COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY BUILDING
Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Presents Reports on South Sudan, Cambodia, Somalia and Yemen
26 September 2012
The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights present reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on South Sudan, Cambodia, Somalia and Yemen and then held a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.
Kyung-wha Kang, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing the country reports by the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, said that the report on technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan in the field of human rights outlined challenges faced by the Government and raised specific concerns about prolonged pre-trial detention, overcrowded prisons and the continued application of the death penalty. The High Commissioner’s report on the activities of her Office in Cambodia described the technical assistance provided to Cambodia in four areas: strengthening the rule of law, support for prison reform, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the protection of rights to land and housing.
The report of the Secretary-General on human rights in Somalia highlighted key human rights concerns and underlined the need to end impunity for on-going human rights violations. It also described the work of the Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia. The report on the situation of human rights in Yemen took note of some of the positive developments, such as the decline in violence against peaceful protesters or journalists and enhanced attention to women’s issues, but regretted that investigations into past human rights violations lacked credibility, and that arbitrary detention continued.
Yemen, Cambodia and South Sudan spoke as concerned countries.
Yemen said that following one of the most difficult periods in its history, a political settlement was agreed in order to avoid bloodshed and conflict; since then the Government had ensured redress for human rights violations that occurred in 2011, made every effort to grant access to justice, and adopted a National Strategy to Combat Terrorism.
Cambodia said that the promulgation of the law on prisons in 2011 was an important step for the Government to implement the prison report and it also continued to take practical steps to consider the ratification of international human rights instruments. Despite the efforts, Cambodia still faced challenges due to its limited capacity, but remained committed to a constructive partnership with international stakeholders to address human rights issues.
South Sudan said that building an effective system of governance was the foundation for addressing human rights challenges. It agreed with the concerns voiced and the logic of abolishing the death penalty but it believed it was a process that could be approached gradually. The international community was called upon to assist in the development of a plan of action to promote and protect human rights.
In the ensuing general debate, delegations noted the commitment of South Sudan to promote and protect human rights despite a context which meant it was particularly difficult for it to set up the institutions and mechanisms necessary for the organization of a new state. Speakers expressed disappointment over the failure to agree on a new constitution in Nepal and called on all political parties to find a durable solution that met the aspirations of the people of Nepal whilst protecting democratic principles and rights in line with the country’s obligations. Yemen was at a critical junction where it risked further instability if persistent human rights violations and accountability for past violations were not addressed, delegations noted and called upon the Government to establish a national human rights institution and to combat impunity.
Speaking in the general debate were Senegal on behalf of the African Group, Cyprus on behalf of the European Union, Denmark, United States, Norway, Thailand, China, Switzerland, Qatar, Morocco, Algeria, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, Germany, Brazil and Iraq.
Also taking the floor were United Nations Children Fund and the following non-governmental organizations: Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Al Zubair Charity Foundation, Hawa Society for Women, General Arab Women Federation, Union of Arab Jurists in a joint statement, Liberation, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights Watch, Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme, International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Society Studies Centre, Verein Sudwind, Eastern Sudan Women Development, International Federation of Journalists, Forum Asia for Human Rights Development, World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace and the Association of World Citizens.
Nepal spoke in a right of reply.
At 5 p.m., the Council ended its public meeting and met behind closed doors to take up its Complaint Procedure.
The next meeting of the Human Rights Council will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 September at 10 a.m. when it will start taking action on draft decisions and resolutions. The Council will close its twenty-first regular session on Friday, 28 September.
The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan in the field of human rights (A/HRC/21/34).
The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the role and achievements of OHCHR in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/21/35).
The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations support to end human rights abuses and combat impunity in Somalia (A/HRC/21/36).
The Council has before it the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Yemen (A/HRC/21/37).
Introduction by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights on Reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner on South Sudan, Cambodia, Somalia and Yemen
KYUNG-WHA KANG, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner. The report on technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan in the field of human rights outlined challenges such as the Government’s limited capacity to protect civilians, weaknesses in the administration of justice and rule of law, violations of women’s rights, lack of enjoyment of social and economic rights, and the urgent need to put in place a human rights-compliant legal framework. The report raised specific concerns about prolonged pre-trial detention, overcrowded prisons and the continued application of the death penalty. The report called on the international community to support the Government’s efforts in developing a national human rights strategy and action plan for the promotion and protection of human rights. Finally, the report recommended a comprehensive reform of the security sector and support to key institutions.
