HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL BEGINS CLUSTERED INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES AND ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION
5 March 2013
The Human Rights Council this afternoon began a clustered interactive dialogue with the Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
Olivier De Frouville, Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, introducing the report, said that since its creation the Working Group had transmitted 53,986 cases to States and had clarified 298 cases. Regarding its visit to Chile in 2012, the Working Group recognized that since the return of democracy significant steps had been taken to secure truth and justice, but the continued use of military courts was a matter of concern. Concerning its visit to Pakistan in 2012 the Working Group noted efforts to deal with the issue of enforced disappearances, but stressed that actions taken to tackle security threats must respect human rights at all times.
Introducing his report, Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said that persons belonging to religious or belief minorities often suffered human rights violations perpetrated by States or non-State actors, sometimes in a climate of impunity. States should create favourable conditions for persons belonging to religious minorities to ensure that they could preserve their religious community life. Regarding his visit to Cyprus, Mr. Bielefeldt noted that the overall situation had somewhat improved but significant challenges remained for Christian minorities in the North, for Muslim minorities in the South, and for other religious minorities outside the ambit of bi-communalism.
Chile, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government worked towards clearing the outstanding cases of enforced disappearances and would pay close attention to the implementation of the recommendations made by the Working Group. Pakistan, speaking as a concerned country, reaffirmed its commitment to resolving the issue of enforced disappearances and said that two Commissions of Inquiry had been established to this end. Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, stressed the impact of the forced division of the country and its people, and highlighted the risk of total destruction of many Christian places of worship in the areas occupied by Turkey.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue this afternoon were Argentina, Morocco, European Union, France, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Mexico, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Belgium, Kuwait, Montenegro, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Austria, Colombia, Italy, Peru, United Arab Emirates, Costa Rica, United States, Cuba, United Kingdom and Brazil.
At the end of the meeting, Angola, the Republic of Korea, China, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea spoke in right of reply.
The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 6 March, at 9 a.m., when it will continue with its clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on enforced disappearances and with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. This will be followed the annual discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities with a focus on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
The Council has before it the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (A/HRC/22/45); a first corrigendum to the report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (A/HRC/22/45/Corr.1); an addendum to the report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concerning its mission to Chile (A/HRC/22/45/Add.1); an addendum to the report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concerning its mission to Pakistan (A/HRC/22/45/Add.2); an addendum to the report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concerning its follow-up to country missions to Morocco and El Salvador (A/HRC/22/45/Add.3); and an addendum to the report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concerning the comments of the Government of Chile on the report of the Working Group (A/HRC/22/45/Add.4).
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt (A/HRC/22/51); an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief concerning his mission to Cyprus (A/HRC/22/51/Add.1); and an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief concerning the comments of the Government of Cyprus on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/22/51/Add.2).
Presentation of the Rreports on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Freedom of Religion or Belief
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, introducing the annual report of the Working Group, said that since its creation the Working Group had transmitted 53,986 cases to States, had clarified 298 cases and there remained 43,000 outstanding cases. The number of cases did not reflect the real extent of the problem due to the underreporting of disappearance cases in all regions of the world. The Working Group had adopted two general comments, one on children and enforced disappearances and another on women affected by enforced disappearances. The enforced disappearance of a child constituted an extreme form of violence against children. Gender equality in the area of enforced disappearances required that all individuals enjoyed their rights without any discrimination and recognized that women were often at the forefront of the struggle against enforced disappearances. For its thematic focus, the Working Group chose the issue of reparation for victims of enforced disappearances. The report recommended the adoption of a broad definition of “victim” that included those who suffered harm as a result of a disappearance, and guaranteed the right to truth and justice as an essential element to ensure non-repetition. It was regrettable that 20 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration, the practice of enforced disappearances persisted in many countries, notably in situations of conflict or internal unrest, or as a tool to fight terrorism or organized crime.
Concerning the country visit to Chile in August 2012, the Working Group recognized that since the return to democracy significant steps had been taken to secure truth, justice, reparation, and to preserve the memory of grave human rights violations committed during military dictatorship. The financial reparations made by Chile had reached amounts that would be difficult to equal in other parts of the world. Still, the Amnesty Decree-Law remained in force; and should be repealed as soon as possible in relation to the cases of enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations. The continued use of military courts, even in cases of human rights violations, was issue of concern; and laws should be revised to remove the competence of military jurisdiction to try cases of enforced disappearances. In September 2012, the Working Group had visited Pakistan and welcomed the fact that the issue of enforced disappearances was now acknowledged and publicly discussed in the country. The Working Group noted efforts to deal with the issue of enforced disappearances, including the establishment of two specific Commissions of Inquiry and the role of the judiciary to shed light on the phenomenon and trace those who had disappeared. While recognizing the important security challenges facing the country, the Working Group stressed that actions taken to deal with security threats must respect human rights at all times. Particular attention should be paid to the ongoing situation in Baluchistan, the gravity of which had been recognized by the Supreme Court.
HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, introducing his report, said that persons belonging to religious or belief minorities often suffered from violations of their human rights, including their freedom of religion or belief. Abuses were perpetrated by States and/or non-State actors, sometimes in a climate of impunity, and may originate from different political, religious, ideological or administrative stipulations imposed on minorities. Initiatives for securing the rights of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities should consistently be based on a human rights perspective. All human beings were rights holders under international human rights law and deserved respect for their self-understanding in the area of religion or belief. A broad and inclusive understanding should also guide the interpretation of the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities; accordingly, the term religious minority should be conceptualized in such as way as to cover all respective groups of persons including traditional as well as non-traditional communities, or large and small communities. States ought to create favourable conditions to ensure that persons belonging to religious minorities could take their faith-related affairs in their own hands, in order to preserve and further develop their religious community life and identity. A broad range of activities were required, such as the provision of an appropriate legal status of religious minorities, inter-religious dialogue initiatives, and awareness-raising programmes for society at large.
Combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief was a complex task which implied State obligations at different levels and required a consistent policy of non-discrimination. States should also combat discriminatory practices within society at large and should critically address the root causes of societal discrimination. Members of religious minorities also typically suffered from hidden forms of discrimination, such as structural or indirect discrimination. To prevent or rectify discriminatory consequences, States should generally consult with representatives of religious minorities when enacting legislation that may serious infringe on their religious or belief-related convictions and practices. Given the number and gravity of human rights violations, concerted action to better safeguard the human rights of persons belonging to religious minorities was needed. Concerning his mission to Cyprus, Mr. Bielefeldt said that the overall situation had clearly improved with positive implications for the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief throughout the entire island. However, challenges were identified for Christian minorities in the north, for Muslim minorities in the south, and for other religious minorities outside the ambit of bi-communalism. Current initiatives towards enhancing interreligious communication both at the level of religious leaders and at the grass-roots levels were encouraging.
Statements by Concerned Parties
Chile, speaking as a concerned country, said that it had extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and believed that constructive dialogue would contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. The visit of the Working Group had had a positive resonance in the society. Chile had moved forward in clearing the outstanding cases of enforced disappearances and would give utmost importance to the consideration and implementation of the recommendations made by the Working Group. Chile commended the openness and the cooperative and constructive dialogue created by the Working Group; and their recognition of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the amount paid as restitution to victims. Chile expressed the wish to continue to benefit from the technical assistance of the Working Group and to share best practices and lessons learned from the process.
Pakistan, speaking as a concerned country, reaffirmed its commitment to resolving the issue of enforced disappearances. A Commission of Inquiry had been established in March 2010, and then another in March 2011 to this end; while a special cell had been set up in the Ministry of Interior to deal with this problem. The Supreme Court was also taking up cases of enforced disappearances in the form of constitutional petitions and human rights cases. The families of victims were free to approach both the Supreme Court and the Commission of Inquiry. It was important to keep in mind the context in which enforced disappearances were dealt with; in the past 10 years, terrorism and extremism had endangered national security and the social fabric, and had challenged the economy, lives and freedoms. All efforts were being made to ensure that counter-terrorism measures were in compliance with obligations under international law.
Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, reaffirmed its commitment to the protection of the right to the freedom of religion and said that the report and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur would be taken into careful consideration. Cyprus focused on the impact of the continuing foreign occupation of a part Cyprus and of the forced division of the country and its people on the exercise of this fundamental right. Cyprus agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the problem in Cyprus did not originate from religious differences and stressed the risk of total destruction of a great number of Christian places of worship and ongoing restrictions to religious freedom of people in the occupied areas of Cyprus; and the responsibility for this situation was imputable to Turkey. Due attention should be paid to the religious sites of Maronites, to which they did not have regular access since they were located in the “military compounds”.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Argentina said that it attached great importance to the Working Group because of its contribution to the elimination of enforced disappearances in Argentina in the seventies. Argentina highlighted a paragraph in the report of the Working Group that recognised that women were in the vanguard of the fight against enforced disappearances; and also commended the Working Group’s decision to include a thematic section in its annual report. Argentina underscored the point that the establishment of memorial sites and monuments contributed to social recognition of the violations committed.
