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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL STARTS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ON HER ANNUAL REPORT
Concludes Debate under General Segment
28 February 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started an interactive dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on her annual report.  It also concluded the debate under its general segment after hearing statements from 18 countries and five civil society representatives on a range of issues affecting the promotion and protection of human rights.

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that 2012 had been a daunting year for human rights in which thousands died in the ongoing crises in Syria, Mali and the Sahel region, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  As part of the efforts to tackle discrimination, the Office had organized an expert meeting in Morocco which had come up with the Rabat Plan of Action providing tools to respond to incitement to hatred.  The Office was also supporting a number of countries in the development of national action plans against racism and racial discrimination.  The promotion of gender equality and women’s human rights remained among the priorities of the Office and the work focused on providing direct support to women and girls victims of human rights violations.  Migrants, particularly those in an irregular situation, were vulnerable to discrimination and human rights violations, so special attention should be paid to xenophobia and public perceptions of migrants, said Ms. Pillay. 

In the interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, speakers shared the concern about the increase in racial discrimination and xenophobia and worried about the negative effect of the global financial crisis on economic, social and cultural rights.  Speakers welcomed the focus of the High Commissioner on the gender-based approach, promoting tolerance and raising awareness of the rights of minorities, and her efforts to tackle discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  A delegation noted that the Rabat Plan of Action was an extremely useful contribution that would enrich future discussions and lead to action in tackling hate speech.  Speakers expressed concern about budgetary restrictions that were affecting the human rights system and said that the additional budgetary allocations from the regular budget would lessen the Office’s dependence on voluntary contributions or earmarked funding.

Speakers in the interactive dialogue included Iran on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, Peru on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Switzerland on behalf of cross-regional group, Turkey on behalf of a cross-regional group, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group and the Maldives.

At the beginning of the meeting, representatives of a number of countries who did not send dignitaries to the high-level segment also addressed the afternoon meeting under the general segment.  Nineteen countries and five civil society representatives took the floor.  Speaking in the general segment debate were Ethiopia, India, Malaysia, Peru, Botswana, South Sudan, China, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Georgia, Nepal, Cuba, Cambodia, Belarus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Ukraine and Myanmar.

Also taking the floor were the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, representatives of civil society from Africa and Sri Lanka, a representative of civil society and people of African descent and a representative of civil society and human rights defenders.

Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea spoke in right of reply.

The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 March when it will continue the interactive debate on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It will then hear the introduction of thematic reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.

General Segment

Ethiopia said it had recently adopted a National Action Plan that would provide an important legal platform for the effective promotion and protection of human rights in Ethiopia and would facilitate the provision of technical cooperation and capacity-building efforts to human rights institutions in the country.  The Plan would also promote the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities.  Human rights standard-setting required further attention, especially in relation to the right to a clean environment, the rights of displaced persons, and the fight against racial discrimination. 

India said that it remained committed to the implementation of human rights and that its judiciary, media and civil society were vigilant guardians of the rights of its people.  The strength of the Council lay in the adherence to the principles of transparency, non-selectivity, non-politicization and non-confrontation.  In that context, the Universal Periodic Review, with contributions from civil society, was successful because it was voluntary, collaborative and productive.  It was important to maintain the financial independence and representative character of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.      

Malaysia said that the Council was making considerable progress in the promotion and protection of human rights.  The international community should have confidence in the various mechanisms which had been established, and should allow those mechanisms to work before resorting to other approaches.  The politicization of human rights should be avoided and the diverse religious and cultural particularities of States should be recognized.  The Council’s inability to find a just solution for the plight of the Palestinian people constituted the international community’s greatest failure.   
    
Peru said that, for Peru’s Government, the promotion and protection of human rights constituted the foundation of its policy and its highest priority.  The establishment of sound institutions to protect and promote human rights was important.  Full and effective implementation of human rights required a stable, favourable and inclusive economic context.  The Government of Peru had thus focused its efforts on generating such an environment.  Policies intended to maintain and give impetus to economic growth and to favour social inclusion and had resulted in the reduction of poverty and extreme poverty.  Peru had also entered into new obligations under the international human rights system. 

