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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL OPENS TWENTY-FIFTH SESSION AND STARTS HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT
Hears Statements from the United Nations Secretary-General, the President of Tunisia and the Vice-President of Colombia
3 March 2014

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its regular twenty-fifth session, hearing keynote statements from the President of the Council, the United Nation Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the President and Foreign Minister of Switzerland, after which it opened its High-level Segment which was addressed by 13 dignitaries, including the President of Tunisia and the Vice-President of Colombia.

Baudelaire Ndong Ella, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Council and its mechanisms had gained increasing importance but, as for any other organization, it was always useful to reflect on ways to improve its mechanisms and work.   Mr. Ndong Ella welcomed the initiatives put forward in the context of this session to this regard and noted that these reflections could be integrated into the future revision of the Council’s methods. 

John W. Ashe, President of the General Assembly, said that since its establishment in 2006, the Human Rights Council had been the global standard bearer for strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights around the world.   Mr. Ashe stressed that, while taking pride in the Council’s achievements, it was crucial to remain mindful of the obstacles and constraints in addressing new and emerging challenges, including increasing levels of civil unrest and political and humanitarian crises, and to take the necessary measures to respond.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that Council members had sworn to be the spearhead of the promotion and protection of human rights in the world.  Through its increased dynamism, more frequent meetings and agile and innovative use of its special procedures, the Council was helping the world become more vigilant in tracking the earliest signs of crisis.  Conflicts from Syria to South Sudan and the Central African Republic were sad testaments to what could happen when perpetrators felt free to abuse without consequences. 

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this session of the Human Rights Council launched an ambitious year to promote and protect the human rights of people everywhere and strengthen human rights mechanisms in all countries.  The Council had accomplished much in a world which cried out for respect for human rights daily and in which challenges were daunting.  The Council was meeting many of those challenges through its various mechanisms and tools addressing thematic issues, crises or chronic situations. 

Didier Burkhalter, President and Foreign Minister of Switzerland, said that after nearly three years of fighting in which the violence had been extreme, the situation in Syria was of the utmost seriousness; and all parties were called upon to respect and ensure respect for human rights and international humanitarian law and the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry should be extended.  The struggle against impunity was indispensable for lasting peace in the Central African Republic.  What was occurring in Ukraine had shown that security, peace and human rights were not fully assured in Europe either.  The Swiss chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had proposed the creation of an International Contact Group for Ukraine.

Speaking in the High-level Segment, Moncef Marzouki, President of Tunisia, said Tunisia was committed to developing its relationship with United Nations institutions and to advance its principles and, in this context, had withdrawn its reservations from the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.   No cultural specificities, which had often served as a justification for the limitation of human rights, should stand against universal rights.

Angelino Garzon, Vice-President of Colombia, said that although Colombia was still facing challenges in the field of human rights, achievements had been made and had to be recognised.  He reiterated Colombia’s commitment to the protection of human rights, illustrated by the recent proposal by the Government to adopt a national human rights and humanitarian law policy for the next 20 years.

Other dignitaries who addressed the Council in the High-level Segment this morning were: Héctor Marcos Timerman, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina; Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia; Aurelia Frick, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein; Yipène Djibril, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation of Burkina Faso; Eladio Ramon Loizaga Lezacano, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay; Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francophonie and Regional Integration of Gabon; Mohamed Shyaa Al-Sudani, Minister for Human Rights of Iraq; Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Namibia; Mostapha Ramid, Minister of Justice and Liberty of Morocco; Dimitris Kourkoulas, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, speaking on behalf of behalf of Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission and Igor Luksic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro.

The Council today is holding a full day of meetings from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.  This press release covers all statements made until 1 p.m., and the afternoon release will include all other statements made today. 


Opening Statement

BAUDELAIRE NDONG ELLA, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly attested to the importance that the High-level Segment of the Council had acquired in recent years as one of the main international fora for high-level dignitaries and heads of state and government to make statements on human rights issues.  The Council and its mechanisms had gained increasing importance but, as for any other organization, it was always useful to reflect on ways to improve its mechanisms and work.   Mr. Ndong Ella welcomed the initiatives put forward in the context of this session to this regard and noted that these reflections could be integrated into the future revision of the Council’s methods.  Mr. Ngong Ella also stressed the need to reinforce the interaction and coordination between the Council, the General Assembly’s Third Commission and other United Nations bodies.  It was important to harmonise positions on issues within these bodies to avoid that decisions and resolutions taken in the Council were questioned by other bodies.  In conclusion, Mr. Ndong Ella addressed the strengthening of the Office of the High Commissioner and its available resources in order for the Office to respond to requests for technical assistance and noted the Secretariat and UNOG’s efforts to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities to the Council.  Mr. Ndong Ella looked forward to constructive and fruitful work with Member States, observers, civil society representatives and national human rights institutions.

