6 March 2014
The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard a presentation by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of her annual report, and started an interactive dialogue with her.
In her presentation Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said 2013 was a landmark year for her Office as it was the twentieth anniversaries of the Vienna Declaration and the establishment of the High Commissioner's mandate. The High Commissioner announced that the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights was today travelling to Ukraine, and called for an investigation into human rights violations that had taken place in recent months in Ukraine. She also recommended that the Council establish its own international inquiry mechanism into human rights violations in Sri Lanka. This was her final report as High Commissioner, Ms. Pillay said, and her mandate had seen a number of major accomplishments, grappled with both unexpected and long-lasting challenges, and witnessed some of the most pitiless and implacable brutality that any human being could imagine. Ms. Pillay said her most heartfelt wish was that the Council, with the support of her Office, could find a way to galvanize the international community to act decisively to end the burden on the conscience of humankind.
In the interactive dialogue that followed speakers said work undertaken under the guidance of the High Commissioner ensured that human rights had become one of the pillars of the United Nations system. Speakers shared the High Commissioner’s concerns regarding the lack of efforts to protect economic, social and cultural rights. The international community should commit to put individuals and their dignity at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, which should include clear and measurable objectives, several speakers said.
The conflicts around the world stretched the common capacity to respond and it was stressed that dialogue and conciliation should always be promoted in order to avoid violence. Several speakers voiced extreme regret that the report did not address continued crimes by Israel, the occupying authority of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and astonishment that there had been no mention of the grave violations committed by the Syrian regime. The world was standing helpless in the face of that regime and it was an imperative for the international community to address the situation. Other speakers spoke about the situation of Muslims in Myanmar, expressed alarm about the continued reports of sectarian violence in Central African Republic and agreed that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka required the Council’s attention. The situation in Ukraine was also raised.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Ethiopia on behalf of the African Union, Costa Rica on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Iran on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Yemen on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Argentina, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Togo, Sudan, South Sudan, Brazil, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, China, Malta, Uruguay, Chile, Germany, Uzbekistan, Australia, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Portugal, Cuba, United States, and Iran.
Ukraine spoke in a right of reply.
The Human Rights Council will resume its work tomorrow, Friday, 7 March, at 9 a.m. when it will observe International Women’s Day and continue the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on her annual report. At midday it will convene a high-level panel on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. And in the afternoon the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng.
The Council has before it the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/25/19).
The Council has before it a corrigendum to the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/25/19/Corr.1).
Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said 2013 was a landmark year for her Office as it was the twentieth anniversaries of the Vienna Declaration and the establishment of the High Commissioner's mandate, when States entrusted the High Commissioner with the responsibility of speaking out against discrimination, tyranny and disregard for fundamental values which robbed fellow human beings of their rights to live as equals, in dignity, free from fear and want. Since the Vienna Declaration the concepts and vocabulary of human rights had grown more inclusive and increasingly become central to peace and security, development and humanitarian action. The strong reaffirmation of human rights as one of the three pillars of the United Nations system, together with peace and security and development was one of the most notable developments during her term. The Secretary-General's "Rights Up Front" plan of action contained critical recommendations for the whole system to be more responsive in preventing and addressing human rights violations.
As part of efforts to counter hate speech and incitement to hatred, the Office had helped to create the Rabat Plan of Action which maintained the norm of free speech and clarified the kinds of speech and acts prohibited under international law. In several countries, the Office supported strengthening of the legal and institutional structures dealing with sexual violence in conflict, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo it also supported mobile courts to deal with cases of sexual violence. Also on the agenda in 2013 was combating discrimination against older persons and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Given the failure of Sri Lanka to launch a credible and independent investigation into allegations of serious human rights violations, the High Commissioner called upon the Council to establish its own international inquiry mechanism which could play a positive role where domestic mechanisms failed. The High Commissioner announced that the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights was today travelling to Ukraine, to be joined by other staff from her Office this weekend. Ms. Pillay also called for an investigation into human rights violations taken place in recent months in Ukraine, adding that respect for human rights norms and standards and building a society that was inclusive of the rights of all, was key to finding a peaceful and durable solution to the current crisis.
