Silence of Millennium Goals on Inequalities Called ‘Biggest Blind Spot’ as Third Committee Continues Consideration of Human Rights

28 October 2013
GA/SHC/4079

Silence of Millennium Goals on Inequalities Called ‘Biggest Blind Spot’ as Third Committee Continues Consideration of Human Rights

28 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/SHC/4079
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Third Committee

29th & 30th Meetings (AM & PM)

Silence of Millennium Goals on Inequalities Called ‘Biggest Blind Spot’

 

as Third Committee Continues Consideration of Human Rights

 

The biggest blind spot of the development international agenda – the Millennium Development Goals – was its silence over inequalities, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today, as it continued its discussions on the promotion and protection of human rights.

“Equality isn’t an automatic outcome of conventional development practices, and the benefits delivered to the ‘better off’ do not naturally ‘trickle down’ to the most marginalized,” said Catarina De Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

She said that about 1,500 cubic kilometres of wastewater was generated around the world every year, and 80 percent of it was discharged untreated.  She called on States to reverse patterns of exclusion and improve the lives of the most disadvantaged people, who were usually the worst affected by contamination, stressing that “no real success can be achieved without the elimination of inequalities”.

Of the same view was Tamara Kunanayakam, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the right to development, who emphasized that there had been a dramatic increase in inequalities within and between States, despite not lacking the means or the resources to confront those historical challenges through international cooperation and solidarity.  “Problems of a global character can only be resolved through collective action,” she said, questioning the existence of the necessary political will.

Also addressing the issue of inequalities was Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, who said that aligning development planning with the norms and principles of human rights was essential to ensuring that economic progress did not leave out those who remained marginalized and deprived of opportunities for education.  For that reason, there was a need to create a human rights-based, all-inclusive post-2015 development agenda, he said, adding that the recommendation was contained in his report.

The Committee also heard from today Miklós Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, who addressed human rights concerns over electoral processes in that country.  He explained that because the Government had denied him access, he had been compelled to gather information by listening to expatriate Belarusians.  He cautioned against Government-dependent election management, a system of restrictive regulations, and the constant persecution of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists as well as independent organizations and candidates, saying “elections have been transformed into ceremonial tools used to perpetuate power”.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Belarus said he neither recognized the Special Rapporteur’s mandate nor his report.  Questioning the Special Rapporteur’s independence and objectivity, he said his mandate had been established by a minority vote and was a product of manipulation by the European Union.

Iran’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, was another of those voicing concern over country-specific mandates, while the European Union delegation and many others voiced their support for the expert.

Alfred-Maurice De Zayas, independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, called on Member States to persevere in their efforts to reform the United Nations system with a view to making it more democratic and equitable, particularly the Security Council, which should better reflect the needs and priorities of present and future generations rather than the 1945 world order.

Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers focused on military tribunals, particularly those involved with terrorism-related trials.  Such tribunals took different forms in different States, which posed a serious challenge due to the lack of consistency in various legal systems regarding the meaning of the term “military offence”.  She added: “Such differences make any attempt to classify various types of military jurisdiction difficult.”

Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, reported that she had tried to make the work of defenders visible and to contribute to their empowerment.  Aware that defending human rights remained a dangerous business, she said that certain groups, such as women defenders and those working on access to land and environment, faced heightened risks when they tried to engage with human rights mechanisms or international bodies to report on human rights situations.  They also faced intimidation and reprisals.

Pavel Sulyandziga, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, highlighted the impact of business operations on the rights of indigenous peoples.  He also underlined the duty of States to protect and prevent their rights from abuses by private actors.  Free, prior and informed consent was a fundamental element of those rights, on which the ability of indigenous peoples to exercise and enjoy a number of other rights rested, he stressed.

Participating in today’s interactive discussions were representatives of the United States, European Union Delegation, Russian Federation, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Qatar, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Cuba, Maldives, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Ireland, China, Kazakhstan, Syria, Poland, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, as well as an official from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 October, to continue its discussions on the protection and promotion of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights, with eight experts expected to deliver presentations throughout the day.  For background information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4076 of 23 October.