Key-note Statements

JOHN W. ASHE, President of the Sixty-eighth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, said that since its establishment in 2006, the Human Rights Council had been the global standard bearer for strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights around the world.  Progress on the human rights treaty body system indicated that there were important times ahead for the work of the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, especially in the light of the successful conclusion of the intergovernmental negotiations on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of that system.  Turning to the work of the General Assembly, Mr. Ashe noted that his theme for the sixty-eighth session was the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage, as in 2015 the Member States would adopt a universal and shared agenda which would serve as a guide for global development for decades to come.  All were challenged to address rising inequality, inequitable access to resources and services, erosion of social protection, and increasing marginalization, conflict, violence, insecurity and social injustice.  The situation in Syria and the dire conditions of people suffering from the ongoing conflict remained a great concern.  During this session, the General Assembly would undertake a number of initiatives, including on the state of racial discrimination worldwide, the convening of a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The commemoration of the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were all reminders of how far the world had come and how much courage and fortitude was required by those who championed human rights.  In closing, Mr. Ashe stressed that, while taking pride in the Council’s achievements, it was crucial to remain mindful of the obstacles and constraints in addressing new and emerging challenges, including increasing levels of civil unrest and political and humanitarian crises, and to take necessary measures to respond.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said that Council members had sworn to be the spearhead of the promotion and protection of human rights in the world.  These universal rights were inherent to the human person but were threatened by large scale infringement which darkened the moral landscape and undermined peoples’ confidence on their leaders and future.  The Council was mandated to advance human rights every day and everywhere.  Through its increased dynamism, more frequent meetings and agile and innovative use of its special procedures, the Council was helping the world become more vigilant in tracking the earliest signs of crisis.  Through the Universal Periodic Review the Council was fostering an ever-growing richness in the dialogue with States about their human rights commitments. 

The Council was uniquely aware of the heavy toll of human rights abuses and atrocities.  They read the Rapporteurs’ reports, heard the testimony of victims and witnesses, and helped translate those appeals into concrete action.  As they surveyed the crises and challenges around the world, the Council’s work for accountability and an end to impunity was critical.  Conflicts from Syria to South Sudan and the Central African Republic were sad testaments to what could happen when perpetrators felt free to abuse without consequences.  The Secretary-General welcomed the High Commissioner’s report on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.  He urged the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to work with the international community to improve the human rights and the living conditions of its people.  In Syria, all parties had committed violations of human rights of unimaginable scope and character.  Those States that were members of both the Council and the Security Council had a special duty to end this bloody war and ensure robust accountability.  The besieging of communities, death by starvation and indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons of terror were unacceptable. 

Mr. Ki-moon also highlighted the importance that the Council attached to the plan of action ‘Right Up Front’ initiated last year.  Violations were signs and it was important to move quickly to prevent mass atrocities from happening, as indicated by the plan of action.  The United Nations system should derive advantages from existing mandates to protect persons in danger.  The Secretary-General had sent a message last November reiterating that human rights were an essential part of the work done, and welcomed the role of civil society, notably, representatives of minorities who enriched action in favour of human rights.  Members of civil society who represented ‘We the peoples of the United Nations’ were essential partners and should be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals.  It was a good time to promote the full integration of international standards principles in the new development framework and work together to ensure that human rights and the rule of law were at the heart of objectives to be said, women rights, the rights of persons with disabilities, the rights of indigenous peoples, and measures to address violence against women as well as other essential questions.  Judicious and concrete proposals had been made, in particular by the High Commissioner, and the Secretary-General urged the Council to engage with the Economic and Social Council and the high-level forum that had been created.  Mr. Ki-moon also welcomed the invitation issued by the General Assembly so that education and learning in the field of human rights held a proper place in the post-2015 development programme. 

