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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY BUILDING

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana Addresses the Council
1 July 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.  It was also addressed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana.

Hanna Serwaah Tetteh, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana, said Ghana had adopted measures aimed at addressing more effectively many of the issues before this Council, including the need to combat sexual and domestic violence against women, and protect the rights of children, persons with disabilities and migrants; it had also adopted measures to fight corruption, terrorism, and drug trafficking.  

Anders Kompass, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking on behalf of Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the objective of the Office’s technical cooperation programme was to help States identify and address knowledge, capacity, and accountability gaps that impeded the realization of human rights for all. 

Mariclaire Acosta Urquidi, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, noted that the financial crisis had obliged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reduce its activities and programmes, in Ukraine for example.  The increase in demand of technical assistance led to challenges.

In the general debate, some speakers noted that naming and shaming were not helpful and that discussion on any country-specific situation must address the needs of concerned countries.  There was a negative trend to utilize this agenda item without genuine consultation.  Speakers agreed that further consolidation of technical cooperation and the provision of assistance at the request of States were vital as they helped concerned States meet their development and human rights priorities.  They stressed that technical cooperation had be based on the broadest possible participation of all stakeholders in the society.

Speaking in the general debate were Luxembourg on behalf of the European Union, Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group, Cuba on behalf of a group of 25 like-minded States, Ireland, Morocco, Sierra Leone, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, China, United States, Estonia, India, Latvia, Montenegro, Council of Europe, Australia, Thailand, Sudan, Georgia, Libya, Lithuania, Ukraine, Holy See, and Guatemala.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Human Rights Watch, Federacion de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos, Arab Commission for Human Rights, Liberation, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association, Alsalam Foundation, Sudwind, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, United Nations Watch, World Barua Organization, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Rencontre africaine pour la defense de droits de l’homme, Indian Council of South America, Amnesty International, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, and Forum Asia.  

Burundi, Russian Federation and Maldives spoke in right of reply.

At 5 p.m., the Council will consider the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Kiribati.

Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana

HANNA SERWAAH TETTEH, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana, expressed outrage and condemnation of terrorist attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait and said that the growing menace of terrorism must be addressed, including Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and ISIL.  Ghana reaffirmed its recognition that women’s rights were human rights and said that the Human Rights Council, through its Universal Periodic Review mechanism and its consideration of the many thematic and human rights situations, encouraged States to honour and uphold the obligations they assumed under international law to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of their populations.  Ghana had adopted measures aimed at addressing more effectively many of the issues before this Council, including the need to combat sexual and domestic violence against women, and protect the rights of children, persons with disabilities and migrants; it had also adopted measures to fight corruption, terrorism, and drug trafficking.  

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the field of Human Rights (A/HRC/29/48)

Introduction

ANDERS KOMPASS, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking on behalf of FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the objective of the Office’s technical cooperation programme was to help States identify and address knowledge, capacity, and accountability gaps that impeded the realization of human rights for all.  At the request and with the agreement of States, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provided, through its 64 field presences, a wide range of technical assistance, including capacity building activities, advisory services, awareness initiatives, dialogue facilitation and fellowships.  The programme continued to benefit from strategic policy guidance by the Board of Trustees that oversaw the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance for the Implementation of the Universal Periodic Review.  Mr. Kompass thanked the Trustees for their valuable support and highlighted some initiatives and good practices that had supported the realization of human rights during the 2014-2015 biennium, specifically by promoting participation and inclusiveness.

Many of the core activities carried out under the technical cooperation programme were geared towards strengthening the effectiveness of the international human rights mechanisms and the progressive development of international human rights law and standards.  In line with this, the Office promoted the establishment of national standing bodies for reporting and follow-up to recommendations from international human rights mechanisms, namely in the Dominican Republic, Liberia and Timor Leste.  Furthermore, as discrimination was deeply ingrained in political, economic and social structures that made certain groups of people more vulnerable to poverty, exclusion, persecution and violence, the Office worked to help empower discriminated groups, including women, in Paraguay and Tanzania.  In Europe, the Office was dedicated to upholding the human rights of vulnerable persons in care institutions.  Another good practice was widening the democratic space for people to take active part in decision-making and challenge injustice through effective processes for political and judicial accountability.  This was being done in Afghanistan, Jamaica, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Somalia and Vanuatu, Burundi, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Liberia, Niger, Samoa and Myanmar. The Office also worked to combat impunity and strengthen accountability and the rule of law, notably in Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Mexico and Guatemala.  The technical cooperation programme of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights equally contributed to integrating human rights in development and in the economic sphere, notably in Togo, Palestine and the European Union.  Finally, it supported early warning and protection of human rights situations in conflict, violence and insecurity, in Afghanistan and Colombia.

