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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE VIENNA DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION

21 March 2016

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. 

In the general debate, speakers reminded that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had called on States not to create a hierarchy of rights and had urged them not to justify human rights violations with cultural particularities.  They expressed concern over the deliberate effort to give priority to some human rights over others, noting that the right to development remained contested.  Speakers voiced concern over a number of issues, such as persistent persecution of human rights defenders and journalists, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, the plight of migrants, resurgence of racism and xenophobia, and drug-related crimes as a serious threat to security.  Some speakers regretted attempts to introduce concepts which had no legal foundation in any human rights instrument, adding that the Council should avoid attempts to impose value systems without regard for cultural or religious sensitivities and differences.
Some delegations noted that the Human Rights Council could play an important role in promoting respect for cultural rights, especially in the protection of cultural heritage, as well as involving youth to contribute to sustainable development. 

Speaking were Netherlands on behalf of the European Union, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Portugal on behalf of the Group of Friends of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, El Salvador on behalf of a group of States, Cyprus on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, China on behalf of a group of 28 countries, Ukraine on behalf of a group of 40 countries, Switzerland on behalf of the core group of resolution 28/28, El Salvador on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, United Kingdom, Algeria, Venezuela, Russian Federation, India, Bolivia, Morocco, Ghana, Israel, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Pakistan, United States, Mozambique, and Nicaragua.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Liberation, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Espace Afrique International, Arab Commission for Human Rights, Friends World Committee for Consultation, Ecumenical Alliance for Human Rights and Development, Centre for Inquiry, Federación de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, World Muslim Congress, Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Alsalam Foundation, Iraqi Development Organization, African Development Association, Victorious Youths Movement, United Nations Watch, Agence Internationale pour le Developpement, Africa Culture Internationale, Al-Hakim Foundation, Commission africaine des promoteurs de la santé et des droits de l’homme, Prahar, International Service for Human Rights, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Cameroon Youth and Students Forum for Peace, Indian Council of Education, International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, International Association for Democracy in Africa, Canners International Permanent Committee, United Schools International, Centre for Environmental and Management Studies, European Union of Public Relations, World Environment and Resources Council, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, Pan African Union for Science and Technology,  Human Rights Watch, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, African Regional Agricultural Credit Association, and International-Lawyers.org.

Russian Federation spoke in a right of reply.  

The Council will next meet at 5:30 p.m., to hear the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards, and an oral update of the High Commissioner, followed by a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. 

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the outcome of the panel discussion on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights (A/HRC/31/45).

General Debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reminded that the Vienna Declaration had called on States not to create a hierarchy of rights and had urged them not to justify human rights violations with cultural particularities.  The European Union was concerned about persistent cases of persecution of human rights defenders and journalists, and it underlined the responsibility to ensure equality, non-discrimination and protection from violence for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. 

South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, noted that migration had become the orphan child of human rights.  Migration had become a global multi-dimensional issue that required bold decisions by the international community.  The African Group deplored that too many migrants had to endure human rights violations, discrimination and exploitation.  The protection of migrants was an urgent and growing human rights challenge that required placing migrants at the centre of migration policies and management.

Portugal, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stressed that all human rights should be addressed with the same emphasis and on an equal footing.  The recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promoted the protection and fulfilment of a broad range of human rights.  A clear and inclusive human rights perspective in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda was crucial for the achievement of all rights.

El Salvador, speaking on behalf of a group of States, said that today’s generation of youth were the largest the world had ever known, adding that youth had the potential to contribute significantly to sustainable development.  Yet youth were often perceived as the cause of tension and as a threat to security.  The world economic and financial crisis had particularly dire consequences for youth.  Effective initiatives were still needed to tackle human rights related challenges faced by youth.

Cyprus, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that the Human Rights Council could play an important role in promoting respect for cultural rights.  The frequency and scale of destruction of cultural heritage was alarming.  Organized looting and smuggling in some instances generated funds for the financing of terrorism.  Best practices needed to be identified for the mitigation of damage caused to cultural heritage in armed conflict. 