The Office of the High Commissioner continued to advocate for a human rights-based approach to development, and the High Commissioner was pleased to report that the value and centrality of human rights had been recognized in each of the key milestones in the post-2015 process so far. The many boat tragedies off the coasts of Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain were deeply distressing, said Ms. Pillay; clearly much more needed to be done to protect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers and ensure they were fully protected in accordance with international law. The Commission of Inquiry on Syria had remained unable to visit the country and data regarding human rights violations committed in the context of the conflict were being collected from neighbouring countries. The Commission of Inquiry and fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of widespread and severe human rights violations committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had not been permitted to enter the country, but innovative data-collection revealed unspeakable violations in this country. No State could fail to accept that there must be a stop to these violations, with redress for the victims and accountability for violators, said Ms. Pillay.
In closing, the High Commissioner said this was her final annual report as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her mandate had seen a number of major accomplishments, grappled with both unexpected and long-lasting challenges, and witnessed some of the most pitiless and implacable brutality that any human being could imagine. OHCHR had contributed to the realization of equality, dignity and enjoyment of human rights by many. Yet many around the world continued to suffer grievously, in violation of every legal principle of human dignity and rights. It was her most heartfelt wish that the Council, with the support of her Office, could find a way to galvanize the international community to act decisively to end this burden on the conscience of humankind.
Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner
Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, congratulated the High Commissioner for her work on the right of development, which was critical for the enjoyment of all human rights and should be integrated in the post-2015 agenda. Emphasis should be placed on economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of migrants. Sub-regional and regional organizations, together with technical assistance, were essential for the effective protection of human rights. The African Group expressed concern about violence and human rights violations in South Sudan, and demanded that perpetrators be held accountable.
Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, shared the High Commissioner’s concerns regarding the lack of efforts to protect economic, social and cultural rights, and insisted on the need to promote growth and social development, in particular for vulnerable communities. The international community should commit to put individuals and their dignity at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, which should include clear and measurable objectives. The Community underlined the importance of civil society and citizen participation. Older persons were not protected by any international rights mechanism, therefore the Community welcomed the appointment of an independent expert on the issue.
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, opposed external interference in internal affairs of a State on the pretext of promoting human rights. The Organization supported the observation by the High Commissioner that economic, social and cultural rights deserved better protection, but regretted that her report did not mention the human rights violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation refused the concept of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ rights, which had no legal basis in international law. The Organization remained concerned about human rights violations against Muslims in Myanmar and the Central African Republic. Finally, the Organization expressed concerns about violations of human rights occurring in the context of countering terrorism, and regretted that Guantanamo had still not been shut down.
Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed its commitment to support Palestine and its people and regretted that the situation had not been included in the report of the High Commissioner. Cooperation was fundamental for the promotion of human rights and the Non-Aligned Movement expressed concern about racial discrimination and xenophobia. The Movement concurred with the concern of the report on the issue of armed drones and autonomous robots. The Non-Aligned Movement was committed to collaborating in order to achieve more balance between all human rights.
Yemen, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Group welcomed the report and the statement delivered by the High Commissioner and saluted the efforts of her Office for her work on the rights of women and the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights. The Arab Group shared concerns about discrimination and welcomed steps taken in this regard, expressing concern about mainstreaming some unacceptable concepts, such as “sexual orientation” which went against the religious and moral values shared by Arab States. The Group also expressed concerns about the ongoing conflict in Syria.
European Union recognised the work of the High Commissioner and her Office, as well as the efforts of the Secretary-General to mainstream human rights within the United Nations system. The European Union called on Egypt and Myanmar to collaborate with the Office on the opening of regional bureaus, and welcomed the cooperation of Ukraine with the Office. The European Union took due note of the concern about the rights of migrants and noted that important steps had been taken to ensure the protection of the rights of migrants as part of its migration policy.
Argentina said that the work undertaken under the guidance of the High Commissioner ensured that human rights became one of the pillars of the United Nations system. It was essential to arrive at a universal agreement concerning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Argentina hoped that international instruments concerning older persons would soon be a reality. Argentina chaired the Working Group on the abolition of the death penalty and expressed gratitude for the Deputy High Commissioner’s engagement in this regard.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea said that the Commission of Inquiry had been established by forces hostile to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and whose aim was to name and shame and ultimately eliminate this social system. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea categorically rejected the Commission of Inquiry and its report and said that no one could fail to see the harmful nature of such selectivity and politicization of human rights and hopefully the High Commissioner would be no exception.