Independence of Judges and Lawyers

GABRIELA KNAUL, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, presented her report (document A/68/285), saying it focused on the administration of justice through military tribunals, particularly in terms of terrorism-related trials.  In many countries, the use of military tribunals raised serious concerns about access to justice, impunity for past human rights violations, judicial independence and impartiality, and fair-trial guarantees for defendants.  Among the biggest challenges were different forms that military tribunals took on in different States and the lack of consistency in different legal systems with regard to the meaning of the term “military offence”.  Such differences made any attempt to classify various types of military jurisdiction difficult, she pointed out.

The fundamental aim of military tribunals was to allow armed forces to deal with matters pertaining directly to the discipline, efficiency and morale of the military, she explained.  However, the need for separate tribunals to enforce special disciplinary standards was not universally recognized.  In many States, the primary purpose of such tribunals was to serve the interests of the military, rather than those of society.  The report emphasized that the trial of civilians by military tribunals should be prohibited, except in exceptional circumstances in which civilians could be assimilated into the military, for instance, in cases of civilian dependents of military personnel posted abroad or civilians accompanying the armed forces, such as contractors, cooks and translators.

“The integrity of the justice system is a precondition for democracy and the rule of law,” she continued, noting that her report reiterated that the justice system must, therefore, be structured on the pillars of independence, impartiality, competence and accountability.  In conclusion, she proposed a number of solutions premised on the view that the jurisdiction of military tribunals should be restricted to offences of a military nature committed by military personnel.  States that established military justice systems should aim to guarantee their independence and impartiality, as well as the exercise and enjoyment of a number of human rights, including the right to a fair trial.

Delegates participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue asked about the possibility of creating mechanisms to provide alternatives to military tribunals, such as oversight entities established by civilian courts; the challenges of guaranteeing the integrity of justice systems; assistance to help States assess gaps in their systems; the possibility of including military tribunals in wider judicial systems in the work of the Special Rapporteur; and possible additions to the draft resolution that the Russian Federation planned to submit to the Human Rights Council during its upcoming session.

Ms. KNAUL said one of the biggest challenges of military tribunals was the lack of a unified set of practices by States.  A possible way to overcome it would be to set guidelines regulating military tribunals specifically.  Other challenges included long trial and pretrial times, inadequate access to legal counsel, the need to guarantee the principle of “equality of arms” between the prosecutor and the defence; and limitations on the right to appeal.  States establishing military tribunals should ensure that they functioned in a competent, independent and impartial manner, guaranteeing the exercise and enjoyment of human rights, in particular the right to a fair trial and due process, she emphasized.  Another issue to be considered was security of tenure for judges, who were often appointed only for limited periods.  She voiced her full agreement with the aim of the draft principles elaborated in 2006 to govern the administration of justice through military tribunals, which was to establish a minimum system of universally applicable rules to regulate military justice.  The guidelines “should be pushed and adopted”, as they constituted an important instrument that could guide States when trying military personnel, she said.

Participants in the interactive dialogue included representatives of the United States, European Union Delegation and the Russian Federation.

Democratic and Equitable International Order

ALFRED-MAURICE DE ZAYAS, independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, introduced his report (document A/68/284), saying it contained recommendations aimed at converging civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights into a coherent synthesis that would advance efforts towards a more democratic and equitable international order.

Describing the irresponsible war-mongering of sensationalist media that beat the drums of war instead of discussing possibilities for negotiated settlements as a global problem that demanded global solutions, he said strategies must be devised to counter the manipulation of public opinion to make the use of force plausible and socially acceptable.  In that context, the Human Rights Council was considering a draft Declaration on the Right to Peace which, when adopted by the General Assembly, would contribute to a culture of dialogue and non-violence, he said, adding that it would recognize peace not only as a principle but as a human right with collective and individual dimensions, grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core United Nations human rights treaties.

Offering several recommendations, he said States should persevere in efforts to reform the United Nations system with a view to making it more democratic and equitable, in particular the Security Council, which should better reflect the needs and priorities of present and future generations instead of the 1945 world order.  The General Assembly should be revitalized and made more democratic and representative, he said, adding that complementing it with a consultative United Nations Parliamentary Assembly could be a meaningful step towards that goal.  States should abandon unilateral actions that had an adverse impact on a democratic and equitable international order, avoiding over-reliance on “positivism” and efforts to circumvent treaty obligations or to find loopholes therein.  “Nature abhors a vacuum,” he said, noting that human rights law abhorred “legal black holes”.