Morocco said that 80 per cent of cases of enforced disappearances in the country had been elucidated and relevant information on pending cases had been provided. Morocco announced that the adoption of a bill on the ratification of the Convention on the Protection from Enforced Disappearance and had thus confirmed its commitment to human rights. The penal system was also the object of a profound overhaul and was part of an overall reform system to bring it in line with the new constitution and international human rights standards.
European Union recognised that disappeared women and girls were in a situation of particular vulnerability. The general comment on the subject of children helped understand the nature of the specific violations faced by children, as well as the specific obligations incumbent on States in those cases. The European Union strongly condemned the recent attacks against persons belonging to religious minorities in several countries. What further measures could States take to fully address structural discrimination and exclusion of persons belonging to religious minorities? Were there any examples of best practices in this regard?
France thanked the Working Group for its study on the right to reparation for victims of enforced disappearances. France endorsed the Working Group’s conclusions on reparations and agreed that such reparations implied restitution, material compensations, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. Concerning Mr. Bielefeld’s report, France called upon all States to adopt laws that protected the right to freedom of religion and belief.
Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, asked the Working Group why it had chosen to include a thematic section in its annual report and what its added value was. The thematic section in the report focused on the issue of reparations for victims, which was an extremely important issue; however, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation noted, the Council had established a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. This raised the question of duplication of work, something the Council could not afford. On the question of freedom of religion, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that there was an urgent need to take concrete steps towards the implementation of the plan of action adopted by the Council at its sixteenth session.
Mexico highlighted the fact that a national mechanism for disappeared persons had been established. Mexican commitments in this context were reflected in a law adopted earlier that year. Due diligence and guarantees of non-recurrence were core principles of this law. Moreover, Mexico announced that a process for aligning its Criminal Code with international human rights standards would begin in 2013.
Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the struggle for religious freedom had been underway for centuries and there were many conflicts underway because of it. Any steps by the international community to guarantee freedom of religion should take into account the question of defamation. Arab countries were concerned about the situation of Muslim minorities in certain States who were victims of pressure and harassment and were unable to practice their religion with serenity, in particular, Muslim women who were forced to change their outfits. The Arab Group called on all States to ensure their religious freedom.
Belgium welcomed the important work of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and expressed alarm about incidences of religious intolerance. Belgium concurred with the Special Rapporteur that education and communication were important and that States should promote the establishment of media to promote communication with religious minorities and their participation in society. Would the use of community media further isolate religious minorities and make it even more difficult to integrate them into society?
Kuwait rejected hatred against religious minorities and called for respect for religious minorities on equal footing with all other members of society. The right to freedom of religion was a basic human right and all members of society were equal in accordance with international laws and instruments. This had been translated into the Constitution of Kuwait which guaranteed human dignity for all without distinction, while the laws prohibited discrimination and intolerance on any grounds. Kuwait believed in religious freedoms as attested by the opening its doors to many faiths.
Montenegro said that it had not been aware of the request by the Office of the High Commissioner to visit the country. A copy of the letter of the Office of the High Commissioner had been transmitted to Montenegro and would be taken into consideration. Montenegro had extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures, and had also signed and ratified the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Montenegro remained fully committed to its obligations under the relevant international instruments and had demonstrated full compliance with all principles and standards embodied in the Convention.
Saudi Arabia said that the reports submitted contained a number of very important points, especially relating to the freedom of religion, which should be seen against the background of increased violence and intolerance against certain religions around the world. Bearing in mind that the world was inter-connected, Saudi Arabia had actively sought to promote dialogue between cultures and religions through a number of initiatives, including several conferences. Attacks against religions, prophets or holy books should be strongly condemned, because they ignited religious hatred and promoted intolerance.
Germany praised the comprehensive reports submitted by the Special Rapporteur and said that protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief, and especially the human rights of persons belonging to religious minorities, remained a priority of Germany’s foreign policy. A universal approach was necessary to overcome regional differences and to foster cross-regional cooperation in the Council and in the General Assembly. Germany expressed concern at reports of discrimination and persecution against persons from religious minorities in various countries.
Austria highlighted the importance of respecting and protecting the freedom of religion of religious minorities, an issue that was among Austria’s thematic priorities. Austria was concerned about growing discrimination and the rising number of violent attacks against members of religious minorities in many parts of the world. Austria reiterated its support for Mr. Bielefeldt’s mandate and shared his assessment that more systematic attention should be given to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, such as discriminatory patterns in the intersection of religious and gender discrimination.
Colombia said that no complaints were reported about enforced disappearances in 2012 and that Colombia had ratified the Convention. In the last few years, administrative measures had been taken to live up to its international obligations in this context. A national registry for disappeared persons had been put in place. The general allegations contained in the Annex 1 of the report of the Working Group referred to the current constitutional reform of the military criminal jurisdiction. Colombia noted that this reform was the outcome of a democratic process, in which all political forces had participated along with civil society.
