‘Shrinking’ Spaces for Citizens Threatened Democracy, Human Rights, Experts Tell Third Committee as It Considers Country Reports

GA/SHC/4112
28 October 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 31st & 32nd Meetings (AM & PM)

‘Shrinking’ Spaces for Citizens Threatened Democracy, Human Rights, Experts Tell Third Committee as It Considers Country Reports

Special Rapporteurs Present Findings on Human Rights in Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar

Civil society spaces were shrinking around the world as ordinary people’s lives were being changed without their input and against their will, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as it continued its consideration of human rights, with presentations by six experts who had investigated problems in specific countries, and two reporting on global issues.

Given the current situation, non-profit entities were fighting for space to express their views, said Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.  Many of the restrictions on peaceful assembly and association rights framed civil society organization as a threat to security and sovereignty.

“For-profit entities were increasingly being invited, welcomed and facilitated at the highest levels of multilateral engagement, while non-profit entities had to fight for a place at the table,” he lamented.  Alarmed at the high number of reported violations to the right of peaceful assembly during summits of multilateral institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Group of 20 (G20), he noted that private multilateral bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, had banned demonstrations at their events altogether.

Many States had continued to hamper civic society participation in multilateral arenas, he added, highlighting the case of Cao Shunli, a Chinese human rights defender who died in State custody, and reprisals reported from other countries, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bahrain, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala and others.  State obstruction, he added, had also hindered civil society participation at the United Nations, including the politicization of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations which had, on several occasions, acted in a manner contrary to its purpose, by deferring applications for consultative status for dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Later in the day, some of those issues were brought up by special rapporteurs, bringing to the Committee country reports on Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iran and Myanmar.  During question-and-answer sessions after each of the presentations, delegates also weighed in on the process of reporting on human rights situations in particular countries.

During the lively debates, some delegates said many reports were politically motivated, a practice that should be prohibited.  Some speakers rejected the selective and politicized considerations of human rights, and called for the resolution giving such mandates to Special Rapporteurs to be discontinued.  Many agreed that discussions on human rights should be based on cooperation and dialogue, and not be inherently divisive.  Representatives of the countries focused on in the reports presented today also added their comments and reservations to the findings, with most rejecting the results.

Miklós Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, said protecting civil society participation would be critical for guaranteeing that the 2015 elections would be free and fair.  He noted that the Parliament of Belarus had not had an opposition for the last 15 years, and its President had the power to singlehandedly name and remove judges and prosecutors.  It was also the only country in Europe with the death penalty and executions, he said.

Echoing a sentiment voiced by many delegates after country findings were presented, a representative of Belarus said the resolution that mandated a report on his country was politically motivated.  He asked how the Special Rapporteur could tell a country how to run its elections, and which civil society organizations were good and which were bad, especially since the information on which the report was based came from media outside Belarus.  He added that putting pressure on the Government, including by imposing sanctions, was counter-productive, saying that any difficult issue could be resolved by open and constructive dialogue.

Highlighting the execution last weekend of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young woman convicted of murdering a man she claimed was attempting to sexually assault her, Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said that laws and policies continued to institutionalize the second class status of Iranian women.  As many as 66 per cent had reportedly experienced domestic violence and human rights defenders were defamed as terrorists, with at least 35 journalists currently being detained.

Iran’s representative said his country was participating in Geneva this week on its universal periodic review.  He said there were some fundamental flaws in the report, whose findings were influenced by unreliable sources, and did not acknowledge the positive interactions between Iran and the Organization’s human rights mechanisms.  Iranian society was a multiethnic society with an ancient assortment of cultures and religions, he said, and his Government would continue its efforts to promote human rights, not as a result of a politically motivated mandate, but rather because of the will of the people, reflected in the latest elections, held in June 2013.