Mr. Ki-moon recalled that this would be the final time he would have the honour to address the Human Rights Council in the presence of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.  He said Ms. Pillay had been a fearless defender of the most vulnerable, an outspoken advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and an eloquent voice against racism, xenophobia and intolerance, and expressed appreciation, deep respect and gratitude.  The Secretary-General called upon all countries to work together to secure all human rights for all people and to build a life of dignity for all.

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this session of the Human Rights Council launched an ambitious year to promote and protect the human rights of people everywhere and strengthen human rights mechanisms in all countries.  The Council had accomplished much in a world which cried out for respect for human rights daily and in which challenges were daunting – discrimination in all its forms, civil strife which could lead to crimes against humanity and war crimes, the development of new technology such as drones, social media and new information technology, and the environmental degradation which affected not only economic and social rights but also civil, cultural and political rights. The Council was meeting many of those challenges through its various mechanisms and tools addressing thematic issues, crises or chronic situations.  Ms. Pillay said that the Security Council’s recent more active approach to human rights should be sustained and stressed that development must also be part of the human rights equation, including in relation to conflict prevention.  In this regard, the Council had consistently encouraged discussion and action to ensure that human rights were part of the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The General Assembly had adopted a few weeks ago the ground-breaking resolution that would improve the architecture of the treaty body system. 

Combating discrimination was at the core of the High Commissioner’s mandate and the work of the Council and that was why full implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and Outcome Document was no less important today than it had been in 2001.  Ms. Pillay highlighted a number of daunting challenges for the promotion and protection of human rights, including rampant impunity in many parts of the world, lack of accountability based on the rule of law, and physical or sexual violence which continued to affect more than one third of all women.  Her Office, the Human Rights Council and a robust international human rights system had a vital role to play in addressing all those matters, but needed resources to do it.  A Functional Review of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been initiated in order to ensure that it stayed abreast of change and most effectively fulfilled its vital mandate.  The protection of human rights was at the very heart of the United Nations and it must shine through decisions of its intergovernmental bodies and throughout the work of the Organization, concluded the High Commissioner. 

DIDIER BURKHALTER, President and Foreign Minister of Switzerland, said in armed conflicts, even the minimum standards of respect for human dignity and human rights were made a mockery of.  After nearly three years of fighting in which the violence had been extreme, the situation in Syria was of the utmost seriousness.  All parties were called upon to respect and ensure respect for human rights and international humanitarian law and the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry should be extended.  The struggle against impunity was indispensable for lasting peace in the Central African Republic.  Syria and the Central African Republic were only two examples of massive and systematic violations of human rights in times of war, which showed that the prevention of such violations remained out of the first challenges for the international community.  Switzerland supported the Secretary-General’s “Rights Up Front” initiative to reinforce the capacity of the United Nations to protect populations before at the beginning of crises.  Children were particularly vulnerable and Switzerland strongly encouraged States that had not done so to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. 

What was occurring in Ukraine had shown that security, peace and human rights were not fully assured in Europe either.  These events were proof of the need to promote dialogue, restore confidence, reaffirm common values and reconstruct bridges between Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Asian regions.  It was important that efforts were united to support Ukraine in this difficult period.  Switzerland urged all participating States to respect the principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, especially the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine within its existing and internationally recognized borders.  The Swiss chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had proposed the creation of an International Contact Group for Ukraine.  The main task of this Contact Group would be to support Ukraine in this period of transition. Switzerland was currently making a concerted effort to set up this Contact Group and called on all the principal actors to join it in this endeavour.  The findings of the Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were a source of great concern and the international community could not remain indifferent to the situation.  Violations of human rights in times of war and crises were often highly visible.  But this must not lead the international community to forget that most countries were at peace, and that human rights were nevertheless also violated there.  Switzerland considered as a matter of particular concern acts of repression, which were carried out, sometimes violently, in the context of peaceful protest.  Switzerland had made civil society a central focus of its activities during its chairmanship of the OSCE.  Men and women around the world worked to increase awareness and respect for human rights, and merited support. 

