutions to ensure rule of law and accountability for transitional justice in post‑conflict situations. She also asked how States could support the work of the High Commissioner’s work on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Morocco’s delegate asked what activities the Office had planned for the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development.
Algeria’s delegate asked what role the Office of the High Commissioner could play so that special procedures of the Human Rights Council respected their mandates, as well as the code of conduct to be independent, removing politicization. He also asked whether the plan for new regional offices offered equitable distribution of staffing with corresponding states. Also, he noted the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights for All Migrant Workers and their Families had unfortunately been ratified only by countries from which migrants flowed, and asked what her Office was doing to encourage its ratification to guarantee universal human rights.
Russian Federation’s delegate said the so‑called Arab revolutions had added to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner, with two commissions created in Syria and Libya and a special mission to Damascus. But, he noted the issue of resources for the Office’s unplanned expenses had still not been decided, and asked how the Office was able to overcome that situation. Similarly, she asked how resources were used for the new office in Tunisia, which was not part of the strategic work plan of the biennium.
The delegate also asked what the High Commissioner had planned in regard to the process of reforming treaty bodies. Also, noting that the High Commissioner had spoken of an electronic index to help Government implement the UPR, she asked for more details on the project. The Russian Federation believed an unacceptable situation was developing in which international forces were called on to protect human rights, and that had lead to even greater violations, with a mass loss of civilian lives. The main focus of the Office should be on enhancing dialogue and the cooperation of States. He could not accept a refocusing of the Office’s work towards functions as an international judge.
The European Union’s delegate said he welcomed work pertaining to dramatic transformations in the Middle East and North Africa, and would be grateful if the High Commissioner could elaborate on discussions to establish an office in North Africa. He also asked for her views on how to reinforce human rights in the peace and security pillar of the United Nations, and whether she could elaborate further on future steps in the treaty body strengthening process she launched in 2009.
China’s delegate said she hoped for more promotion of social and economic rights in the future, to help attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and to contribute to the cause of international human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner should have a constructive dialogue with all Governments and should also mention the source of resources used for recent activities. The Office should follow the principles of strict impartiality, objectivity and neutrality, as well as respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, while promoting a political dialogue of all parties and maintaining the stability of the country concerned.
The United Kingdom’s delegate, aligning with comments by the European Union, called on the Government of Syria to immediately end all human rights violations. He asked what the High Commissioner’s next steps on freedom of religion and belief would be. He was also looking forward to her proposal on how to strengthen the treaty body system and hoped she would give her views on the national selection process for treaty bodies.
The United Arab Emirates delegate, speaking on behalf of Organization of the Islamic Conference, said repeated mention of sexual orientation made the Conference seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce undefined notions that had no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument. Therefore, it rejected the High Commissioner’s statement and what was stated in her report in regard to such an undefined notion. He hoped that in the future such reference in a formal United Nations body can be avoided.
Australia’s delegate said she would be interested to hear what the High Commissioner expected from the second round of the UPR process and what kind of follow ups there should be to the process.
Chile’s delegate asked the High Commissioner about the relationship she expected to have in the future with other United Nations agencies, especially those dealing with human rights.
New Zealand’s delegate said she was interested to hear the High Commissioner’s views on further steps to consider human rights in the Millennium Development Goals. She also asked for comments on improving the system of monitoring compliance within human rights instruments.
Liechtenstein’s delegate asked how urgent human rights mandates in the Middle East and North Africa affected the High Commissioner’s office. Also, where did the Office see the most promising path to reforming treaty bodies? The delegate said his country was also concerned that human rights had been pushed out of the mainstream of United Nations activities, and asked whether the High Commissioner shared that concern and what could be done to turn that situation around.
Canada’s delegate asked what steps the international community could take to reinforce freedom of religion and, given that there was still disturbing racism worldwide, what steps could be taken to promote tolerance.
Ireland’s delegate voiced support for OHCHR. He asked about the next steps in treaty body reform and said his delegation looked forward to the dedicated study on discrimination perpetrated against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender in relation to Council resolution 17/19.
South Africa’s representative said that with respect to the priority areas for the budget year, his delegation wished to highlight that support to all special procedures without distinction remained key. South Africa looked forward to the compendium of best practices on discrimination against women in law and in practice, as well as the forthcoming report on treaty‑body reform. He requested more information on the index of UPR recommendations to be created by OHCHR. He asked the High Commissioner to share information on plans to assist in accelerating the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in light of the lack of progress in Africa.
The representative of the United States, stressing that the crisis in Libya was not over, called on the commission of inquiry to continue its mandate. Regarding Syria, she noted that her delegation had expressed profound concern over the reports from the fact‑finding mission. She said the United States would continue to support OHCHR’s independence and what should be done when repeated requests for cooperation and access were denied. What issues not on the agenda of the Human Rights Council did the High Commissioner think required further focus, she asked.
Gabon’s delegate underlined the need to consider economic, social and cultural rights in equal fashion with civil and political rights. He also highlighted the need for equitable geographic distribution in OHCHR. Additional resources were required to allow the OHCHR to address critical issues, particularly in Central Africa, he said.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, aligning with comments by Kenya and Gabon, said violations of human rights in his country took place mostly in the eastern part of the country, where the presence of armed groups continued. He asked if the High Commissioner believed that eliminating the presence of these groups would reduce the violence against women and girls currently taking place.
Benin’s representative, also aligning with the African Group and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, asked how the High Commissioner assessed the cause of intimidation of special procedures. Were there, he wondered, deeper issues than those implied in her report? He said it was deplorable that some countries tried to flout certain rights or to create new human rights. That was, he suggested, a usurpation of the principle of universality. He underlined the human rights to food and development as the most pressing rights for developing countries. He also drew attention to three Assembly resolutions, including one on the International Year for Human Rights Education, and asked why those texts were left out of the High Commissioner’s report and presentation.
The representative of Cameroon welcomed the continuing work of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa, which, among other things, focused on training personnel responsible for human rights. As the Centre celebrated its second anniversary, he commended its work, including by its regional director, for awareness‑raising efforts on democracy and human rights. In that context, he noted the dialogue held last week between her and representatives from Central Africa.