Togo appreciated the efforts of the High Commissioner to follow up on the Durban Review Conference and welcomed the efforts of African countries to combat female genital mutilation. The lack of interest in economic, social and cultural rights was real and not perceived and had impact on real people and their lives. Togo thanked the High Commissioner for her support to democracy in a number of African countries, including in Togo, through her attention to electoral systems.
Sudan said that the High Commissioner for Human Rights played a significant role and the principles of impartiality and non-selectivity, among others, were essential to her mandate. Sudan had established special units to work in the areas of the rights of the child and women. Sudan had also implemented measures to address the gap in gender equality and women outnumbered men in graduate schools; business activities also had received support from the Government to implement micro-finance projects for women and secure access to finance. Sudan stressed the need for a human rights approach to development.
South Sudan took note of the Secretary-General’s initiative “Rights Up Front” but as the processes of these organizations were state-driven, South Sudan called for deeper scrutiny and preventing interference with States’ sovereignty. South Sudan’s recent coup d’état committed by the Vice-President constituted a political crisis and did not have an ethnic dimension. Commissions in South Sudan were looking into violations and their root causes. South Sudan called on the Council and the international community to support the African Union in its peacebuilding efforts in the Central African Republic.
India noted the efforts of the Office concerning the realisation of the right to development and appreciated the commitment of the Office to combat discrimination, in particular regarding vulnerable groups. India was reassured to hear that countries had become more open about engaging with the Office and hoped that country bureaus would increasingly be financed from the regular budget. India also reiterated concerns about the situation of migrants and asked the Office to look at the re-imposition of border controls by some countries, and to place a stronger emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights.
Brazil said that the conflicts that had unfolded in many parts of the world stretched the common capacity to respond and stressed that dialogue and conciliation should always be promoted in order to avoid violence. All violence in Syria must stop with the view of bringing relief to the affected population. Brazil warned against further militarization of this crisis which would only increase human suffering. Brazil expressed its support for the efforts of Mr. Brahimi in finding a peaceful solution.
Norway commended the High Commissioner for her principled and timely responses to events that had unfolded in 2013 and said that the “Rights Up Front” initiative was an important step to close the gap between human rights commitments and the reality for the people on the ground. Norway welcomed the support to States to ensure safe space for human rights defenders whose situation, unfortunately, was deteriorating in many places, and also welcomed the increased attention to the right of privacy in the digital age.
Saudi Arabia welcomed the report of the High Commissioner and said that three years had elapsed since the continued violation of human rights by the Syrian regime in which 140,000 persons had been killed. The world was standing helpless in the face of this regime and it was an imperative for the international community to address this situation and the situation of the Palestinian people who continued to suffer daily occupation by Israel.
Qatar voiced extreme regret at the fact that the report did not address the continued crimes on the part of Israel, the occupying power in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and was astounded that there was no mention of the grave violations committed by the Syrian regime. It welcomed efforts made by the High Commissioner in strengthening the principles of accountability after severe human rights violations. Qatar congratulated the people of Tunisia upon the adoption of the new constitution, which it was hoped would be a first step towards democracy and protection of human rights.
Turkey said that the humanitarian tragedy in Syria continued to grow in intensity as the world watched on the side lines. The Syrian regime had escalated the violence through new means, such as the use of barrel bombs. These crimes could not go unpunished and accountability was a must. In Myanmar, concrete steps were needed with regards to the situation of Muslims on the ground, which had deteriorated. The issue of human rights of migrants had become more and more sensitive. Discrimination and racism were becoming a major problem and a multifaceted approach was needed.
China said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had done a great deal in fighting all forms of discrimination under the leadership of the High Commissioner. Today’s global human rights agenda was laden with new challenges and issues. It was hoped that the Office carried out its work in an impartial and objective manner and respected the principles of the United Nations Charter. China wished to see greater balance in promoting the two categories of human rights, and that the Office would increase its input on economic, social and cultural rights. Financial and managerial transparency should be further enhanced.