The report on the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia described the technical assistance provided to Cambodia in four areas: strengthening the rule of law, support for prison reform, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the protection of the rights to land and housing. The cooperation between the Office of the High Commissioner and the Government had deepened. The support of the Government Office had led to tangible improvements. However, disturbing trends remained, such as the persistence of a large number of disputes and violence related to land, continued impunity for serious human rights violations, arbitrary detention of human rights defenders as well as the increased use of ammunition by security forces against people claiming their rights.
The report of the Secretary-General on human rights in Somalia highlighted key human rights concerns and underlined the need to end impunity for on-going human rights violations. It called on Somalia to ratify the Rome Statute and pointed out the primary responsibility of the Somali authorities to uphold human rights and hold violators to account. The report also described the work of the Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, which enjoyed a broad mandate but was small and thinly spread between several offices. The team had monitored cases and situations of human rights violations, and had helped to strengthen the capacity of national and regional authorities in the areas of the rule of law, justice and corrections. A strategic review of the United Nations presence in Somalia was scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.
The report on the situation of human rights in Yemen observed that while the security situation had improved, violence continued to affect individuals and caused massive internal displacement and destruction of infrastructure. The report took note of some of the positive developments, such as the preparations for the National Dialogue that would form the basis for a Constitution and the positive steps taken towards the establishment of an independent human rights institution. The Office of the High Commissioner was also encouraged by the decline in violence against peaceful protesters or journalists and enhanced attention to women’s issues. Nonetheless, The Office of the High Commissioner regretted that investigations into past human rights violations lacked credibility, and was further concerned about continued arbitrary detention of individuals. An agreement establishing a country office in Yemen would be signed today in New York.
Statements by the Concerned Countries
HOORIA MASHOUR KAID, Minister for Human Rights of Yemen, speaking as a concerned country, said that less then a year ago Yemen had been undergoing one of the most difficult periods in its history. A political settlement had been agreed upon to avoid bloodshed and conflict, which had put the country in transition until February 2014; the transitional period would end with Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The humanitarian response plan was one of the first priorities for Yemen and the Government had ensured redress for human rights violations that occurred in 2011. Every effort had been made to grant access to justice. The Committee for Investigations had been established and was in dire need of capacity building and technical assistance. The Council of Ministers instructed all units of the executive to implement the recommendations it had received from the Human Rights Council; the Council of Ministers was also tasked with the follow up on the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review and from treaty bodies. Yemen had adopted a National Strategy to Combat Terrorism at its last meeting and it was confident that its partners and other States affected by this phenomenon would assist Yemen in combating this scourge. Yemen would be signing the protocol for the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presence in Yemen.
Cambodia, speaking as a concerned country, said that progress had been made over the past year in the process of the finalization of a country report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The promulgation of the law on prisons in 2011 was an important step for the Government to implement the prison report. Cambodia also continued to take practical steps to consider the ratification of international human rights instruments, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. Cambodia welcomed the cooperation that had been extended by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to enhance the country’s capacity building in the area of human rights. It believed that further work of the Office would focus on the promotion of relevant programmes for education of human rights and on the implementation of recommendations made to Cambodia by United Nations mechanisms. Despite the efforts of the authorities, Cambodia still faced challenges due to its limited capacity. Cambodia remained committed to constructive partnership with international stakeholders to address human rights issues.
South Sudan, speaking as a concerned country, said that it did not in any way claim to have the expertise and know-how to address the challenges mentioned in the report. Building an effective system of governance was the foundation for addressing human rights challenges, and time was needed for this. The report had cited that it was the primary responsibility of the Government to protect its civilians. South Sudan took this responsibility seriously and would do its best to protect its citizens and ensure their human rights. On the issue of the death penalty, South Sudan agreed with the concerns voiced and the logic of abolishing the penalty but it believed that it was a process that could be approached gradually. The positive role of China in working together with negotiating parties Sudan and South Sudan to resolve differences was appreciated, and South Sudan encouraged it to play that role until all issues were addressed. The international community was called upon to assist in the development of a plan of action to promote and protect human rights, which South Sudan could not accomplish alone.
General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building
Senegal, speaking on behalf of the African Group, noted the commitment of South Sudan to promote and protect human rights despite a context which meant it was particularly difficult for it to set up the institutions and mechanisms necessary for the organization of a new state. The African Group exhorted the international community to support South Sudan’s efforts to consolidate the rule of law and respect for human rights. Many further steps were needed, including the adoption of a constitutional, legislative and normative framework to guarantee the protection of human rights. The African Group stressed the importance of technical assistance that responded to the needs and priorities of South Sudan in the field of human rights and this was the sense of the draft resolution submitted by the Group.
