General Assembly Speakers Hail Human Rights Council as 'Voice of Accountability', Say Body Requires Sufficient Resources, Must Not Yield to Political Pressure

14 November 2012
GA/11312

General Assembly Speakers Hail Human Rights Council as 'Voice of Accountability', Say Body Requires Sufficient Resources, Must Not Yield to Political Pressure

14 November 2012
General Assembly
GA/11312
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

General Assembly Plenary

37th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Speakers Hail Human Rights Council as ‘Voice of Accountability’,

Say Body Requires Sufficient Resources, Must Not Yield to Political Pressure

Assembly Also Adopts Text on Arrangements for Commemoration

Of Thirtieth Anniversary of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Gathering in the General Assembly Hall today, delegates assessed the work of the Human Rights Council covering an ever-increasing array of topics that came under its purview, but with scant resources to address them all.

Introducing the Council’s report, its President, Laura Depuis Laserre, said that throughout 2012 the Geneva-based body had been dealing with relevant situations around the world, aiming to address the root causes of human rights violations and raising awareness of them in diverse contexts by building cross-regional coalitions and through the desire of all Members to deal with challenges in a non-confrontational, consistent and coherent manner.

The report, she said, addressed issues ranging from the Council’s rapid response to the situation in Syria and a host of resolutions on country situations — among them the establishment of an international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlement on the human rights of the Palestinian people — to its 16 panel discussions and special procedures covering a broad array of issues.

Topics for the panel discussions, she continued, ranged from freedom of expression on the Internet to indigenous peoples and access to justice, and special procedures included Special Rapporteurs for Belarus and Eritrea and a thematic mandate for an independent expert on the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

There was growing interest in the Council’s work as demonstrated by the increasing number of civil society representatives attending and side-events organized on the margins, she said.  The contribution of non-governmental organizations was central to the Council’s work and it was essential that civil society actors be able to contribute to the Council without fear for their own safety.

She called the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review a “remarkable achievement” of a truly international mechanism as it had completed reviews of all 193 Member States, noting implementation of the resultant recommendations was crucial to the consolidation of the Review as a significant tool in dealing with the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide in a depoliticized, constructive way.

All of the Council’s varied activities, required resources, however, she said, noting that the Universal Periodic review had been underfunded since its founding in 2008, that new mandates required resources and that their numbers continued to grow.

Delegates chose their focus from among those many themes.  Echoing the broad spectrum of topics under the Council’s purview, Nigeria’s representative said that the wide range of thematic issues addressed by the Human Rights Council indicated that the notion of human rights was taking on a broader dimension and was now being mainstreamed into deeper aspects of human development.  The considerable number of resolutions adopted by the Council during the current year reflected the wide array of issues before it, he said, noting that some of the resolutions came with programme budget implications, creating funding challenges.

He also touched on the centrality of civil society in the Council’s work, stating that its engagement with non-governmental organizations provided an avenue for the voice of ordinary men and women to be heard and for the cause of victims to be pleaded before the world body.

Costa Rica’s focus was on human rights education and the relationship between human rights and the environment.  Switzerland made positive note of the inclusion of gender orientation and sexual identity and had placed “the protection of human rights during peaceful demonstrations” on the Council’s agenda.

Many speakers had praise for the Universal Periodic Review, with Cuba’s delegate saying that the Review was consolidating itself as the only universal mechanism for a comprehensive analysis of human rights situations across the world, based on the principles of impartiality and non-selectivity.

The representative of Bangladesh, also expressing praise for the Universal Periodic Review, said that its universality, with all countries facing scrutiny regardless of their region, size or influence, could create an environment of mutual trust and change the culture of human rights discourse.

He warned against the increasing polarization of the Council, however.  If the Council did not foster dialog and cooperation over divisiveness and confrontation it could be discredited as its predecessor, the Commission for Human Rights, had been.

A number of delegates also expressed concern at the politicization of the Council.  The Russian Federation’s representative noted a worrying trend in recent years, characterized by politicization of various groups of States, which had made meaningful discussion difficult.  The use of human rights as an instrument of political pressure, imposing foreign value systems without taking into account the particularity of States and attempts to divide States between “good guys” and “bad guys” defeated the very purposes of the Council.

Syria’s representative said the Council had been turned into a political vehicle, as it ignored human rights violations in States that claimed to be “advanced” — and where there was, in fact, rampant racism and xenophobia, among other problems, and which had adopted unilateral coercive measures or invaded other sovereign States.

Several speakers praised the Council’s rapid response to the situation in Syria.  The representative of the Republic of Korea said that the Human Rights Council had taken the necessary decisions to demand the immediate cessation of human rights violations in that country, while Liechtenstein’s delegate welcomed the Council’s continuous engagement in that situation and commended the Commission of Inquiry for its work, in particular for collecting evidence that could be used in judicial proceedings to hold those responsible for the gravest violations and violations of international humanitarian law to account.

Given the breadth of the Council’s activities, a number of delegations also addressed the issue of resources for the Council.  Mexico’s representative said that there was room for improvement in how the Council used the meagre resources it had, but also noted the importance of examining how States could contribute further resources to human rights mechanisms.