High-level Segment

MONCEF MARZOUKI, President of Tunisia, commended the Council’s efforts to combat violations and expressed Tunisia’s gratitude to the High Commissioner and all organizations, including United Nations bodies, which had provided support to Tunisia during the transitional period.  Political parties had shown wisdom and Tunisia was doing well, transparent elections would take place this year, and Mr. Marzouki was pleased to present a copy of the Constitution of Tunisia that included key human rights principles as a political statement.   The future of the Tunisian revolution had reshuffled the cards in a unique experience, former victims of human rights violations were now in decision making positions and those who had stood up to defy the despotic regime were now tasked with Government.  Tunisia had to redefine its priorities so that it could deliver on the demands made.  Tunisia’s people had endeavoured to secure the freedom of opinion and expression and Mr. Marzouki reiterated that the challenges of freedom of opinion and expression were much better than the advantages brought by any form of limitations on speech and Tunisia was committed to protect this right.

Concerning incidents by the security apparatus, it had regained its strength.  The State would not remain silent in the context of violations despite its efforts to ensure security and combat terrorism.  Political rights were now guaranteed for every Tunisian and Tunisia, as an independent State, would call for a dialogue between disputing political parties.  No stability, security or prosperity was possible without morality and dialogue and this should be the priority.  Tunisia was committed to developing its relationship with United Nations institutions and to advance its principles and, in this context, had withdrawn its reservations from the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.   No cultural specificities, which had often served as a justification for the limitation of human rights, should stand against universal rights.  Mr. Marzouki recalled that advice, support and encouragement were still needed by Tunisia.  He called upon the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prioritise the rights of migrants and victims of despotic regimes.          

ANGELINO GARZON, Vice-President of Colombia, said that although Colombia was still facing challenges in the field of human rights, achievements had been made and had to be recognised.  He reiterated his country’s commitment to the protection of human rights, illustrated by the recent proposal by the Colombian Government to adopt a national human rights and humanitarian law policy for the next 20 years.  The territorial and population approaches were important, he said, and would contribute to improve human rights protection on the ground.  The Vice-President extended an invitation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Colombia and attend a national meeting on this new national policy on human rights.  He believed it was important to look at challenges to the rights of migrants and their families, and ensure Colombia’s commitment to guarantee better protection to migrants. 

The Vice-President of Colombia also pointed out the necessity for the Council to tackle the issue of the rights of persons with disabilities, including through the problem of anti-personnel mines.  Colombia sought to implement a national policy on human rights and social protests, in collaboration with educators and trade unions.  The Vice-President recalled the anniversary this year of the International Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide.  He then called on the FARC Guerrillas to sign a peace agreement, which was the only way to ensure the rights and security of civilians in Colombia.  This was the last time that he would address the Council as Vice-President and he asked the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue supporting the future government of Colombia in its efforts to protect human rights. 

HECTOR MARCOS TIMERMAN, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, said that since the return of democracy and, in particular, since 2003, Argentina had firmly consolidated a national process of memory, truth, justice and reparations with a strong determination to respond to the violations of human rights that occurred during the last military regime.  The Argentine Government persisted in the search of those that as children or babies were kidnapped through State terrorism.  It hoped that the Council would soon advance the approval of a manual compiling international standards regarding the use of forensic genetics in case of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  They had a long way to go before all situations of human rights requiring the attention of the Council were treated in a rapid and effective manner.  They had to continue to work to eliminate the selectivity that still remained from the time of the former Commission. 

The horror that had taken over the lives of those living in countries that were victims of internal armed conflict shamed the whole international community.  Argentina actively condemned the sale of weapons to factions that tore these nations apart, and said the country’s position was against the use of humanitarian crises to justify foreign military intervention, which was no more than a geopolitical manoeuvre in a game that did not have the interests of the victims amongst its priorities. 

SERGEY LAVROV, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, said that Russia had consistently maintained that at a time of profound changes every effort must be undertaken so that the rights and freedoms of individuals were ensured.  Human rights were too serious to be used as a bargaining chip in geopolitical games, or a means of imposing one’s will on others, or regime change.  All internal crises should be overcome between all political forces, ethnic and religious groups, in accordance with constitutional norms and in compliance with international obligations.  Such approaches to internal conflict settlement may be applied to Syria, Ukraine and any other country in the world.  Concerning the recent events in Ukraine, Mr. Lavrov regretted the support to illegal acts and said that the opposition had not respected its commitments to the agreement from 21 February and radicals continued to control Ukraine’s cities.  The Government of the victors had replaced a government of national unity and had attempted to take advantage of the situation, taking measures, among others, against the use of the Russian language.  In Crimea, where many Russians lived, this had provoked indignation and, amid the threat of violence and the religious freedom of the Russian-speaking population, self-defence units had been created to prevent the seizure of government buildings and the entry of troops. 

