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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON THE VIENNA DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION
Concludes General Debate on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories
24 September 2012

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action after concluding its general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.

In the general debate on the follow up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, speakers said that the Declaration reaffirmed that the promotion and protection of human rights was a legitimate concern of the international community, and that all members and observers in the Human Rights Council had a responsibility to address and condemn human rights violations wherever they occurred. The Declaration also constituted the foundation for the development and strengthening of the United Nations human rights system. The twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action next year would be an opportunity to reflect on its many achievements as well as the challenges ahead, which included the widening gap between the North and South, global economic and financial crises, climate change, poverty and gender inequality and related violence against women.

Speaking in the general debate were Senegal, Cyprus on behalf of the European Union, Chile on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, Spain, United States, China, Austria, Russia, Norway, Iraq, Morocco and Iran. The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Council of Europe, Holy See, Tides Centre, France Libertés: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, Action Canada for Population and Development, Press Emblem Campaign, World Barua Organization, Liberation, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, World Muslim Congress, International Buddhist Relief Organisation, North-South XXI, Association of World Citizens, Arab Commission for Human Rights, International Human rights Association of American Minorities and United Nations Watch.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories that it started this morning, in which following non-governmental organizations spoke: Liberation, North-South XXI, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Indian Movement ‘Tupaj Amaru’, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Arab Commission for Human Rights.

At the end of the meeting, the President of the Human Rights Council, Laura Dupuy Lassere, said that on 17 September 2012 she had received a letter of resignation from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries Representative on the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice due to health issues. In order to maintain the integrity of the selection process and because the selection procedure of a new member of the Working Group could not be finished before the end of the twenty-first session of the Council, it was suggested that the resignation be taken as entering into force from 5 November 2012.


The Human Rights Council will hold a full day meeting on Tuesday, 25 September starting 9 a.m. when it is scheduled to hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on People of African Descent. It will then hear the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards, followed by the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

General Debate on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories

Liberation said that it was deeply concerned about the situation in Palestine. Palestinians had the right to present their case to the international community, and Liberation endorsed the efforts towards an agreement that could lead to a new member of the United Nations. The non-violent approach to the conflict should be encouraged and objective steps that addressed the human rights situation there should also be encouraged.

North-South XXI reiterated its solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination. It welcomed the efforts by the Palestine Liberation Organization to seek State Observer status at the United Nations General Assembly, which was a long overdue step towards achieving self-determination for the Palestinian people.

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory deserved a response from the international community that led to peace and ensured the rights of the Palestinian people. Israel’s policies were violating the territorial integrity of Palestine. Mari Foundation called on the Israeli Government to create a positive atmosphere that would improve the living situation of the Palestinian people.

Indian Movement ‘Tupaj Amaru’ said that the tragedy of the Palestinian people undeniably stemmed from the unhealed wounds of colonialism. Armed and financed by successive Washington administrations and the European Union, the occupying power had become a racist and terrorist State, and its threat of unleashing a military attack against Iran constituted a threat to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that it regretted Israel’s systematic lack of political will to implement the recommendations of the report of the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. The Cairo Institute reiterated its call on all concerned parties to ensure the implementation of the report’s recommendations and particularly asked the Council to request the Secretary-General to bring the mission’s report to the attention of the Security Council under Article 99.

Arab Commission for Human Rights said that Israel had chosen to boycott the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which could only be interpreted as irresponsible behaviour and as contempt for the Council. Would Israel also boycott the Universal Periodic Review next January? The Arab Commission for Human Rights proposed reporting to the General Assembly in order to request Israel to abide by the United Nations Charter, and that the Goldstone report be referred to the International Criminal Court.

General Debate on Follow-up to and Implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Senegal, speaking on behalf of the African Group, condemned the publication of an Islamophobic film and cartoons which constituted yet another example of inacceptable instance of inciting religious hatred and discrimination, under the pretext of freedom of expression. In the spirit of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the content and message as well as dissemination and broadcasting of this film should be rejected by the international community and all religions without distinction. The African Group called on all stakeholders, political and religious leaders, to take a common ground against this provocation, which constituted a threat to international peace and security. The African Group appealed for calm and a period of in-depth reflection on the situation as well as understanding and dialogue at all levels and on the basis of Council resolution 16/18 and of General Assembly resolution 66/167.

