COUNCIL HOLDS DIALOGUE WITH SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS ON TRUTH, JUSTICE AND REPARATION AND ON CONTEMPORARY FORMS OF SLAVERY
12 September 2013
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences.
Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said that his mandate could only succeed with the cooperation of States and that greater cooperation from States would be welcome. As the mandates of Truth Commissions were broadening, this left the Commissions technically overstretched and could lead to them not fulfilling their core functions. Scarcity of resources meant that the activities of Truth Commissions were sometimes scaled back. He spoke about his mission to Tunisia.
Gulnara Shahinian, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences, said that over 20 million persons worldwide were in some form of forced labour or bondage. Progress made in the fight against slavery included strengthening national and international frameworks and organizing various awareness-raising and prevention campaigns. National authorities were responsible for upholding the human rights of all persons within their jurisdiction, including by preventing slavery. She spoke about her missions to Kazakhstan and Madagascar.
In the interactive dialogue on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that effective truth could not replace justice and reparations, and outlined some of the measures they were undertaking in order to advance reconciliation in their respective countries. They also expressed their full support for Truth Commissions, which served as an important tool in the process of mending wounds and achieving reconciliation in conflict-affected societies or societies in transition. Some speakers stressed the importance of including a gender perspective in the work undertaken by Truth Commissions.
Concerning contemporary forms of slavery, speakers said it was alarming that the phenomenon persisted in many parts of the world, adding that slavery was degrading to human nature and had a negative impact on the well-being of millions of persons, including children. Particular concern was expressed at hidden forms of slavery, which often went undetected. Countries offered their ongoing support for the work carried out by the Special Rapporteur in the context of her mandate, and highlighted some of the measures they were undertaking in order to combat contemporary slavery in all its forms.
Tunisia, Kazakhstan and Madagascar spoke as concerned countries.
Speaking in the clustered interactive dialogue were Argentina, Indonesia, European Union, Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Paraguay, Gabon on behalf of African Group, Egypt, Cuba on behalf of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Greece, Morocco, Armenia, Germany, Belarus, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Venezuela, Austria, Holy See, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Sweden, Togo, Latvia, Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, United States, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Cuba, Belgium, Nepal and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Council will next meet on Friday, 13 September at 10 a.m. when it will conclude its clustered interactive dialogue on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and on contemporary forms of slavery. It will then hear the presentation of the report of the Working Group on the right to development, and the reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed by a general debate on the agenda item on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (A/HRC/24/42); and an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur concerning his mission to Tunisia (11–16 November 2012)(A/HRC/24/42/Add.1).
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences on challenges and lessons in combating contemporary forms of slavery (A/HRC/24/43); an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur concerning her mission to Kazakhstan (24 September to 1 October 2012) (A/HRC/24/43/Add.1); and an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur concerning her mission to Madagascar (10 to 19 December 2012)(A/HRC/24/43/Add.2).
Presentation of the Reports of the Special Rapporteurs on the Promotion of Justice and Reparations and on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said his mandate included addressing the legacy of massive violations of human rights and this was vital if the matter of impunity was to be tackled. But his mandate could only succeed with the cooperation of States; more cooperation from States would be welcome. He had held regional consultations in various regions and more would be held. The Special Rapporteur said he was planning trips to Spain, Uruguay and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Special Rapporteur said his thematic report on Truth Commissions showed that they were often overloaded despite the more than 40 countries that had established them in the pursuit of transitional justice since the 1980s. Focussing on five of these, firstly a transformation of the mandates of Truth Commissions could be detected; their mandates were broadening. In some ways this was to be welcomed, for example, the expansion into the area of gender equality. However this left Truth Commissions technically overstretched, and this could lead to them not fulfilling their core functions. This was a serious threat to victims seeking justice within the remit of such commissions. Secondly, the selection of commissioners was controversial. Their representativeness, their capacity to act as “stand-ins” for particular groups, may not always serve a Truth Commission well. Thirdly, scarcity of resources meant that the activities of Truth Commissions were sometimes scaled back at crucial moments. The international community was called upon to financially assist Truth Commissions in forward-looking ways. Fourthly, Truth Commissions had faced criticism for their lack of follow-up – however implementation of Truth Commission recommendations was not always their responsibility but that of Governments and, to a lesser degree, civil society actors. Finally, the maintenance of Truth Commission archives and records was an important matter not to be overlooked.
Since his visit to Tunisia, there had been some sliding back in their efforts to institute transitional justice initiatives. Successive Governments had tried strenuously to honour victims’ claims but an event-based approach had resulted in a serious fragmentation between competing groups of victims and accusations of politicization. A human rights-based approach would help address this. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to this end was still under consideration by the Tunisian legislative process since his visit 10 months ago. Failure to address impunity would send a negative message to Tunisian society and confidence in State institutions would be fatally undermined.