Cuba’s representative stressed that developing countries would continue to work toward the realization of the right to development. It was not enough, she suggested, to mention the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development.
Egypt’s delegate stressed the need to scale up and improve the tool used by OHCHR to provide technical assistance. He asked if enough funding was being directed to the aspect of technical assistance. His delegation recognized the independence of the High Commissioner in accordance with her mandate. However, that did not diminish the role that transparent and open dialogue among her Office, the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee could play. In that context, he asked how such a dialogue could be applied to consideration of budgetary and extra‑budgetary allocations. He also wondered how treaty body reform could reduce duplication with other mechanisms, such as the UPR.
Syria’s representative said his country had been subjected to crimes committed against its people by armed terrorist groups. Those crimes were accompanied by an “unprecedented media campaign and allegations targeting security, stability and national unity” with the support of some Western Governments, which aimed to undermine Syrian institutions. Noting that Syria had welcomed a United Nations delegation on humanitarian assistance, he said the Government had repeatedly stated its readiness to receive investigative commissions from the Human Rights Council, after it concluded its own national investigations.
Continuing, he said Syria submitted its report under the UPR in July, which was supported by the majority of the Council members. Syria looked forward to “some countries” refraining from allegations and listening to the official position. Expressing dismay that the High Commissioner had not mentioned Israel’s violation on occupied territories, he asked what she planned regarding the protection of the human rights of those living under foreign occupation.
Iran’s representative noted that his Government was planning to host a visit by the High Commissioner in 2012. The OHCHR should continue with an unbiased approach. It should avoid insisting on dealing with issues in its reports not accepted by the international community.
Responding, Ms. PILLAY thanked delegations for their comments and questions and assured them that, while she would not have time to answer all of them, she would continue the dialogue in informal groups. Saying it was her intention to be absolutely transparent regarding her Office’s work, she assured delegations that her staff was absolutely committed to delivering on the General Assembly’s commitment to human rights. “We are here to implement all your resolutions and decisions taken in the [General Assembly],” she said.
Noting that there was “no way” the media would be interested in the technical work of OHCHR, she suggested perceptions that the Office was not covering economic, social and cultural rights were incorrect. In fact, over the last three years she had prioritized the right to economic development, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
She did not act as an international judge, but within the mandate and framework provided by Member States. Her work on human rights sometimes brought her into confrontation with States, during which she had to name rights violators. But there were instances of cooperation. For example, in the midst of conflict, Côte d’Ivoire allowed her Office access. That had also been true in Yemen, Libya and others.
She agreed with concerns related to geographical diversity and had tried to address them through the Office’s recruitment, which had steadily improved, according to the human resources scorecard. Indeed, over 50 per cent of recent appointments had been from underrepresented regions — showing the efforts of her office were bearing fruit. In that context, she highlighted the improvement in candidates from Africa and noted the results of recent national competitive exams. She no longer had to seek approval for external candidates from the Office of Human Resources Management.
She agreed that her work must be objective, impartial and non‑selective. She also believed that OHCHR and the Human Rights Council must work together better to protect human rights. Her reporting obligations were to the Secretary‑General and the General Assembly and it was on that legal basis that those obligations should be viewed. In September last year the Council invited her to make a presentation to the Committee for Programme and Coordination, and she hoped that body would be able to reach consensus.
At the September session of the Human Rights Council, another presidential statement invited her to provide more details on staffing and funding, and she would use her annual report to share detailed information. She would also meet regularly on an informal basis with Member States.
On funding questions, she expressed gratitude to Morocco and Liechtenstein regarding their work on the Human Rights Council review, noting, however, that the review did not address funding. Thus, she looked forward to engagement by Member States on the issue. Allocations from the regular budget to her Office covered less than 3 per cent, which was nothing less than “scandalous” given that human rights formed the third pillar of the United Nations. In the present biennium, additional mandates were calculated at a cost of $17.6 million just for the human rights section, but only $1.5 million in additional allocations had been made. “We simply cannot continue at this pace,” she said.
Among the options being considered to address those diverging trends, were proposals to review mandates and resource requirements immediately following each Council session, granting OHCHR immediate access to different emergency contingency funds and establishing of a human rights contingency fund. To cover current additional expenses, she had used a contingency fund that pulled from voluntary contributions, but that had been fully depleted earlier this year because of missions to Tunisia, Yemen and Libya, for which no funding had been allocated. While that contingency fund had been replenished from un‑earmarked voluntary contributions in order to preserve OHCHR’s rapid response functions, she remained anxious about the depletion of funds.
She said more action was needed regarding cooperation between Member States and special procedures. Pledges by States seeking membership to the Human Rights Council could include such commitments and she encouraged the General Assembly to follow‑up. She also noted that the code of conduct was provided to all mandate holders, who signed a solemn pledge under article 5 of that code.
Referring to the numerous comments on treaty body reform, she recalled that she had given her full support to that activity and regularly called for the ratification for all treaties passed by the General Assembly. “The treaty bodies, in my view, are in crisis, particularly with regard to their funding,” she acknowledged, stressing that the backlog was growing.
To that end, she recognized that the purview for making suggestions on more efficient working functions lay with the chairs of those bodies. However, the responsibility for additional funding lay with Member States.
OHCHR had plans in place to ensure that the second cycle of the UPR addressed implementation, she said, underscoring its efforts to engage in follow‑up. It was her hope that the forthcoming index of UPR recommendations would reflect a full representation of that body’s comments alongside the index of treaty body observations, including those recommendations that had been accepted and those that had not been. The index should, she said, be fully updated from the beginning of the second cycle.
She agreed that the right to development should not be limited to commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Declaration. Programmatic cooperation was needed. Among other things, her Office was also building on its research activities and strategic advocacy efforts, as well as continuing to develop training tools and guidelines and other documents.