MARICLAIRE ACOSTA URQUIDI, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, said the Trust Fund was the second largest administered by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and contributed to capacity building to governments and civil society in the field of human rights.  The financial crisis had obliged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reduce its activities and programmes, in Ukraine for example.  Technical support for the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations had been actively provided.  The Board welcomed that the Office had undergone activities in that area and took note of efforts by the Office to document good practices on the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  The increase in demand of technical assistance had led to challenges.  The Board continued to provide advice to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of technical assistance programmes, including through field sessions where the Office had presence.  These sessions allowed the identification of complementarity throughout the activities by the Office of the High Commissioner, and therefore improving the effectiveness of technical assistance to States. 

The Board was recently briefed by the High Commissioner on budget issues.  The Office had become a result orientated organization when measuring the impact of its activities.  The forty-fifth session of the Board was held in 2015, and allowed the Board to visit the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Cambodia and to get an insight of the activities it conducted there.  It particularly welcomed the cooperation of the Office and civil society actors, including human rights defenders, and its efforts to promote the widening of the democratic space.  The Board was pleased with the recent capacity strengthening of the regional office, and the development of its expertise regarding land-related issues.  The Board commended the professionalism and dedication of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Technical cooperation programmes, to be effective, had to be accompanied with domestic efforts and cooperation with civil society actors.  

General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it was gravely concerned about the rapidly worsening human rights situation in Yemen.  The European Union urged all the stakeholders to heed the suffering of the civilian population.  It urged Ukraine to pursue an inclusive political process, and called on all the actors to uphold the Minsk Accords.  It was gravely concerned about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Libya, and called on Maldives to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to accept assistance in the judiciary sector.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, shared the concern of the Council regarding the financial situation, particularly insufficient budgetary resources allotted for technical assistance.  The African Group called on all Member States to intensify their efforts to contribute adequate and durable resources for technical assistance and capacity building in different regions of the world, including Africa, as they were vital for aiding States to meet their priorities in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said there was a need to boost technical assistance in order to promote United Nations development goals.  Capacity building was vital for national mechanisms in order to ensure democratic transition.  Mandate holders, the Universal Periodic Review and other United Nations machinery had a lot to contribute to technical assistance, such as the institution-building package.  Many Arab countries had no hesitance to make voluntary contributions for human rights technical assistance programmes.

Cuba, speaking on behalf of a Like-minded Group of 25 States, said that naming and shaming were not helpful and that discussion on any country-specific situation must address the needs of the concerned country.  There was a negative trend to utilize this agenda item without genuine consultation and the Group of States stressed that technical cooperation and capacity building should not be imposed, but agreed with recipient States. 

Ireland said it was important to note that there were States where serious human rights violations and atrocities occurred, and where the situation was too grave to be adequately addressed through technical cooperation and capacity building.  Such cases needed to be addressed under the agenda item on human rights situations requiring Council’s attention, which should not be seen as a punitive measure, but a reflection of the reality of the situation.

Morocco stressed the importance of further consolidating technical cooperation and the provision of assistance at the request of the State concerned and according to its priorities.  Technical cooperation must be based on the broadest possible participation of all stakeholders in the society.  Morocco noted with concern the precarious financial situation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and stressed the importance of regular contributions.

Sierra Leone stressed the vital role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in providing technical assistance in the field of human rights, and underlined the invaluable role of such assistance in improving human rights situations.  Sierra Leone was concerned about budget restrictions that impeded technical assistance.  It welcomed the existence of the Trust Fund and encouraged all States to participate to it. 