Malta said that human rights remained the basis for sustainable development and poverty eradication could only be achieved if fundamental rights for all were respected. It was troubling that in 2014 human rights violations denying people the right to equality, education and economic empowerment were still witnessed. A way had to be found to enable asylum seekers to find protection without the need to undergo dangerous voyages organized by smuggling networks.
Uruguay reiterated the need for inclusive societies on the basis of the integration of human rights in policies at the national and local levels. Uruguay congratulated the High Commissioner for her work on the promotion of the rights of women and welcomed the focus of her report on the situation of the elderly. Uruguay also welcomed the work of the Office in humanitarian crises and noted the importance of strengthening complementarity and synergies in the context of efforts to protect affected persons.
Chile said that the Council had worked to open greater spaces for civil society and that a panel would be held to address these issues. Chile expressed concern about complaints regarding acts of intimidation against human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations. Chile emphasised the need for the participation of indigenous peoples in all aspects of the upcoming world conference on indigenous peoples. It also drew attention to the need to continue to address the situation of women and children.
Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that against the background of serious human rights violations in all parts of the world, it was clear that twenty years after the Vienna Declaration, the task to protect human rights remained as vital as ever. The expansion of the Office of the High Commissioner’s field presence was impressive. Germany asked for information about the upcoming visit of the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic to Ukraine, and for the High Commissioner’s views on the possible investigation into human rights violations committed there.
Uzbekistan said it hoped to soon conclude a tripartite agreement between United Nations Development Programme and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Uzbekistan agreed with the High Commissioner that human rights, equality and sustainability should be the main principles of the Post-2015 development agenda.
Australia welcomed the work of the High Commissioner on violence against women and girls, which it said was also one of its priorities and would be the focus of the newly appointed Ambassador on Violence against Women. Australia supported the High Commissioner’s call for an independent investigation into human rights violations that had occurred in Ukraine.
African Union said it appreciated the High Commissioner’s efforts in the implementation of the right to development, which remained an absolute priority for Africa. Development was the radical solution to a number of African problems. The Office of the High Commissioner was thanked for the attention it had paid to the situation in the Central African Republic. However, the African Union was of the view that the situation was continuing to worsen in the eyes of the international community but it did not always seem to pay the necessary attention to the country. The High Commissioner was also thanked for her efforts to combat racism.
Council of Europe highlighted the excellent cooperation between it and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying it had witnessed intensification and diversification of the working ties with United Nations human rights machinery at all levels. The diversity of contacts and exchanges were also illustrated by the visit of a delegation of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the organization in Geneva of the regular session of the Committee on Social Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Jordan said it was deeply concerned by the worsening human rights situation in Syria. A political settlement was urgently needed to stop the bloodshed and meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people while conserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country. Additionally, Jordan said it would have liked the High Commissioner to refer to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in her annual report.
Moldova thanked the High Commissioner for her personal dedication and her Office for its recognition of human rights within the United Nations system. Moldova was focused on the justice sector reform and the construction of a transparent, accountable, and efficient justice sector. Moldova had benefited from the support of the Office and a number of measures, for example, concerning the fight against discrimination had been implemented. Moldova counted on the Office for the development of cooperation on mutually agreed issues.
Ukraine said that the recent protests caused by the use of force by the former government had resulted in injuries and deaths. On 21 February an agreement was reached which chartered a political course out of the stalemate, and a new Government was appointed. Accountability for crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice were among the priorities of the new Government, as well as the implementation of human rights commitments in partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner and other international partners. Assistance was key and Ukraine was interested in deepening cooperation.
Russia said it was concerned by the ambiguous measures taken for budget cuts. The Office had strengthened monitoring functions over protection, which would be counterproductive without increasing cooperation, for example, as seen in measures concerning sexual minorities, which were unjustified. Russia expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine and violations committed by armed groups beyond the control of the State, and the continuing conflict in Syria where foreign allies continued to provide weapons to rebel groups who were committing serious violations.