The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, said that the human rights violations in that country were responsible for an alarming refugee situation, with thousands fleeing from indefinite forced conscription, arbitrary arrests and detention, inhumane prison conditions, extrajudicial killings and torture. Calling on the Government to discontinue such practices, she congratulated Eritrea for its accession to the United Nations Convention against Torture, as well as its second universal periodic review.

Eritrea’s representative said the report did not contain any evidence to substantiate allegations.  Mandate holders needed to be impartial, he said, noting that Eritrean people were being targeted because of their strategic position in the Red Sea, and because of the Government’s “out of the box” thinking.  Eritrean national programmes were misrepresented and demonized by the Special Rapporteur, who, without taking into consideration the occupation of its sovereign territory, asked for demobilization.

Positive developments were reported by Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who said that while long-standing patterns of violations continued to be widespread, the country had shown the beginnings of a re-engagement with the international community on human rights.  Noting the reopening of the investigation into outstanding cases of abduction of Japanese nationals, he called on the United Nations system to assist the country on its path to real and meaningful change.

A representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reiterated that his country had rejected the report.  The Special Rapporteur’s mandate originated from a resolution concocted by some powers that aimed at eliminating the social system of his country.  As such, the report had no credibility, as it rested on the testimonies of those who had deserted their families and betrayed their motherland.  The draft resolution being tabled in the Committee by the European Union and Japan had no relevance to human rights and, therefore, his country would oppose it.

Recognizing the gains made by Myanmar in reforming its political, economic, and social and human rights landscape in the past three years, Anghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on that country, urged the Government to continue its transition into democracy by establishing an independent and accountable judiciary, and releasing all remaining political prisoners.  There were signs of possible backtracking, she cautioned, and with elections in 2015, abiding by human rights principles was vital for the progress of peace and political dialogue in the country.

A representative of Myanmar appreciated the Rapporteur’s observation in commending Myanmar’s transition and reforms.  However, the list of responses provided by the Government was not adequately reflected in the report, thus weakening its balance and objectivity.  A large portion of the report, he noted, dwelled on details of the Constitution and election laws, which essentially fell on the purview of the domestic jurisdictions and the Parliament.  Addressing the concerns of the Rapporteur over legal action taken against some journalists, he said they were arrested not for their reporting, but for illegally trespassing into a restricted military facility.  “Even the most democratic nations will not let such crimes go unpunished”, he said, calling on the media not to abuse their rights of freedoms with an aim of inciting instability.

Also today, the Committee heard from Farida Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, who expressed concern over the disproportionate and omnipresent nature of commercial advertising and marketing, and its impact on cultural diversity, and called on States to ensure that public spaces remained a sphere for deliberation, cultural exchange, social cohesiveness and diversity.

Participating in today’s interactive dialogue were speakers representing the Russian Federation, Bahrain, China, Chile, Norway, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Lithuania, Ireland, United States, Latvia, Brazil, Bolivia, Armenia, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Cuba, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Turkmenistan, Czech Republic, Egypt, Canada, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Syria, Zimbabwe, Australia, Japan, Liechtenstein (on behalf of Iceland), Maldives, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Israel, Syria, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Republic of Korea, and Singapore, as well as the European Union Delegation.

The Third Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 October, to continue its discussion on the protection and promotion of the human rights.

Background

The Third Committee met this morning to continue its consideration of the protection and promotion of human rights, with eight experts expected to present reports and engage in interactive dialogues.  For background, see Press Releases GA/SHC/4108 of 22 October and GA/SHC/4109 of 23 October.

Interactive Debate

MAINA KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said that global governance was becoming increasingly fragmented, with multilateral institutions launching development projects and helping to shape international law.  Such decisions had a profound impact on the lives of ordinary people who were not consulted or given a chance to contribute.  In an interconnected world that supposedly valued global participation, ordinary people’s lives were often changed, without their input and against their will.