Cyprus, speaking on behalf of the European Union, thanked the High Commissioner for her engagement in South Sudan on technical assistance and capacity building and welcomed Yemen’s active cooperation with the Office and the signing of the host country agreement. The European Union also appreciated Cambodia’s efforts and urged the Government to continue to address violations, including concerning human rights defenders and land activists. The European Union reiterated the importance of upholding international standards, in particular concerning the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and a commission of inquiry, and underlined the need for a stronger mandate for the Independent Expert on Sudan.
Denmark, in a joint statement, expressed disappointment over the failure to agree on a new constitution in Nepal and called on all political parties to find a durable solution that met the aspirations of the people of Nepal whilst protecting democratic principles and rights in line with the country’s obligations. The establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and a commission of inquiry on disappearances as appropriately foreseen in the Comprehensive Peace Accord should establish the facts concerning the ten-year long armed conflict; they should meet international standards and should not include or recommend amnesties for gross violations of human rights. Denmark called on the Government to ensure that the rights of journalists, lawyers and other human rights defenders were upheld.
United States congratulated Governments that had sought assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to overcome challenges they faced. The work of the Council under Item 10 on technical assistance and capacity building was designed to provide constructive engagement fostering advances in human rights protection. Governments had a responsibility to seek cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner to prevent human suffering. However, the Council should not allow governments that were not serious about improving human rights conditions to use Item 10 as a shield against criticism.
Norway said that technical assistance and capacity building were increasingly important tools. The present challenge facing the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was to strengthen its field presence with a clear focus on where it could add value. United Nations staff in the field needed to have relevant training and human rights expertise. Norway announced that it would provide a contribution of $1.4 million to the multi-donor trust fund for the integration of human rights in the work of the United Nations at the country level.
Thailand attached great importance to cooperation on technical assistance. It firmly believed that thematic dialogues under the Agenda Item on technical assistance and capacity building should be encouraged over country dialogues, which were already discussed under Item 4. The technical assistance Item should not be used for political considerations. Thailand would table an annual resolution on enhancement of capacity building in the field+ of human rights, and hoped for the largest possible support.
China said that technical assistance in human rights played an important role in helping countries to strengthen their human rights protection. The international community, when providing technical assistance and capacity building, had to seek the consent of countries concerned and respect their independence and sovereignty. To impose a model of development on other countries ran counter to the trend of democratization in international relations and would not go very far.
Switzerland called upon South Sudan to ensure conformity between its legislation and international law and hoped that its National Human Rights Commission would contribute thereto. Regarding Yemen, Switzerland called for the effective implementation of the law on the setting up of a national human rights institution. It also called upon Yemen to combat impunity and launch an investigation on the 2011 incidents of violence against peaceful demonstrators.
Qatar said that technical assistance and capacity strengthening were important tools to consolidate the ability of governments to respect their commitments in the area of human rights. Qatar welcomed Yemen’s cooperation with human rights mechanisms and positive developments. It would support it and help it pass through this transitional period. The international community was called upon to provide all the necessary technical assistance.
Morocco welcomed positive developments in Yemen, including the creation of the national unity Government and the recent presidential elections; and noted with satisfaction the efforts to build a democratic State and to strengthen the rule of law. Regarding South Sudan, Morocco saluted the commitment of the Government to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the progress made in the implementation of laws and policies despite important obstacles. The international community should assume its responsibilities under international cooperation and respond urgently and effectively to the needs of South Sudan.
Algeria welcomed the renewed interest on questions of cooperation and technical assistance, and noted the efforts of the High Commissioner to provide technical assistance services of quality to Cambodia, Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan. These countries deserved continued support as technical cooperation and international assistance was important to ensure the protection of human rights. Algeria appreciated the work of the Office of the High Commissioner in this area and efforts to make additional resources available could be useful. Recognising the importance of technical assistance to the Council’s mandate, Algeria had decided to make a significant contribution to support the needs of least developed countries.
United Kingdom expressed support for Present Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi as he continued to steer Yemen through political transition and to meet the needs of his people. The United Kingdom welcomed the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as President of Somalia and encouraged the Government to take a human rights based approach in efforts to restore stability and security. In South Sudan the United Kingdom welcomed the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission and encouraged the Government to continue to place the protection of human rights and the rule of law as priorities. Bahrain had made important strides and the United Kingdom urged the Government to implement the outstanding Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and Universal Periodic Review recommendations on a clear timetable.