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed concern over the deliberate effort to give priority to some human rights over others, noting that the right to development remained contested.  Attempts to introduce concepts which had no legal foundation in any human rights instrument were also alarming.  The work of the Council should avoid attempts to impose value systems without regard for cultural or religious sensitivities and differences.

China, speaking on behalf of a group of 28 countries, said that drug related crimes were a serious threat to security, and concurred that combatting drugs had to be in line with human rights.  The Commission on Narcotic Drugs should have a leading role in the preparation of the Special Session of the General Assembly on the World Drug Problem of 2016.  The role of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime should not be undermined by other United Nations entities.  The right of each country to decide its own drug policy and punishment had to be respected.  

Ukraine, speaking on behalf of a group of 40 countries, strongly condemned abuses by the Russian de facto authorities since the illegal occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, including forced and retroactive implementation of Russian laws, the imposition of Russian citizenship, politically motivated incarceration and prosecution, restrictions on freedom of expression, intimidation of journalists and disruption of the news media in Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages.  Russia should end its illegal occupation of Crimea and allow international and regional human rights monitors. 

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the core group of resolution 28/28 regarding the contribution of the Human Rights Council to the Special Session of the General Assembly on the World Drug Problem of 2016, stated that the international drug control strategy had to be implemented in line with the three pillars of the United Nations, and underlined that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a necessary tool to align efforts and international policies.  Putting human rights and health at the heart of drug policies involved accessibility and availability of treatment for those affected.  

El Salvador, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights were universal and interdependent.  The international community had to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its commitments and obligations according to international Covenants and human rights instruments.  This included the Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the article on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances.   It was equally important to promote the memory of the victims of massive violations of human rights.

United Kingdom was clear in its belief that human rights were universal and should apply equally to all people everywhere.   It was implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination and worked to uphold the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people in all circumstances.  The international community had to, without delay, work to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Algeria said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action constituted a reaffirmation of the importance of all rights, and thus enshrined the right to self-determination.  However the people of Western Sahara were still waiting for that right, which was recognized and confirmed through the recognition of its territory by the United Nations.  It called upon the international community to double its efforts to ensure the protection of the Sahraouian people and denounce all attempts to violate their rights. 

Venezuela noted that human rights had become particularly important in the global discussions on peace, security and development, as well as in the recent adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The economic crisis and the conflicts caused by foreign intervention had left millions of persons in precarious situations.  Millions had to flee to other countries in search of a better life and to avoid discrimination and violence.

Russian Federation noted that one of the main aims of the Vienna Declaration was to affirm the obligation of States under Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter to develop effective international cooperation in order to promote human rights.  Countering radical ideologies and extremism in particular in the period of global financial crisis was of key importance.  The rights of the child and family, as well as the fight against trafficking in children, were also stressed.

India noted that it was due to the lack of political will that the world was still struggling with the unfulfilled aspirations of human dignity and social justice.  The current threats to fundamental freedoms and human rights required a reassessment of the pragmatic and action-oriented manner in which the Vienna Declaration should be implemented.  The Declaration strongly advocated for the right of each State to choose the framework best suited for it.

Bolivia underlined the importance that the future Special Session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem addressed the human rights dimension of combatting drugs.  For its part, Bolivia had established a culture of dialogue with coca producers.  Bolivia would make contributions to the Special Session of the General Assembly, and hoped it would contribute to the sharing of good practices on these issues. 

Morocco was concerned about racism and xenophobia in many parts of the world.  It welcomed the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity with other African countries.  Morocco was committed to peaceful resolutions of conflicts, and to continue efforts for prosperity in Western Sahara.  Morocco expressed concerns about the situation of human rights in the Tindouf Camp.

Ghana reiterated its support to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and underlined that all rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights were universal, indivisible and interrelated.  