France recalled the need to continue efforts to combat impunity in Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic and Mali.  It welcomed the signing of a peace agreement in Mali, which was a historic opportunity for peace and reconciliation.  France would be there with other international actors to support the implementation of this agreement.  France was concerned about the situation in Ukraine, and encouraged the authorities there to continue their efforts to cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms and to combat impunity. 

Netherlands welcomed the work by the High Commissioner in countries that had required technical assistance, and underlined its positive contribution to human rights.  The Netherlands welcomed the outcome of the Bangui Forum and stressed the importance of accountability in the Central African Republic.  It urged the authorities of Burundi to ensure that civilians were disarmed and that alleged human rights violations were investigated and perpetrators held accountable.  The situation in Yemen was deteriorating every day, and all parties should resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations. 

United Kingdom said it remained deeply concerned about the impact of the security and political crisis on human rights and the humanitarian situation in Libya, and urged all parties in the United Nations-led dialogue to promptly agree on a government of national accord and a ceasefire.  It valued the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, and welcomed the legislative reforms adopted by Côte d’Ivoire.  It remained deeply concerned by the continued deteriorating human rights situation in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and about the fragile security and humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic.  

China noted the report on the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation, and commended the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ work in that field, adding hope that the Office would report more regularly on this issue.  China welcomed the Office’s intention to develop strategic Universal Periodic Review follow-up actions, and voiced hope that it would increase the transparency of the process.  It noted that developed countries should increase aid and technical support to developing countries.

United States said that the Government of Thailand continued to restrict fundamental freedoms and prosecute civilians in military courts.  It urged the Government to end the practice of trying civilians in military courts and to fully restore civil liberties, ensure an inclusive reform process and restore democratic governance.  The United States remained gravely concerned by the ongoing violent attacks by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.  In Maldives it was concerned by the deterioration of the rule of law, and hasty prosecutions of government critics.  

Estonia took positive note of the valuable work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and said that the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement remained the best path towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict.  Estonia remained deeply worried about the growing number of victims and serous human rights violations in eastern Ukraine.  It said that the continuing Russian military build-up on the border and in Ukraine, and the training and arming of “separatists”, was unacceptable and must be stopped.

India stressed the primacy of the role of States in the promotion and protection of human rights and called for a thorough assessment of the technical capacities of States to pursue their human rights commitments, which would inform collective efforts on institutional capacity building and financial resources.  All efforts towards technical cooperation and assistance should understand that States themselves were the best judges of their priorities and requirements.

Latvia said that the activities of illegal Russian-backed armed groups aggravated the human rights situation in Ukraine, and expressed concern about continuing serious human rights violations and abuses in eastern Ukraine.  The situation of human rights in the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea had also further deteriorated, with arrests, ill-treatment, torture and intimidation perpetuated by de facto authorities against political opponents, mainly Crimean Tatars. 

Montenegro welcomed efforts by Special Procedures and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to help States bring their policies in line with international standards.  Transition and democratization were demanding processes and required synergy and partnerships between authorities and other stakeholders.  Technical assistance was in this regard a valuable tool that proved to have a positive impact on the ground.  This impact, however, relied on the Government’s political will to address human rights issues and challenges. 

Council of Europe said it had targeted cooperation projects that led to its Member States increasing their efforts to address human rights issues.  Reforms were not over once legislation was in place, as implementation was the key.  The Council of Europe had thus taken a comprehensive approach to ensure that results were long-lasting.  Key areas of work included effective domestic remedies, criminal justice, and human rights education. 

Australia applauded the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the provision of support, including through its regional offices.  Australia specifically commended the work of the Suva office, which was assisting in building and strengthening national human rights institutions through the Pacific region, strengthening capacities of Pacific Island countries to engage with the Universal Periodic Review, and providing support to Pacific nations to have stronger engagement in multilateral human rights processes. 

Thailand commended the accomplishments of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in providing technical assistance at the request of countries.  In face of financial constraints, there should be closer cooperation among the Office, the Fund and other relevant United Nations agencies to avoid duplication of work.  Thailand also called for an enhanced advisory role of the human rights mechanisms in the work undertaken elsewhere in the United Nations system.