GULNARA SHAHINIAN, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences, said that contemporary slavery took many complex forms. It was estimated that over 20 million persons worldwide were in some form of forced labour or bondage. Additional invisible forms of slavery included child slavery, bonded labour, servile marriage and domestic servitude. Improved methodologies in data collection and monitoring now gave a better understanding of the magnitude and dynamics of slavery-like practices and their linkages to violations of intersecting human rights. Significant progress had been made in the fight against slavery, such as strengthening national and international frameworks, organizing various awareness-raising and prevention campaigns, and undertaking measures to enhance inspection and enforcement through the courts, adopt bilateral agreements on domestic migrant workers, and develop national strategies and government coordination mechanisms.
National authorities were the primary entities responsible for upholding the human rights of all persons within their jurisdiction, including by preventing slavery and holding companies and individuals accountable. Difficulties hampering efforts included the marginalization of victims, which made it difficult to identify and access them, and institutional deficits which impeded the effective enforcement of relevant laws. Reporting on her recent country visits, Ms. Shahinian said that Kazakhstan had made significant progress in combating slavery but noted a need for long-term solutions ensuring access to education and medical services for all. Concerning her visit to Madagascar, she found that extreme and chronic poverty and caste-related discrimination continued to prevail against the descendants of slaves, and urged Madagascar and other stakeholders to redouble their efforts in combating poverty. In conclusion, Ms. Shahinian thanked Brazil, Peru, Mauritania and Ecuador for giving her the opportunity to take part in follow-up workshops which focused on the recommendations made during her visits to those countries.
Statements by Concerned Countries
Tunisia, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s satisfaction with the cooperation of the Tunisian authorities. The Special Rapporteur was assured that recommendations made would be duly and carefully examined. In April 2012 Tunisia had embarked in a broad and inclusive dialogue on transitional justice, with wide participation by civil society, political parties and international organizations, among others. In March 2013 a truth week was organized, during which victims and other parties involved in truth and its place in transitional justice were able to speak. Specialized committees had been created in all Ministries to look into the reinstatement of those who had been granted general amnesty. Tunisia regretted that the report had not been translated into the working languages of the United Nations.
Kazakhstan, speaking as a concerned country, believed that the focus on combating all forms of slavery and the related challenges that lay therein was still a relevant issue in the modern world. Within the framework of a democratic society it was important that laws, development policies, plans and programmes should aim at the total elimination of such a historical rudiment which took other contemporary forms of existence. Kazakhstan reiterated its firm dedication to the cause of combating slavery practices in all their forms. The Government had taken respective measures based on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur. To further advance its efforts in protecting the victims of different slavery practices, which came mainly from the source of illegal migration to its country, the Government had recently elaborated the draft law on inclusion of some amendments to the legislative acts of Kazakhstan regarding the issues of labour migration.
Madagascar, speaking as a concerned country, said that Ms. Shahinian had visited Madagascar at the invitation of its Government. It noted with interest the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations; however most of these were already being implemented. Poverty reduction remained at the core of the Government’s activities and was key to the eradication of contemporary forms of slavery. A point worth noting was that the concept of “castes”, highlighted by the report, had disappeared since the country became a constitutional republic. Madagascar had adopted most of the international treaties and integrated their obligations into numerous action plans adopted in recent years, for example, the Action Plan against Child Labour, worked out in collaboration with the International Labour Organization. The fight against human trafficking was receiving ministerial attention. The Government was committed to working with international human rights bodies and adopting the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue
Argentina said it appreciated the regional consultation that the Special Rapporteur had held in Buenos Aires. Archives were excellent instruments for ensuring reparations were made, and for warning against non-recurrence. Awareness building was needed to allow victims to access archives to help them in their quest for justice. Argentina had made a study of the use of such archives when relatives of the “disappeared” had sought justice and accountability for crimes, and found them crucial.
Indonesia said that Truth Commissions could help give a voice to victims and provide essential information in realizing other transition measures. What was the best way of forming a proper Truth Commission, given that often wounds were still open in society? Concerning contemporary forms of slavery, migrant workers were one of the groups which were disproportionally affected by that phenomenon. To promote and protect migrant workers’ rights, Indonesia had put in place a comprehensive policy starting from recruitment and placement and extending to the return of migrant workers.