Many of the restrictions on peaceful assembly and association rights framed civil society organization as a threat to security and sovereignty.  “For-profit entities were increasingly being invited, welcomed and facilitated at the highest levels of multilateral engagement, while non-profit entities had to fight for a place at the table,” he lamented.  Expressing alarm at the high number of reported violations to the right of peaceful assembly during summits of multilateral institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Group of 20 (G20), he noted that private multilateral bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, had banned demonstrations at their events.

Many States had continued to hamper civic society participation in multilateral arenas, he added.  States had targeted individuals or their relatives because of their advocacy work.  Highlighting the case of Cao Shunli, a Chinese human rights defender who died in State custody, he added that reprisals had also been reported from other countries, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bahrain, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala and others.  State obstruction, he added, had also hindered civil society participation at the United Nations.  A classic example was the politicization of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations which had, on several occasions, acted in a manner contrary to its purpose, by deferring applications for consultative status for dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In the interactive debate that followed, several delegates asked questions about the penalization of NGOs, particularly from the developing world, measures to combat reprisals, and how best to reform the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations.  They also asked him to highlight comparative good practices in engagements between multilateral institutions and NGOs.  Delegates of the Russian Federation and of Bahrain said that the report contained inaccuracies, as it referred to their countries.  A representative of China said that Cao Shunli, who was mentioned in the report, had violated the laws of his country.

Responding, Mr. KIAI said that the only way to solve the problem of making space for civil society was to have a commitment to expanding that space on the ground.  Regarding the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, he said that it was necessary to limit the number of questions that a State could ask an NGO requesting accreditation.  Further, time limits were necessary to ensure that NGOs did not have to wait unduly to be accredited.  It was unfair that an NGO that had applied in 2008 had not yet received accreditation.

Reprisals were a big issue, he added, and for many NGOs, the international space was the only available place where they could speak out.  Multilateral groups and agencies needed to find a way to put sanctions on countries that had reprisals against individuals.

“Look at the funding for human rights,” he said.  Human rights were a pillar of the United Nations, but it only received 3 per cent of the budget.  That was a strong indicator of how little human rights were prioritized in the Organization.  “If ever there was a time to increase that budget, it is now,” he stressed.

Participating in the interactive debate were the representatives of Chile, Norway, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Lithuania, Ireland, United States, Bahrain, Russian Federation, Latvia, Brazil, and China, as well as the European Union Delegation.

FARIDA SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said her report focused on the impact of commercial advertising and marketing practices on the enjoyment of cultural rights.  As their primary aim was to sell, she added, commercial messaging had the potential to deeply influence philosophical beliefs of people and their aspirations, as well as cultural values and practices, from food consumption models and burial rituals to social behaviour and beauty canons.  She expressed concern over the disproportionate and omnipresent nature of commercial advertising and marketing, contributing to shifting practices towards consumption and uniformity.

States wishing to protect cultural diversity needed to protect their societies from undue levels of commercial advertising and marketing, while increasing the space for not-for-profit expression.  While surreptitious communications (misleading the public about their advertising nature) and subliminal techniques (enabling messages to be received below the level of conscious awareness) were prohibited in some countries, as well as in some international and regional instruments, she noted that not all countries had taken such steps.  “The power of advertising to influence individual choices demands a careful assessment of the means advertisers use, taking into consideration in particular the rights of people to privacy and to freedom of thought, opinion and expression, as well as their rights to education and to participate in cultural life,” she said.  She also expressed concern over the growing presence of advertising in schools, through materials, buses and the recruitment of children to serve as “brand ambassadors”.

Turning to actions States could take to address those issues, she said they needed to adopt legislation on commercial advertising and marketing, geared towards reducing the levels that people were exposed to daily, as well as the need to make them clearly identifiable and distinguishable from other content in the media.  States had the responsibility to ensure that public space remained a sphere for deliberation, cultural exchange, social cohesiveness and diversity.

Following the presentation, delegates asked questions about the use of new technologies in commercial advertising and marketing, and their effects on children.  Another question related to the responsibility of the media in the protection of vulnerable groups, as well as potential recommendations for States in providing guidance on that issue, while respecting the freedom of expression of the media.