He went on to recommend that the General Assembly promote the equitable participation of all States in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), for instance, by placing those institutions under the authority of the United Nations and subordinating them to the Purposes and Principles of the Charter, pursuant to Article 57 and 63 thereof.  The Assembly might also consider expanding the mandate of the Human Rights Council to allow examination of reports from financial institutions, the World Trade Organization and transnational corporations, under a modified Universal Periodic Review procedure.  The Assembly might also consider convening a world conference on self-determination, in which all indigenous communities, peoples living under occupation and non-represented peoples could be heard, he proposed.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked the Independent Expert to elaborate on the right to privacy, United Nations reform, veto power in particular, the link between development and an equitable global order, and the adverse effects of unilateral sanctions on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

Mr. DE ZAYAS pointed out that not all States would agree with his recommendations, but his mandate required not only expertise on relevant subject matter but a capacity for free thinking, rather than the ability to rehash rhetoric to confirm the status quo.  The report did not engage in naming and shaming, he said, stressing the importance of a spirit of international solidarity.  On United Nations reform, he said he had endorsed Professor Joseph Schwartzberg’s book Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World.

He acknowledged the rebuttal by the representative of the Russian Federation to the effect that the veto power enjoyed by permanent Security Council members had played an important role in preventing tragedies.  On self-determination, he called for continuing study of the topic, noting that most indigenous peoples had not achieved self-determination, and noting that his recommendations included one on convening a world conference on self-determination.  Turning to the post-2015 world economic order, he emphasized the importance of involving developing nations in the Breton Woods institutions, and reiterated his proposal to allow the Human Rights Council to review their work.  On the adverse impacts of unilateral actions, he said concrete recommendations had been made at a workshop held in Geneva in April.

Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Indonesia.

Right to Education

KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, presented his annual report (document A/68/294), saying it elaborated upon a rights-based approach to future education development goals, with necessary implementation strategies and recommendations.  On the main contours of such a strategy, he said national legislation and policy should provide basic education for a longer duration and include technical and vocational education and training with quality learning and acquisition of competencies.  “Skill development is particularly necessary to meet the rising aspiration of youth,” he emphasized.  However, the post-2015 development agenda should seek to ensure that quality was not sacrificed when expanding access to education, and that national quality-evaluation mechanisms were adopted throughout the education process.

“Education is a powerful tool in poverty eradication, and its empowering role deserves full emphasis,” he continued, stressing also the need for social protection measures to enable children from poor households to avail themselves of their fundamental right to education.  Similarly, educating women and girls should be seen as a human rights imperative rather than an undertaking aimed solely at securing benefits for their children.  It was also important to foster active participation and engagement of local bodies and civil society organizations, including those representing teachers, students and their parents, but also at the international level through financial and technical support from development partners.

Outlining his report’s recommendations, he emphasized the need to create a human rights-based, all-inclusive post-2015 development agenda that would address all aspects of education.  Among other recommendations, he cited the need to modernize education laws to address key dimensions of the right to education, including the quality of education, skills development, national investment in education, regulating providers of private education and fostering life-long learning.  “Aligning development planning with human rights norms and principles is essential to avoid that economic progress continues to leave untouched those who remain marginalized and deprived of education opportunities,” he stressed.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked about measuring the quality of education, accountability and the development of global education.  Others requested additional information on a human rights-based approach to education and on education in the context of the post-2015 development framework.