Crimean authorities had requested support from the Russian Federation to establish peace, an appeal in agreement with Russian legislation and which had been accepted by the Council of the Russian Federation.  Mr. Lavrov stressed that this was a question of defending citizens and compatriots and their human rights, lamenting that those who were interpreting the situation as an intervention and threatened sanctions were the same actors who had previously polarised Ukrainian society.  Real progress in the area of human rights could only be achieved on the basis of cooperation and fruitful dialogue, in compliance with recognised norms and principles of international law.   No groups of countries had exclusive powers to unilaterally create certain norms of conduct.  Imposing one’s own interpretation of human rights standards on others only aggravated intercultural and inter religious tensions, caused conflict of civilizations and undermined efforts aimed at creating a stable system of governance. 

AURELIA FRICK, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, said that her country was committed to the importance of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which had stimulated important debates in Liechtenstein. The work of the treaty bodies, which was at the core of United Nations values, was important.  The Intergovernmental Process on Strengthening the Treaty Bodies had led to a good outcome in New York.  A vibrant civil society in a free and democratic society was important, as was the work of human rights defenders and activists.  Ms. Frick condemned any acts of intimidation or reprisals against defenders who cooperated with human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. 

The Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein expressed concerns at the situation in Syria and in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and regretted the lack of response by the international community.  She demanded that the United Nations Security Council deferred the cases of both countries to the International Criminal Court.  She also expressed concerns about the situation in Ukraine and called for respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Liechtenstein attached great importance to the right to privacy and welcomed the decision to organise a panel discussion on that issue at the forthcoming twenty-seventh session of the Council.  Liechtenstein had been a long promoter of women’s rights, and would play an active role as board member of UN Women, including on the issue of the full participation of women in political life and peace processes.  Finally, Liechtenstein welcomed the Council’s role on the issue of the death penalty, and called for the universal abolition of that practice.

YIPENE DJIBRIL BASSOLE, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation of Burkina Faso, said that Burkina Faso continued to follow with concern the situation in Syria.  It had been expecting the international community to mobilize to put an end to the intolerable violations of human rights in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.  Burkina Faso had based its foreign policy in recent years on the search for peace and security in Africa.  Conflicts in the world had led to an exodus of millions of men, women and children in their territory or beyond their borders.  Burkina Faso had welcomed thousands of refugees in the last 10 years and the recent crisis in Mali had displaced more than 60,000 refugees onto its territory. 

Promoting and defending human rights were constant projects in terms of efforts that remained to be made and in particular, to combat terrorism.  The resurgence of terrorism in the Sahel-Saharan region was of great concern.  In a global context characterized by economic crises, the close link which the Council had established in its various resolutions, supported by Burkina Faso, between human rights and development in a context of poverty, was evident.  Burkina Faso had made the promotion and protection of human rights a major axis of its Government policy in the area of the well-being of its people.  The international community was urged to increase the resources of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all of its efforts as the needs were tremendous, and the constraints real.

ELADIO RAMON LOIZAGA LEZCANO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, urged authorities, international organizations and civil society to continue working together towards achieving peace and progress.  In Paraguay, the protection and realization of human rights had a Constitutional rank since 1992 and allowed for the enjoyment of fundamental liberties.  Paraguay was committed to achieve the institutionalisation of these rights and recognised the competency of the different bodies established by different treaties and cooperated by submitting reports and following up on the recommendations by these bodies.  Paraguay had internalised an important number of norms.  Policies were tackling areas of vulnerability, such as issues related to migration, which should be rightly seen as a human rights issue rather than only an economic issue.  One of the challenges of migration concerned the implementation of measures to protect groups in vulnerable situations, including women victims of traffic and those facing multiple forms of discrimination and Paraguay acknowledged the important work carried out by the International Organization for Migration.

Since 1989, Paraguay was opening up for democracy and had taken the decision to extend and keep a standing invitation for international experts to reflect on the human rights situation in the country as well as receiving visits from mandate holders and the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.  A number of indicators had been established to measure progress in accordance with the Inter-American Human Rights System.  The appropriate management of the justice system had also been important.  Paraguay was committed to ensuring the mainstreaming of human rights in all aspects of Paraguay’s policy and ensuring the establishment of a strategic plan for the judiciary.  A post-2015 development agenda constituted another important challenge and, in this context, combating poverty was a national priority and a national programme to this end had been implemented. 