European Union said that it attached particular importance to laying the foundations of truth-seeking elements in transitional justice. The European Union paid attention to a gender perspective and a victim-centred approach when addressing demands for truth, justice, reparations and institutional reforms to prevent a recurrence of violence. On contemporary forms of slavery, Ms. Shahinian’s report had provided a clear reminder that contemporary forms of slavery and slavery-like practices remained a concern in all regions of the world.
Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Arab Group agreed with the Special Rapporteur that legislation at the national level was not enough to eradicate slavery. More effective awareness-raising campaigns and comprehensive prevention programmes were needed at the national and international level. It was essential to recall that slavery had largely become an invisible crime, even though it was criminalized in most countries. How could modern technology be utilized to expose more effectively contemporary forms of slavery?
United Kingdom paid tribute to Ms. Shahinian’s deep personal commitment to her mandate. Her reports had broken new ground in drawing attention to modern manifestations of slavery at the Council. The latest report provided all with a reminder that slavery and slavery-like practices were a challenge in all regions of the world. Could some examples of strategies, which victims had found effective in being able to advocate for change and to seek redress, be highlighted? Could some examples of cooperation and sharing of experience between Governments to better combat slavery and similar practices be cited?
Netherlands said the Special Rapporteur had stated that truth was not a substitute for justice. Parties to a conflict, however, had less incentive to join a peace or reconciliation process if they feared judicial persecution for their actions. Actively combining truth-finding with prosecution could therefore lead to prolongation or even recurrent of a conflict. How did the Special Rapporteur see that dilemma? In post-conflict settings, civil society was weakened. How did the Special Rapporteur see the selection of relevant civil society actors for cooperation and the societal strengthening implemented?
Paraguay said that the right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence were part of State policy during its democratic transition. Law 2225 of 2003 compelled the Truth and Justice Commission to investigate all human rights violations during that period. The experience had given names, faces and voices to the victims, and had also shown the serious challenges facing these commissions and the many hopes placed in them. These hopes had become a trend to broaden the mandate of these Commissions, without necessarily resulting in an increase in resources for these.
Gabon, speaking for the African Group, said Ms. Shahinian’s report was of great historical and contemporary interest to Africa. Her report had significantly broadened the notion of modern forms of servitude, which were often complicated and hidden. Issues such as debt slavery and servile marriage were exacerbated by poverty and lack of economic opportunity. They posed a great legal and political challenge to the international community.
Egypt said it had established a Ministry of Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation which had held consultations with Mr. de Greiff and the High Commissioner in recent weeks. In agreeing broadly with the Special Rapporteur’s report, Egypt stressed that the search for truth and justice had to take place within the national, historical and cultural conditions of the States concerned. In responding to the report of Ms. Shahinian, Egypt said fighting modern slavery was among its top priorities, including attacking its social and economic causes.
Cuba, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, thanked Mr. de Greiff for holding regional consultations in Buenos Aires which had shown that the region was rich in practical experience in the matters of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. The analysis he made of Truth Commissions was insightful, particularly with regard to the moral standing of commissioners, archives and gender mainstreaming. Meanwhile, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States recognised the value of the work of Ms. Shahinian, and welcomed her focus on good practices, some from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States region.
Greece called on all countries to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in her efforts to eradicate slavery. Greece was alarmed by the high number of slavery victims globally, and, despite severe budgetary restraints, had contributed 20,000 euros to the United Nations Voluntary Trust on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. Greece asked Ms. Shahinian whether she had identified any specific legislative and policy measures which were especially effective in combating slavery.
Morocco, speaking on behalf of a Group of French-speaking countries, said that it was particularly concerned about questions of truth, justice and reconciliation, especially in French-speaking countries which were currently in conflict situations or in transition, such as Mali. The countries offered their full support to Truth Commissions, which they saw as an important tool in the process of establishing a transition to justice, and agreed with the Special Rapporteur that effective truth could not replace justice and reparations.
Armenia said that the right to truth, which was enshrined in numerous international instruments, was essential for combating impunity and for promoting justice and accountability, particularly in the context of genocide. The right to truth could not serve as a substitute for justice and reparations. Appropriate preventive and other measures should be taken at the national and international level. Armenia extended an invitation to Mr. de Greiff to visit Armenia. In the fight against contemporary slavery, awareness-raising campaigns were of the utmost importance.
Germany supported the notion that there was a high risk of overburdening the mandate of Truth Commissions and therefore emphasized the call for prudence when it came to defining the scope and mandate of such commissions. Germany drew attention to a cruel, ruthless and sadistic form of slavery that had appeared nowadays in many different disguises, whose victims were African migrants – men, women and children, mainly from Eritrea but also other African States including Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. Was the Special Rapporteur aware of the existence of large-scale trafficking of refugees from Sudan to Sinai and torture camps?