“The Arab Spring told us very loudly that the concerns of the people on the street were poverty, food and employment, as well as democracy and political participation,” she continued. Thus, she would continue to promote all human rights and, in that regard, she underlined the report on the use of indicators for monitoring the economic, social and cultural rights of migrants. Globally, through its field presence, OHCHR would continue to provide technical assistance to its partners. Requests to the local offices had increased almost seven‑fold. The United Nations Development Group mechanism was also being used to mainstream the right to development with all other human rights.
Addressing concerns about sexual orientation and gender identity, she stressed that, as a human rights challenge, the issue should be non‑confrontational. New rights were not being created. “We are trying to highlight that all people have the same rights no matter what they look like or where they come from or whether you approve of them or don’t approve of them,” she said, suggesting that if the focus was on the violations themselves — and the persons whose rights were violated — greater support would be seen for action to address those problems more effectively.
Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
VIJAY NAMBIAR, Special Adviser to the Secretary‑General, introduced the report of the Secretary‑General which provided an overview of key developments from 26 August 2010 to 4 September 2011. He said he would first supplement the report and brief the Committee on latest developments. The most significant political step since the end of the reporting period was the 19 August meeting between President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. That was the first meeting at such a level since 2002, and followed the first political trip outside Yangon by Ms. Suu Kyi and National League for Democracy Vice‑Chairman U Tin Oo since their release from house arrest, he said. Both the president and Ms. Suu Kyi expressed satisfaction about their talks aimed at finding common ground, and Ms. Suu Kyi had publicly expressed her confidence in the President’s reform intentions. “The Secretary‑General welcomes the readiness of both to reach out to each other and their commitment to cooperate, and has expressed the hope that it would be followed by further steps towards a sustained high‑level dialogue on national reconciliation,” he said.
Their meeting was preceded by two rounds of talks between Ms. Suu Kyi and the Minister for Social Welfare, U Aung Kyi, which had since been followed by a third round on 30 September. That latest round included discussions on amnesty, cooperation in conservation of the Ayerawady River, peace‑building efforts and cooperation ensuring law and order. Since then, up to 220 political prisoners were released 12 October as part of an amnesty by President Thein Sein, channelled through the new institutions of the Presidency and Parliament, with the support of the military’s faction in the legislature.
In parallel, President Thein Sein stated in two speeches that he was “holding out an olive branch” and “opening the door to peace” by inviting ethnic armed groups to enter peace talks with their respective regional/state governments. On 31 August, the upper house of parliament approved a proposal for establishment of a “peace committee” to resolve ethnic conflicts and the Government since then had reported continued negotiations with some armed ethnic groups, resulting in initial peace agreements between local authorities and the Wa State Army and the Mongla National Democratic Alliance Army and follow‑up talks at the central level. In light of ongoing reports of armed clashes affecting civilians in some ethnic areas, the Secretary‑General urged similar efforts to reach negotiated settlements with Kachin, Karen and other armed groups, he said.
“These developments are taking place in the context of a level of political activity across the country that was unseen for the past two decades,” he said. On 22 August, Parliament convened for the first time under the post‑State Peace and Development Council Government. It had agreed to take up a bill amending the Political Parties Registration Law, which could allow parties that did not contest the 2010 election to consider whether to register and join the process. That was particularly relevant for upcoming by‑elections for 48 legislative seats — another test of how far the Government was ready to go for a more inclusive political process. Equally significant was a labour law, new this month, guaranteeing the right to form and join unions and their right to strike, ending a five‑decade ban on trade unions and labour rights. Also this month, it was reported that a new media law would lift or relax decades‑long censorship measures, following earlier reports that authorities had lifted bans on access to foreign websites. A growing number of foreign and exile journalists had also been allowed to visit.
Since Myanmar’s Government was established just over six months ago, domestic developments had coincided with renewed international engagement, including high‑level bilateral visits and recent visits by the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. There were real prospects for change, but it was important not to lose sight of where Myanmar was coming from and the challenges ahead. The Secretary‑General’s report detailed political, human rights, development and humanitarian problems that remained serious and deep‑seated. “If not properly managed, the stresses and expectation inherent to any transition could exacerbate rather than resolve existing problems,” he said. “The authorities have a special responsibility to improve dialogue with all political actors; to end conflict and abuses in ethnic areas through peaceful settlements with armed groups; and to release all remaining political prisoners. Pledges made must be fulfilled.”
It remained to be seen whether the new Government had the necessary will, capacity and support to deliver on its commitments to address those concerns, he said. A credible transition from almost sixty years of military rule that brought the country into the regional and global economy would require the Government and other stakeholders to maximize opportunities that came with a transformation of that magnitude and complexity; the international community would also need to step up its actions to provide steady support and reinforcement to those changes.
“For the first time since the General Assembly entrusted the Secretary‑General with his good offices mandate almost twenty years ago, this Committee has an opportunity to assess the situation in Myanmar in a new light,” he said. “From the perspective of the Secretary‑General’s good offices, the Government’s stated commitments appear to resonate more closely with the needs and hopes of the people of Myanmar and correspond more closely to the concerns and expectation of the international community than in the past.” The United Nations system, however, would be even better placed to help if the existing restrictions on its operations were removed.
“Consistent with the Government’s commitment to cooperate closely with the United Nations, it would be in Myanmar’s interest to allow a more open, continuous and direct engagement with the good offices mission for the purpose of considering the provision of greater technical assistance in accordance with its mandate,” he said.
Responding, THANT KYAW ( Myanmar) said political developments were proceeding in an orderly and peaceful manner in his country. Elected representatives were now exercising their democratic rights in the legislative bodies, while Parliamentary debates on such issues as education, land tenure rights, compulsory military service legislation and questions related to the ceasefire, amnesty and identification cards of migrants were reported to the people through both official and private media. To adhere to democratic principles, the Government had made clear that citizens could freely participate in the political process. The new Government was working toward peaceful solutions with national armed groups and had also launched a series of socio‑economic policy reforms.
With a view to building a modern and democratic nation, the new Government aimed to ensure good governance, the fundamental rights of citizens, rule of law, transparency and accountability. It was also working to eliminate corruption and poverty, create a harmonious society and undertake economic reforms and environmental conservation. In that regard, the country’s 10‑point legislative reform agenda increased the salaries of service personnel and pensioners, overhauled public health care and social security, raised education and health standards, amended journalism laws, promoted conservation and enhanced measures for responding to natural disasters.