Also today, the Assembly adopted, by consensus, a draft resolution on organizational arrangements for the plenary meetings on 10 and 11 December 2012 devoted to the consideration of the item entitled ‘Oceans and the law of the sea’ and to the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (document A/67/L.4), by which it approved arrangements for that meeting.

In final action today, the Assembly elected by consensus 30 Members of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).

Also speaking on the report of the Human Rights Council were delegates from the European Union, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, Philippines, Botswana, Mongolia, Maldives, Sudan and Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The representative of Bahrain spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The representative of Argentina took the floor following the action on the draft resolution.

The General Assembly will next convene on Thursday 15 November at 10:00 a.m. to take up the report of the Security Council.

Background

The General Assembly met today to take up the report of the Human Rights Council (document A/67/53), which contains the resolutions, decisions and President’s statements adopted by the Council at its nineteenth (27 February — 23 March 2012) and twentieth (18 June — 6 July 2012) sessions, and at its nineteenth special session (1 June 2012).  An index of topics considered by the Council in its resolutions, decisions and President’s statements appears at the end of the report.

The Assembly also had before it a draft resolution (document A/67/L.4), Organizational arrangements for the plenary meetings on 10 and 11 December 2012 devoted to the consideration of the item entitled “Oceans and the law of the sea” and to the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which contains, in its annex, arrangements for that meeting, which was mandated by General Assembly resolution 66/231 of 24 December 2011.

Member States were also was set to elect thirty members of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law,the core legal body of the United Nations system in the field of international trade law, which formulates and regulates international trade in cooperation with the World Trade Organisation.  Currently composed of 60 Member States, the thirty Members elected today will serve a six-year term starting 8 July 2013.

Report of Human Rights Council

Introducing the report of the Human Rights Council, its President, LAURA DEPUIS LASERRE ( Uruguay), said that 2012 marked the sixth year since the establishment of the Council and the first full year after the review of its working methods.  Since then, the Council had been dealing with relevant situations around the world, aiming to address the root causes of human rights violations and raising awareness of them in diverse contexts by building cross-regional coalitions and through the desire of all Members to deal with challenges in a non-confrontational, consistent and coherent manner.

An illustration of that approach could be seen in the Council’s consideration of the situation in the Syria, which dominated much of the 47-member body’s attention this year, she continued.  Two special sessions and one urgent debate had been held and related resolutions had been adopted in every regular session during 2012.  The latest of those extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and called for strengthening its capacity.  To that end, she had appointed two more members to the Commission.  In addition, she expressed the hope for strengthened support from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the deployment of more staff on the ground.

The Council had adopted resolutions on 17 countries, she continued, noting that the working methods for the confidential complaint procedure had also been improved.  The Council also discussed the long-standing situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories and had established an international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people.  Full implementation of those resolutions depended on the availability of additional resources.

The Council had held 16 panel discussions during its past three regular sessions, she said, on such topics as freedom of expression on the Internet, and the promotion and protection of human rights in a multicultural context.  All the panels had triggered substantive discussions on challenging topics.  In addition, the first annual high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming had focused on the areas of human rights development and cooperation.  She hoped that those annual panels would, among others, enhance awareness, coordination, and technical cooperation among stakeholders to address human rights challenges and support development efforts.  The next such panel was likely to focus on the post-2015 development agenda with a focus on education.

On special procedures, she said that the Council had established two new country mandates, Special Rapporteurs for Belarus and Eritrea, and one thematic mandate, the independent expert on the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, bringing the total number of mandates to 48.  The Council had heard reports for the first time on several special procedural matters, among them the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The high number of panels, interactive dialogues and debates provided the opportunity for focused discussion on diverse human rights challenges, but she warned against overloading the Council’s programme of work.  Taking note of the increasing number of cross-regional initiatives, she said that more country specific issues were also being addressed in that manner.  Among other topics, the Council had also discussed the right to development, the right to food, maternal mortality and the rights of the vulnerable, such as older persons.  Many of those resolutions were adopted without a vote, demonstrating the Council’s capacity to agree on issues relating to the protection of those most in need.

She stressed the importance of the March 2012 resolution on freedom of religion and belief, emphasizing the interdependence of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and noted that the Council had held a constructive discussion on the line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred and violence in June.  That was a good follow-up to Council resolution 16/18 (2011), which, among other things, called on all States to foster a domestic environment of religious tolerance, peace and respect.

There was growing interest in the Council’s work, she went on, as demonstrated by the number of dignitaries speaking before the Council, as well as the increasing number of civil society representatives attending and side-events organized on the margins.  The contribution of civil society organizations was central to the Council’s work.  It was essential that civil society actors could contribute to the Council without fear for their own safety.  She regretted the increase in the number of reports of intimidation, and threats, as well as physical reprisals against those who had cooperated with the United Nations, including the Council and its mechanisms.

Commenting next on the Universal Periodic Review, she called the first cycle a remarkable achievement of a truly international mechanism as it had completed reviews of all 193 Member States.  The second cycle was now looking into the implementation of recommendations made during the first cycle and into the national challenges ahead.  That would be crucial to the consolidation of the Review as a significant tool in dealing with the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide in a depoliticized, constructive way.  She appealed to all Member States to support the second cycle.