Botswana, reflecting on the achievements and challenges of the Vienna Declaration, said that it was important to ensure that the institutions and mechanisms that were born out of the Declaration performed to meet expectations and beyond.  Botswana was seriously concerned about the conflict in Syria and remained hopeful that those responsible for heinous crimes would be held accountable, for the sake of justice and closure, but also to ensure that a culture of impunity did not find root in human society.  Botswana was also concerned about the situation in Mali, which had further exacerbated insecurity and the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region.  Continuing reports of human rights violations in Sri Lanka were also of concern.

South Sudan said that in the past 19 months the new nation had gone through difficulties but also achievements.  Human rights had been at the forefront of the national plan.  South Sudan was committed to promoting the well-being and dignity of its people, which was not an easy task and would take time.  Emerging from decades of war and instability, recovery was occurring in stages.  South Sudan was committed to fighting corruption and had taken measures in that respect.  There had been progress in addressing gender-based issues.  Concerning negotiations with Sudan, relations were at their lowest point and Sudan was putting roadblocks to the September agreements.  The Council must not be used as a forum for settling political scores. 

China said that the international human rights system was facing serious challenges and that all countries must approach human rights in the spirit of cooperation and treat each other equally and in the spirit of the United Nations Charter.  The right of the people of a country to choose their own path to development must be respected, stressed China, adding that the promotion of human rights was its guiding principle.  For that reason, China would present its candidature for membership to the Human Rights Council.

Turkmenistan said that the 2012 Presidential election had been held in an atmosphere of transparency and in full compliance with international norms.  A number of laws on the political and socio-economic rights of citizens had been adopted and new political parties had been established.  More than 3,000 stateless persons living in the country had received the nationality and Turkmenistan would continue its efforts to further reduce statelessness. 

Egypt noted that, two years after the popular revolution, Egypt had elected its first civilian President, with a broad participation of the public, had approved the new Constitution, and had a fully functional National Council for Human Rights.  Measures had been taken to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies and Egypt was working on the implementation of the recommendations from its Universal Periodic Review.  The situation in Syria remained of concern, while urgent measures were needed at the international level to put an end to manifestations of racism and racial discrimination. 

Georgia said that it was the duty of States to ensure the rights of the most vulnerable.  Civil society also had the responsibility to act as the crucial line of defence against human rights abuses.  The plight of those currently living under illegal foreign occupation in Georgia’s Tskhinvali and Abkhazeti provinces was a source of deep concern, as no international organization was monitoring the human rights situation in these regions.  Georgia strongly condemned the violation of human rights in Syria and had made efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people through the United Nations.    

Nepal said that the Universal Periodic Review, which had been the most innovative and participatory feature of the Council, should be preserved with the active and unconditional participation of all concerned.  Nepal was committed to strengthening the capacity of all human rights institutions, ending impunity through effective enforcement of all possible measures, and to promoting wider observance of the rule of law.  Discrimination on any grounds and in any form was strictly prohibited by the Constitution and relevant laws and gender equality remained a top priority for Nepal.

Cuba said that the Council was increasingly becoming a new inquisition tribunal which addressed with aggressiveness and condemned the countries of the South, while nothing was said about human rights violations suffered by the victims of the war against terrorism or about the displacement of persons who had been victims of the economic crisis.  Why was the Israeli genocide in Palestine not being investigated?  Despite the United States-imposed embargo on Cuba, which aimed to suffocate its people, Cuba had demonstrated that only in a society of justice and solidarity could all citizens fully enjoy their rights.