Israel said the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recognized and affirmed that all human rights derived from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person, and affirmed that all human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  It was clear that States had well-established obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual individuals. 

Ireland said that 23 years ago all States had agreed on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by consensus, including that all rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  However, each Council session, arguments were advanced by some States that the Council should not examine the situation of human rights in specific States.  Ireland deeply regretted that procedural devices continued to be used to seek to deny a voice to civil society in the Human Rights Council.

Greece focused its intervention on the situation of human rights defenders worldwide and the widespread discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Greece believed that human rights defenders faced increasing challenges in many parts of the world and were in need of effective protection.  It welcomed the fact that this year’s initiative in the Human Rights Council led by Norway had focused on human rights defenders of economic, social and cultural rights.  This topic was of high significance to Greece.

Spain deplored discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, as well as persecution based on religious, cultural and regional grounds.  The persecution and conversion of religious minorities by terrorist groups was particularly alarming and Spain condemned such persecution regardless of whether it was perpetrated by State or non-State actors.

Pakistan reminded that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had reaffirmed the paramount importance of the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.  To that end Pakistan had made efforts through a wide range of policy measures to ensure the enjoyment of those rights by every citizen without any discrimination.

United States noted that it implemented its business and human rights-related commitment through legal and regulatory regimes, and ongoing engagement with businesses, civil society organizations, governments and international organizations.  It was currently developing a comprehensive National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct to promote and incentivize responsible business conduct.

Mozambique spoke about the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara and the Saharawi people who he said had been longing for 40 years to conclude their decolonization process.  The lack of progress was of concern, and the Security Council, the Secretary-General and the Human Rights Council were urged to redouble their efforts toward the realization of the legitimate aspirations of the Saharawi people.

Nicaragua said that the issue of drugs required treatment in full recognition of national realities and sovereign policies of States.  That allowed for different policies taking into account different customs and beliefs.  Nicaragua was determined to bring about healthy alternatives to the consumption of drugs, which could not be accepted as a lifestyle.  He called for greater international cooperation, including greater financial and logistical resources.

Liberation spoke about the status of women in India, noting that in many parts of the world, women were not free and liberated from their traditional roles.  Women in the Western world were not faced with daily discrimination such as those who lived in third world countries.  The international community was requested to advise the Government of India so as to achieve better provision of the basic rights for women and girls.

International Humanist and Ethical Union said despite the Zika virus in the Latin American and Caribbean region, access to contraception remained limited, especially for the poor and rural women, and abortion was restricted or illegal in many countries.  Meanwhile, in Brazil, evangelical house speaker Eduardo Cunha was leading a bill to toughen further access to abortion and tighten the screening process for rape victims.

Espace Afrique International commended the Human Rights Council for its initiatives on the human rights of minorities.  With regard to migration, the world was faced with historic responsibilities.  Migrants had to be provided with assistance first.  The international community had to stress and confirm the interdependence and complementarity of economic, social and cultural rights, with political and civil rights.

Arab Commission for Human Rights said the Vienna Declaration and Programme for Action had embraced the right to self-determination.  However, almost 25 years had passed since its adoption and the Palestinian people were still suffering a heinous occupation.  The denial of their right to self-determination was a grave violation.  Israel refused to heed all recommendations and continued the occupation.

Friends World Committee for Consultation expressed concern over the emphasis on criminalization in the current international drug control system and its impact on human rights.  Criminalization, particularly of mothers, including juvenile mothers, had a direct impact on the rights of their children and could have a negative impact on those children’s rights to health, physical and mental, and social development, among others.

Ecumenical Alliance for Human Rights and Development welcomed the efforts of the Economic and Social Council to foster sustainable development through its programmes.  It drew attention to the difficulties experienced by the people in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan in the realization of their economic, social and cultural rights, noting that the right to development had to be conducted in the field.