The Council had also established a Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to Support the Participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the Work of the Council, which provided, inter alia, for training and capacity-building, she said.

She then touched on resources needed for the Council to continue its activities.  She emphasized the need for conference services to be strengthened in Geneva, which could be done within current capacity by transferring translators and interpreters from New York to Geneva.  That was particularly important for providing relevant documents for consideration in all languages during the Universal Periodic Review, which had been underfunded since its founding in 2008.  Also regular budget resources were needed for sustainable webcast coverage of Council meetings, as with no more resources for summary records, they were the only official archive of Council and Review meetings.

In closing she sought the cooperation of all Member States to address those issues through the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) by finding the best options for funding new mandates of the Council and without forgetting the OHCHR in order to deliver more on technical cooperation.

Statements

IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union, noted that the Human Rights Council had maintained its leadership in addressing human rights situations, in particular, its prompt response to the crisis in Syria.  The Council had held several special sessions and an urgent debate and had extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry.  A Special Rapportuer mandate would be established once that of the Commission had been completed.  The Council had demonstrated its commitment to provide technical assistance and capacity building to the Governments of Libya, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Sudan.  Special attention should be paid to the human rights records and commitment of States to the protection and promotion of such rights at the time of their election as Council members, as well as during their membership, he added. 

The Union also attached the greatest importance to the Special Procedures, one of the most vital functions of the Council, he said, hailing the establishment of new mandates on Belarus and Eritrea.  He also welcomed the extension of the Special Papporteur mandates on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar and Iran, as well as the renewal of the mandates of Independent Expert on the matter in Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, Somalia and Haiti.  Stressing the crucial importance of mandate-holders’ ability to undertake country visits and establish direct contract with the relevant government structures as well as other national and regional stakeholders, especially civil society, he regretted that some Governments had refused to cooperate.  The Universal Periodic Review was truly a universal mechanism.  Participation by all States in the first cycle had earned credit for the process.  All States should participate in the second cycle, too.

Highlighting several important developments, he went on to note that enjoyment of human rights by women constituted a major theme at the Council during the period under review.  The Council had adopted guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights as a useful tool for States in formulating and implementing poverty reduction and eradication policies.  The Council had continued its important work on the rights of the child and addressed the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.  The Council had also addressed the human rights on the Internet, reaffirming that the same rights enjoyed by people offline must be protected online.

GEORG SPARBER (Liechtenstein) said that the Council had proven — better than other United Nations bodies — that it was a voice of accountability for the most serious human rights violations, in full accordance with its mandate, Liechtenstein welcomed the Council’s continuous engagement with regard to the situation in Syria and commended the Commission of Inquiry for its work, in particular for collecting evidence that could be used in judicial proceedings to old those responsible for the gravest violations and violations of international humanitarian law to account.  It also welcomed the Council’s work on Sri Lanka, and the consensus decisions on Mali and Eritrea.  Unfortunately, urgent action by the Council was not taken to the extent desirable with regard to the human rights situation in Bahrain, he added.

In executing its mandate, the Council should continue to be guided by the principles enshrined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, he stressed, adding that it was in that context that Liechtenstein had followed with some concern the discussion in the Council with regard to “traditional values” of humankind.  While the delegation understood that there might be added value for States to consider particular circumstances when complying with international human rights obligations, it was also convinced that such circumstances could not be invoked to alter the fundamental entitlement of any human being to the full protection of all her or his human rights.

The present time was one of particular challenges for the Universal Periodic Review, he continued.  During its second cycle, the Review must prove its validity in terms of concrete results and improvements in the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.  States should make a particular effort to show that a review by their peers was able to directly benefit citizens of all parts of the world without distinction.  “The legitimacy of the Universal Periodic Review is not least grounded in the fact that every single State has been reviewed under the process in this first cycle”, he stressed, adding that preserving that universal quality must therefore be a priority for States, in particular for members of the Council, and for the Presidents of the Council, and the General Assembly and for the Secretary-General.  Indeed, refusal to cooperate with the Review was a direct challenge to the universal and equal applicability of agreements in the field of human rights and risked “taking us back to an overcome understanding” which had plagued the Council’s precursor body, in which political interest and selectivity had often prevailed.

ABDULLAH ALASFOUR ALHAJERI ( Kuwait), expressed gratitude to the Assembly for his delegation’s election to the Council, and said that it would “exert its most sincere efforts in combating racism, fanaticism and discrimination.”  The advancement of nations was measured by their commitment to human rights and protection of basic freedoms, he continued.  Kuwait’s Constitution consolidated those rights stating that justice, freedom and equality were the pillars of society and that cooperation and compassion formed the bond between citizens.  He detailed numerous constitutional articles and laws, ensuring, among other things, non-discrimination, freedom of the press, of expression and of religion.

The country was establishing a Universal Centrist Approach Centre, which had embraced several international conferences in developing ways to fight extremism, he continued.  The Government had created programmes to promote moderate views among all sectors of society.  Noting Kuwait’s role as a donor of humanitarian aid as part of its approach to human rights, he went on to condemn “the oppressive Israeli practices and policies” that persisted in violating the human rights of the Palestinian people and called on the international community to force Israel to adhere to all resolutions of international legitimacy and to respect international humanitarian law.