Ms. SHAHEED expressed concern on the need for focused attention on the digital age, and various means of communication for children.  “When you have children under the age of nine accessing the Internet without any monitoring systems, there are now ways to protect children from getting pulled into various media activities that are harmful”, she said, noting a lack of specific studies conducted on that issue.  The danger of inviting children to Internet sites that look like games could potentially to lead them to pornography and sexual exploitation.  Insufficient investigations had been done, she said, calling for research and discussion with experts to find a solution to that issue, without risking media censorship.

Turning to possible solutions, she suggested a ban of all forms of commercial messaging within schools, a phenomenon that was increasing due to a lack of funds.  On media pluralism, she noted the need for discussion on means to avoid larger companies monopolizing advertising.  More discussions were required with the business community.  Noting that public health messages were not as exciting as their commercial counterparts, she said it was not enough to pass along the information, but to also examine the modality.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Brazil and the European Union Delegation.

MIKLÓS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said his findings revealed systemic violations of human rights, committed with the help of a governmental mechanism of laws and practices, purposefully constructed over the last two decades.  Belarus remained the only country in Europe with the death penalty and executions, he added.  Its Parliament had not had an opposition for the last 15 years, and the President had the power to singlehandedly name and remove the judges and prosecutors. Further, its people were not allowed to set up privately owned broadcast media.  As the country was preparing for presidential elections in 2015, he stressed the importance of focusing on human rights that were essential to guaranteeing fair and free elections, and to assist authorities with recommendations for an inclusive electoral process.

Turning to civil society and human rights defenders, he noted their importance, because freedom of expression, assembly and association were essential conditions for the effective exercise of the right to vote.  Since he was not able to access the country, he said he had collected information remotely through public analytical reports by Belarusian and international experts, civil society groups, and human rights defenders, as well as research papers, media reports, and individual communications.  For the first time, he added, he used questionnaires designed to collect first-hand information from members of Belarusian NGOs and human rights defenders about the laws and conditions under which civil society operated.

The report described a highly dissuasive regime that practically prohibited the exercise of all public freedoms, he added, which were essential in any democratic society.  The three main stumbling blocks that disabled civil society activism were the restrictive, permission-based rules on registration, the ensuing widespread refusal of registration and the criminalization of unregistered civil activities and funding.  He also addressed the increase in short-term arbitrary detentions and “preventative” arrests.  Turning to the media, he said freedom of expression continued to be curtailed by a lack of pluralism in broadcasting, as well as by the criminalization of libel and defamation.  He also expressed concern over the particular challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights defenders.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates made comments and posed questions on a range of topics on both Belarus and the working methods of the Third Committee.  Despite acknowledging some progress made, including the recent release of human rights defender Ales Bialiatsi, many speakers expressed concern over ongoing human rights violations, the repression of civil society and the imprisonment of political opponents, among others, calling on Belarus to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.

Other delegations said the selective targeting of some countries, as well as politically motivated resolutions and the politicization of human rights issues, could undermine the work of Third Committee.  In addition, it could violate the universality and non-selectivity of human rights instruments, as well as weaken the mandate and the credibility of the Human Rights Council.

The representative of Belarus reiterated his country’s rejection of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and the report that was produced, describing them as the result of a politically motivated resolution.  He then asked how the Special Rapporteur could tell a country how to run its elections, and which civil society organizations were good and which were bad, especially since the information on which the report was based came from media outside Belarus.  He added that putting pressure on the Government, including by imposing sanctions, was counter-productive, saying that any difficult issue could be resolved by open and constructive dialogue.

Delegates asked about concrete steps to improve the human rights situation and on the role of the international community in assisting the Special Rapporteur’s mandate; on measures the international community could take to increase the freedoms of the citizens of Belarus, especially in light of the upcoming election; and on additional opportunities to step up the country’s engagement with human rights mechanisms.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Belarus, Bolivia, Russian Federation, Armenia, Ecuador, Norway, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Cuba, Malaysia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan, Germany, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Canada, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Iran, Switzerland, Syria, Zimbabwe, and the European Union Delegation.