Cyprus, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that 20 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration it remained as relevant in guiding decision makers and practitioners in their efforts to respond to today’s global human rights challenges. The Vienna Declaration had stood the test of time because it reaffirmed the principle of universality, but the European Union was concerned about occasional misunderstandings of this principle. The Declaration called upon States not to create a hierarchy of rights and reminded States not to justify human rights violations on the basis of cultural particularities. What was universal were the rights enshrined in international instruments and the European Union was committed to strengthening the universality of human rights and rejected the use of cultural relativism as a pretext to divert from the standards set by the international community.

Chile, on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action constituted the foundation for the development and strengthening of the United Nations human rights system. The Vienna Declaration reaffirmed the interdependence and universality of all human rights, both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. The Vienna Declaration also led to the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which constituted one of the most important bodies of the United Nations. In 2013, at the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, a high-level panel should be held on how to adapt and implement the principles of the Vienna Declaration.

Spain, in a joint statement, said that gender equality was essential for the enjoyment of human rights for all, yet discriminatory practices remained and many legal traditions continued to institutionalize discrimination against women and girls. Violence against women, including gender-based killings, was a consequence of gender discrimination. States should ensure that perpetrators of those crimes were held accountable in order to reduce the number of those crimes and to ensure non repetition. The development of international guidelines for the documentation and investigation of gender-based killings was a necessity.

United States said that the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion were inseparable and fundamental, and that restrictions on those freedoms led to violence and instability. The United States had had blasphemy laws in the past, but had achieved prosperity only after it had repealed them. Freedom of expression allowed the disseminations of ideas that could be considered offensive for part of the population. But a potential unlawful reaction of an offended person could not be a veto prior to the publication of an idea.

China said that the Vienna Declaration emphasized that the right to development was a part of fundamental human rights to be enjoyed by every country and every individual. The gap between the North and the South was widening, which together with global economic and financial crises and climate change posed serious challenges to development. The principle of common but differentiated responsibility must be recognized in order to guarantee the right to development to developing countries.

Austria reiterated the reaffirmation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action that the promotion and protection of human rights was a legitimate concern of the international community, and that all members and observers in the Human Rights Council had a responsibility to address and condemn human rights violations wherever they occurred. The twentieth anniversary of the Declaration next year was an opportunity to reflect on its many achievements as well as the challenges ahead.

Russia said that the obstacles to the implementation and realization of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action included too little respect for human rights and values, including their moral dimension. Another reason was the use of human rights for political, economic and military interferences and the bombing of sovereign States in circumvention of the United Nations Charter.

Norway, speaking in a joint statement, said that unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections remained a serious threat to the health of the youngest and poorest adolescent girls and women. Despite progress achieved, further action and resources were needed. Universal access to contraception must be promoted and ensured. Health systems needed strengthening through integrated and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. Sexual and reproductive health and rights were also one of the cornerstones of women and girls’ empowerment. The Council’s Special Procedures had an important role to play in advancing the goals agreed in Cairo and Beijing.

Iraq said that the Vienna Declaration provided a conceptual framework and ideas to address the rights of women in a successful way. Iraq’s 2005 Constitution enhanced gender equality through the establishment of quotas for political representation in Government and Parliament. Human rights and women’s rights perspectives had been included in legislation, regarding the issue of nationality for the children of Iraqi women. Terrorism posed an important obstacle for the participation of women and the promotion of education was also crucial.

Morocco said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had acted as an engine for the consolidation of a legal and institutional basis for political transitions in several places in the world, such as Morocco. The reforms that began at the beginning of the 1990s had been deepened and accelerated. Morocco had been at the forefront of transitional justice, including measures on women and children, social action, the national initiative for human development, and the creation of a national human rights council, a ministerial delegation, and the office of an ombudsman.

Iran said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed the right to development as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights. Yet most of the concerns of the international community, including regarding the right to development, still remained unaddressed as selectivity and double standards continued to be a dominant feature. Furthermore, attempts were being made to disregard cultural diversity and backgrounds of Member States and to impose concepts which were at odds with cultures and basic norms of many societies.

Council of Europe presented its Guidelines on child-friendly healthcare adopted in 2011, which provided practical guidance to national stakeholders to ensure and enhance children’s access to healthcare. They offered an integrated approach to the development of child healthcare service activities, and set out the principle of the child-friendly healthcare approach covering children’s rights as guiding principles, respect of children’s dignity, participation of children, equitable access, including for vulnerable children, as well as the best interest of the child.

Holy See said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reminded that States should strengthen their efforts to address maternal mortality and morbidity, which was a violation of human rights. The report by the High Commissioner seemed biased regarding the issue of abortion. The Holy See did not consider abortion to be a part of reproductive health or reproductive services. Regarding sexual education, the Holy See said that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognized the right to choose the education of one’s children, and asked the High Commissioner to remember that principle.