Myanmar valued its cooperation with the United Nations and would continue to further strengthen it. In the current atmosphere, he believed that UNDP’s normal programme in Myanmar could be resumed in the near future. “I sincerely hope that the rapid developments in my country nowadays have drawn positive responses from the international community,” he said. In the wake of the release of the Secretary‑General’s report on 5 August, there had been a series of significant developments, such as dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the granting of a second amnesty, the enactment of a Labour Organizations Law, the amendment of the electors laws, the signing of peace agreements with some armed groups and the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission. He thanked the Under‑Secretary‑General for reflecting them in his presentation to the Committee. The Government of Myanmar had already taken concrete, visible and irreversible initiatives. Although challenges remained, the process of democratization would move forward in a dynamic and sustainable manner, with the cooperation of the international community.
Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran
AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, said he officially began his work on 1 August, at which time he wrote to Iranian authorities seeking cooperation in his mandate. He received a letter from Iran’s Permanent Representative in Geneva on 19 September, conveying a willingness to exchange views and discuss methodology. But, he had been unable to actually arrange the proposed meeting. The draft of this initial report had been submitted to Iranian authorities for comments, but those comments had not been received by the time he was required to sign off on the report for submission, despite an extension of the deadline for comments on two occasions. He was, however, happy to report that, upon arrival in New York this week he had been able to meet Iran’s ambassador and they had frank and cordial discussions.
His efforts to monitor and investigate the human rights situation in Iran had, to date, consisted of meeting with Iranian nationals who reported violations of their human rights, or the rights of other members of Iranian civil society. He also reviewed a number of reports from reputable non‑governmental organizations that documented the human rights situation in the country, and selected 58 cases from those efforts for this report. Most of those cases spoke to inadequate observation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
The legal framework to protect certain human rights existed in Iran, he said, but there were systemic deficiencies in implementation and enforcement of the country’s international and national obligations. In some cases, elements of Iran’s penal code and legal practices amounted to contravention of international laws it had acceded to. No country was immune from criticism of its human rights record, but Iran seemed to have gained particular attention because of its lack of substantive cooperation with the United Nations human rights system, and frequent reports of suppression. “These include allegations of obstructing free and fair elections, denial of freedom of expression and assembly, allegations of depravation of a right to education, the harassment and intimidation of religious and ethnic minorities, human rights defenders, as well as civil society and religious actors,” he said.
He was also concerned by reports of systemic deficits in the administration of justice, such as practices that amounted to torture, cruel or degrading treatment of detainees, imposition of the death penalty in absence of proper judicial safeguards, as well as denial of reasonable access to legal counsel and adequate medical treatment. Those activities resulted in a perturbing number of arrests, and he had been informed of the arrest and prosecution of at least 42 attorneys for their attempts to provide legal counsel. Charges against a majority of those individuals included: acting against national security, participating in illegal gatherings, insulting the Supreme Leader and spreading propaganda against the regime.
However, he recognized there had been positive steps by Iranian authorities, such as the Government’s recent decision to release 60 to 100 prisoners, many of whom had been arrested as result of their participation in events surrounding the 2009 Presidential elections. But, he called on authorities to provide adequate medical access and consider immediate release of all individuals listed in his report, and hoped the Government would provide information on the process to provide amnesty for those recently pardoned. His work would be greatly enhanced by Iran’s cooperation, and he hoped that would include granting two country visits supported by the mandate.
“Although several statements by various Iranian functionaries on Iran’s interest in cooperating have been issued, and Iran maintains a standing invitation to thematic Special Procedures, I am concerned that a number of urgent appeals made by various thematic Special Rapporteurs remain unaddressed, and that no country visits have taken place since 2005,” he said.
This initial report refrained from recommendations or substantive conclusions, because there was not adequate time, especially in the absence of meaningful interaction with the Government of Iran. But, he believed a constructive and progressive approach was needed to enable Iran to achieve short- and long‑term goals. In that regard, the Government could take steps to establish an independent national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles, as recommended by several members of the Human Rights Council during Iran’s Universal Periodic Review. The Government could also consider undergoing a voluntary midterm review of recommendations it accepted in the outcome of its Review.
Question and Answer Session
Germany’s representative, stressing that the situation in Iran was continuing to deteriorate, said the Iranian Government continued to intentionally disrespect international obligations to which it had itself subscribed. Germany condemned the high number of public executions that had already reached unmatched records this year. Iran also continued to persecute dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists and artists for purely political reasons. By appointing a Special Rapporteur exclusively on Iran, the Human Rights Council sent a strong signal that the human rights community followed all violations closely. The European Union had, by adding 29 human rights violators to its sanctions list on 10 October, sent similar signals.
He said that, for its part, the Iranian regime did not offer reliable information on the domestic human rights situation, including on violations, and the Special Rapporteur must be allowed to enter the country. He asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how to address situations of discrimination with the Iranian authorities. Did he see any instruments that were more effective than others? In Germany’s view, it seemed that protests did sometimes work, but Iran seemed uninterested in the views of the international community on such things as public executions.
The representative of the Maldives highlighted the experience of her State as a Muslim country in engaging with the international community and human rights mechanisms. She stressed that the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was not a reprimand, but an opportunity for dialogue. Indeed, cooperation was a constructive approach to offering the views of Iran to the United Nations system. She called on the Iranian Government to promote and protect basic rights and to seriously consider the request of the Special Rapporteur for a country visit.
The representative of the United States welcomed the return of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran after five years. Calling for the Iranian authorities to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, he further urged them to favourably respond to outstanding requests of seven other mandate holders. The United States shared concerns on the status of women, the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and particularly the abuse of human rights defenders and civil society activists. He noted the ongoing detention of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and his wife. He asked what immediate actions could assist the situation in Iran. Also, what were the Special Rapporteur’s observations regarding his discussions with Iranian representatives? Would the regime continue its actions to restrict human rights?