Responding to questions, Mr. HARASZTI said that the subject of his report was civil rights.  Freedom of expression, assembly and association were essential for the exercise of the right to vote.  Hardly any country was more Nordic than Belarus, so he did not understand the criticism that was singling out southern countries.

Turning to the universal periodic reviews, he said that while Belarus was part of that system and had some achievements inside the review mechanism, very few of those actions had dealt with civil society rights.  The country had not accepted or complied with any of the recommendations that would have enabled civil society to participate in the country’s public life.

Belarus should acknowledge the rights of civil society, he emphasized, and other rights would follow.  The country was in a state of denial that democratic society basically consists of civil society.  Since the writing of the report, new legislative restrictions had been implemented.  Acknowledging and cooperating with his mandate rather than “wishing” it away was the first step that Belarus should take, he added.

MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said it was an important year for the international community’s collective engagement on human rights in that country.  The Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had completed reports on investigations, and had submitted them to the Human Rights Council.  The Commission had concluded that there were long-standing and ongoing patterns of systematic and widespread violations in the country.  At the same time, he continued, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had shown the beginnings of a disposition towards re-engagement with the international community on human rights.  Additionally, the country had reopened with Japan a bilateral process of investigation into outstanding cases of abduction of Japanese nationals.  Noting combined efforts, he emphasized that a real and a meaningful change could be made possible.

The United Nations system had a key role to play in alleviating the plight of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  In that regard, he looked forward to concrete actions by the different departments and agencies to follow up the Commission’s recommendations.  It was also important that all Member States and other relevant stakeholders facilitated and provided a field-based structure and platform to exchange information.  For his part, he would visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and engage in further dialogue and technical cooperation on critical issues of concern.  Concluding, he said, the international community must send an unequivocal signal to follow up on the Commission’s findings and recommendations.

A representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that the report represented a politicization of human rights and a misuse of principles.  The Special Rapporteur’s mandate originated from an anti-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea resolution, concocted by some powers that aimed at eliminating the social system of his country.  His report had no credibility, as it rested on the testimonies of those who had deserted their families and betrayed their motherland.  The draft resolution tabled by the European Union and Japan had no relevance to human rights and, therefore, his country would oppose it.

In the interactive debate that followed, some representatives stated that selective targeting through country-specific reports deepened the politicization of human rights.  Stressing that the Human Rights Council and the universal periodic reviews were instrumental for the promotion for human rights, they asked if there was an opportunity to transfer the current dialogue from the draft resolutions to the review framework.

Other delegates asked the Rapporteur to continue to bring attention to the deplorable human rights situation in that country, and asked if it was realistic to expect genuine engagement from its Government.  Some speakers sought more information on how countries could individually support the Rapporteur’s work, on the creation of a contact group, and how Member States could use their relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to promote human rights.

Responding, Mr. DARUSMAN said that he would focus on some general observations, instead of responding to individual questions.  He stated that the Commission of Inquiry’s report had established the facts and the international community was not here to contest that report, but to address the almost total denial of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Welcoming a call for dialogue, he proposed that the international community should pursue accountability while opening up collaboration with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The engagement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the review framework was a good sign, and it was entirely possible to move away from the report framework.  But that would require the readiness of the country to engage in dialogue, he said.

For the first time in a decade since his mandate had been established, he reported, he had been able to meet with a representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea yesterday.  That was an opportunity for the international community to open space for cooperation with the country, moving forward on a two-track path.

Participating in the dialogue today were the representatives of Iran (speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Cuba, Canada, Republic of Korea, China, Venezuela, Belarus, Switzerland, Australia, Czech Republic, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, Liechtenstein (speaking on behalf of his country and Iceland), Maldives, Norway, and Lithuania, as well as the European Union Delegation.