LEÓN GONZÁLEZ ( Cuba) emphasized that it was critical for the Council to avoid a return to the negative practices that had “sunk” its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  The Universal Periodic Review was consolidating itself as the only universal mechanism for a comprehensive analysis of human rights situations across the world, he added, noting that it had proven to be a means of international cooperation in the area and that its work was based on the principles of impartiality and non-selectivity.  Cuba had participated in the process of creating the Council, and had been an active negotiator in the various parts of the Council’s review.  However, it felt that a “double standard” had permeated the work of the Council.  Many countries had manipulated the mechanisms related to them, and were blocking resolutions put forth by developing countries.  That dichotomy had been expressed broadly by the report of the Human Rights Council, he said.

While there existed an “unfair and exclusionary” international and political environment, the Council should continue to speak out in favour of a just world order.  In that vein, it must reject and demand the end to the unilateral blockade against Cuba.  It should respect the code of conduct adopted during its inception.  The Council should also ensure that, in the face of the world’s many current crises, the claiming of the right to international solidarity was not a matter that could be postponed.  Indeed, given the trend that the most-developed countries had begun to impose in the Council, Cuba confirmed its desire for dialogue with all States based on the right of all people to choose their own systems of governance and their own political institutions.

KAZUO KODAMA ( Japan) said that the Council had been established to address violations of human rights and to make recommendations thereupon.  It had steadily made progress in those respects, and had undertaken work to address serious violations of human rights in Syria, including through the creation of a Commission of Inquiry and other actions.  In that vein, there was a conscious decision to adopt several resolutions in an effort to “send a strong message” to the Syrian Government.  In another sign of progress, several resolutions were also presented by regional groups and adopted by consensus.  In particular, Japan felt that the Universal Periodic Review was a “truly innovative mechanism”, he added, noting that it was important to pay attention to the recommendations for all Member States from the first review cycle.  In that regard, Japan would seriously examine the recommendations issued to it by that review.

Each Member State should issue a standing invitation to the Council’s special procedures, he continued.  Japan attached great importance to enhancing and improving the working methods of the United Nations treaty bodies, allowing them to fully implement their mandates.  It therefore looked forward to engaging in the General Assembly’s process in that regard.  “Let us remember that the Council was also established to promote the mainstreaming of human rights in the work of the United Nations”, he said.  Japan expected the Council and the Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) to take up that work by making use of its particular advantages.  Recalling that Japan had been elected to the Human Rights Council just days ago, he pledged that his country would be “mindful of its responsibilities” in that regard.

LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA ( Mexico) said that in 2005 the international community had established the Human Rights Council to protect and promote those rights around the world.  Since then, the Council had created new tools that had had real impact on the lives of millions of people.  The body also had conducted fundamental work to promote human rights, and to prevent and ensure non-recurrence of violations.  A relevant feature of the Council was the growing number of States willing to discuss challenges and successes in the human rights field both nationally and regionally.  The Council had made advances in addressing the rights of older persons, migrants and women, among others.

There was room for improvement in how the Council addressed national situations, cooperation with special procedures and in the use of the meagre resources it had, as well as in avoiding duplication of efforts and division of labour, he said.  The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) had an important responsibility with regard to the latter.  It was also important to examine how States could contribute further resources to human rights mechanisms, how the Council could better administer those resources it had and how to could increase technical cooperation.  Along with OHCHR the Council must continue to develop human rights standards internationally with greater consistency in normative frameworks.  The second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review provided an opportunity to follow-up on recommendations made.  The Assembly should take serious account of the Council’s recommendations.

ESHAGH AL HABIBI ( Iran) said that, to his delegation’s great dismay, new concerted attempts were emerging to turn the Human Rights Council into a “mere tool for the sake of political ambitions of a few countries”.  It was deplorable that, despite the existence of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, certain countries still continued tabling country-specific resolutions in both the Council and the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).  It went without saying that such resolutions were politically motivated exercises to satiate the political purposes and interests of their sponsors, he said.

With the successful performance of the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and the launch of the second cycle, it was reiterated that the review constituted a “breakthrough” in the work of the United Nations intergovernmental human rights activities.  However, the world was witnessing attempts on the part of a few who wished to impose their own views and interpretations on the application of certain internationally agreed concepts and standards.  The Human Rights Council should, by designing innovative approaches, confront such attempts.  For its part, Iran had taken a genuine and long-term approach to safeguarding human rights by ensuring its full compliance with the relevant international commitments, and had undertaken measures leading to the further convergence of values and principles held by various countries with different cultural, social and historical backgrounds on human rights questions.

YASAR HALIT CEVIK (Turkey), speaking on behalf of a Group of States, said OHCHR’s current financial challenges and gaps resulted in part from increasing requests and needs relating to treaty bodies and expanded mandates and was complicated by the Office’s reliance on voluntary contributions.  Since there was an increasing interest in ensuring that the Office could fulfil its mandate, the aim should be to establish more sustainable resourcing, which should be done by, among other things, strengthening funding through coordinated efforts in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and other relevant United Nations bodies, continuing to provide voluntary contributions, including unencumbered funds, and bearing in mind the current constrains when mandating new activities.