The representative of the European Union asked the Special Rapporteur to assess the prospect of further cooperation and the chances of a country visit before the next session of the Human Rights Council. How did he intend to help Iran concretely implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Council following its report under the UPR? What were the chances that Iran would ratify further human rights instruments without reservation in the medium and near term? Could he provide further details on executions in Iran and the influence of the judiciary?
The representative of the United Kingdom said her delegation strongly supported the establishment of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. She expressed concern over statements that Iran would not allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur, which should precede any visit by other United Nations human rights representatives. She called on Iran to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur, who should focus his engagement on implementation of the recommendations of the UPR, including those rejected by Iran. The recommendations of other treaty bodies should also be a focus. Among other concerns, she said the United Kingdom was following the development of the “NGO law” that would give the Iranian Government virtual control over civil society actors.
Australia’s delegate urged the Iranian Government to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and to engage in dialogue with him on the human rights situation there. He asked what the international community could do to assist the Special Rapporteur in carrying out his mandate.
Canada’s representative welcomed the decision to establish the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and expressed concerns about the rise in executions and the persecution of religious communities in Iran. She called for the release of all individuals arrested on the basis for their faith, stressing that Iran must end discrimination of religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities. She asked what the Government should do to ensure free and fair elections.
Noting the negative trend in human rights abuses in Iran, Norway’s representative said there seemed to be little progress in establishing dialogue. What was the Special Rapporteur’s assessment on the prospects for such engagement in the medium term, including over the next year?
The representative of the Czech Republic, aligning with the European Union, said the individual cases presented in the reports clearly demonstrated the widespread harassment of civil society and other actors. What domestic laws and practices should be reviewed to improve the situation? Given the alarming rise in the use of executions, including those carried out in secret and in public, were there certain crimes for which the death penalty was typically imposed? How could the consistent pattern of non‑cooperation by Iran with United Nations human rights mechanisms be overcome?
Switzerland’s representative asked the Special Rapporteur to assess the likelihood of a visit to Iran this year.
New Zealand’s delegate expressed grave concerns on ongoing reports of discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the increasing use of executions, including of minors. Was this a short- or long‑term trend?
ESHAGH AL HABIB of Iran emphasized the fact that Human Rights Council resolution 16/9, which called for the appointment of the Special Rapporteur, was adopted as a result of the one‑sided approach to human rights by certain countries, particularly the United States and its European allies. He suggested it was better for the United States to correct its own dark record of grave human rights violations, not only at home, but abroad. He stressed that it applied to the killing of women and children particularly in Iran’s region. He further singled out the United Kingdom.
Speaking on a point of order, the United States delegate asked that his Iranian colleague refrain from “baseless attacks”, since the subject of the current discussion was on the human rights situation in Iran.
The representative of Iran said he was responding to the baseless accusations of the United States. He said that by assembling a catalogue of poorly resourced allegations, the report’s content was unjustified and unacceptable. It neglected a large number of human rights achievements and suffered from partiality and lack of balance. It adopted a selective approach to the information provided to the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur’s report was initially supposed to be brief; instead in 20 pages it referred to cases that were mostly out of date and was based on unfounded allegations. The creation of a 20‑page report in the short time since the assumption of the new mandate showed haste, rather than balance and impartiality.
Continuing, he said that, as a founding member of the United Nations and a party to the major human rights instruments, Iran had taken a genuine and long‑term approach to fulfilling its obligations to those instruments. There was ample evidence, facts and figures indicating Iran’s achievements in civil, social, political and cultural rights. Cooperation with the special procedures was Iran’s position and it had extended a standing invitation to them in June 2002. That invitation demonstrated its fundamental approach, and since then six special rapporteurs had visited Iran. Since 2005, invitations had been extended to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to participate in a seminar on juvenile justice. The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers was invited to participate in a colloquium. However, none of these invitations were accepted.
He further noted that Iran had presented its report to the Human Rights Council and accepted more than 123 recommendations, demonstrating its commitment to cooperating with the international community. Iran had always believed in positive cooperation and interaction with the OHCHR and it had extended an invitation to it to visit Iran in 2012. It expected OHCHR to rectify the report of the Special Rapporteur, in the interest of justice and fairness.
In response, Mr. SHAHEED welcomed the delegate of Iran’s statement and assured him that his report would be factually balanced and accurate. In his last report, he had sought engagement, hoping to report the country’s views. He maintained that had he reported on ongoing cases that remained relevant, but did take the point that to be fully comprehensive, it should contain Iran’s view. Unlike thematic rapporteurs, he had the opportunity to focus specifically on Iran and the country context.
Addressing questions on how to assist Iran in developing human rights safeguards, he said it was important for Members to realize that a country mandate was not a penalty, and should be viewed as an opportunity to move forward. As long as a country mandate was viewed as a stigma, it would be difficult to move forward. He noted that he was supposed to work with the country concerned, and submit findings confidentially to it first.
On questions about advancing gender equality, he said Iran, as a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, was committed to the issue. Iran was interested in a balanced report on the situation there, which told him it was important to have a dialogue with the Government. If cases were documented and focused on, then countries could respond to them, helping human rights defenders and victims of abuse by putting them on the agenda.
Answering the question on what offences faced the most capital punishment, he said drug offences were the most frequent, even though they should not constitute a crime that warranted the death penalty. The penalty was also sometimes imposed for sexual offences, or on people with links to dissidents of Camp Ashraf. Lack of adequate safeguards was his biggest concern in the use of the death penalty in Iran, as well as the large number of youth on death row.
On the question of whether he would focus on specific issues, he said there would be an advantage to that approach and he would like to speak with Iran to get officials’ views on areas of priority. He would probably focus on areas that could be met with a quick response, areas where procedural changes were needed and areas where internal safeguards were needed. First and foremost, however, he needed the collaboration of the Government of Iran for his work to be successful. He had made efforts to reach out, and urged the Government to see his mandate as an opportunity to have a credible dialogue moving forward.
Statement on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, said since legislative elections in November 2010 and the formation of the new Government of Myanmar on 1 April 2011, a series of steps had been taken that could improve the human rights situation and deepen the country’s transition to democracy. “As noted in my report, I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment to reform and the priorities set out by President Thein Sein, which includes the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, respect for the rule of law and an independent and transparent judiciary,” he said.