SHEILA KEETHARUTH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, spoke about positive developments and persisting challenges in the implementation of her mandate, and updates on the unchanged human rights situation, which had resulted in mass departures of about 4,000 Eritreans every month.  She congratulated the Government for its accession to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as its second universal periodic review.  She also noted the submission of reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, encouraging the Government to submit all other pending reports to human rights treaty bodies.

Turning to the report’s findings, she indicated that thousands of Eritreans had sought refuge outside their country, trying to escape systematic and widespread human rights violations, particularly an indefinite forced conscription, arbitrary arrests and detention, inhumane prison conditions, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture.  She then focused on violations committed in the context of the national service and the alarming refugee situation, including refugee children.

On the conditions of national service, she called on the Government to discontinue its indefinite conscription, to demobilize those who had completed 18 months of service and to stop using conscripts serving more than 18 months as forced labourers.  In addition, she recommended taking concrete steps towards ensuring that children were not being conscripted into the military, promptly investigating allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and sexual abuse within the national service and bringing perpetrators to justice.  She asked the international community to strengthen efforts to ensure the protection of those fleeing Eritrea, in particular unaccompanied children, by respecting the principle of non-refoulement, and by granting them at least temporary refuge or protection, and to promote legitimate channels of migration from Eritrea, so as to reduce clandestine channels and promote inter-country cooperation to counter human smuggling and trafficking.

Following the presentation, delegates took the floor to make comments and ask questions.  Some delegates welcomed the progress made, but expressed concerns over restrictive measures, excessive militarization, extrajudicial killing, restrictions of freedom of association and of expression and over the impact the situation in Eritrea was having on neighbouring countries.  Concerned over a lack of cooperation, they also called on the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, the Commission of Inquiry and to grant her access to the country.

Other delegates recognized the universal peer review as a mechanism to establish cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights, welcoming the second review cycle that the Government of Eritrea had undergone.  Some rejected country reports as politicized instruments, and said developed countries were invited to be more concerned over the human rights of migrants and refugees.  The use of human rights discussions for politically motivated reports was violating the universality and objectivity of human rights issues, some speakers said.

Questions were also asked about additional steps that the international community could take to address the situation, as well as measures the business community should be looking at to avoid forced labour.  Given the lack of cooperation, some countries asked what States could do beyond calling on the Government of Eritrea.  Other delegates asked about priority issues and on best practices for international cooperation to avoid people smuggling.

A representative of Eritrea said the report was politically motivated and filled with fabrication.  Mandate holders needed to be impartial, he added, saying the report did not contain any evidence to substantiate allegations.  Eritrean people were being targeted because of their strategic position in the Red Sea and because of the Government’s “out of the box” thinking, he added.  The report was informed by migrants and asylum seekers, who wished to ensure their position within the countries of destination.  Eritrean national programmes were misrepresented and demonized by the Special Rapporteur, who, without taking into consideration the occupation of its sovereign territory, asked for demobilization.  “The occupations of its sovereign territory and sanctions as collective punishment are the highest form of human rights violations,” he said.

Ms. KEETHARUTH said the Government needed to show its willingness to promote and protect human rights by taking concrete measures to strengthen them.  Despite recognizing the progress made, she added, the Government needed to approach human rights as a whole and, therefore, promote civil, political and economic rights.  To build trust, the Government needed to release political prisoners, among other actions.  In addition, citizens should feel safe to claim their human rights without fear of reprisals against them or their families.  Allowing independent media outlets to communicate freely, civil society organizations to operate and other monitoring mechanisms to come to Eritrea would be positive steps towards improving the situation, she added.

On steps the international community could take, she spoke of bilateral interventions that encouraged Eritrea to be part of an international community respectful of human rights issues.  Turning to the conditions of national service, she called for a comprehensive and phased programme of demobilization.  On businesses engaging in Eritrea, she suggested to adhere to the United Nations guiding principles on that matter.  Priority problems to be solved were the national service and arbitrary detentions, she added.