Turkey and the Group of States also supported the High Commissioner and her Office in their efforts to strengthen communications regarding resource requirements, to continue to develop the dialogue with States to secure transparency and easily accessible information on sources and funding allocation to the Office and to take a realistic and sustainable approach to budgeting.  It further supported the Office’s work to continue to roll out its new performance monitoring system across its presence in the field and at Headquarters in Geneva and to expand the donor base and work for a wide geographical spread, he said.

THOMAS GURBER ( Switzerland) said it was encouraging to see new subjects introduced before the Council, especially gender orientation and sexual identity.  But the tendency to “tone down” the language related to non-discrimination and gender equality was somewhat worrying.  Since the events in the Near East and Africa and the creation of citizen movements throughout the world, Switzerland was pleased to place “the protection of human rights during peaceful demonstrations” on the Council’s agenda.  Discussion on that topic would resume at the Council’s March 2013 meeting.  Switzerland was pleased by the appointment of the Special Rapporteur and reports concerning the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and on human rights and the environment.

Switzerland was proud that its rights record had been examined for the second time within the framework of the Universal Periodic Review during the working group’s last session, he said.  Switzerland backed the continuation of cooperation evinced between all States during the Review’s first cycle.  Regarding the inter-governmental discussion on the strengthening of treaty bodies, he believed it was important to be specific while recognizing the system’s financing aspect.  Long-term planning, working methods and increasing currently inefficient resources should be core elements of any solution.  He also asked Member States to increase the portion of the regular budget earmarked for the High Commissioner as they maintained their level of voluntary contributions.  Switzerland endorsed the intervention made today by Turkey.

UMUNNA ORJIAKO ( Nigeria) said judging by States’ active participation in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review’s fourteenth session of the Working Group, it was his hope to see universal participation that mirrored the first cycle.  The Review mechanism was useful in the promotion and protection of human rights.  The wide range of thematic issues addressed by the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council indicated that the notion of human rights was taking on a broader dimension and was now being mainstreamed into deeper aspects of human development, he said, urging the mandate-holders to continue to work impartially.

Since people worldwide looked to the Council to promote and protect their rights, he said one way to assure them that the Council was serving their interests was by maintaining the high level of access to the body enjoyed by non-governmental organizations.  Pleased with the participation of such groups, he said the Council’s engagement with them provided an avenue for the voice of ordinary men and women to be heard and for the cause of victims to be pleaded before the world body.  The considerable number of resolutions adopted by the Council during the current year reflected the wide array of issues before it, he said, noting that some of the resolutions came with programme budget implications, creating funding challenges.  Given that human rights were a key pillar of the United Nations architecture, he supported the call for the General Assembly to significantly improve funding for the Council’s work.

JAMAL HASSAN ( Malaysia) said that his delegation, together with the international community, placed high expectations on the work of the Council.  Events around the world, in the Middle East and North Africa in particular, had highlighted that important work; now that the dust had settled, there was a realization that “more remained to be done”.  The nascent Governments in that region were trying not to follow the missteps of the previous fallen leaders.  However, they were faced with the delicate task of juggling the call for progress and the need to retain support.  Malaysia believed that the Council could play an important role in supporting those Governments, especially by guiding them towards a human rights standard that was acceptable by the international community.

He touched on a number of issues related to the Council itself, including the importance of the Universal Periodic Review and its Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance, and the role played in supporting the process of State-building and national reconciliation in various parts of the world.  Malaysia welcomed the Council’s continued attention to the human rights situation of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territory, and expressed its strong support for the Palestinians and for an independent state of Palestine, based on the two-State solution.  He urged the Council to continue to press that issue and to ensure that the Palestinians were afforded their basic rights.  Finally, on the process of strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system, Malaysia stressed that such a process should be an inter-governmental one, where involvement by States Parties in every stage was of paramount importance.

OSAMA ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD ( Egypt) underscored the need to support and respect the institutional balance between the roles of the principal organs of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues, with a particular emphasis on economic, social and cultural dimensions.  It was also vital to avoid attempts by some to impose their values, concepts, perceptions and the standards of their justice and legal systems, as well as promote certain “controversial notions” that did not take into account the diversity of the social, cultural and legislative values between nations.  Reiterating Egypt’s commitment not to politicize the Council, he reaffirmed that the Council’s central role was to ensure respect for all human rights, international humanitarian law, all States and peoples, without exception or discrimination, particularly in the occupied territories and most importantly in Palestine. 

He went on to urge Member States to ensure the full compliance of Israel with all its international obligations, including its commitment to cooperate fully with the relevant Special Rapporteur and the fact-finding missions mandated by the Human Rights Council to investigate gross violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In that regard, Egypt deplored Israel’s decision to suspend its relations with the Council, and considered it a dangerous precedent that, if not dealt with firmly, would undermine the effective role and functioning of the Council and its mandate.  Strengthening the Council’s role required enhancing dialogue and promoting constructive cooperation to ensure the effectiveness of the special procedures system.  “This is a shared responsibility between the mandate holders, the States and all other relevant parties,” he said.