He welcomed the recent amnesty for a significant number of prisoners, including an estimated 200 prisoners of conscience, and the signing into law on 13 October of the labour organizations bill. A bill to amend the Political Parties Registration Law was currently before Parliament that would, if passed, significantly change the Law and allow previously excluded parties to formally register. Stressing that national reconciliation required real dialogue and substantive engagement with all political opposition and other relevant actors, he welcomed continuing talks between Minister Aung Kyi and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the meeting with President Thein Sein.
He expressed further hope that the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration bill would, when adopted, align with international standards. Provisions restricting demonstrations to designated areas should be removed and provisions prohibiting the disproportionate and excessive use of force to break up protests added. Noting the recent easing of media and Internet restrictions, he said he was following statements by the Director of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division calling for the abolishment of press censorship in the near future.
Turning to serious and ongoing human rights violations that, despite recent progress, remained to be addressed, he said there was a critical need to clarify the practices, rules and procedures of the new national legislature, including those governing parliamentary immunity. Parliamentarians should be able to exercise freedom of speech while discharging their duties. There was a strong need to enhance the capacity and functioning of that new institution.
Expressing his belief that the judiciary was neither independent, nor impartial, he said it also lacked capacity. He noted reports that criminal cases were still being heard behind closed doors and that lawyers defending prisoners of conscience had had their licenses arbitrarily revoked. He urged the Government to reconsider those revocations and to guarantee the effective right to counsel. Technical assistance should be sought from the international community in judicial reform.
Upcoming by‑elections would, he said, be a key test of how far the Government had progressed in electoral reform. He urged the Union Election Commission to learn lessons from the November 2010 elections. Elections laws should be revised and restrictions on the development activities of political parties removed. Complaints should be addressed in a timely, open and transparent manner. Respect for freedoms of expression, assembly and association should also be ensured.
He said the Government should develop a comprehensive plan to officially engage ethnic minority groups in serious dialogue to resolve long‑standing and deep‑rooted concerns. Ending discrimination and guaranteeing respect for the rights of ethnic minorities was essential for national reconciliation. Ongoing tensions in ethnic border regions and conflict with some armed groups continued to engender serious human rights violations. Reports continued over the use of landmines by both the Government and non‑State armed groups. While efforts to promote dialogue may have started to produce results, greater action must be taken to find a durable political resolution to the complex undertaking of forging a stable, multi‑ethnic nation. The Government and all armed groups must abide by international human rights and humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians. The Government should also sign the Mine Ban Treaty.
While welcoming the release of an estimated 200 prisoners of conscience last week, he said there should be no prisoners of conscience remaining in detention at the time of forthcoming by‑elections. Moreover, their release must be without any conditions. Immediate measures must also be taken to improve the conditions of detention and treatment of prisoners in compliance with international standards. He urged the Government to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) full access to prisons and to prisoners according to its global standard procedures. At the same time, legislation must be reviewed to bring it in line with international human rights standards. But, despite Government assurances, no concrete progress had been made towards that end. Thus, time‑bound target dates for such a review were needed and legislation must be prioritized for that review.
He underlined the need to immediately address Myanmar’s long‑standing social, economic and development challenges, particularly in the ethnic border areas. Drawing attention to the impact of infrastructure projects, he recalled the Government’s international obligations to realize the right to adequate housing and to guarantee victims’ right to restitution. He particularly welcomed the President’s decisions to suspend construction of a dam project.
Calling for Myanmar to face its past and current human rights challenges and to move toward national reconciliation, he said the responsibility in ending impunity rested with the government. Allegations of gross and systematic human rights violations should be undertaken without delay by an independent and credible body. If the Government failed, or was unable to assume that responsibility, it then fell to the international community, he said.
Welcoming the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, he said he intended to present some preliminary assessments on how that body could play a role in ensuring justice and accountability and access to truth when he reported to the Human Rights Council in March. Myanmar’s Government faced a wide range of daunting challenges that required continued commitment, resources and far‑reaching reforms. “The people of Myanmar have waited many years for this transition, he said, stressing that “they deserve the support and continued engagement of the international community in ensuring that a real transition takes root.”
Question and Answer Session
THANT KYAW ( Myanmar) said the current report contained more constructive elements compared to previous ones. Now Myanmar was in a new area in which reform measures had been submitted to change outdated regulations. At the current parliamentary session, several legislative bills had been considered and approved. Members of Parliaments had the right to raise queries, submit proposals and hold discussion on various issues. Due to the emergence of elected legislative bodies, Myanmar had been accepted as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Inter‑Parliamentary Association and was preparing to re‑affiliate with the Inter‑Parliamentary Union.
The new President had set a clear goal to promote political, economic and social development with national reconciliation as one of its ultimate goals. With a view to ending insurgencies that had dragged on for decades, the Government made a peace offer to all armed groups on 18 August. “These positive developments have been welcomed by the international community. In this regard, my delegation appreciates the Special Rapporteur for his acknowledgement of these developments. We believe that the Special Rapporteur has noticed the Government’s ongoing efforts to address the remaining challenges and its readiness to listen to the voice of the people,” he said.
His delegation took serious note of suggestions and concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur, but there remained a number of unfounded allegations. At present, Myanmar was passing through a highly significant transition to democracy and changes were taking place smoothly and peacefully. “In light of these positive and tangible developments we believe that the time has come to bring an end to the practice of submitting a country specific resolution on Myanmar. At this important juncture, my delegation would like to request a better understanding of our situation by the international community and to call for positive recognition and encouragement,” he said.
The delegate of the United States said the report highlighted positive developments in Burma, but the overall situation of human rights there remained grim.
On a point of order, the delegate of Myanmar said the United States delegate had called his country by the wrong name, and since proceedings were in the United Nations, the name recognized by the Organization was Myanmar.
The Chair called on all delegations to use Myanmar’s official name.
The United States representative said he would have to use the official term used by his government. Sincerity, credibility and speed of reforms in Burma would inform the international community how best to support them.
