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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL STARTS GENERAL DEBATE ON HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS THAT REQUIRE THE COUNCIL’S ATTENTION

19 September 2016

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting started its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, during which speakers raised allegations of human rights violations in countries and regions around the world and reiterated the Council’s responsibility to address all situations of concern.

Speakers raised concern about the harassment and arrests of journalists, activists, protesters and human rights defenders in a number of countries.  They noted with concern restrictions on freedom of expression online and offline, and on the freedom of assembly and association.  Speakers expressed support for migrants and refugees fleeing their countries to escape poverty and conflict.  Several speakers objected to the proliferation of country-specific mandates and resolutions in the Council and stressed the need for an approach based on the principles of universality, objectivity and non-selectivity.  The Council was praised for increasingly turning its attention to early warning signs of possible atrocity crimes, taking effective preventive measures that contributed to international peace and stability, preserved human life and was less costly than halting those crimes or dealing with the aftermath. 

Speaking during the general debate were Venezuela on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Slovakia on behalf of the European Union, Germany, Maldives, Ecuador, Russia, France, Switzerland, Georgia, Slovenia, India, Netherlands, China, Cuba, Belgium, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, Bolivia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Czechia, Japan, Pakistan, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Spain, United States, Egypt, Ireland, Belarus, Iran, Eritrea, Iceland, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Solomon Islands and Azerbaijan.

The Council is having a full day of meetings today, and will next continue its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled the imperative to preserve the progress achieved in the Human Rights Council to date, including the institution-building package.  The Non-Aligned Movement was concerned about the proliferation of country-specific resolutions, which were a tool that exploited human rights for political purposes and breached the principles of universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in addressing human rights issues, which undermined cooperation as the essential principle to effectively promote and protect all universally recognized human rights for all.

Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed its serious concern about the arrests of journalists, activists, protesters and human rights defenders and the pressure on civil society in Egypt, as well as about reports of torture, enforced disappearances, mass trials and death sentences.  The implementation of the law on foreign agents and the increasing limitations of the freedom of assembly and expression online and offline in Russia,  as well as the detention of human rights lawyers and defenders since mid-2015 in China, were also of concern.  The European Union was also concerned about the situation in Ethiopia, particularly its Oromia and Amhara regions, and about reports of human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Germany was deeply concerned about the human rights situation in China and urged the immediate release of human rights defenders.  The ongoing repression of civil society in Egypt could undermine stability, while enforced disappearances, torture and the handing down of death sentences were of particular concern.  Germany reiterated the call for the rapid establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, and urged Venezuela to release all political prisoners and implement reforms to alleviate a humanitarian crisis. 

Maldives condemned continued illegal actions and human rights violations by the Israeli occupying power in the occupied Palestinian territories.  It also expressed concern about the discrimination of the Muslim minority in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, as well as about the continued conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria.  It condemned the conflict in Somalia and urged all parties to give access to humanitarian aid.

Ecuador expressed concern over the fact that the Council was reproducing the same practices, such as politicization and double standards.  That asymmetry had to be corrected and human rights had to be given the same treatment on the basis of objectivity and impartiality.  Ecuador demanded respect for countries’ sovereignty, and expressed support for the migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe to escape poverty and conflict. 

Russian Federation pointed out to the grave geographical imbalance in the list of country resolutions passed by the Human Rights Council, while there were worsening human rights situations in the countries that positioned themselves as mature democracies, in particular in the United States and the European Union.  Even in such well-off countries there was no condemnation of the rise of neo-Nazi movements and disregard for minority rights. 

France expressed great concern about the situation in Syria, noting widespread use of torture in detention centres.  In many countries in Africa, the human rights situation was of concern, such as the situation in South Sudan, where civilians were the first victims of conflicts.  Attacks against journalists had to come to an end.  Terrorism could not serve as a pretext to implement the death penalty.  Concern was expressed about the human rights situation in China. 

Switzerland expressed worry about the situation of civil society in a number of countries, noting the difficulties faced by journalists and human rights defenders.  The authorities of the Russian Federation were called on to ensure the conditions necessary for a pluralist public debate.   In Turkmenistan, Switzerland was concerned about the harassment of human rights defenders.  The Government was called on to shed light on dozens of people who had disappeared. 

Georgia expressed concern about the human rights situations in Syria, Sudan, Burundi and Venezuela, where the authorities were called upon to conduct open dialogue with the opposition.  The situation in the occupied Crimea region of Ukraine was profoundly alarming, and Georgia shared the High Commissioner’s concerns over repeated refusals to grant access to his staff to the occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia by those in effective control.

Slovenia said that the Council was increasingly turning its attention to early warning signs of possible atrocity crimes and said that taking effective preventive measures contributed to international peace and stability, preserved human life and was less costly than halting those crimes or dealing with the aftermath.  The violation of rights of national minorities in the Crimean peninsula, continuous human rights violations and abuses in Burundi, and the deteriorating human rights situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were situations of particular concern.