Belarus said that the Special Rapporteur had rightly drawn attention to the situation of people working as domestic workers. To a great extent the problem affected migrants. As well as making observations about certain developing countries, it would be a good idea for the Special Rapporteur to go into greater depth into the situation of domestic workers, particularly migrant domestic workers, in developed countries and particularly in the European Union. An appeal was made to pay particular attention to the need to monitor this problem.
Colombia said that transitional justice had the basic goal of strengthening the State, and ensuring victims had the right to truth, justice and reparation. Colombia had sought to ensure that the principles and values of justice and human rights were applied. There was a law on victims and land restitution. Colombia was trying to build a State based on the rule of law. All contemporary forms of slavery were degrading to the human being and turned them in a commodity for trade and exploitation. The rejection of these forms of slavery from the Council had to be unequivocal.
Sri Lanka noted Mr. de Greiff’s assertion that Truth Commissions had found their mandates expanding and this was unhelpful toward reconciliation, and welcomed his observation of gender mainstreaming in these mechanisms. However each nation must achieve its own model with regard to Truth Commissions, and Sri Lanka had done just that. The reconciliation process was well integrated into its governance system. Sri Lanka had briefed the Human Rights Council frequently on this topic and was pleased the High Commissioner had been able to witness this for herself on her recent visit.
Lebanon said it regretted paragraph 13 of Ms. Shahinian’s report referring to Lebanon. The paragraph repeated assertions from a previous report without taking into account Lebanon’s prior response. It also contained factual errors with regard to the situation of domestic labourers and Lebanon would write to the Secretariat about this. However, Lebanon reiterated its desire to work constructively with the Special Rapporteur.
Venezuela said that Mr. de Greiff had said that Truth Commissions were important instruments and Venezuela agreed. One such commission had been set up in Venezuela this year to examine political crimes and repression that had taken place between 1958 and 1998. Turning to Ms. Shahinian’s report, Venezuela said its constitution outlawed slavery in all it forms yet the scourge remained; this was the result of poverty and economic exclusion caused by capitalist exploitation.
Austria said that addressing the legacy of human rights crimes of the past was a legal and moral obligation to the victims. Truth Commissions constituted important instruments, as they gave a voice to victims, contributed to social integration and provided essential information in realizing other transitional justice measures. Could the Special Rapporteur share good practices? Concerning slavery, it was disconcerting that States did not take adequate action to ensure effective implementation of anti-slavery laws they had adopted.
Holy See said that contemporary slavery was a criminal modern industry and there were specific challenges facing the international community in that regard. Children and women all over the world were exploited and used as mere commodities in the consumer market. The Holy See, which was committed to combating slavery in all its manifestations, reached out to victims of slavery and offered them assistance, counseling and legal advice. Human security should be reinforced through the creation of decent jobs.
Thailand said that truth, justice and reparation were essential elements in earning people’s trust and confidence in post-conflict situations. Thailand agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the selection criteria of Truth Commission members should include independence, professionalism and expertise. Concerning slavery, locating the victims of forced labour was a major challenge. As a preventive mechanism, Thailand had prioritized the need to reduce the vulnerability of all, especially women and girls, by giving them adequate education.
United Arab Emirates said that the challenges in fighting contemporary forms of slavery had been highlighted. What characterized the report was the statement that contemporary slavery was a crime at the international level and that greater efforts were needed on the part of States to eliminate this crime, which was very diverse. It was hoped that recommendations made would allow States to have firm political will to coordinate among themselves and recognize the different forms of contemporary slavery and eradicate this from all societies.
Switzerland said that there was a greater understanding about the rights of victims. States seemed to have taken on board their responsibilities, but Truth Commissions had to develop better practices and pay more attention to gender as well as violations of economic, social and cultural rights. Switzerland shared the concern about the sometimes inappropriate use of the mechanism of Truth Commissions. Switzerland stressed the importance of the need to strengthen legal abilities of Truth Commissions.
Sweden said that transitional justice mechanisms and perspectives, whether applied by regular justice structures or ad hoc, were important for the right to truth, fighting impunity, the rule of law and for other building blocks of peace, development and human rights. It would be interesting to hear from the Special Rapporteur on how common goals, positive dependencies and synergies could be seized on, and inconsistencies and other problematic factors avoided, when Truth Commission mandates were constructed and commissions were put to work.
Togo said the right to truth, justice and reconciliation was important to Togo and a commission to this end had been set up in the country. It would propose to the Government methods of reparation and what could be done with the perpetrators of past crimes and violence so that impunity could be countered. It was hoped that this commission’s work would contribute to peace, reconciliation and tolerance in Togo.
