ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe


6 March 2014

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its High-level Segment after hearing statements from 10 dignitaries from Bahrain, Ghana, the Commonwealth, Ecuador, Central African Republic, Thailand, Iran, Sudan, Cuba and the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Speaking were Khalib Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al-Khalifa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain; Dominic Ayine, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ghana; Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General; Nadia Ruiz, Vice-Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Ecuador; Isabelle Gaudeuille, Minister of Justice responsible for Judicial Reform and Human Rights of the Central African Republic;  Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Thailand; Morteza Sarmadi, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran;  Isam Eldin Abdelgadir Elzien, Deputy Minister and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice of Sudan;  Abelardo Moreno Fernandez, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba; and Janet Lim, Assistant United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

During the meeting, speakers presented national efforts to better protect human rights domestically and to strengthen their engagement with United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Some speakers underlined the importance of the Universal Periodic Review as a unique mechanism of dialogue on human rights situations.  Speakers also underlined the importance of protecting and implementing women’s rights and combat discrimination. 

Speakers expressed concern about the situation in the Central African Republic as well as in Syria, and hoped that the Geneva talks would lead to results.  One speaker spoke of the importance of strengthening the Council’s prevention capacities as well as its ability to respond to emergency situations.  

Albania, Syria, Azerbaijan, Japan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Armenia, China, Uganda, Iraq, Bahrain, Morocco, Serbia and Algeria spoke in right of reply.

During a midday meeting starting at 1 p.m., the Council will hold its general segment, which will be followed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights presenting her annual report.

High-level Segment

SHAIKH KHALID BIN AHMED BIN MOHAMMED AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, said that a team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was currently in Bahrain, engaging in wide-ranging consultations.  Its purpose was to draw up a programme of technical assistance and capacity-building.  This was Bahrain’s first such programme with the Office of the High Commissioner, and the High Commissioner was thanked for her support in this regard.  Bahrain was a vibrant and diverse country in a region of considerable complexity.  There had been a decade-long programme of reform following the principles of the 2001 National Action Charter.  While undertaking far-reaching reforms, Bahrain continued to face challenges.  

The most recent Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Follow-Up Unit report contained some statistics on the rioting and terror-inducing activities faced by Bahrain’s society on a daily basis.  Disappointingly, the actors that could do much to calm the situation had not taken the opportunity to do so.  To date, there had not been any effective effort by politically influential clerics, or their affiliated political and human rights players, to put a stop to the violence.  On the contrary, certain groups falsely used the language of human rights to mask a sectarian agenda and encourage the violence.  The violence in Bahrain was directly supported by elements in Iran.  Iran was called upon to respect the principles of non-intervention, peaceful co-existence, and good neighbourliness enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

DOMINIC AYINE, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ghana, recalled that when Ghana gained independence in 1997, human rights were not included, but Ghana now possessed a bill of rights that should be the envy of many citizens around the world.  Ghana was a pioneering member of the Council and had served two consecutive terms, from 2006 to 2011, during which Ghana had worked assiduously with other delegations to advance the noble objectives of the Council.  At the current session, Ghana was working along other delegations on an initiative to promote the universal ratification and implementation of the Convention against Torture.  Ghana had issued invitations to a number of Special Procedure mandate holders and endeavoured to fulfil its treaty obligations and was determined to improve its national capacity to meet reporting obligations. 

In October 2012, Ghana had once again demonstrated its commitment to human rights through its participation in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, and an inter-ministerial committee had been established to oversee the implementation of recommendations.  Mr. Ayine also referred to a number of initiatives undertaken by Ghana to promote economic and social rights, including in the areas of health and education.  Additional efforts were necessary to eradicate poverty and entrench a culture of respect and Ghana intended to work with national human rights institutions and civil society, and would continue to seek cooperation and assistance from its neighbours.  Finally, Mr. Ayine commended the High Commissioner for her work and dedication to the cause of human rights.