Republic of Korea said that it was essential that the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan should include the assessment and monitoring of the human rights situation in the country, and that the Independent Expert had access to the entire country to engage with all relevant stakeholders. Both the Governments of Somalia and Yemen should prioritize accountability and the rule of law and pay special attention to the rights of women and children and to the issue of child soldiers.
Germany welcomed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Yemen and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It called on all political actors in Yemen to contribute constructively to the transition process. Germany noted with satisfaction the progress made towards the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations. Yemen was encouraged to establish a national human rights institution, and Germany commended the steps taken to prepare a national dialogue conference. Germany remained deeply concerned about abuses against children’s rights and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Brazil said that strengthening the capacity for States to fulfil their human rights obligations was of great importance to create a positive atmosphere in society. Brazil announced that the Group of Women Ambassadors in Geneva would organize a side event on 26 February 2013, aimed at motivating and inspiring actions to promote the empowerment of women, which was a fundamental part of democracy and good governance. That was a transnational initiative.
Iraq saluted the efforts made by the Government of Sudan to implement recommendations. It should be helped to meet human rights needs and Iraq hoped the necessary facilities would be made available to the Independent Expert to allow for visits. Iraq appealed to the United Nations bodies and the Council to show a constructive spirit and support for the Sudanese Government. It also hoped that, under Agenda Item 10, the mandate of the Independent Expert would be renewed.
United Nations Children’s Fund was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen which affected children, who continued to fight for survival, development and protection. UNICEF strongly urged the transitional Government and all relevant parties to guarantee the safety of all children and their unhindered access to basic social services, as well as to immediately implement the recommendation to end the use and recruitment of children, release those recruited, and cooperate with the United Nations and other qualified groups for their reintegration into their communities.
Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that they did not see any improvement in Sudan or South Sudan despite the optimism expressed. Citizens in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions were confronted by many dangers because of armed movements which unfortunately received support from irresponsible organs of the international community. Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development called on Council to support the Foundation, and allow it to play a role with citizens in that region to try to help and participate in reconstruction and stability.
Al Zubair Charity Foundation said that for many years women and children in Sudan had been subjected to suffering, while peace needed to be brokered in many areas of the country. Al Zubair Charity Foundation proposed the establishment of a Commissioner for Human Rights to work with civil society and to come up with solutions for the humanitarian situation and in particular that of women.
Hawa Society for Women stated that it had reservations on the human rights report on Sudan and asked the Independent Expert and civil society organizations to provide clear information so that the reputation of Sudan was not tarnished. Hawa Society for Women said that it followed very closely the freedom accorded to the press in Sudan because freedom was a foundation upon which the right to life rested.
General Arab Women Federation said that Yemen had not responded to the tragic situation of families affected by the rise of poverty and food security and appealed to all to support female headed households. Civil society organizations should really be free and the right to freedom of expression should be enjoyed.
Union of Arab Jurists, in a joint statement, said that widespread violations in Yemen were committed on a daily basis. Many residents had requested the Government and the Human Rights Minister to address the issue of tents in Sana’a which were affecting the life of citizens, closing shops and even the university under the excuse of revolution. It was believed in Yemen that the international community was not paying attention to the flagrant violations which continued to be committed in Yemen.
Liberation recommended that the High Commissioner maximise her efforts towards promoting human rights education, gender mainstreaming and conflict prevention in Sudan. Concerning Somalia, Liberation urged the High Commissioner to set up a plan of action to stop abuses against women, children, journalists and human rights defenders. In Yemen, the result of the report of the High Commissioner engendered a loss of overall credibility by neglecting gross violations in the South and thus preventing the Council from taking proper action; better reporting on the situation on the ground was needed.
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said that as South Sudan developed its State institutions and with new leadership in Somalia, tackling impunity must be a matter of priority in both countries. The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project echoed the concerns expressed by the report of the High Commissioner concerning the intimidation and arrest of journalists and human rights defenders in the course of their activities in South Sudan. In Somalia, urgent support was needed to strengthen the justice system and establish an independent national human rights commission.
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies expressed concern, with regards to Yemen, that reform and accountability efforts remained cosmetic and insufficient. Member States that believed this Council had a duty to uphold the rights of Yemeni citizens should ensure a more robust monitoring and reporting function for the Council on the human rights situation in the country if no concrete progress was made in the coming months.