Centre for Inquiry noted that the Vienna Declaration placed particular attention on the promotion of freedom of expression and the administration of justice.  Sadly, many States continued to ignore those commitments, such as Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Egypt, China and Saudi Arabia, where law enforcement officials jailed individuals for peacefully expressing their opinion.

Federacion de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos said it had been established through United Nations resolutions that if a people was unable to enjoy self-determination, all their other rights were violated, too.  That was the situation in Western Sahara, and the Human Rights Council had a responsibility toward that territory.

International Fellowship of Reconciliation said Morocco was systematically violating the rights of Saharawi people, adding that everyone agreed that human rights violations in Western Sahara were the direct result of a lack of self-determination.

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy said women were the backbone of any society.  Despite this, injustices were carried out and their rights were violated.  According to the Sikh religion, women commanded great respect at every step of their life.  United Nations officials who were women were mentioned by name.

World Muslim Congress said the people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised the right to self-determination by the United Nations Security Council in 1948 and 1949.  However the denial of the right to self-determination by India had led to a regime of human rights violations in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.  Over half a million Indian army and other paramilitary forces enjoyed impunity for crimes against humanity.

Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture spoke of the violence suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis.  Between 2000 and 2015, thousands of children had been detained, and hundreds of children were currently detained without a trial.  Some of the victims were tortured, others denied medical treatment.  The centres of rehabilitation were centres of torture.  There were numerous reports of sexual abuse.

International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations said the right to self-determination of the Jammu and Kashmir peoples had been recognized by the United Nations, however, they continued to struggle for this inalienable right.  Over the years occupation Indian armed forces had killed over 100,000 innocent people of all ages, and torture, extra-judicial killings, harassment and intimidation constituted a part of daily life.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain expressed serious concern over the use of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture in the  United Arab Emirates, where security forces had arrested prominent human rights defender Nasser bin Ghaith.  Seven months after his arrest, the Government had yet to disclose information about his whereabouts, and Mr. Ghaith remained at risk of torture and ill treatment.

Alsalam Foundation raised concern at ineffective national human rights institutions in the Gulf Cooperation Council States.  Those mechanisms represented only cosmetic steps towards redress and had been unduly highlighted by certain countries as a sign of progress.  It called on States, including Bahrain, to provide independent, effective and credible frameworks for citizens to address human rights violations.

Iraqi Development Organization, in a joint statement, drew attention to the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen that not only continued to indiscriminately kill and injure civilians, but had also impeded the exercise of the Yemeni people’s right to self-determination.  The Coalition had hired mercenaries from what had been alleged to be a private company connected to the founder of Blackwater.

African Development Association spoke about natural resources in the Sahara, noting that Morocco’s development plan necessitated the implementation of a culture of transparency.  Many jobs should be reserved for Saharawi youth.

Victorious Youth Movement said that the economic situation in Tindouf camp was precarious, noting also that the human rights situation in the Sahara had benefited from political parties and non-governmental organizations’ involvement.

United Nations Watch said that in far too many regions of the world, human rights obligations were breached.  Kuwait was called on to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately, and the human rights situation in Venezuela, Malaysia and Iran was also criticised.

Agence Internationale pour le Developpement said the plight of women in conflict situations, especially in the territories under occupation, needed to be addressed by the Human Rights Council.  Srinagar based non-governmental organizations had documented numerous cases where human rights defenders there had been attacked. 

Africa Culture Internationale said threats such as cybercrime, sexual exploitation and abuse of children through information and communication technologies posed particular challenges.  Africa Culture International was addressing these by advocating for common standards and policies, criminal justice action and international cooperation.

Al-Hakim Foundation said Da’esh was committing terrorist acts under the name of Islam which was contrary to Islam.  Peaceful coexistence and tolerance were God’s will, without deviation.  Da’esh thought it could monopolize God.  Successive generations of humanity had to be protected.