Cambodia said that over the last decade its Government had invested great efforts to undertake reforms in many sectors related to the promotion and protection of human rights; including through the enhancement of good governance and the improvement of social and economic development throughout the country.  Cambodia had become a party to most of the main international human rights treaties.  Efforts aimed at addressing human rights related challenges should not overlook the particularities of each country and should stress the importance of dialogue and joint efforts to better understand root causes.

Belarus said that the international community had achieved some progress in many areas of the human rights agenda, for example concerning the issue of trafficking of human beings.  The Universal Periodic Review was a successful example of the work of the Council.  Some countries could and had avoided responsibility for serious violations of human rights in their own as well as other countries.  The role of States in ensuring human rights was being replaced by the role of non-profit organizations.  There was a greater polarization of views within the Human Rights Council.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that the Human Rights Council should never allow acts of interference in the internal affairs of States which infringed upon their sovereignty.  The United States and some Western countries unscrupulously committed the gravest human rights crimes of invading sovereign States, killing a large number of innocent people, in wanton violation of the principle of respect for sovereignty enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  Politicisation and double standards should be strongly opposed and rejected.  Japan was also strongly urged to settle its past crimes. 

Djibouti said that there were huge challenges related to human rights situations in many countries, including in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mali and in Syria, where blood continued to flow.  Djibouti welcomed the Optional Protocol on economic, social and cultural rights and said that the progress made by the Council was particularly encouraging.  Legislative elections had been recently held in Djibouti in which the significant political maturity of its citizens had been demonstrated.

Ukraine said that 20 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, it was difficult to imagine the United Nations human rights machinery without the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Ukraine considered the Human Rights Council as the key human rights organ of the United Nations and regarded its Special Procedures as a unique independent mechanism for the protection of human rights.  The Universal Periodic Review was an important tool which helped States to improve their human rights records in an inclusive manner.

Myanmar updated the Human Rights Council on progress made in Myanmar concerning the promotion and protection of human rights, including the improvement of coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross, talks on the opening of a country presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the preparation of a draft National Human Rights Commission Law.  Effective measures had been taken to prevent the recurrence of communal violence in Kachin State and Myanmar was working with other States and non-governmental organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected population.

International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions said that a gap still existed between the normative framework for the rights of women and girls and their realization on the ground.  A conference hosted by the Jordan National Centre for Human Rights, and organized in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had highlighted the value of strategic partnerships with civil society organizations.  The Amman Declaration and Programme of Action set out actions which could be taken to promote the rights of women and girls.       

A representative of Civil Society from Africa, in a video message, said that the most significant challenge facing Africa was climate change.  Africa would suffer more than any other parts of the world from rising sea levels and the devastating effects of climate change.  Even though Africans had inadvertently contributed to aggravating the phenomenon, the world had to take responsibility and act.  The Council should also take action in that respect because Africa, more than any other part of the world, needed a Special Rapporteur for climate change.

A representative of civil society and people of African descent said that there had been delays in declaring the Decade for People of African Descent, which had been drafted by the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and recommended by the Human Rights Council.  The representative appealed to Member States to ensure consistency in the positions taken in Geneva and New York so that the draft programme could guide the negotiations on the programme and the Declaration of the Decade which were to commence at the General Assembly.      

A representative of civil society and human rights defenders said that the freedom of individuals or groups to act for the protection of fundamental rights was one of the pillars of the international human rights framework.  The special role of human rights defenders should be fully recognised in all countries.  Unfortunately, various countries from various regions attempted to present legitimate human rights activities as anti-state actions, hence criminalising them.  The creation of stable and peaceful societies was in the shared interest of the international community.  The promotion of values and principles, which lay at the foundation of the United Nations and other international organizations, could not be subject to repression under national laws.

A representative of civil society and human rights defender from Sri Lanka said that the Human Rights Council had the primary task of addressing gross and systematic human rights violations and human rights emergencies.  The democratic space to debate, engage in dialogue and interact freely in the Council had to be protected.   Reprisals against human rights defenders took different forms and could be direct or indirect. Across Asia Pacific, more and more human rights activities especially from the grassroots and national level had become an endangered species. States all over the world invoked sovereignty to stifle civil society organizations.  If there was respect for democratic principles, no country could stifle civil society activism, curtail media freedom, or continue to hold political prisoners.