Sudan said that the provision of technical assistance enabled States to fulfil their obligations in the field of human rights protection.  Sudan participated regularly in the Universal Periodic Review process and had established a national plan for human rights protection in consultation with civil rights organizations.  However, it had not received any technical assistance funding, which would be useful in supporting national efforts in implementing Universal Periodic Review recommendations.

Georgia condemned the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and reiterated its steadfast support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  It stressed that tens of thousands of people from eastern Ukraine were displaced, and urged the Russian Federation to stop disregarding its international obligations and to observe the provisions of the Minsk Agreement.  Georgia welcomed Ukraine’s efforts to promote and protect human rights throughout the country, and called for the provision of technical assistance to Ukraine.

Libya commended the work of the Board of Trustees and hoped that their efforts would not be hampered by the lack of resources, and stressed the needs to meet the resource requirements of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, which provided valuable assistance in the investigation of human rights violations committed last year.

Lithuania expressed grave concern about the worsening situation in the areas of eastern Ukraine affected by the conflict which were becoming increasingly entrenched without any rule of law and respect for human rights.  Lithuania commended the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, whose reports were an important source of information about the real situation on the ground, and said that the violations of the right of minorities, in particular Crimean Tatars, should be properly investigated.

Ukraine was committed to implement the crucially needed reforms based on the human rights approach, as attested by the development of its National Human Rights Strategy.  Given the scale of challenges Ukraine faced today as a result of the occupation of the Crimean peninsula, it was hard to imagine that it could cope with them on its own.  It was time to bring findings of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission into the Council and discuss them openly with a view to assist Ukraine in ensuring the proper protection of all human rights of its population.

Holy See remained concerned about the humanitarian and human rights situation in Ukraine, and welcomed efforts by regional and international actors to address this.  A possible invitation to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present its periodic report on the human rights situation in Ukraine to the Council would assist in properly assessing the situation and evaluating the needs for technical assistance in the country. 

Guatemala recalled that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had a country office in Guatemala, and highlighted that this agreement had been extended for three more years in 2014.  Guatemala welcomed its cooperation with this office, as well as the office’s collaboration with civil society actors, including with regards to Guatemala’s reviews by United Nations human rights mechanisms. 

International Federation of Human Rights Leagues remained gravely concerned about the situation in Burundi, and excessive of force against protestors in the pre-electoral context.  Demonstrators were arbitrarily detained and suffered harsh treatment in detention, and more than 50 persons had been killed from the use of real bullets by police forces.  The authorities should investigate and prosecute these allegations.  It finally recalled that around 50 journalists and human rights defenders had been obligated to flee the country in fear of reprisals.

 Human Rights Watch said that despite the ceasefire agreed on in February 2015, the sporadic fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine continued to injure and kill civilians.  The use of cluster munitions by both sides was documented.  All parties should stop indiscriminate attacks that harmed civilians, and discontinue using cluster munitions and unguided rockets. 

Federacion de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos addressed the last technical mission sent to Western Sahara and referred to the joint statement of countries at the last Council to publish the report of the technical mission.  Violations of human rights in Western Sahara remained neglected by the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Arab Commission for Human Rights emphasized the importance of promoting synergies among different United Nations agencies.  There was a joint responsibility of all United Nations agencies and mandates to complement the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  There was also a need to assess technical assistance programmes. 

Liberation said that securing borders was always a problem for developing countries and requested that technical assistance and capacity building be provided to border security forces of neighbouring countries of the Central African Republic to save human lives.

Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association said that the Central African Republic was experiencing obstacles to the right to health due to the crisis, which caused millions of people to live in the bush.  Continued insecurity still prevented refugees from returning.  A similar situation occurred in India where Dalit minorities were forced to leave their homes. 

Al-Salam was disappointed by Bahrain’s longstanding lack of commitment to technical cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and said that without external assistance, the situation in Bahrain could only deteriorate.  Bahrain was in need of reforms within the criminal justice system, the Ministry of Interior and the penal code in order to reach even minimal international standards of human rights.

Sudwind appreciated the contribution of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in providing inputs for a publication on civil society space and the United Nations Human Rights System.  However, it was a great disappointment for civil society actors to see that due to technical circumstances Iran was elected into the non-governmental committee of the Economic and Social Council by proxy, in spite of the reprisals against civil society in that country on a daily basis.