Tides Centre, in a joint statement, drew the attention of the Council to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was a new instrument aimed at maintaining and accelerating progress in the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights of all people. Its ratification would provide an important foundation for a rights-based approach to realizing the Millennium Development Goals and global poverty reduction.

France Libertés: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, in a joint statement, reiterated concern for the violation of the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people by the Government of Morocco, which was imposing colonial fait accompli in Western Sahara. It was fundamental that the Council ensured the respect of the right to self-determination in this non-self-governing territory.

Action Canada for Population and Development was very concerned about the draft resolution of Russia on promoting human rights through a better understanding of traditional values. There was no agreed term on “traditional values” which was a highly subjective term; better understanding of the negative impact of traditional values was needed, as those could include human rights abuses such as killings in the name of honour, marital rape, child and forced marriage, or female genital mutilation.

Press Emblem Campaign said that as of today 107 journalists had been killed in 2012. It was necessary to fight impunity and to ensure access to remedies for the victims and their families. In most cases of killings of journalists those responsible were not convicted, it could be inferred that there existed no mechanism to effectively combat impunity and ensure the protection of journalists.

World Barua Organization said that Dalit women in India were victimized by upper castes and suffered from inadequate educational opportunities and a high dropout rate. For example, in Tamilnadu State, a Dalit woman had been elected on a reserved seat for Panchyat but other members of the Government were not happy with a Dalit woman holding a supreme post and she had been told that a Dalit woman should not touch the national flag.

Liberation said that the Vienna World Conference called on Governments to adopt or adjust legislation to assure access to these and other rights for disabled persons. The Government of India had enforced the Persons with Disability Act in 1995, however nine out of 10 disabled children were deprived of proper education and more than 40 million students were excluded from education since the act had been approved. Liberation called on the Council to ensure that children with special needs effectively enjoyed their right to education.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action put emphasis on teachers’ freedom to teach human rights free from fears of reprisals. At least 39 teachers had been summoned to the courts in Iran, and many faced jail or even death sentences and were subjected to torture and violence while being detained. The international community should force Iran to stop executions and free all political prisoners, including the teachers.

World Muslim Congress said that the denial of the right for all people to self-determination to the people of Kashmir by India had led to systematic violations of the rights of the people living there, including arbitrary killings, torture and intimidation. A well known political leader named Masrat Alam continued to be detained. India’s continued refusal to investigate the issue of unmarked mass graves also had to be addressed.

International Buddhist Relief Organization said that Indian Dalit women were facing problems and human rights violations in the work place and their access to health and education. They faced high risks of sexual harassment and sexual violence and could not access judicial remedy due to the high cost of the judicial system.

North-South XXI strongly supported the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and especially emphasized the importance of the rule of international law in achieving human rights. The Declaration of the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law was a first step towards ensuring human rights, but it was short of what was necessary.

Association of World Citizens said that voices of women had been heard during the drafting of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action; those women were disempowered and did not have access to land, water, seeds or loans. They had talked about risks they had been exposed to during childbearing and while giving birth.

Arab Commission for Human Rights said it had proposed a Review Conference 20+ to take stock of the progress of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and to think about the challenges in its realization. There was a need to triple resources allocated to treaty bodies, said the Arab Commission, noting the example of the Committee against Torture, where each State could only be examined every 11 years.

International Human rights Association of American Minorities said that sexual violence was an abhorrent and heinous war crime and was a denial of life itself; it required an urgent response from international human rights bodies. In occupied Kashmir, the state Human Rights Commission had confirmed the existence of unmarked graves in four districts, while the issue of 10,000 disappeared persons was directly related to violence against women.

United Nations Watch said that the Vienna Declaration recognized the promotion and protection of human rights as a legal concern of the international community. Despite its commitments, the Government of Pakistan continued to commit gross and systematic human rights violations. United Nations Watch also made reference to the human rights situations in Venezuela and Iran.

Statement by the President of the Council Concerning the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practise

LAURA DUPUY LASSERE, President of the Human Rights Council, said that on 17 September 2012 she had received a letter of resignation from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries Representative on the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice due to health issues. In order to maintain the integrity of the selection process and because the selection procedure of a new member of the Working Group could not be finished before the end of the twenty-first session of the Council, it was suggested that the resignation be taken as entering into force from 5 November 2012.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC12/119E


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