Human Rights Watch remained gravely concerned about the lack of accountability surrounding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and other airstrikes in United-States-backed military operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and allied forces in provinces including Abyan. It called upon the Council, along with the Government of South Sudan, to establish an independent expert on human rights in South Sudan.
Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme remained concerned by the continued recruitment of child soldiers by Islamist militias, the proliferation of light weapons and the recent acts of piracy in Somalia, and encouraged the Government to fight those scourges. It also urged the Government to fight against corruption with regards to the distribution of international food assistance. It called upon the Sudanese Government to give itself the necessary means and call upon other partners to implement the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur.
International Commission of Jurists recognized the efforts of South Sudan and the challenges it faced and said that the report of the High Commissioner justified the need to support the judiciary as a mean to deliver justice for victims of human rights violations. Access to justice was also subject to strengthening the Constitutional and legal framework in the country and so enable the judiciary to operate independently.
Amnesty International said that Yemen was at a critical junction where it risked further instability if persistent human rights violations and accountability for past violations were not addressed. Amnesty International was publishing the 11-point human rights agenda for Yemen today, in which it urged the Government to reform security and law enforcement agencies and end the climate of impunity in which they operated.
Society Studies Centre said that the main challenge in Sudan was the separation of South Sudan which caused economic and political problems. The initiative of Qatar for peace should be supported and negotiations must take place to safeguard economical and social benefits. The Human Rights Council should shoulder its responsibility concerning the human rights situation in Sudan.
Verein Sudwind was concerned about the humanitarian situation which had worsened in Yemen over the past six months, including the rising levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition with women and children mostly affected. There was also harassment of women rights activists by both pro- and anti-regime groups continued during the transition period. Verein Sudwind was very concerned about the behaviour of police forces toward peaceful protesters, peaceful assemblies, and journalists, and stressed the need to make perpetrators accountable.
Eastern Sudan Women Development said sufficient resources had not been provided to the Office of the High Commissioner and emphasised the need for sufficient resources so that the Office would be able to work with independence and autonomy, and stressed the need to collaborate with civil society organizations. Eastern Sudan Women Development strongly recommended the necessary mandate to the Office and local institutions in the field for the promotion and protection of human rights in Sudan.
International Federation of Journalists said that a culture of impunity continued to permeate Somali society where abuses of freedom of expression and media rights had reached unprecedented levels. The new Federal Government represented an opportunity to change the poor human rights record and culture of impunity that presently existed and the International Federation of Journalists called on the Government to immediately carry out credible, impartial and transparent investigations into serious abuses of freedoms of expression and association.
Forum Asia for Human Rights Development expressed concern about the significant flaws in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations draft Human Rights Declaration, noting that specific marginalised groups, including indigenous peoples, minorities as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were glaringly missing from the document. Forum Asia for Human Rights Development strongly urged that the draft document not be adopted at the twenty-first Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit.
World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace in relation to Cambodia, said that elections were held in a climate of fear. None of the recommendations of Cambodia’s Universal Periodic Review of 2010 had begun to be implemented. The World Association requested that a special meeting of the Council be convened on Cambodia before the next elections due in 2013.
Association of World Citizens said that a number of United Nations forecasts saw the possibility of a brighter future, but under certain conditions and there had to be work towards peace. Civil society had to fight its demons, such as discrimination. A fight for tolerance and against hatred was underway. Vulnerable minorities had to be protected.
Right of Reply
Nepal, speaking in a right of reply, responded to statements made during the general debate on Agenda Item 10, including by Denmark on behalf of a group of States, expressing disappointment about the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Nepal’s peace process had reached a milestone and drew closer to completion, even though managing transition was a difficult process. The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly had followed from the expiration of its tenure and, nevertheless, the Government was committed to promoting consensus among political parties as part of democracy. With regards to justice, both the Interim Constitution and the Peace Accords counted specific provisions to ensure justice to victims through a transitional justice mechanism. Nepal was also committed to ensuring the rule of law and the protection of journalists and human rights defenders, who were protected under the law and perpetrators of attacks were brought to justice. Recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review were also being integrated into the national human rights action plan. Nepal was fully committed to human rights and fundamental freedoms and, moreover, was fully aware of its international obligations. In this light, Nepal expected solidarity from the international community and the Human Rights Council.
For use of the information media; not an official record