KAMALESH SHARMA, Commonwealth Secretary-General, congratulated the nine Commonwealth countries that were currently members of the Council.  The Commonwealth Charter had been disseminated widely as a key reference point that consolidated values and goals that united the Commonwealth, including human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development.  It particularly recognised the role of civil society in promoting human rights.  A Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka had called on its members to ratify international human rights instruments, to establish national human rights institutions that complied with the Paris Principles, and to implement all human rights without discrimination, including based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

In May 2013, a new Commonwealth Secretariat Strategic Plan was approved for the next four years; it sought to achieve greater adherence to Commonwealth values, including human rights and better public governance.  The Commonwealth also promoted strengthened engagement of its members with the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and other United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Last year, four Commonwealth members had extended standing open invitations to Special Procedures of the Council.  The Commonwealth would host a high-level event at the next session of the Council in June with the objective of assessing the achievements and challenges on universal opportunities for the engagement and contribution of all Member States in the decision-making processes in Geneva.  

NADIA RUIZ, Vice-Minister of Justice of Ecuador, said that Ecuador had ratified all the United Nations human rights treaties.  In order to implement the recommendations emanating from the treaty bodies, it considered it important to establish a virtual platform whereby it would be possible to record and improve the submission of reports, which would come into operation in the first quarter of the year with advisory services from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ecuador was most grateful for that.  On 28 August 2013, the Ministry of Justice had systematized and socialised a matrix for recommendations emanating from the Universal Periodic Review establishing or allocating responsibilities of each of the institutions involved.

On 10 February 2014, the Criminal Code was established, a major step forward in strengthening and consolidating a timely and efficient criminal system that guaranteed the rights of persons and victims.  The new Code typified the offences of genocide, and provided that acts of aggression against the State, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes did not have a statute of limitations.  Regarding trafficking of persons, particularly women and children, the code stringently criminalised this crime.  On violence against women, the code defined femicide in all its forms.  On combating discrimination, the Code defended the crime of discrimination and imposed a penalty for any individual who engaged in such practices.    

ISABELLE GAUDEUILLE, Minister of Justice in Charge of Judicial Reform and Human Rights of the Central African Republic, said that the country was going through a difficult period in its history which verged on chaos and that was why the Government was grateful for international support, including from the Human Rights Council.  The Central African Republic had been deeply involved with human rights, it had set up the necessary institutions for their promotion and protection and had ratified a number of human rights instruments including on the rights of indigenous peoples, sexual violence and violence against women.  The Government was firmly committed to combating impunity which it had made a priority and the Department of Justice was in charge of managing human rights issues. 

The security situation had worsened since March 2013, when the Seleka rebellion combined with the crimes of Anti Balaka worsened the human rights situation and triggered inter-communal conflicts with strong religious tones.  The situation of internally displaced persons was dire, with many living in open-air makeshift camps, and the situation of refugees in neighbouring countries was also dire.  The country fortunately was not on its own in facing this situation and Ms. Gaudeuille said that President Samba Panza had asked the Security Council to deploy 10,000 blue helmets and 2,000 police to the country.  She welcomed the appointment of an Independent Expert and the Commission of Inquiry, as well as the announced opening of the preliminary investigation of the International Criminal Court into the abuses committed in the country.

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, said that human rights represented the challenge of our time.  Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, progress had been made in terms of human rights norms and institution building.  But despite all the developments in this field, millions still remained deprived of their basic rights.  Social media and the Internet had led to a political awakening in many societies where people were now demanding more freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. 

Mr. Phuangketkeow underlined five important challenges for the Human Rights Council.  First, there was a need to foster a culture for dialogue on different perceptions and opinions on human rights within the Council.  Second, efforts had to be made for a better prevention and effective warning capacity of the Council.  Third, there needed to be a better response to emergency situations, such as those in Syria and the Central African Republic.  Fourth, he said, was the need to strengthen the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, including improving the quality of recommendations and  strengthening capacity building.  Finally, a human rights based approach should be included in the post-2015 negotiations. 