Right of Reply

Japan, speaking in a right of reply, said that the numbers quoted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea concerning past issues were totally groundless.   Japan had sincerely faced its historic acts and was committed to resolving issues of concern.  Japan strongly urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to do the same and to listen to repeated voices of the international community to improve its human rights situation, including the right to food and the right to basic services for its people.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, categorically rejected the politically motivated allegations of Japan and said that the Japanese abduction cases had been resolved and nothing was left for further attention.  Japan had committed crimes against humanity during its military occupation of Korea and had not yet addressed its past crimes.  The numbers quoted were real and historically documented, such as the number of military sex slaves.

Japan, speaking in a second right of reply, that the abduction issue had not been settled and that, in the bilateral negotiations of 2008, both sides had agreed to concrete modalities for the investigation of the issue.  Japan urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to ensure the full safety of abductees and to ensure a speedy reunification with their families.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, once again rejected the allegations of Japan and made it clear that the Japanese abduction cases had been completely and fundamentally resolved as a result of sincere efforts made by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in line with the Pyongyang Declaration.  The only unresolved of abduction was that of abducted Koreans, which Japan should urgently resolve.

Documentation

The Council has before it the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/22/17) which provides an update on the key activities undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2012.

The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of her office in Guatemala (A/HRC/22/17/Add.1).

The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of her office in Bolivia (A/HRC/22/17/Add.2), which was not immediately available.

The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia (A/HRC/22/17/Add.3).

High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Statement

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that 2012 had been a daunting year for human rights.  The ongoing crises in Syria, Mali and the Sahel region, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had resulted in thousands of deaths, massive displacement and grave violations, marked by a climate of impunity.  Much work remained to ensure that democracy and human rights prevailed in the world.  At the same time, the economic crisis had been relentless.  The Office of the High Commissioner had had to face significant budget cuts and programme reductions, which were likely to have a continued detrimental impact in the medium term.  In spite of the budget cuts, global crises and an ever-growing workload, particularly due to unfunded mandates from the Council, her Office staff had continued to perform fully.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had organized an expert meeting in Morocco focusing on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial, and religious hatred.  Support was being provided for the development of national action plans against racism and racial discrimination in several countries, including Benin, Ecuador, Mauritania and Moldova.  Discriminatory practices harmed indigenous peoples, minorities, persons of African descent and persons with disabilities.  The promotion of gender equality and women’s rights was one of her priorities, said Ms. Pillay.

Migrants, particularly those in an irregular situation, were vulnerable to discrimination and human rights violations, so special attention should be paid to xenophobia and public perceptions of migrants.  Technical assistance had been provided to the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of Member States of the European Union to develop human rights training material for border guards.  Ms. Pillay stressed the need to integrate human rights in United Nations peacekeeping operations and special political missions.  Social violence and organized crime were affecting the rights of large sections of society.  Therefore, combating impunity was essential in order to achieve sustainable peace.  The Council had sought to respond to the challenge of impunity by setting up commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions.

The impact of the financial crisis had been apparent in many countries in the world.  Nevertheless, States still had legal obligations regarding the protection of the rights of their populations.  The United Nations system was committed to supporting States’ efforts to mainstream human rights in development.  Fifty-eight human rights field units located across the world provided an early warning mechanism and helped to build national capacity to respond to human rights challenges.  Short-term missions were also deployed in countries experiencing serious unrest.  Support for human rights mechanisms included the Universal Periodic Review and continued efforts by the Council to shed light on human rights issues which would have otherwise gone unnoticed.  In conclusion, Ms. Pillay encouraged the Council to play a full role in placing human rights at the heart of the United Nations’ peace, security, development and humanitarian agendas.   