EMMANUEL ISSOZE-NGONDET, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Francophonie and Regional Integration of Gabon, reaffirmed his country’s deep attachment to the values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and thanked all Member States that supported Gabon’s re-election as a member of the Human Rights Council.  Gabon was committed since the 1990s to consolidate the rule of law, which was a pillar of the national strategic plan it recently adopted, together with the promotion of all human rights.  Gabon had undertaken reforms on elections and transparency, on the rights to adequate housing and property, and on the fight against illegal trade of threaten species.  Gabon also strengthened its legal framework on the rights of women and children, with an aim to combat discriminations based on cultural beliefs.  Gabon was committed to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, and to end impunity for perpetrators of those crimes.  The fight against corruption was also a priority for the Government of Gabon and a national agency in charge of investigating allegations of corruptions had been established.   

One of the challenges for 2014 of the Human Rights Council was to contribute to the fight against poverty, including through the promotion of sustainable development in the post 2015 agenda.  Gabon would launch a world initiative aimed at promoting the links between human rights and sustainable development.  This should lead to a reinforced consensus on the right to development among the international community.  The Minister pointed out that one of Gabon’s main areas of concern was the rights of migrants, and demanded a pragmatic and holistic approach from the international community on that issue.  Gabon was committed to support the efforts of the international community on urgent situations, such as the one in the Central African Republic. 

MOHAMED SHYAA AL-SUDANI, Minister for Human Rights of Iraq, said that it was obvious to Council Members that Iraq had witnessed major changes after 2003 and an end of the long era of gross violations of human rights by a dictatorial regime.  In the post-change era, new and serious challenges had emerged on the Iraqi scene, represented by the terrorist groups that became a tool for the destruction of life and the rejection of any renewal and reconstruction.  What happened in Iraq during 2013 and was still happening in the form of targeting civilians was a violation of the sacred right to live.  A total of 6,973 martyrs fell in 2013, and 21,591 persons were injured.  The Government was working hard and seriously to remove the consequences of the destruction and to bring fairness and redress to the victims.  The Government treated demonstrations in some provinces wisely and rationally in spite of the presence of some illegitimate demands and being a safe haven for terrorists, trafficking and using them as a platform for spreading extremism ideology and subversion. 

On many occasions, Iraq had warned of the spread of terrorism in the region, especially after the events in Syria had impacted Iraq and the whole region.  It had reliable information that the majority of the weapons sent to the armed groups under the pretext of assisting the Syrian Opposition were used in violence against Iraqi civilians after being received by the terrorists who crossed the borders into Iraq.  Iraq still believed that the solution to the Syrian crisis could not be a military one but one through dialogue.  Iraq was in a process of democratic building through the principle of peaceful handover of power and the holding of transparent elections.  Iraq had a real effective role in the region and the international system through removing all negative consequences of the former dictatorial regime against the Iraqi people and bringing fairness to the victims through a transitional justice programme that led to national reconciliation and co-existence.

NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Namibia, said that as a result of apartheid and the painful history of oppression, the people of Namibia had been denied their human rights, but nevertheless, after gaining independence, they had embraced the values of freedom, equality and justice in the Constitution.  Women’s rights were human rights and that was why Namibia had in place a robust legal framework for the protection of women and children.  Women and children must be protected from violence even in situations of conflict and no person should be arbitrarily arrested.  States must ensure freedom of the press and media, and children must be protected from economic exploitation and child labour.  The Council should work towards strengthening the role of the family in building a peaceful and stable world which would ensure that the post-2015 development agenda was sustainable.  The family was the basic and natural unit of society, entitled to protection by the State and the international community.

Peace and security were fundamental values for Namibia as it strived to ensure a peaceful Southern African Development Community, including its role in peaceful elections in Madagascar.  Namibia was committed to ensuring the protection of rights of all within its borders, without discrimination.  Namibia stood ready to work with the international community to protect human rights around the world, particularly through dialogue.  Self-determination was a fundamental human right and this right for the people of the Western Sahara must be respected and implemented.  The sanctions imposed on the people of Cuba and Zimbabwe hindered government development efforts to improve the lives of their citizens.  Namibia reiterated the call on the Council to strengthen its mechanisms to play a more positive role in supporting States to protect families and build strong societies, as families were basic societal units worldwide.