MORTEZA SARMADI, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, said that in June 2013, the people of Iran elected a new Government through a democratic presidential election.  The new Government declared its commitment on the basis of the Constitution of Iran and its international obligations to fulfil its promises to promote the aspirations of its people.  It had also reaffirmed its primary responsibility to promote civil, economic, political, social and cultural rights despite obstacles hindering its progress resulting from, inter alia, the illegal and unlawful sanctions imposed against the country.  To that end and in continuation of what had been done in the past, a Charter on Citizens’ Rights had been initiated, the draft of which was published to be reviewed and commented on by all interested Iranians before taking its final legal form.

Human rights should be seen as a common heritage of humanity which had been initiated and developed by valuable contributions of all civilizations and cultures.  Basic principles and components of human rights were necessary pre-requisites for every society seeking the prosperity and welfare of its citizens.  Double standards led the Human Rights Council nowhere, but only squandered its resources that should otherwise be channelled for capacity-building at the grass root level.  The Universal Periodic Review constituted a unique instrument since it was the sole mechanism which considered the human rights situation in all United Nations Member States equally, without discrimination.  

ISAM ELDIN ABDELGADIR ELZIEN, Deputy Minister and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice of Sudan, said that human rights were an integral part of the Sudanese society and that was why the Government had adopted a national policy and a 10-year national action plan to promote and protect human rights.  Over the past decade, Sudan had established an independent national human rights institution according to the Paris Principles, activated the work of agencies dedicated to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable such as women and children, pursued legislative reform and enacted new laws.  Sudan was active in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region and internationally, and had received a number of visits by the Special Procedures over the past several years.

Repeated attacks of rebel armed groups in Blue Nile and South Kordofan were a blatant and clear violation of human rights; violence and breaches of international humanitarian law had become their trademark and Sudan called on supporters of those armed groups to cease doing so in the interest of peace.  In Darfur, the Government had put in place a strategy for comprehensive peace, justice and equity, while the public prosecutor of Darfur was entrusted with the investigation of crimes in order to deal with impunity.  In closing, Mr. Elzien stressed that activities of armed groups, unilateral economic sanctions and foreign debt all negatively affected the attainment of basic human rights for all Sudanese people and called for the immediate lifting of sanctions and continued technical assistance by the international community.

ABELARDO MORENO FERNANDEZ, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said that when the Human Rights Council was established many doubted that it would be difficult to establish a body where cooperation and genuine dialogue prevailed.  Cuba had given the new institution the benefit of the doubt.  Seven years since its establishment, Cuba confirmed that unfortunately in many cases the Council had assumed the same formulae, double standards and ideological manipulation of the discredited Human Rights Commission.  Today, powers continued to claim to be the champions of human rights and oversaw others even though they were directly responsible for grave human rights violations themselves.  Could the Human Rights Council react to such violations and adopt resolutions to condemn them?

Cuba continued to closely monitor the situation in Syria, where thousands of innocent individuals had lost their lives, and it repeated the need for peace and respect of principles embodied in the United Nations Charter and international law.  Cuba condemned the death of innocent people wherever this occurred.  Cuba supported the quest for a peaceful and negotiated solution to the current crisis.  It was cause for concern when attempts to use events in Syria and other events in the region to implement concepts such as the “responsibility to protect” were seen.  The principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs of States had to be defended at all costs because without them, the United Nations could not survive. 

JANET LIM, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, acknowledged the work that States and international organizations had accomplished this year, given the unprecedented scale and range of troubling issues and humanitarian situations.  Not long ago, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had warned that the Syrian crisis was likely to overwhelm humanitarian actors and the capacity to respond to this and other emerging crises in other parts of the world would be stretched.  In addition to the dire humanitarian situation inside Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was responding to the largest and most complex regional refugee crisis since Rwanda in the mid-1990.  Other emergencies of equal violence, brutality and complexity had erupted elsewhere almost simultaneously. 

The grave violations of human rights committed against civilians in the Central African Republic and South Sudan were profoundly disturbing, while the spill over effects into neighbouring countries were potentially the most significant and potentially destabilizing since the Great Lakes crisis.  Protracted displacement still commanded attention and support must be provided to the millions already in exile and in need of international protection.  For many, returning home remained the ultimate goal, so creating conditions conducive to return was a must and here Ms. Lim underlined the importance of political will in securing comprehensive solutions and in acting as catalysts to unlock protracted refugee situations.  States should continue to rescue people on high seas, keep their borders open to those seeking asylum and share responsibility in a true spirit of solidarity and common humanity.