Japan said it appreciated the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner in addressing serious human rights challenges. Human rights mechanisms, including commissions of inquiry, were essential to improving human rights situations. The final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Democratic People's Republic of Korea shed light on egregious abuses occurring there, and Japan called on all to maintain the momentum in addressing them.
Portugal welcomed the High Commissioner’s efforts in fighting discrimination, which was an issue that could only result in deepening rifts in society and the pointless suffering of individuals. Portugal appreciated the courageous activity undertaken by commissions of inquiry on blatant human rights violations, specifically those facing difficulties in their work, such as those on Syria, Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Central African Republic.
Cuba urged the Office of the High Commissioner to pursue its stated thematic priorities and guarantee equal treatment and equal footing of all generations of rights. Cuba supported diplomatic and peaceful solutions to conflicts and said that imposing coercive measures or unilateral sanctions should be avoided. The Office should continue its efforts in closing centres of arbitrary detention and torture such as the one maintained by the United States in Guantanamo, which should have been closed a long time ago.
United States said it was pleased the High Commissioner continued her focus on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which it fully agreed required the Council’s attention. The United States was deeply concerned by the situation in the Central African Republic and alarmed by continued reports of sectarian violence. The fact that all those acts had been committed with impunity was deeply troubling. The United States reiterated that its message that a solution to the Ukraine crisis was not difficult to envision and there was a way out. It rejected Russian justifications for their actions.
Iran spoke about the fight against racism and racial discrimination, and said it was grateful for the creation of a database and that the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action should remain a guiding principle. Iran concurred with the High Commissioner and expressed concern on the continuing activities of detention facilities, as well as about drone strikes that indiscriminately claimed the lives of innocent people. Regarding sexual orientation and rights, Iran said the High Commissioner should uphold universally accepted human rights with respect for different cultures and beliefs.
Response by the High Commissioner
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, responded to criticisms about the absence of references to the situation of Occupied Palestinian Territory in her report. She said that nobody could doubt the importance given by her Office to the situation. The Occupied Palestinian Territory was also discussed under the Council’s Agenda Item 7. Ms. Pillay also noted that many of the activities carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by a number of actors continued to contravene both international human rights and international humanitarian laws.
Concerning the work of her Office in Ukraine, Ms. Pillay expressed concern at the number of people who had been killed; according to the Ukrainian delegation it was over one thousand people. Perpetrators should be brought to justice. The High Commissioner said she continued to monitor the situation of minorities in Ukraine. The Mission to Ukraine of Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic would start today, and was tasked with undertaking a preliminary assessment and advocating for the protection of rights and for accountability for recent violations. Ms. Pillay reiterated calls for a negotiated solution to the Ukrainian crisis on the basis of international law.
The High Commissioner observed that there had been both critical and encouraging statements concerning the inclusion of the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in her report. Numerous attacks and serious violations were reported to her Office, and it was the duty of the High Commissioner, and the responsibility of States, to address those violations. There was a shared responsibility to protect everyone: neither the Charter nor the Declaration, nor any other treaty, would permit States to exclude certain individuals from protection. Ms. Pillay hoped that, as people started to understand the scale and gravity of abuses perpetrated against sexual minorities, a new perspective would emerge.
Concerning the role of the Office on the treaty body strengthening process, Ms. Pillay said she looked forward to the adoption of her report by the General Assembly. In preparation for its implementation, the Office would work with all stakeholders to ensure smooth conduct of business. The treaty bodies were likely to discuss implementation in June. Ms. Pillay also answered questions concerning the Post-2015 development agenda, the ‘Rights Up Front’ plan and a call for transparency in the implementation of the policies. Other issues discussed included the right to privacy relating to digital communications surveillance, the new mandate on human rights defenders, the Office’s work on technical cooperation, and human rights training for United Nations staff.
Right of Reply
Ukraine, speaking in the right of reply, acknowledged that the situation in Crimea was very unstable, and said that was because of the invasion of Russian troops. There were approximately 16,000 Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine; their numbers were on the increase and they were blocking access to Ukrainian administrative buildings. Ukraine reiterated that there had been no violation of the human rights of Russian minorities living in the territory of Ukraine. The delegate also clarified the number of victims of the protests of the last three months, saying that 1,000 people had been injured and 100 killed.
For use of the information media; not an official record