MOSTAPHA RAMID, Minister of Justice and Liberty of Morocco, welcomed the fact that his country had just been re-elected as a member of the Human Rights Council.  He underlined the leading role of the Council in the promotion and protection of human rights, and reiterated Morocco’s commitment to ensure the Council’s mandate and independence and strengthen its mechanisms.  Morocco would continue promoting the economic, social and cultural rights of vulnerable persons and minorities.  Morocco had adopted a plan of work to ensure a follow up to the recommendations made to it during its last Universal Periodic Review.  He reaffirmed Morocco’s commitment to the promotion of human rights at the international level, including through partnership with United Nations mechanisms.  Morocco had recently legalised refugees and irregular migrants, as part of its will to improve the living conditions of migrants.  Morocco had appealed to the United Nations for a common initiative with African States on development.  Morocco also adopted a roadmap to reform its judicial system, and strengthened its work to fight corruption.  Freedom of expression and of the media was also considered priorities by Morocco. 

Morocco had an ambitious vision on how to solve the conflict in Western Sahara, based on political means and a spirit of understanding.  He reiterated Morocco’s commitment to strengthen the capacity of African States and regional cooperation to ensure prosperity in Sahel and the Central African Republic.  Morocco reaffirmed its support for the reconstruction and territorial integrity of Mali.  Morocco expressed its hope that the Palestinian people could enjoy their human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.  Regarding Syria, a political solution had to be found and Morocco called on parties to the conflict to engage constructively in the Geneva II process. 

DIMITRIS KOURKOULAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, speaking on behalf of CATHERINE ASHTON, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, said that the right to peaceful protest was a cornerstone of a free and democratic society and the right to assemble freely without fear of reprisal or duress was an essential human rights which could not be diminished by the actions of a violent minority.  The horror in Syria continued every day and the European Union would continue to use all the levers at its disposal to bring relief to the Syrian people, see the perpetrators of crimes against humanity brought to justice and bring an end to the conflict though the Geneva process.  Three years after the rise of the Egyptian people against a repressive regime, there remained an important distance between the initial promise of that revolution and the reality today.  The European Union would remain a staunch supporter of a democratic transition in Egypt and had engaged its Special Representative for Human Rights who continued to follow this situation as a priority.  In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations were ongoing and in many instances constituted crimes against humanity.  The European Union would ensure a proper follow up to the work of the Commission of Inquiry, including on accountability. 

The statement also spoke about other human rights situations of concern to the European Union, including in Iran, Sri Lanka, Myanmar/Burma, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Mali.  In addition to vitally important country-specific work, the agenda of the European Union included a number of thematic priorities.  As seen in Syria, human rights violations and abuses often fell disproportionately upon children and the right of the child was a hugely important issue which must be given an appropriate focus at the Human Rights Council.  The European Union would work to advocate for the full realization of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and would also work to advance women’s rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  It would continue to be vocal against all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence in conflict, and would actively participate in the panel on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The European Union expressed extreme concern about the developments in Ukraine, the deployment of Russian armed forces throughout Crimea and the authorisation for their use on the territory of Ukraine, which constituted a breach of the United Nations Charter and other international obligations of Russia.  Finally, the European Union acknowledged the return of Israel to the Human Rights Council at this session and encouraged its full cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms.

IGOR LUKSIC, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, underlined the important role played by the United Nations to promote and protect human rights, and reiterated Montenegro’s commitment to cooperate with and support the work of the United Nations.  Montenegro expressed concerns about the human rights situations in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and in the Sahel region.  Regarding Syria, Montenegro called on all parties to work constructively towards a political solution.  Montenegro also expressed concerns about the crisis in Ukraine, and called for enhanced and intensified international cooperation in order to find a peaceful solution.

The Post 2015 agenda should include human rights and a gender perspective, Montenegro said.  Montenegro called on States to abolish the death penalty.  The fight against discrimination was also on top of Montenegro’s human rights agenda.  This was illustrated by national strategies adopted by the Government, including against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Universal Periodic Review had proved itself to be a highly important instrument for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Deputy Prime Minister said.  Montenegro was currently working on the implementation of recommendations it accepted during its last review. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC14/007E