CHO KI-JOUNG (Republic of Korea) said, speaking of the situation in Syria, that the Human Rights Council had taken the necessary decisions during its regular sessions and through its urgent meetings to demand the immediate cessation of human rights violations in that country.  Such rapid response to the situation had enhanced the Council’s role.  He called on States to respect all urgent demands of the international community as expressed through the Council.  He then said that the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review was off to a better start than the first.  The number of countries had increased and there had been an improvement in the number and quality of recommendations.  To ensure full success, each State must assess and implement the recommendations.  He called upon all concerned Governments to do.

Expressing his gratitude to those Member States who had supported Korea’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council, he said that Korea would keep to all promises and commitments in accomplishing the Council’s mission and would maintain a close relationship with the other Members and Observers, as well as with civil society.

ANA MARIE L. HERNANDO (Philippines) said it was unfortunate that more than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, illiteracy and lack of shelter remained prevalent, affecting the realization of a wide range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  The Philippines, a member of the Human Rights Council, was committed to continuing its support for advancing discussions on the right to development with a view to its realization.  The reform process that led to the Council’s creation stemmed from the need to elevate human rights to the same level as the pillars of peace and security and equitable economic development on which the United Nations was founded.  “Development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, and it is only through the observance of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that we can truly attain peace and social progress,” she said.

Since its establishment in 2006, the Human Rights Council had made reasonable progress fulfilling its mandate.  The Universal Periodic Review remained an effective mechanism; it had spurred greater attention to human rights at national and international levels and had shown that all countries, regardless of their levels of development, shared human rights challenges.  The primary goal of the Council was to help and encourage all countries to build an enabling environment and to better promote the human rights of their peoples, in constructive cooperation with the international community and civil society.  “We are convinced that a consensual and cooperative approach when dealing with country situations can lead to a more practical and results-oriented outcome,” she said.  “The independence of mandate-holders is vital to their work, but, as we have repeatedly stressed in the past, must always be balanced with important considerations such as professionalism, integrity, efficiency and effectiveness.”

C.T. NTWAAGAE (Botswana), noting that his country was a member of the Human Rights Council, said that in the body’s recently concluded session, it had continued to make a positive impact on Member States in encouraging them to hold the highest standards and addressing the challenges they faced in protection and promotion of human rights.  He was concerned, however, at violations still taking place in a number of countries on the Council’s agenda.  On Syria, he called on the Council to take measures to compel that country’s Government to end impunity and continued violations of fundamental rights.  Welcoming the extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry in that country, he hoped that the parties cooperated with it. 

Botswana, he said, had actively engaged in the Council’s work, supporting the work of the High Commissioner, as well as various Special mandate-holders in the context of the challenges and constraints they faced.  In that regard he shared concerns over resource constraints and increasing workloads.  Welcoming the work done by the Council’s Special Procedures, in particular the Special Rapporteur on the use of children in armed conflicts, he reiterated support to efforts to end impunity and violation of children’s rights in all situations.  Underlining the critical importance of the effective functioning of human rights treaty body system, he expressed confidence that the ongoing efforts to strengthen it would result in greater efficiency and help promote the Council’s development agenda.

GRIGORY Y. LUKIYANTSEV ( Russian Federation) said that, in the time since the Human Rights Council had been in existence, it had become one of the key instruments of the international human rights architecture.  The Council had qualities which distinguished it favourably from its predecessor, he added.  However, a worrying trend was appearing in recent years, characterized by politicization of various groups of States, which had made meaningful discussion difficult.  The use of human rights as an instrument of political pressure, imposing foreign value systems without taking into account the particularity of States and attempts to divide States between “good guys” and “bad guys” and between students and examiners defeated the very purposes of the Council, he stressed.  In that regard, he drew attention to such basic principles as universality, impartiality and non-selectivity, among others.  Unless such principles were respected, true international dialogue to protect human rights would not succeed, and the Council’s work would also be relegated to failure.

One of the Council’s most important functions was to conduct the Universal Periodic Review.  Russia had supported the setting up of the procedure, and was convinced that in the future the Review must fully replace the discredited practices of “lopsided and politicized” resolutions on the human rights situations in specific countries.  However, the success of the Review could only be achieved based on complete universality without exception.  The system of Special Procedures was also important; however, it did have shortcomings.  He highlighted, among other things, the need to look into the moral dimension of international human rights, which included dignity, responsibility, work, the family and mutual respect.  Indeed, such elements must become the “cement” that bound peoples together.

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that human rights must be addressed in a full, fair and equal manner, away from the “traps and ploys of politicization and double standards”.  Syria had participated actively in forming the Human Rights Council, and such rights were at the heart of Syrian foreign policy.  He noted, in particular, the violations of human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan, where Israel refused to abide by various resolutions of United Nations bodies, including the Council.  The Israelis continued to “commit war crimes and crime against humanity, and to boast about those crimes,” he said.

He went on to say that his delegation had expressed its concern over the efforts of some to turn the Council into a “private sector” and a “pre-fabricated institution” that served the agendas of some members, in contradiction with the body’s mandate and spirit.  The Council had been turned into a political vehicle, as it ignored human rights violations in States that claimed to be “advanced” — and where there was, in fact, rampant racism and xenophobia, among other problems, and which had adopted unilateral coercive measures or invaded other sovereign States.  In that vein, some Western States had unfortunately developed a dual understanding of terrorism, comprising the type of terrorism that others perpetrated and the “acceptable” type that they themselves perpetrated.