Right of Reply

Albania, speaking in a right of reply in response to a statement by the head of the Serbian delegation who had drawn attention to the human rights situation in the “province of Kosovo and Metohija” where she said there had hardly been any progress since her last address, said that in the past six years, Kosovo had made an incredible and extraordinary improvement in meeting its obligations and had successfully concluded supervised independence.  The holding of local elections for the first time, even in the municipalities in the North, had been the best signal that Kosovo could send to the world.  Albania praised the efforts of Kosovo.  At the same time, it requested Serbia to exercise its responsibility in respecting the rights of non-Serbians in the country.

Syria, speaking in a right of reply, said she was responding to a statement by Belgium, which had used a very undiplomatic term referring to Syria.  As to those who had referred to the fate of Syrian people and all those worried, one needed real cooperation to deal with the root causes of the crisis, condemning the financing of terrorist armed groups and allowing Syrians to determine their own fate and act in good faith in order to find a peaceful solution.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply, said that the Human Rights Council had been presented with incorrect and misleading information about the military occupation of the territory of Azerbaijan by Armenia.  Unlike Armenia, which had implemented a policy of total ethnic cleansing in its territory, Azerbaijan had preserved it ethnic and religious diversity to the present day.  Azerbaijan drew the attention of the Council to several newspaper articles in which Armenian officials spoke about the genocide in Khojaly.

Japan, speaking in a right of reply, said that Japan had caused tremendous suffering to people in the region in the past, for which the Government had expressed sincere regret and apologies.  Japan also expressed its sincere remorse and regrets on the issue of the so-called comfort women and said that this issue had been legally settled with countries parties to international agreements.  Japan was doing its utmost to ensure that the twenty-first century was free from abuse and violence against women.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, categorically rejected the statements made by Germany and the Republic of Korea and expressed resentment at the provocative statement made by the latter.  The Republic of Korea had only responded to the proposal through military exercises with the United States and criticism of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including through legislation that defined the North as an enemy.  Many public figures who demanded social democracy and reunification in the Republic of Korea were sent to jail, and law makers had been sentenced under the national security law.   The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders had expressed concerns about the Republic of Korea’s security laws after a recent visit. 

Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, responding to the Japanese statement about the situation of conflict women during the Second World War, expressed concerns about the Government’s denial of Japanese responsibility for sexual slavery.  These issues had not been addressed during the negotiations in 1965.  Recommendations by treaty bodies had pointed out that Japan had not recognised its responsibility and perpetrators had not been held accountable.  While Japan had reiterated its apology to the victims, the recent acts by its political leadership were not in line but seemed to pose a challenge to the recognition of history.  Financial remedy and compensation was required and the Republic of Korea believed that the Japanese Government should take responsibility and teach history as it was to future generations to prevent the recurrence of fundamental rights violations.

Philippines, speaking in a right of reply, reaffirmed its commitment to a peaceful solution of the Sabah issue in accordance with the international agreements and the Manila agreement signed in 1963 by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.  The Philippines assured the forum that the recent incident in the region had not been sponsored by the Government.

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply, said that the Nagorny Karabakh conflict was not religious in nature and should not be linked with Christian and Muslim religions.  This approach could only cause damage and what was needed was an understanding of the root causes of this conflict.  All statements delivered in the Human Rights Council by Armenia only contained facts.  Armenia regretted that instead of taking a constructive approach, Azerbaijan had decided to launch other allegations.

China, speaking in a right of reply in response to the statement by Canada, rejected the accusations concerning policies restricting freedom of religion or belief in the Tibetan region.  Freedom of religion of belief was guaranteed by law and normal religious activities could be carried out in Tibet, including for Buddhists, Muslims and Catholics.  Buddhist believers had the freedom to carry out their normal religious activities and there were no such things as restrictions on freedom of religion and belief.