Mr. SINGH said that measuring quality entailed examining different parameters of quality, including teacher development, curriculum content and the status of infrastructure.  On the notion of global citizen education, he said quality remained an imperative but respecting cultural diversity was just as important.  Regarding accountability, he underlined the need to link political commitments to legal commitments but also the important role played by civil society organizations and other stakeholders in holding Governments accountable.  On a human rights-based approach to education, he welcomed requests for additional capacity-building initiatives, saying it was important to understand the notion properly.  In conclusion, he called for a strategy to ensure that education remained at the forefront of development talks

Participants in the interactive dialogue included representatives of Bangladesh, European Union Delegation, Indonesia, Nigeria and Qatar, as well as an official of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said the “the biggest blind spot of the current development agenda — the Millennium Development Goals — is the silence regarding inequalities”.  Emphasizing that equality was not an automatic outcome of conventional development practices, and that the benefits delivered to the “better off” did not naturally “trickle down” to the most marginalized, she said that a practical tool developed in the area of water and sanitation compared the progress of disadvantage groups with that of the general population, leaving the need to identify the meaning of “disadvantage” for each country.  “Only when the gaps are closed or progressively reduced, can the goals and targets be considered achieved,” she said.

She said that every year, approximately 1,500 cubic kilometres of wastewater was generated around the world through domestic, agricultural and industrial discharge.  About 80 per cent of wastewater was discharged untreated into the environment, although managing it was not a priority in most parts of the world.  She called for additional efforts to address the issue of inadequate wastewater management.  “The safe disposal and management of faecal sludge and septage is largely neglected in current policies and requires greater attention,” she said.  Similarly, finding wastewater—management solutions in informal settlements must also be a priority, she added, calling on States to reverse patterns of exclusion and improve the lives and livelihoods of the most disadvantaged people, who were usually the worst affected by contamination.

Informing about the upcoming development of a practical handbook for realizing the human right to water and sanitation, she said it would examine what States should be considering to ensure that water and sanitation services were available, affordable, accessible, safe, appropriate and delivered without discrimination, through participatory approaches and with accessible and relevant information available to all.  The handbook would provide checklists of ideas, recommendations and case studies that would be helpful to States working towards fulfilling their human rights obligations, she said, welcoming future inputs and contributions to the handbook.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked and commented about the outstanding aspects of the Millennium Development Goals, challenges to bringing water management to the forefront of the international development agenda and the question of sustainability.  Other delegates asked about best practices in wastewater management and the financial resources needed to ensure water and sanitation.

Ms. DE ALBUQUERQUE identified hygiene as an outstanding aspect of the Millennium Development Goals requiring more attention.  Better hygiene helped to prevent waterborne diseases and to fight discrimination against girls and women by providing proper maturation management.  On incorporating human rights into the proposals contained in the report, she stressed that no real success could be achieved without the elimination of inequalities.  On incorporating the challenges relating to water and sanitation, she identified the lack of general political attention to the issue.  On sustainability and the post-2015 development agenda, she said the number of people enjoying access to water since 2000 was well known, but the number loosing access was not, which demonstrated the need for a sustainable approach to water and sanitation.  Listing States that applied a human rights-based approach to water and sanitation, she cited Japan, Brazil, Namibia, United States, Tuvalu and India as countries featured in the compilation of good practices, produced by her office in 2012.

Participants in the interactive dialogue included representatives of Norway, European Union Delegation, Slovenia, Nigeria, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Germany and Spain.

Right to Development

TAMARA KUNANAYAKAM, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the right to development, presented her annual report (document A/68/185), saying its work was to consider, revise and refine the draft right to development criteria and operational sub-criteria for use in elaborating a comprehensive and coherent set of standards for the implementation of the right to development.

The question of whether or not to address the question of indicators was an underlying constant that continued to influence the Working Group’s consideration of the draft criteria and operational subcriteria, she said.  According to one view, the draft operational subcriteria were not operational and, consistent with development practice and results-based approaches, indicators must be considered alongside them.  Another view was that indicators only served the purpose of judging developing-country performance and would not contribute to the elaboration of a comprehensive and coherent set of standards, she said.  “This debate is a reflection of different visions of development […] and the balance of forces between these two visions will determine the outcome.”