India said that Pakistan was so ruthless that it did not hesitate to use women and children to stage terrorist acts in Kashmir.  Rather than internationalizing the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan should clear itself of terrorism, stop cross-border infiltration, and stop acting as an epicentre of terrorism.  The Council and the international community must pay due attention to the situation of terrorism in Pakistan.

Netherlands said that the heavy use of indiscriminate weapons, including incendiary weapons and barrel bombs, in Syria was unacceptable, and was very concerned about the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi, especially police violence, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and disappearances.  The Council could not continue to ignore the recommendations by the High Commissioner regarding the deepening crisis in Yemen and must dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to this country.  

China emphasized that the discussion under the agenda item on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention should abide by the principles of the United Nations Charter, namely respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity.  In the development of human rights, the international community should respect people’s will, and avoid naming and shaming, and double standards.  It refuted the allegation of human rights violations made against China, which represented a gross interference into China’s judiciary. 

Cuba regretted the politicization, double standards and selectivity which had become part and parcel of the discussions at the Human Rights Council.  Countries of the North turned a blind eye to their own human rights situations, namely that of migrants who were dying in thousands trying to reach Europe.  In the countries of the North, xenophobia and discrimination had risen to an alarming level.  Cuba appealed to the international community to reject double standards in the promotion of human rights, and it condemned the international sanctions against Cuba as cruel and highly unethical. 

Belgium expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights situations in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It attached great importance to combatting the issue of sexual violence in armed conflict, and it would continue to call on all parties to fight impunity in that respect.  It was also worried about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, as well as threats against journalists.  Finally, it drew attention to assaults against freedom of expression as part of security measures. 

United Kingdom expressed concern about the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  In Sudan, concern was expressed about reports of arbitrary arrests.  The deteriorating situation in Egypt was also a concern, especially enforced disappearances.  The Government of the Gambia was called on to ensure that claims of mistreatment were investigated.  The situation for freedom of expression in China was of concern.

Republic of Korea said that the situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was on a downward spiral, adding that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had strengthened its reign of terror, resulting in widespread restrictions of public freedoms, a brutal prison system, torture and many other human rights violations.  The international community should not condone that country’s rampant violations; it was urged to put an end to its development of weapons of mass destruction. 

Bolivia said that Bolivia would not accept covert strategies that infringed on the integrity of countries and their internal affairs.  Pressure against countries was rejected.  The Government of the United States had bombarded Syrian positions and that action was deplored.  A complete and detailed explanation to the United Nations Security Council was demanded.  Actions had to be taken so those acts did not occur again.

Venezuela condemned the fact that the Council was being converted into a forum where developed countries were using the agenda item on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention for their imperialist pressure.  Venezuela was doing its utmost to build a society in which all human beings and human rights were respected.  Relationships between States must be based on the principles of the United Nations Charter: mutual respect, non-interference and self-determination.

Saudi Arabia said that Iran provided support to the militias in Yemen who violated the human rights of the Yemeni people, including children.  Those militias were also terrorising the people on Saudi Arabia’s soil, displacing people and destroying property.  It was regrettable that the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen did not include those facts.

Israel was deeply concerned about the frightful human rights situation in the Middle East, where women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons were systematically oppressed.  Iran continued to be a model for warmongering States for its determination to undermine the stability of the region while supplying weapons and troops to the Syrian regime or exploiting the helplessness of Afghan refugees and sending them to die in the Syrian quark mire.

Czechia noted with concern the clampdown on the peaceful activities of civil society organizations and human rights defenders in many parts of the world, including in China.  The adoption of anti-terrorism legislation in Russia threatened to encroach on the freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression and other human rights.  The political stalemate in Venezuela was deteriorating into a humanitarian crisis; the Government should act now to find a lasting solution respecting the free will of the people.

Japan said that “North Korea” undermined peace and stability in the region, and that such actions could not be accepted.  The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was urged to pay serious attention to the concerns raised by the international community and to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Seoul office.  

Pakistan said that the Human Rights Council had to use its mechanisms to address situations of occupation, such as by Indian occupation forces in Kashmir.  International humanitarian law obligations were being flouted, and the lives and liberties of Kashmiris were governed by laws that allowed arbitrary detentions.  An activist had been prevented from traveling to Geneva to participate in the meeting of the Human Rights Council.  India was involved in terrorism and in fomenting instability in Pakistan.

Canada called on the Government of the Gambia to ensure that all could freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without fear of arrest, detention, intimidation or harassment.  Concern was also expressed at the human rights situation in China, Venezuela, Sudan, Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which was called on to meet the basic needs of its people rather than to continue to fund its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme.