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on her Annual Report

Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed dismay at instances of racial, religious and cultural prejudices, intolerance and discrimination that undermined the enjoyment of all human rights.  Intercultural and religious dialogue, mutual understanding, education and respect for religious, ethnic and cultural diversity were crucial for combating racism.  The right to development was the most relevant in the international development discourse and a call for its mainstreaming in the whole United Nations system and development fora and processes was once again made. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism should not be used as a tool to coerce States.  There was deep concern over the persistent deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and that this was not referred to in the High Commissioner’s statement.

Peru, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, said the Group shared the concern about the increase in racial discrimination and xenophobia, and was also concerned about the negative effect of the global financial crisis on economic, social and cultural rights.  It encouraged the High Commissioner to double efforts and work jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization to deliver adequate food for everyone in all regions.  With regards to the post-2015 agenda, Governments were responsible for defining the agenda transparently and inclusively.  The Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries backed the efforts and appeals made by the High Commissioner to pay more attention to the human rights situation of migrants.

Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group fully agreed with the High Commissioner when she said that 2012 was marked by very serious crises, especially in Syria, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and the Sahel region.  During these times of economic crisis that led to poverty and more precarious situations, the African Group was concerned by considerable budget reductions that affected the United Nations system and specifically the human rights system.  On discrimination, the African Group welcomed the steps taken by the High Commissioner to focus on the gender-based approach, to promote tolerance and to raise awareness of the rights of minorities. 

European Union paid tribute to the leadership and vision of the High Commissioner and welcomed her efforts to tackle discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The European Union asked about the most effective steps to raise awareness about this type of discrimination and achieve progress towards worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality?  What were the plans to support the implementation of the Rabat Plan of Action and the timeline for the establishment of the field office in Myanmar, which would provide an important contribution to the transition process in this country?

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, shared concerns expressed by the High Commissioner and believed that the additional budgetary allocations from the regular budget would lessen the Office’s dependence on voluntary contributions or earmarked funding.  The Rabat Plan of Action would enrich future discussions and lead to action in tackling hate speech.  The ongoing economic and financial crisis continued to pose serous challenges for vulnerable segments of the population and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation commended the efforts of the High Commissioner to include human rights provisions in the final document of the Rio +20 Conference. 

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of a Cross-regional Group, welcomed the needs assessment visit to Bahrain of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and warned about the human rights situation in this country which remained of serious concern, such as continued harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and guarantee of due process in the trials of 13 political activists.  Switzerland called on Bahrain to address those concerns and expedite implementation of the recommendations it had received from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and its Universal Periodic Review.

Turkey, speaking on behalf of a Cross-regional Group, said that human rights had become increasingly relevant to peace and security, development and humanitarian efforts, and welcomed the first steps taken by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the financial challenges of her Office, which were in part due to increasing requests for support in the field and new mandates.  The aim should be to establish a sustainable resourcing over the coming years in a manner that balanced the different interests of States without infringing on the independence of the High Commissioner and her Office.  The broadening of the resource base of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be accompanied by pursuance of its management reform.    
 
Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, commended the work carried out by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office.  Regarding efforts to combat discrimination, the Arab Group said that there were attempts to introduce topics which were not consistent with the religious practices of Arab countries.  Moreover, not enough assistance was provided to the Palestinian people whose plight had been ongoing for several decades.  The work of the mechanisms of the Office should become inter-governmental.  The Arab Group supported the right to development, which included the totality of human rights, and believed that it was important to guarantee and protect the right to food.   

Maldives said that Maldives shared the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner about Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  The fundamental rights of ordinary people everywhere should be protected.  Maldives was grateful for the expertise given to the Commission of National Enquiry formed by the President of Maldives to conduct an investigation into the events that occurred in Male in 2012.  Maldives was pleased to note the progress made in addressing violence against women and maternal mortality and morbidity.  Maldives was organizing the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Workshop that was to be held in Maldives in 2013.   


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC13/010E