The four resolutions adopted by the Council regarding Syria were based on “biased, misleading media reports”, he continued; they employed “hateful” language unprecedented in Human Rights Council texts.  Moreover, they showed only one side of the situation, and they did not demand a halt to violence on the part of the armed terrorist groups in Syria.  The sponsors of the resolutions, who claimed to defend the human rights of Syrians, also neglected to mention the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria which was a result of the sanctions imposed by a number of States.  It was “regrettable and shameful” that the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) were the first to impose such “inhumane” sanctions on the Syrian people; it was also shameful for rich States who were part of those organizations not to offer a single dollar to the people of Syria, while they instead supported the terrorists operating at large in that country.

Syria was experiencing a humanitarian crisis as a result of the activities of those terrorist groups, he stressed, adding that the situation was “proven and clear” and was now in the hands of the Human Rights Council and the Security Council.  Syria had offered solutions to resolve the crisis, and had issued permission for non-governmental organizations to participate in the response plan.

Nevertheless, some countries that supported terrorism continued to try to portray the Syrian Government as a killer of its own people, and to completely ignore the Government’s duty to combat terrorist groups and those who sponsored them.  A solution could be guaranteed by ensuring the political will on the part of donors to honour what they had pledged and to end unilateral coercive measures against Syria, he stressed.  In that vein, he hoped to see the Human Rights Council President intervene “with her significant moral weight” and to help to convince the armed groups in Syria to end their attacks on that country’s people.

OCH OD ( Mongolia) said human rights challenges today called on Member States to implement sound national policies to promote enhanced global cooperation.  States concerned must also support the international community in a more substantive way, including through bolstered technical assistance and advisory services, aimed at capacity-building and human rights education.  In the last 20 years, Mongolia had carried out extensive legal reform to bring national laws in line with global standards.  It was taking steps to amend existing laws in order to abolish the death penalty.  Implementation of its reporting obligations under human rights treaties was of great importance to Mongolia.  The country’s first national human rights report was reviewed in 2010 under the Universal Periodic Review.  Mongolia consistently had supported the Human Rights Council’s special procedures. 

Last October, the United Nations Working Group on Human Rights and Business, an independent group of experts established in June 2011 and appointed by the Council, had visited Mongolia, its first country mission ever, to examine the human rights impact of business activities, he said.  Mongolia’s 2012-2016 national action plan emphasized human rights.  The Working Group had focused on business activities’ negative on human rights, as well as its positive impact, from creating jobs to driving economic growth.  The Working Group found that the key challenge for a country undergoing rapid economic development like Mongolia was to maximize the positive effects while minimizing the negative ones.  The Government and businesses would pay due attention and take action based on the Working Group’s recommendations.  He looked forward to receiving the final report of the Working Group, which was due before the Human Rights Council in June 2013.  He reiterated Mongolia’s commitment to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its bid to become a member.  He asked Member States to support that bid during the 2015 elections.

MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN ( Bangladesh) said that the Human Rights Council, with its institutional machinery, could bring significant improvements to the enjoyment of human rights.  He expressed concern at the increasing polarization of the Council.  If the Council did not foster dialog and cooperation over divisiveness and confrontation it could be discredited as its predecessor, the Commission for Human Rights, had been.  All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Council as a forum for action.  Then, expressing praise for the Universal Periodic Review, he said that its universality, with all countries facing scrutiny regardless of their region, size or influence, could create an environment of mutual trust and change the culture of human rights discourse.

He agreed that the system of Special Procedures was important to the effective promotion and protection of human rights and expressed approval of improvements made to that system, notably the streamlined appointment procedure.  The selection process could be further improved through greater outreach and updating of the roster.  He further emphasized that mandate holders must abide by the code of conduct and remain within their respective jurisdictions.  Among other things, he said that the Council should not use loopholes to bring in issues or norms that were not universally accepted.  He also said that the Council should oversee the Office of the High Commissioner.  He also suggested that there be more special sessions on thematic issues, such as incitement of hatred on the Internet.  Finally, he said that the Council needed sufficient resources to fulfil its mission.

EDUARDO ULIBARRI ( Costa Rica) stressed unconditional support for the Human Rights Council.  He said that the body’s financial requirements must be addressed, particularly with regard to the Universal Periodic Review.  He encouraged all States to participate in the Second Review phase with as much enthusiasm as they had the first.  As a current Council Member, Costa Rica had been active in every session, particularly in the areas of human rights education and the relationship between human rights and the environment.  It had sponsored resolutions, such as one for a programme on human rights education training, and in achieving consensus in the Council on the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

As chair of the country situations group, Costa Rica had fostered a new involvement of members and greater efficiency, he went on.  Underscoring the establishment of a working group on a resolution for the right to peace, he noted its importance to Costa Rica, a country with no army.  Human rights had deep roots in the country’s national identity.  Gender equality in free primary education was established in 1869, the death penalty abolished in 1862 and the army in 1949.  Costa Rica was first to sign the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which had been fundamental to the creation of OHCHR.  It had been an active participant in the review process of the Council’s work and in strengthening the treaty body organizations.  Costa Rica wished to continue cooperating constructively with the Council and had put forth its candidacy for membership 2014-2017, he added.