Italy said that Mr. Bielefeltd’s report confirmed that the increasing wave of violence against religious minorities worldwide had become a major threat to international peace and stability. In order to fight religious intolerance and discrimination, the international community should promote a preventive action plan based on human rights education at all levels. The Human Rights Council should send a powerful message that all religious minorities should have the right to practice their faith in an environment free from intolerance and fear.
Peru welcomed the inclusion of a thematic section in the annual report of the Working Group; it underscored the importance of not drawing a distinction between direct and indirect victims of enforced disappearances and recalled that last year its Government had ratified the Convention for the Protection from Enforced Disappearance. Peru voiced particular concern over sanctions handed down against persons belonging to religious minorities when they displayed their beliefs or faith or converted, as well as detention or jailing of leaders of religious groups with a view to intimidating members of those communities.
United Arab Emirates said that religious practices, part and parcel of one’s religious identity, should be protected from abuse by any source and condemned all restrictions on freedom religion of belief. The United Arab Emirates called for putting an end to the suffering of religious minorities and said that the Council should do more in this respect. The United Arab Emirates subscribed to the appeal of the Special Rapporteur to implement the Rabat Plan of Action, which embodied the hope for a better protection for religious minorities.
Costa Rica reaffirmed the importance of having States respond readily and speedily to requests from the Committee with regards to arbitrary detention. Costa Rica was concerned about the findings of the Special Rapporteur regarding instances of physical aggression, arbitrary detention, and reports of cases of deportation by some States. Costa Rica believed that, in the context of the right to freedom of religion or belief, the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly should be upheld. Favourable conditions should be created by States so that religious minorities could continue to develop their lives and identities.
United States was concerned about patterns of discrimination and reprisals against people who had cooperated with United Nations mechanisms. States that were not parties to the Convention on Enforced Disappearances were not bound by its provisions or recommendations of the Working Group in this regard. The United States shared the view of Mr. Bielefeldt that discriminatory laws should be repelled. Suppression of freedom of religion could foster religious extremism. Interfaith dialogue should promote freedom of belief around the world. What additional measures should the international community take to protect the human rights of members of religious minorities?
Cuba said that it was important to recognize the right to freedom of religion or belief. Communication between different religions was important but the Council should not forget that there were different political and legal issues in various countries which needed to be taken into consideration. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate touched on delicate issues and had to be fulfilled with the highest standards of human and professional conduct. Cuba appreciated the information provided by the Special Rapporteur on the three country visits which had recently taken place.
United Kingdom shared the concerns of the Special Rapporteur concerning acts of violence, discrimination, and prejudice, suffered by religious minorities, and said that the rights of minority communities stemmed from individual rights. It was important to recognize that international human rights law protected all religions and beliefs, as well as the right not to adhere to any religion or belief. The United Kingdom closely monitored the situation in all countries of origin of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, to ensure that asylum was not granted to persons who were not under threat.
Brazil said that two Commissions dedicated to enforced disappearances had been set up and stressed that the country was a party to almost all relevant international instruments. Brazil said that the freedom of religion or belief should be interpreted from a human rights perspective. Brazil’s Constitution protected those rights and prohibited incitement to hatred or discrimination. The country strongly rejected acts of intolerance or incitement of religious hatred and worked to promote a climate of tolerance and dialogue between cultures and religions.
Rights of Reply
Angola, speaking in a right of reply, responded to the statement made by the International Commission on Jurists. Detention in Angola was carried out in accordance with the law. Concerning freedom of association or freedom of assembly, the Constitution guaranteed no requirement for administrative permission. However assemblies and demonstrations in public places required permission from the competent authorities for safety reasons.
Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, said that allegations made by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were groundless. The Republic of Korea remained deeply concerned by the gravity of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and called upon its Government to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms with a view to improving the human rights situation on the ground.
China, speaking in a right of reply, responded to a statement by the Society of Threatened Peoples and said that its accusations were groundless. As a country based on the rule of law China’s law-enforcement bodies acted according to the law, and the legitimate rights of detainees were fully protected.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, rejected the allegations made by the Republic of Korea and advised the Republic of Korea to take immediate measures the abolish all remaining obstacles to the reunification of the country, to put an end to the military prisons in the country, and to stop politicizing human rights issues.
Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, said that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea should stop making groundless allegations and, instead, should try to improve the situation on the ground.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, said that the Republic of Korea should try to address its own problems instead of politicizing human rights issues.
For use of the information media; not an official record