Latvia remained concerned that the number of people in forced labour all over the world remained high but thanked Ms. Shahinian for pointing out the distinction between overall numbers and rates of forced labour in different regions. This breakdown helped the Human Rights Council to better appreciate the impact of forced labour in the realization of socio-economic rights. Could Ms. Shahinian expand on her observation that legislative loopholes, lack of funding for relevant institutions and Governments’ failure to recognize contemporary forms of slavery were among the greatest obstacles to combatting the problem?
Republic of Korea was encouraged by Mr. de Greiff’s assertion that Truth Commissions remained powerful mechanisms in the strengthening of the rule of law and concurred with his recommendations concerning effective follow-up procedures in their mandates. The Republic of Korea extended heartfelt thanks to Ms. Shahinian for her six years of work and encouraged States to pay due attention to her extensive and detailed report.
Czech Republic praised Mr. de Greiff’s systematic analysis of challenges faced by Truth Commissions in transitional periods and said that it was important to strengthen the role of civil society in monitoring the follow-up of recommendations of Truth Commissions with a view to improving implementation. Could the Special Rapporteur provide more information on the involvement of civil society organizations, especially on how to establish their close and stable cooperation with Truth Commissions at an early stage?
United States said that reasonable expectations and goals should be laid out for Truth Commissions in order to avoid overburdening their missions. Countries should facilitate the Special Rapporteur’s visits and should also seek his advice and expertise as appropriate. Could Mr. de Greiff share examples of how truth commissions had been successful in ensuring full civil society participation? The victims of slavery were crime victims and should be given protection and access to comprehensive services.
Ethiopia said that it agreed that migrant workers were disproportionally affected by contemporary forms of slavery. It was imperative that States take urgent action to ensure respect for the basic rights of migrant workers, especially in terms of guaranteeing fair conditions of employment, decent working conditions, protection against abuse, harassment and violence, the right to food and the right to health. The international community should make concerted international efforts to address the problem of trafficking in persons and the abuse of migrants.
Finland said that it agreed that the truth could not substitute for justice, reparation, or guarantees of non-recurrence. Truth Commissions could also be part of a significant reconciliation process in general and a significant element in the fight against impunity for the most serious international crimes as well as in the attempt to establish accountability for other gross human rights violations. It had to be ensured that women’s rights were under specific attention in the work of Truth Commissions.
France thanked the Special Rapporteur for the presentation of his report which underlined the need to more than ever remain engaged on the issue of impunity, which was essential to the process of reconciliation. The Special Rapporteur would visit Spain in January 2014. With what other countries was there dialogue about a field visit? On contemporary forms of slavery, France said that the list of good practices identified would be a very useful tool in the implementation of effective measures to combat this scourge.
Sudan said that it had taken note of both reports. Contemporary forms of truth, justice and reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence were based on laws and regulations. In Sudan, transitional justice measures had been taken. These included measures related to cooperation. The President had adopted a decree to establish an Independent Commission of Truth and Justice. Since the Commission’s establishment it had formulated its plan of work, which had been approved, and an organizational plan had been developed.
Cuba said Mr. de Greiff’s work had particular relevance to Latin America where for years dictators had perpetrated crimes against people that still needed to be resolved. Meanwhile, contemporary forms of slavery – common to developing nations, but also a phenomenon of developed nations – was an equally vital topic. In conclusion, Cuba fully supported the work of both Special Rapporteurs and commended them to the Council.
Belgium agreed with Mr. de Greiff that the tendency of Truth Commissions to perform an arbitration role in cases of corruption, and to promote victim-perpetrator pardons, was a cause for concern. Belgium was particularly interested in the Special Rapporteur’s proposal to adopt efficient vetting procedures for commissioners. Could he elaborate on this topic and did he have best-practice examples he could share in this regard?
Nepal said that Ms. Shahinian had noted the progress that the country had made with regard to “Haliyas” (tillers) in its country, who had been freed in 2008 and were now the subject of rehabilitation, reintegration and rights-protection measures, as well as similar measures taken with regard to migrant workers. The country’s Interim Constitution of 2007 guaranteed fundamental freedoms to all its citizens. The Government of Nepal was currently focusing on holding elections and would respond to the country visit request made by Mr. de Greiff at an opportune moment.
Côte d’Ivoire said that it was a country emerging from crisis circumstances and that it was taking appropriate measures to follow up on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations following his visit to the country. How could countries ensure that truth commissions completed their work more quickly without undermining the confidence people had in them? Contemporary forms of slavery included the abusive exploitation of migrants, children and women and were the result of poverty. International laws should be strengthened to combat slavery more effectively.
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