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy stressed the importance of capacity building, infrastructure, technical means and expert assistance for the betterment of populations in developing countries.  It expressed concern over the health situation in the Central African Republic and India, where Dalits and other minorities in north-east India were also lacking the basic health infrastructure.  It called on the Council to provide maximum technical assistance to developing countries.

United Nations Watch stated that many of the country situations discussed under Item 10, such as the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire and gross human rights violations committed by Boko Haram, were of such urgent nature that they should not be dealt with in terms of mere technical cooperation.  Rather, the Council was urged to move them under Item 4, in order to increase the protection of innocent civilians and hold the perpetrators accountable.

World Barua Organization said that the Indian Government was ahead in the promotion and protection of human rights, but domestic laws and provisions were not effective in addressing the plight of Dalits, indigenous peoples, women, and religious and other minorities, mainly because the State lacked trained human resources, technical cooperation and political will to implement the laws properly. 

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain was concerned about progress in the cooperation agreement between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Saudi Arabia, and the ongoing lack of judicial independence, the continuing criminalization of free expression, and arbitrary long sentences against human rights defenders.  Continued attacks on civil society undermined the spirit of the agreement with the Office.

Rencontre Africaine pour la defence des droits de l’homme encouraged the exploration of innovative mechanisms to meet the needs on the ground and commended the cooperation of Côte d’Ivoire with the Council.  There was a serious concern about the proliferation of small arms and of armed and criminal groups in Libya, which was cause for additional technical cooperation to the country to assist it in improving the security situation.

Indian Council of South America stated that the best practices for addressing cases such as Alaska, Hawaii and the Dakotas was by calling on the Human Rights Committee to examine those cases under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or by calling for a full review of each case under Article 15 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The organization also reiterated its call for Shell Oil and the Netherlands and British Petroleum, Exxon and United States corporations to stop exploiting resources without the consent of local populations.

Amnesty International welcomed the affirmation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the important role of advocacy in the global abolition of the death penalty.  It also welcomed the Office’s provision of technical assistance and advice to retentionist Member States to ensure compliance with international norms and standards.  However, the planned events that would be carried out at the Office’s headquarter level, and in a few cases at the regional level, would limit their effectiveness if they were not translated into activities at the national level.

Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés said that the improvement of technical cooperation and capacity building was a major challenge for the Human Rights Council.  Technical cooperation on human rights issues with least developed countries was essential for the prevention of human rights abuses, and could help in conflict prevention and post-conflict peace building.  United Nations technical cooperation had to be oriented to the promotion and protection of all human rights to pave the way for sustainable development towards more prosperous and peaceful least developed countries.

Forum Asia expressed concern over Cambodia’s efforts to enact the draft law on associations and non-governmental organizations and the draft law on unions of enterprises, which would severely restrict the rights to freedoms of association and expression.  The situation in Myanmar had significantly worsened in 2015: students arrested during the March protests still remained incarcerated, at least 163 political prisoners remained in jail and 442 human rights defenders awaited trial.

Right of Reply

Burundi, speaking in a right of reply, contradicted the statement that the security and human rights situation in Burundi had  deteriorated and said that it was surprising to hear that insecurity prevailed in the country when the population went peacefully about their business.  The elections had been held freely without any incident, which was evidence of the prevailing security situation.  In Burundi, no one was outside of the law and all those breaking the law were prosecuted by the justice system.

Russia, speaking in a right of reply, said that the human rights situation in Russian regions of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol was significantly better than before joining Russia and had access to all international human rights protection mechanisms.  Instead of thinking of technical cooperation to Ukraine, some States forced discussions on the Council which had nothing to do with the agenda item on technical cooperation and capacity building and would undermine constructive spirits that prevailed.

Maldives, speaking in a right of reply, reiterated that the situation on the ground could be improved through constructive cooperation, and said it had always had a transparent engagement with all parties.  The national human rights institution of the Maldives and the judiciary were independent and worked in conformity with the constitution.  Human rights organizations’ engagement was also welcomed, and the Maldives would continue to promote mutual respect. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC15/097E