Australia reiterated its enduring concern about the grievous human rights situation in Syria.  The human rights situations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and in South Sudan were also of concern; in the latter country, Australia condemned the grave violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including extrajudicial killings and forced recruitment.  The situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi were also of concern.

Norway was concerned by the shrinking space for human rights defenders, civil society and freedom of expression in several countries and regions around the world.  It also remained keenly aware of the need to ensure that universal rights were enjoyed by all, including women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  Norway cited concerns about the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and the countries of the Gulf. 

Denmark was appalled by the suffering and human rights situation in Syria, called for a release of arbitrarily detained persons on Bahrain, and urged Egypt to respect fundamental rights including the right to a fair trial.  Denmark was concerned about the high number of executions in Iran, the increasing Israeli settlement activity, the resumption of violence in South Sudan, and the worrying human rights situation in eastern Ukraine and the illegally annexed Crimea.

Spain was very concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in Yemen, and about the increase in violence in South Sudan and the inability to protect humanitarian workers and civilians.  Spain was also concerned about the expansion of Israeli settlements and called for an end to the administrative detention of Palestinian civilians.  Spain expressed its opposition to the death penalty, which was ineffective as a tool to fight terrorism or drug crimes. 

United States remained concerned by reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and forced labour in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  The United States expressed support for Egypt’s fight against terrorism and stressed that the long-term stability of the country benefitted from allowing political dissent.  It urged Cuba to immediately stop arbitrarily detaining peaceful activists, and also urged Venezuela to engage in a national, inclusive and effective political dialogue.

Egypt said that despite Egypt’s objection to the selective, politicized use of the Council’s agenda, attention was drawn to situations which had to be rectified.  There were cases that the Council had failed to address despite their significance, such as the situation of refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons, amounting to millions of people whose rights were being abused and violated.  Concern was expressed over Government practices in Britain, which was receiving just a limited number of refugees.

Ireland highlighted its concerns regarding the human rights situations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Cambodia and Ukraine.  Of particular concern was the restriction of the freedom of expression in Sudan, China and Bahrain.  Ireland fully supported all initiatives aimed at the global abolition of the death penalty.  A number of other issues and countries were mentioned.

Belarus said that the Human Rights Council in its work should pay greater attention to mechanisms of cooperation between States, encouraging them to take measures at the national level.  Alongside the Universal Periodic Review procedure, there was great potential in technical cooperation.  Through cooperation and non-politicized mechanisms, it was possible to move forward. 

Iran said that the extensive use of detention of migrants and asylum seekers, and the lack of support for asylum seekers who could not be returned to their countries of origin, were of serious concern.  The United States had the largest reported prison population in the world.  It had a particularly harsh impact on racial minorities.  In Canada, there were grave violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples.  Saudi Arabia’s strikes on Yemen killed innocent children and women.

Eritrea stressed the primary responsibility of States to address the human rights of their own people and objected about the Council’s politically motivated country-specific mechanisms and actions.  Some countries continued to use the agenda item on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention to drive intervention in regime-changing plots, and to launch unfounded accusations and attacks.  The confrontational approach provided no dividends to human rights.

Iceland commended the courage of the High Commissioner in recently calling out public figures who on issues of refugees and migrants offered only bigotry and alienation; all must speak against populism and extremism of any nature.  The new President of the Philippines had demonstrated his disregard for the human rights standard with his policy of extra-judicial killings.  The Saudi authorities should accelerate reforms and abolish the male guardianship system.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea said that some countries continued to criticize others at their own pleasure and said that human rights violations in those countries were conspicuous and deserved urgent attention and action of the Council.  These violations included racial discrimination, gun-related crimes, illegal wiretapping, CIA secret camps and torture atrocities, invasion of sovereign States, indiscriminate killings of civilians, Islamophobia, and revival of neo-Nazism.

Ukraine drew attention to the illegal and inhumane actions of Russia against Ukrainian citizens unlawfully kept in the territory of Russia and in the occupied parts of Ukraine, and called upon Russia to immediately release all illegally detained citizens of Ukraine.  The international community should exert all measures possible towards Russia in order to immediately release all Ukrainian political prisoners and hostages and cease its totalitarian practice of supressing human rights.

Solomon Islands said that there was a worrying trend of Member States resisting human rights scrutiny by the work of the Council.  The repression of the freedom of expression and of assembly had a direct corroboration with increased reports of human rights violations.  The Indonesian Government was called on to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and further allow the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit West Papua and Papua Provinces, and allow access by international journalists.  

Azerbaijan drew the attention of the Council to large-scale human rights violations of more than one million Azerbaijanis who were victims of the Armenian aggression.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union,  Armenia had occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory.  Azerbaijan remained seriously concerned about an outdated Armenian nuclear plant that presented a catastrophic threat to the whole region.  The international community should take control of the decommissioning of Metsamor NPP.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC16/130E