On a point of order, Myanmar’s representative asked again for the use of the name of his country recognized by the United Nations.
The Chair again called on all delegations to use Myanmar’s name.
The representative of the United States said he was not trying to do something provocative, but adhering to long‑standing policies of his Government. He asked the Special Rapporteur what could the international community do to help the right of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities and what could be done to ensure its new Human Rights Commission respected the Paris Principles.
The European Union’s delegate asked what specific areas the new Human Rights Commission could play and what would be required for that role. She also noted censorship remained in Myanmar and asked what the Myanmar Government would have to do to protect media and internet freedom. Also, she asked what areas the country could most benefit from working with the United Nations.
Japan’s delegate said he would like to hear the Special Rapporteur’s views on cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and whether any good practices emerged.
Canada’s delegate asked what were the Special Rapporteur’s views on the general amnesty earlier this month and could he elaborate on religious freedoms in the country.
Liechtenstein’s delegate asked how the international community could ensure the United Nations supported reform efforts and what could be undertaken to ensure the gains remained.
Malaysia’s delegate encouraged Myanmar to continue its reforms and stood ready to contribute in whatever way, urging positive engagement with the country.
The Republic of Korea’s delegate joined the call for release of prisoners of conscious without delay, but noted that as a country in transition, Myanmar needed to seek assistance from other nations.
Switzerland’s delegate asked how to support efforts to end Myanmar’s use of civilians as human shields in conflict and what measures did the Special Rapporteur recommend for respecting the rights of internally displaced persons.
The delegate of Maldives asked the Special Rapporteur to share his thoughts on progress in Myanmar’s reform road map.
The United Kingdom’s delegate said she would welcome views of the Special Rapporteur on the capacity of the Human Rights Commission to address abuses in the country, and also asked whether the issue of building up the judiciary was discussed with the Government during his recent visit. She also asked how a political solution with ethnic groups could be best achieved.
Norway’s delegate said his country was concerned with need for capacity‑building in Myanmar’s newly formed parliament as well as its justice sector, which would be critical for implementing reforms. He asked the Special Rapporteur to reflect on policies and decisions today that prevented many multilateral institutions from engaging with Myanmar’s Government to help accelerate reforms.
China’s delegate said Myanmar’s sovereignty should be respected and urged the Special Rapporteur to stick to his mandate, strengthening his dialogue with the Government. She also expressed strong dissatisfaction with untruthful accusations. China’s Government had consistently supported companies in Myanmar and other countries, asking them to fulfil their responsibilities according to laws and regulations. After serious scientific assessment, projects were launched in Myanmar based on mutual respect and benefit.
Thailand’s delegate viewed recent developments in Myanmar as critical steps forward. There had never been a better time for the international community to remove sanctions, increase technical assistance and normalize the UNDP operations there. He hoped to see continued progress and development, but for that to happen there needed to be further engagement from the international community.
Indonesia’s delegate said the challenges ahead remained daunting, and Myanmar needed the necessary support for stability, security and prosperity for its people.
Australia’s delegate said he would welcome further details on how Member States could best secure Myanmar’s reform process.
The delegate of the Czech Republic asked what prospects for reform could be seen in Myanmar’s military and what role could the international community play.
Responding, Mr. QUINTANA said it was his impression that the President of Myanmar had been consistent in his decisions. Further, those decisions were moving in the right direction. He said the Government had twice offered amnesties to prisoners of conscience, but many still remained in detention in situations that did not meet minimum standards. The Government must take a categorical decision to release all prisoners of conscience, who should not be held hostage to a lack of Government reform. He hoped that, when released, all former prisoners adhered to the same spirit as Aung San Suu Kyi.
He said the decades‑long armed conflict on the border had seriously undermined the rights and protection of civilians. He continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations. Thus, the Government should categorically assume responsibility to avoid those abuses and to encourage national reconciliation. It should also avoid the militarization of those ethnic areas. The recently established National Human Rights Commission could come to play a role in that regard, provided the Paris Principles regarding independence were observed. Currently, however, the Commission did not have sufficient independence to play that role.
As he had stated, the judiciary was not independent and national action and international cooperation were needed. He noted that the OHCHR was investigating avenues to improve the National Human Rights Commission. It should also seek ways to improve the operation of the national parliament.
He said he had always respected the limits of his mandate on human rights in the context of infrastructure projects. But, some of those projects had impacted on human rights in the country and he was, therefore, compelled to address them in that context.
After three years there was an historical opportunity to achieve a social, political and cultural transition in Myanmar and to build a genuine democracy. He was convinced that the people of Myanmar sought the protection and promotion of their rights and his objective was to remind the Government of its need to meet those desires over and above the democratic transition. When fundamental human rights were at stake, decisions must be categorical and immediate, and he urged the Government to take prompt decisions in that regard.
Statement on Situation of Human Rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, recalled that he had visited Thailand from 13 to 17 June 2011 to gather information on the human rights situation in the country. The present report, which focused on the situation of asylum seekers and trafficking of persons, the issue of food security, the health system and the general status of health of the country’s citizens, freedom of opinion and expression and political prisoners.
Expressing concern about the situation of asylum seekers, he said it was difficult to estimate the number of people leaving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at any given stage. However, there had been a steady increase in the number, marking a peak of 2,482 in 2010. While Thailand had consistently adhered to the principle of non‑refoulement, other countries in the region did not. Asylum seekers were sometimes aided by human traffickers to travel to neighbouring countries and beyond. Women and children were the most vulnerable to exploitation. At the same time, most South‑East Asian countries used detention as a migration management tool, even against refugees and asylum‑seekers. He called on regional States not yet party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of the Refugees to ratify it at the earliest.
Underscoring the critical food situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said reports indicated that the current rations provided by the Government could meet less than half the daily caloric needs for 68 per cent of the 16 million receiving public food rations through the Public Distribution System. Most people struggled to make up that deficit through alternative means given their insufficient purchasing power. Expressing further concerns that the Public Distribution System would have run out of food at the beginning of the lean season, from May to July 2011, he said structural problems within the food production system, along with total control of the food production and supply chain system, had contributed to the current food crisis.