Inequality within and between States had shown a dramatic increase, she said, adding that it impacted countless victims, violating their human rights and threatening the ecosystems upon which life itself depended.  “And yet, we are not lacking in the means or in resources to confront these historical challenges through international cooperation and solidarity.”  Problems of a global character could only be resolved though collective action, she argued, asking whether the political will to do so was present.  If any progress was to be made in realizing the right to development, social justice and equality, national justice and international justice must take an equal place with the political freedoms and civil rights dominating human rights discourse and practice.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue delegates asked about the obstacles that the Working Group faced and the measures required to improve its work, concrete measures that would enable the United Nations to implement the right to development, and the international community’s role in advancing pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals.  Others asked what kind of additional support the Working Group needed from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations to fulfil its mandate.

Ms. KUNANAYAKAM said the main obstacle hindering implementation of the right to development was the different interpretations of development and how it related to human rights because States interpreted the right to development on the basis of different realities, ideologies and experiences.  However, the global economic and financial crisis would lead to common ground because it was in the interest of all States to overcome it, she said.  On measures to implement the right to development and advance the Millennium Development Goals, she said the problem had been the adoption of policies that produced and increased inequalities, emphasizing that they must be addressed.  Turning to the contribution of the right to development to the post-2015 development framework, she called on Member States to enrich the Working Group’s discussions with the experience and knowledge of experts within the United Nations system.

Participants in the interactive dialogue included representatives of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), China, South Africa, Cuba and Indonesia.

Situation of Human Rights Defenders

MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, presented her report (document A/68/262), saying she had tried with all the tools at her disposal to make the work of defenders visible and to contribute to their empowerment and protection.  Claiming and defending rights remained a dangerous business, she said, adding that she was deeply concerned, in particular, about the trend of using legislation to clamp down on defenders and restrict the space in which they operated.  They were often branded “enemies of the State”, harassed, stigmatized and criminalized for doing their work.  Certain groups, such as women defenders and those working on access to land and environment, faced heightened risks, she added.  Non-State actors were also responsible for violations against defenders, often in collusion with State authorities, she said, adding that in some instances, when defenders tried to engage with human rights mechanisms or international bodies to report on human rights situations, they faced intimidation and reprisals.

Some parts of the world had made important progress in establishing and consolidating safe and enabling environments for defenders to carry out their activities, she said, but serious challenges persisted.  The report focused on the relationship between large-scale development projects and the activities of human rights defenders who, in addition to the usual intimidation, were often also accused of being against development if their actions contravened the implementation of development plans with a direct impact on natural resources, land and the environment.  Violations of the rights of land defenders had been committed by private corporations and businesses, and the defenders were at high exposure of physical attack.

As a response to that trend, she strongly advocated for a rights-based approach to large-scale development projects, saying that approach was based on the normative framework of international human rights standards and sought to redress discriminatory practices and the unfair distribution of power, which hampered sustainable human development.  The human rights-based approach established mechanisms and conditions enabling rights-holders affected by development projects to be able to safely and effectively claim their rights.  It also ensured that duty bearers met their international obligations and were held accountable.  The necessary components of such an approach in the context of large-scale development projects were: equality and non-discrimination, which implied that the human rights of communities affected by such projects should not be adversely affected at any stage of the process; participation beyond mere consultation, which implied the involvement and empowerment of affected communities and their defenders; protection of defenders; and transparency and accountability of stakeholders and duty bearers, including access to appropriate remedy for rights-holders to communicate their grievances.

Delegates participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue requested a “glimpse” of the comprehensive assessment that the Special Rapporteur was to present to the Human Rights Council in March 2014; elaboration of States’ obligation to create an enabling environment for human rights defenders; examples of best practices; ensuring the participation of traditionally marginalized groups in large-scale development projects; the importance of State funding in such projects; drawing the line between human rights defenders and political operatives; recommendations for the training of human rights defenders and project stakeholders; tackling accountability and impunity; providing effective international support to human rights defenders and States; and enhanced cooperation with the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (Working Group on business and human rights).

Ms. SEKAGGYA said a lot still needed to be done even though human rights defenders had gained visibility, and many States had come up with very positive inputs on their treatment and protection.  Urging States that had not offered her a standing invitation for a country visit to do so, she said such visits were crucial to her work.  Another challenge was that most States did not follow up on the recommendations they received.  The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders must be “domesticated within the country” and implemented on the ground, she emphasized.  Noting that reprisals were still taken against those who cooperated with the United Nations, she said.  On a more positive note, she said some countries had adopted laws to protect human rights defenders.