Commission africaine des promoteurs de la santé et des droits de l’homme said that gender-based violence and exploitation were incompatible with human dignity, and expressed concerns about violence faced by women in conflict affected areas in Africa, and in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Prahar said that women in the north eastern region of India were victims of human rights violations, including mental and physical harassment.  The death rate of women had increased day by day, along with the number of rape cases.  Child sexual abuse was disturbingly common. 

International Service for Human Rights raised the issue of ongoing human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and activists, including in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Honduras. 

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales Asociación Civil, in a joint statement with Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Genero, said that the so-called war on drugs operated at the cost of human rights violations, and had therefore proven to be flawed and ineffective.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights should participate at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs to be held in 2016.

Cameroon Youth and Students Forum for Peace said that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be implemented in its true spirit by all Member States.  He then spoke about the Indian caste system.

Indian Council of Education spoke about the right to development and added that human rights had become a more important aspect of development policy and programming since the end of the Cold War.  The economist Amartya Sen’s ideas were then discussed.

International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies said the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples drafted in 1993 had been adopted by the Human Rights Council in its first session in June 2006 and was forwarded to the General Assembly for adoption.  This had given rise to a further strengthening of the rights of indigenous peoples in treaty law. 

International Association for Democracy in Africa said France was committed to establishing a global order based on world peace and ensuring equitable development for all.  The country had been at the forefront of efforts combatting terrorism.  France’s policy towards the war in Syria was praised as it was calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Canners International Permanent Committee said China was a country that followed a path of peaceful development and was committed to upholding world peace and promoting common development and prosperity for all countries.  China had declared solemnly to the world that peaceful development was a strategic choice that it had made.

United Schools International stated that Canada was committed to a peaceful and just international order, and that it was not only fighting terrorism but also offering humanitarian aid to the victims of terrorism.  The Government of Canada had welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Centre for Environmental and Management Studies noted that Germany’s role as a global actor had intensified and diversified, and it had increasingly taken on responsibilities in its external relations.  Its new engagement in international relations had increased its international profile and cemented its position as a leading actor in Europe and the world. 

European Union of Public Relations stated that Italy ranked a key global economic player, and it had a very well devised mechanism to protect and promote human rights.  The Government was committed to investigate and punish the abuse of human rights, whereas corruption stood at a very low level.

World Environment and Resources Council spoke about Kazakhstan’s fight against drug trafficking and domestic initiatives against drugs, outlining youth associations work on the issue.  Kazakhstan was a regional leader in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.

Commission to Study the Organization of Peace spoke about the United States, mentioning the Declaration of Independence, the United States fight against global terrorism, and gave statistics on religion in the United States, among many issues listed.

Pan African Union for Science and Technology spoke about the United Kingdom, listing facts about the country’s economy before turning to the situation of the press, which was described as a lively and competitive sector. 

Human Rights Watch, in a joint statement with International Service for Human Rights, and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, noted with dismay the push back of civil society in parts of the world.  It welcomed Azerbaijan’s release of activists.  It expressed concerns about restrictions of civil society in China, and raised concerns about the human rights movement in Egypt facing unprecedented risks, which the Council should condemn. 

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik endorsed the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime’s recommendation to refrain from using the death penalty for drug-related crimes.  It expressed concerns about the use of this sentence in Iran.  The majority of imprisoned women and men there were sentenced for drug-related crimes. 

African Regional Agricultural Credit Association referred to New Zealand’s economic policies.  In New Zealand, media and internet access were free, corruption was low, and freedom of religion was respected. 

International-Lawyers.Org was gravely concerned about cases of torture and arbitrary detention in Iraq, and referred to several individual cases. 

Right of Reply

Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, said that Ukraine had made a groundless statement disrespectful of people living in Crimea, which was now an integral part of Russia following free and democratic elections.  Western States should learn the reality of the situation on the ground, including violations of the rights of Crimean populations resulting from Ukraine’s blockade.  Sanctions by the European Union were a collective punishment against the Crimean population for exercising their voluntary choice.  


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC16/044E