In that context, he drew attention to the launching of the emergency operation of the WFP to support over 3.5 million in 107 counties and 80 provinces with food and nutritional support. While it might not be enough to fully cater to needs of the entire population, it was a welcome step. At the same time, a two‑pronged approach was needed to overcome food scarcity and fulfil the right to food in the long‑term. As the international community resumed food and humanitarian assistance, the Government should initiate urgent policy measures to rectify flaws in the Public Distribution System and the centrally controlled economy.
Virtually devoid of new investment since the early 1990s, the country’s health system was severely compromised. Appealing to the international community to provide humanitarian assistance, he recommended that the State pay increased attention to providing adequate nutrition and health care to children and women suffering from chronic malnutrition and to advance the right to health. Effective measures were also needed to improve maternal care. Increased budgetary allocations were urgently needed to strengthen logistics in hospitals and clinics. In addition, the right to water and sanitation required services that were available, accessible, safe, acceptable and affordable for all without discrimination.
He went on to say that the recent letter of understanding between the WFP and the Government showed the potential for significant improvements regarding humanitarian space. Such space should be expanded to all forms of humanitarian assistance, as well as to aid development provided by the United Nations and other agencies supporting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Noting the severe restrictions on freedom of opinion, expression and assembly despite constitutional guarantees, he said certain provisions of the country’s Press Law did not align with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Foreign newspapers and media were highly restricted, while the country had no independent national media. Journalists’ travel was severely restricted. The country’s cyberspace policies were considered to be among the most restrictive in the world and the country remained one of the harshest to access by any form of communication. In that context, he called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to be a part of the digital revolution, which had promoted economic transformation in numerous developing countries around the world.
Continuing, he said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea lacked specific legislation to deal with all forms of violence against women, which was reported to be pervasive in the workplace and in local communities. Counselling services for victims of violence should be established. Awareness‑raising and public education programmes were also needed, as was training of law enforcement agencies in effective victim response. He recommended that UN‑Women explore the possibility of establishing an office in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to support the authorities in such efforts.
Highlighting the publication of satellite image of alleged prisons camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he noted reports that comparison with satellite images from 2001 indicated a significant increase in the scale of such camps. Indeed, an estimated 200,000 people were being held in the country’s network of prison camps. He called on the authorities to move forward concretely and urgently on the release of political prisoners, starting with the elderly, those with medical conditions, long‑serving prisoners, mothers and persons imprisoned due to “guilt by association.” In that, the recent release of prisoners in Myanmar should be a cue, he said, stressing that it was time for access to be provided to independent national organizations to access and monitor prison conditions in the country.
Finally, he noted that his repeated requests to visit the country had not received favourable responses. Meanwhile, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remained behind in reporting to the treaty bodies and it had failed to clarify its position on various recommendations to the UPR, making it virtually the only State that was irregular and non‑cooperative with other human rights mechanisms.
Question and Answer Session
JONG IL HUN (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) strongly rejected the report on the situations of human rights in his country, which had run through all sorts of political manipulations and plots. It had never recognized the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, nor could it accept the mandate by which he was appointed. That position would not change — the report was designed to stifle the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the guise of human rights, to smear the dignity and prestige of the country.
Australia’s delegate said he would welcome the Special Rapporteur’s views on how to better coordinate on areas, such as the rights of women and the food and water crisis.
Japan’s delegate urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to take the necessary action to protect women and children. He noted that 12 Japanese citizens abducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea still had not been returned and his country would like to closely cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the issue.
The delegate of the United States said it hoped the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would work with the Special Rapporteur, but welcomed that it had allowed officials from his country to visit and make a food assessment in May.
Canada’s delegate was troubled by reports of violations of rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and continued to appeal to Pyongyang’s authorities to comply with their obligations under international law.
The European Union’s delegate asked which steps were most pertinent to bringing greater access to media in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. She also asked what were the best steps to ensure adequate nutrition for women and children and to uphold their right to health. Noting the country had not implemented recommendations from the UPR, she asked what were opportunities to make use of this process.
The Republic of Korea’s delegate said his country shared the deep concerns of the Special Rapporteur and urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to clarify the fates of those who had been abducted there against their will. He also appealed to the country to improve its food security situation, and extend full cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.
The United Kingdom’s delegate, aligning with the European Union, said he shared concerns about the food and nutrition situation and agreed the food distribution methods must be reformed. He asked if the Special Rapporteur had seen any reports on the percentage of the population relying on Government food distribution and how effective the informal economy was in making up the food deficit.
Switzerland’s delegate said her country was particularly concerned by situations in prisons and fully supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
The delegate of Maldives strongly urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to recognize basic freedoms and offer full cooperation with all special mandate holders.
The Czech Republic’s delegate, aligning with the European Union, asked how much support there was for opening inquiries concerning crimes against humanity against the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In response, Mr. DARUSMAN said 68 per cent of the population was totally dependent on the Public Distribution System for food. The renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate called for a focus on individual issues, including the widening of a humanitarian space. From that perspective, a review of the humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea took on special significance and investigating food security had been a primary concern in the discharging of the mandate so far. He particularly looked forward to working with the WFP in dealing with the food situation.
He further stressed that, if food security was adequately addressed, the impact on other areas of concern within the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council roughly five years ago could then be touched on, moving the process of improving the human rights situation on a broader basis than what had been attempted to date. He wished to continue on that track by providing updates on the food security problem, which continued to beset the State. Indeed, according to views expressed by the WFP and others, food security would continue to be a major problem within the country. Thus, apart from other issues, it was the main issue meriting primary concern from the international community.
Touching on the commission of inquiry proposed by his predecessor, he said he had looked into the basis for various legal perspectives on abductions. He hoped to provide a future report on that proposal.
He was left with one question: With almost 25 reports issued by the Special Rapporteur and the Secretary‑General over the past five years, what did the international community intend to do? In relation to whether a commission was warranted in the future, he deferred to the Committee to ponder how to proceed given the picture provided by those reports.
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