Participating in today’s dialogue were delegations from Eritrea, United States, Cuba, Norway, Egypt, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Djibouti, Venezuela, Germany, China, Somalia, and Iran, as well as the European Union Delegation.

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said that despite efforts by elements of the Government to address international concerns about human rights in the country, the situation remained deeply disturbing, with a surge in executions over the past year.  Last weekend, Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young woman who was convicted of murdering a man she claimed was attempting to sexually assault her, was executed, despite repeated calls by the international community for a stay of the execution.

Human rights defenders, he added, were often defamed as terrorists or foreign agents, and laws continued to restrict content that might offend Government officials and religious figures.  Social media websites remained illegal for non-Government uses, and at least 35 journalists were currently being detained in Iran.  Religious minorities continued to report the harassment of primary school students through attacks on their faith in classrooms and their denial to university and post-secondary education.

Laws and policies that discriminated against Iranian women and girls continued to institutionalize their second class status.  The percentage of female students entering university decreased from 62 per cent in 2008 to just 48.2 per cent last year because of “gender-rationing” policies instituted in 2012.  The gender income gap was one of the highest in the world, and some 66 per cent of Iranian women had reportedly experienced domestic violence.  Noting that Iran had accepted the necessity of a number of key reforms during its universal periodic review, he called on the Government to work with the United Nations to advance human rights for all Iranians.

The representative of Iran said that at the same time as the “fruitless annual ritual”, a high-level delegation from his country was in Geneva, preparing for the second cycle of the universal periodic review in a few days.  Publicity and propaganda were more important for the Special Rapporteur than human rights advocacy.  Was it part of his mandate to lobby each year for the selective and unjustified Canadian resolution in the Third Committee? he asked.  There were some fundamental flaws in the report, which was influenced by unreliable sources, and did not acknowledge the positive interactions between Iran and the Organization’s human rights mechanisms.  Iranian society was a multiethnic society with an ancient assortment of cultures and religions, he said, and his Government would continue its efforts to promote human rights, not as a result of a politically motivated mandate, but rather because of the will of the people, reflected in the latest elections, held in June 2013.

In the interactive debate that followed, representatives expressed concern about the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, and inquired about immediate measures that could be taken by Iran to address human rights concerns, enhance press freedom, and broaden freedom of religion.  “Can we expect a strengthening of civil rights?” they asked.  Other delegates asked the Rapporteur how Iran could be offered better incentives to engage with the international community on human rights concerns and how to prevent over-compliance with sanctions, especially in the banking sector.

Many delegates said that human rights could not be imposed on a country using external pressures.  The use of human rights for taking politically motivated decisions was a violation of United Nations principles.  The universal periodic review was the main inter-governmental mechanism to review human rights issues, they stressed, and called for constructive dialogue.

Participating in the dialogue today were the representatives of Canada, United States, Maldives, Democratic Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Belarus, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Israel, Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, Cuba, China, Ecuador, Bolivia, Syria and Eritrea, as well as the European Union Delegation.

Responding to questions, Mr. SHAHEED said that he used resources of the Government of Iran to conduct research in the country for his report, which confirmed that the country was committed to protecting human rights.  However, more work needed to be done.  Despite efforts, the situation of human rights remained deeply disturbing, and fundamental human rights continued to be violated by laws and practices.  The execution of juveniles continued to be for alleged crimes that did not meet international standards of “most serious”, including political crimes, drug possession and corruption.  Furthermore, he said, there were severe malfunctions in the law, which undermined the administration of justice and the rights of citizens.  Accordingly, the country needed further reform in human rights, which must be a central aspect of the Government’s legislative agenda.

YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, presented her report on the progress in the electoral process and reform in the run up to the 2015 election.  In her report, she recognized the important gains made through Myanmar’s reform process.  The initial reforms had undoubtedly improved the political, economic and social and human rights landscape in the three years since the establishment of a new Government.  However, there were signs of possible backtracking, which could undermine Myanmar’s efforts to respect and protect human rights.  Accordingly, she urged the Government of Myanmar to continue its partnership with the international community to ensure that human rights remained at the foundation of its democratic transition.

In relation to the ongoing peace process, she called for continuing efforts by all sides to reach a nationwide ceasefire agreement.  Abiding by human rights principles would foster greater confidence in and shared ownership of the peace process and subsequent political dialogue.  Additionally, she welcomed efforts by the Government to prevent the use of children as soldiers and to work towards the discharge and rehabilitation of those previously involved in combat.  However, reports confirmed that there were cases of children being recruited by military and non-State armed groups.  In that regard, she urged a renewed focus on measures to ensure the release, rehabilitation, recovery and reintegration of affected children, as well as more robust measures to prevent further recruitment.

Turning to the issue of democratic reform, she encouraged efforts to ensure an independent judiciary that was properly resourced and accountable.  Under no circumstances, she said, should trials be conducted behind closed doors, without legal representation and with defective evidence.  Additionally, she emphasized the need for the Government to continue to convene the prisoner review committee to ensure that all remaining political prisoners were immediately released and politically motivated charges were dropped.  On the upcoming 2015 election, she noted that the process should be monitored closely, and assessed using international standards.  Concluding, she said, much could be achieved by engendering a culture of respect for human rights among all state institutions and the public at large.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, some delegates said politically motivated reports should be prohibited, rejecting selective and politicized considerations of human rights, and calling for the resolution to be discontinued.  The discussions on human rights should be based on cooperation and dialogue, and not be inherently divisive.

Other delegates welcomed the positive progress made by the Government, yet urged to allow humanitarian access to the Rohingya community.  Others encouraged the international community to cooperate with Myanmar in technical assistance, appealing also on the Government to continue its cooperation with the United Nations by opening a country office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Questions were asked related to the challenges faced by the Rohingya community, to the possibility to amend the legislation impeding the media and its effect to contribute to the legitimacy of the 2015 elections, and the usefulness of OHCHR’s country office.  Other delegates asked about women’s rights in the country, about possible measures to be taken by the Government to protect ethnic and religious minorities, and on steps needed to install accountability mechanisms to ensure that security forces did not commit human rights violations.

A representative of Myanmar appreciated the Rapporteur’s observation in commending his country’s transition and reforms.  However, the list of responses provided by the Government was not adequately reflected in the report, thus weakening its balance and objectivity.  A large portion of the report, he noted, dwelt on details of the Constitution and election laws, which essentially fell under domestic jurisdictions and the Parliament.  Addressing the concerns of the Rapporteur over legal action taken against some journalists, he said they were arrested not for their reporting, but for illegally trespassing into restricted military facility.  “Even the most democratic nations will not let such crimes go unpunished”, he said, calling on the media not to abuse their rights of freedoms to incite instability.

Ms. LEE noted the importance of interfaith dialogue, calling on religious, community and political leaders to reach out to the Muslim and Buddhist communities, among others.  The fabric of violence could undermine the progress that the country had achieved, she added.  On women’s rights, she said their participation in peace processes was very important, and was an area that needed more encouragement and assistance.  Turning to the 2015 elections, she said she would make it the main focus of her next country visit, as well as her report to the Human Rights Council.  On the OHCHR country office, she said it should be viewed as a partnership, where monitoring and technical assistance could go hand in hand.  Reiterating the importance of tolerance and harmony, she said the Rakhine State deserved an honest and critical assessment, calling for the resumption of humanitarian aid.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Viet Nam, Japan, United Kingdom, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Canada, Republic of Korea, China, Maldives, Norway, United States, Russian Federation, Iran, Switzerland and Singapore, as well as the European Union Delegation.

For information media. Not an official record.