AHMED SAREER ( Maldives) said that, since assuming its seat on the Human Rights Council in 2010, his country had collaborated with all delegations on numerous issues.  In March, during the Council’s nineteenth session, the Maldives, along with a core group of countries, had submitted a resolution entitled “Human rights and the environment” which established a Special Procedure to examine the relationship between those two areas.  “We believe that the protection of the environment and human rights are intrinsically linked”, he said in that regard, expressing his hope that the work of the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment would bring to fruition core interests of Member States at the national, regional and international levels on that important issue.

The Maldives had also worked with a cross-regional group of countries to create a Voluntary Trust Fund for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, to support the activities designed to enhance and improve the capacities of those States and to encourage their participation in the consultative and decision-making processes on human rights matters.  The relevant resolution had had 113 co-sponsors and enjoyed broad cross-regional support, he added.  Turning to the work of the Council in general, he said that the body had largely been a success and a “force for good”.  Recently, however, the politics of diplomacy had been impeding the work of United Nations bodies with little or no regard for the basic rights of ordinary people, which they were in fact committed to protect.  “The lack of consensus and the impotence of the Security Council is one such example that demonstrates that Members would need to do more in working to overcome their differences”, he said in that regard.

MOHAMED IBRAHIM MOHAMED ELBAHI ( Sudan) said that the establishment of the Human Rights Council was an important achievement in the endeavours of the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs in dealing with issues of human rights and equality between all Member States.  The Universal Periodic Review, in that regard, provided a review of all countries equally.  He reiterated Sudan’s cooperation with the Council, and recalled that it had submitted a Review report last year and had established a high-level national commission to implement its recommendations.  Those positive developments, in addition to others, had been welcomed by the Human Rights Council.

The Council’s decision in its last session, unanimously deciding to extend the mandate of the Special Expert to provide technical assistance in Sudan, clearly showed the efforts of the Government to protect and promote human rights in the country.  In addition, the national commission on human rights had drawn up a comprehensive plan of action in less than five months, he said.  He also noted several other positive developments, such as the transition of the authority of Darfur and the Doha process of peace and the establishment of the Special Court for Darfur and of the post of a special prosecutor.  The Government was also cooperating with South Sudan on many fronts, and it undertook its responsibilities regarding economic, social and cultural rights very seriously.

MIGUEL BERMEO, Permanent Observer of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that Parliament had a critical role to play to ensure that the Universal Periodic Review become more effective.  Parliament, through its legislative, oversight and budgetary functions, could directly contribute to the success of the review mechanism.  A study conducted by his organization in 2009 had found that the vast majority of parliaments were not even aware of the existence of the review process.

Subsequently, IPU had made it a priority to raise awareness about the mechanism among parliaments and had started to organize capacity-building workshops for parliamentarians.  As to whether parliaments should contribute to the drafting of the report, some had said that such bodies should not infringe on the preserve of the executive branch but others believed that nothing prevented parliaments from contributing to the report.  “Whichever side you stand on, there seems to be consensus that, as a minimum, parliament needs to be informed of the report and should have a possibility to debate it before it is sent to the [Human Rights] Council in Geneva,” he said.

Right of reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of rely and responding to the statement by the representative of Liechtenstein, the representative of Bahrain said that any witness to her country’s transparent and active engagement with the Human Rights Council, OHCHR and the various mandate-holders should be reassured of Bahrain’s commitment to human rights.  Bahrain had been the first country to undergo the Universal Periodic Review in both cycles, and it had accepted 90 per cent of the recommendations contained therein.  That should be applauded.  Indeed, she said, the Kingdom would continue on its path of reform.  Moreover, its reports to the Council were all public documents.  She therefore called on the representative of Liechtenstein to familiarize himself with those documents “to ease his concerns”.

Action on Draft

The Assembly then adopted, by consensus, a draft resolution entitled on organizational arrangements for the plenary meetings on 10 and 11 December 2012 devoted to the consideration of the item entitled ‘Oceans and the law of the sea’ and to the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (document A/67/L.4), by which it approved arrangements for that meeting.

Taking the floor after that action, the representative of Argentina said that he was not giving an explanation of position, but simply wished to recognize the many delegations who had worked to promote the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the 1982 United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.

Election of Members of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law

In final action, the Assembly elected, today, by consensus the following 30 Members of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL):  Armenia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mauritania, Namibia, Panama, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Zambia.  Their six year terms would commence 8 July 2013.

Of those, 17 were currently serving and had been re-elected, namely:  Armenia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Singapore, and United Kingdom.

The remainder replaced outgoing Members:  Bahrain, Benin, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Latvia, Malta, Morocco, Norway, Senegal, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Elections are held so as to assure geographical balance among Members of the Commission.  This year, 7 were elected from African States; 7 from Asia-Pacific States; 4 from Eastern European States; 5 from Latin American and Caribbean States and 7 from Western European and other States.  There was one remaining vacancy from Western European and other States for which the Assembly would hold elections upon notification by interested Member States from that region.

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