On the possibility of defenders carrying out their activities in a safe and enabling environment, she said the creation of such an environment and their actual protection were obligations of the State.  In the same context, communities must be able to participate in all stages of large-scale development projects, from design and planning to implementation, monitoring and evaluation, which was not current established practice.  Other ways to create an enabling environment included dealing urgently with impunity and bringing perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.

Replying to the question on best practices, she said Australia had established social safeguards for vulnerable groups.  Additionally, Colombia’s National Hydrocarbons Agency was required by law to spell out the methodology it used to assess the impact of a project on affected populations, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a voluntary multi-stakeholder mechanism, aimed to increase the transparency of natural resource revenues.

In reply to question about ensuring the participation of marginalized communities, she referred to the many examples in her report.

In response to a question about human rights defenders engaged in political activities, she said the work of human rights defenders was often politicized and stigmatized, which was one of the biggest challenges for them.  States should refrain from labelling defenders in order to pursue their own agendas, she said, encouraging them to learn to distinguish between defenders and political operatives.

She also underlined the importance of training for all stakeholders involved in large-scale development projects, including private security personnel and employees of State agencies, as well as defenders themselves.  The latter, in particular, should understand their rights fully in order to be able to submit their complaints, she said.

On the question of cooperation with the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, she said a joint panel discussion would soon take place.

Participants in the interactive dialogue included representatives of Norway, European Union Delegation, Switzerland, Maldives, United States, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Ireland, China and Indonesia.

Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises

PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, introduced his report (document A/68/279), noting that it highlighted the impact of business operations on the rights of indigenous peoples, while demonstrating the value of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  The Working Group noted the overall social and economic marginalization of indigenous peoples, which limited their ability to successfully assert their rights; excluded them from negotiations and other consultations that influenced their lives; and left them at risk of increased vulnerability.  The report focused on how the Guiding Principles could clarify the roles and responsibilities of States, business enterprises and indigenous peoples when addressing those impacts.

He went on to underline six specific areas of the report.  First, while States were not responsible for the abuse of indigenous peoples’ rights by private actors, they had a duty to protect where such abuse could be attributed to them or where they failed to take appropriate steps to prevent it.  Second, free, prior and informed consent was a fundamental element of the rights of indigenous peoples, upon which their ability to exercise and enjoy a number of other rights rested.  Third, States often signed free trade agreements and bilateral investment agreements that had a significant impact on indigenous peoples without properly consulting them.  Fourth, additional measures may be required to ensure non-discrimination against indigenous peoples in the judicial sphere, which may require States to recognize their customary laws, traditions and practices, as well as their customary ownership of their lands and natural resources in judicial proceedings.

Fifth, many business-related impacts on the rights of indigenous peoples’ stemmed from the activities of transnational corporations, he said.  While States were not generally required under international human rights law to regulate the extraterritorial activities of businesses in their territory, the Guiding Principles affirmed strong policy reasons for them to do so.  Sixth, States should integrate and apply gender-sensitive human rights considerations into relevant national laws, policies, regulations and contracts.  Indigenous people should ensure that decision-making protocols on any free, prior and informed consent process were developed through their own representative institutions and pay extra attention to the inclusion of women and other potentially disenfranchised groups.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked the Chair to elaborate on the capacity-building financial mechanism, how to minimize the impact of the extractive industry on the rights of indigenous peoples, how to fill the implementation gap, ways to disseminate the Guiding Principles and the objectives of the Forum on Business and Human Rights in December.  Delegates also asked for an example of useful non-legal mechanisms.

Mr. SULYANDZIGA stressed the importance of capacity-building for judges, prosecutors and other legal personnel.  Although Member States might have voted to adopt the Guiding Principles in the General Assembly, many Governments did not know much about them.  The Working Group was entrusted with the task of promoting and disseminating the Principles, he said, adding that the upcoming Forum on Business and Human Rights, to be held in Geneva starting on 3 December, was part of the tools for discharging his mandate.  Several informal caucuses would be held before the Forum, with one dedicated exclusively to indigenous peoples.