Uganda, speaking in a right of reply in response to statements by Sweden, Belgium and the United States concerning Uganda’s 2014 anti-homosexuality act, said the act sought to protect children from those recruiting them and orienting their minds into homosexuality and lesbianism; curbing financial inducements to entice socially-disadvantaged and vulnerable people into homosexuality; and discouraging homosexuals from publicly exhibiting their sexuality.  The law did not intend to discriminate, persecute and punish homosexuals, but to protect and defend Ugandan society from social disorientation and it was consistent in both letter and spirit with its Constitution and human rights obligations. 

Iraq, speaking in a right of reply, condemned any attempts that could undermine the safety and security of Bahrain and said that none of the persons who had been arrested on the boat laden with explosives was Iraqi.  Iraq reiterated its willingness to build friendly relations with its neighbour.

Bahrain, speaking in a right of reply, reaffirmed Bahrain’s commitment to human rights and rejected the continuous interference of Iran in Bahrain’s internal affairs, including the training of violent elements.  Bahrain called upon Iran to respect the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations and to improve deteriorating human rights conditions in its own territory.

Morocco, speaking in a right of reply in response to the Algerian statement, clarified that the question of Western Sahara was not part of the Council’s mandate and there was an ongoing  political process in New York.  Algeria was not authorised to request the Council to investigate the human rights situation of the Western Sahara.  Morocco noted the concerns about Algeria’s refusal to issue visas to non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders; it was the only State in the region to do so.  Concerning the right to self-determination, Morocco recalled that consultations with the population of the Western Sahara were in place while Algeria used Sahrawis who claimed the right to self-determination.

Serbia, speaking in a right of reply in response to the statement by Albania, stressed that, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1244 Kosovo was part of Serbia and its unilateral declaration of independence was not accepted.  Serbia noted that cases of discrimination against the non-Albanian population in Kosovo had been documented.  It stressed that its positive participation in the dialogue facilitated by European Union, an interaction among States, should not be misinterpreted as promoting the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. 

Algeria, speaking in a right of reply, reaffirmed Algeria’s full devotion to the respect of human rights while working to eliminate their politicization.  Algeria had called on the Human Rights Council to closely follow the human rights situation in the Western Sahara.  Algeria was committed to working with others in the Council, including with Morocco, towards full enjoyment of human rights in the world.  All matters that had not been settled according to international law deserved the attention of the international community and the Human Rights Council in particular.

Albania, speaking in a second right of reply, stressed that the independent Kosovo was a reality, and said that it was recognized by more than 160 countries and a number of international organizations.  The independence of Kosovo and its borders were a closed issue and were in full accordance with international law.

Japan, speaking in a second right of reply, responded to the statement made by the Republic of Korea, describing statements of individuals in contradiction of Japan’s position.  Japan reiterated that its position had not changed since the issuing of the Kono Statement.   Japan also noted that a 4.8 million contribution had been made by its Government

Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, said that Japan as a member of the United Nations should demonstrate full respect concerning the recommendations made by the Council’s human rights mechanisms.  The delegation regretted the absurd allegations made by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in an attempt to distract the international community from the dire human rights situation in its territory.  The Republic of Korea expressed concerns about the recent report of the commission of inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and called upon the Government to take immediate action to address these systematic violations.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a second right of reply, suggested that Armenia pursue the opinions of the international community in the form of resolutions by the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Council of Europe and others.  What weight could be given to statements of a country whose President was guilty of genocide, asked Azerbaijan?  The best way to ensure the existing challenges was to end the occupation, support return and bring those responsible for violations to justice.

Serbia, speaking in a second right of reply, said that the Human Rights Council should not be used to proclaim the independence of entities recognized by bilateral agreements and stressed the principles of international law which should be kept in mind when talking about Kosovo.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,  speaking in a second right of reply, said that the Republic of Korea  should abolish its national security law and should demand that United States’ troops be removed from the border area. 

Armenia, speaking in a second right of reply, urged Azerbaijan to cooperate constructively with the Human Rights Council, and not to use this forum to make false declarations. 

For use of the information media; not an official record