In response to a question about the indigenous peoples’ spiritual link to their land, he said research was under way by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  For its part, the Working Group had also considered the issue at its latest Forum on Business and Human Rights, he said.  A number of multinational development banks incorporated the rights of indigenous people into their policy guidelines to ensure that transnational corporations were in compliance before they could obtain loans for development projects.  Regional meetings would be held in South America later this year and in Africa in 2014.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of South Africa, European Union Delegation, Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland and the Russian Federation.

Situation of Human Rights in Belarus

MIKLÓS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, introduced his report (document A/68/276), noting that it focused on concerns over electoral processes in that country.  The primary source of information was meetings with local experts and victims of human rights violations, as well as consultations with civil society.  Requesting an invitation for a visit to Belarus, he said systematic and purposeful violations of human rights there undermined free and fair elections, and cautioned against Government-dependent election management, a system of restrictive regulations and constant persecution of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists as well as independent organizations and candidates.  “Elections have been transformed into ceremonial tools used to perpetuate power,” he emphasized.

Turning to the last parliamentary elections, held on 23 September 2012, he noted that no opposition candidate had won any of the 110 seats being contested.  Belarus today was the only European State with an opposition-free parliament, which had invariably been the case since 2004, regardless of whether or not the opposition boycotted elections.  Of the four presidential, five parliamentary and five local elections held since 1991, none had been considered free and fair, he pointed out.  Specifically, there had been a severe deterioration in the human rights situation after the 2010 presidential elections, he said, adding that that had led to the creation of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

He said the human rights violations recorded over the years included: curtailment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including that of independent media; and lack of freedom of association and a ban on public assembly, raising the issue of participation deficiencies in electoral processes.  He welcomed a visit to Minsk last week by a delegation from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  It appeared, however, that the ongoing Election Code amendments included neither requests by civil society nor OSCE recommendations.  It was critical to ensure transparent and inclusive electoral legislative reform, in line with international norms and standards, and through consultations with a broad number of stakeholders, he stressed.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Belarus said his delegation recognized neither the Special Rapporteur’s mandate nor his report.  The expert sought only to punish Belarus and his accusations were unfounded.  Belarus supported active cooperation with the Human Rights Council and other human rights bodies and had successfully completed its first Universal Periodic Review cycle in 2010, implementing most of the recommendations, he said, adding that it was preparing to start the second cycle.

He went on to call the Special Rapporteur’s independence and objectivity into question, saying his mandate had been established by a minority vote and was a product of manipulation by the European Union.  There were violations of human rights across Europe, including measures to limit the freedom of journalists and violations of migrant rights.  The quality of the report was “less than dismal”, and 90 per cent of it focused on the history of elections in Belarus rather than on human rights, he said.  The Special Rapporteur had not created any conditions for dialogue, he said, adding that his Government would continue to cooperate with the impartial Universal Periodic Review.

The representative of Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, was among those voicing concern over country-specific mandates and insisting that the Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate mechanism.  The representative of the European Union Delegation and many others expressed their support for the report.

Many delegates asked about the death penalty and freedom of expression in Belarus, as well as the presidential election to be held there in 2015.

Mr. HARASZTI recalled that late last week, the Supreme Court of Belarus had ordered the retrial of some death penalty cases, a unique development in the country’s sad history of capital punishment.  However, it remained to be seen whether that could be considered a moratorium on the death penalty.  The political leadership could play a catalytic role in leading Belarus out of its inertia over capital punishment.  On the fate of political prisoners, he reported that there had been no recent long-term imprisonment compared with the aftermath of the 2010 presidential election, adding that he was ready to interpret the situation as a sign of improvement.  Unfortunately, however, no process of releasing and rehabilitating prisoners convicted on unfounded charges had been seen.  On freedom of expression, he said there were no privately owned broadcasting media in Belarus, adding that the lack of pluralism in broadcasting media was alarming.

Participants in the interactive dialogue were representatives of the European Union Delegation, Switzerland, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), China, Kazakhstan, United Kingdom, Syria, United States, Poland, Norway, Uzbekistan, Russian Federation, Germany, Czech Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Lao People’s Republic, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, Cuba and Azerbaijan.

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