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10 March 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. A summary of the beginning of the general debate, held earlier today, can be found here.

At the beginning of the meeting, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council, said that in response to the COVID-19 situation, the Human Rights Council had moved to the Assembly Hall. The rationale behind this move was to have social distancing. The Bureau of the Council would try to find the biggest rooms for the holding of negotiations in order to create conditions for social distancing.

In the general debate, speakers raised myriad violations in various countries and regions around the world.

Speaking in the general debate were Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Germany, Pakistan, Czech Republic, Brazil, Australia, Libya, Japan, Philippines, Netherlands, Denmark, Uruguay, Republic of Korea, Spain, Venezuela, Indonesia, Cameroon, Ukraine, Peru, Sudan, Eritrea, Switzerland, Iraq, Slovenia, Finland, Ecuador, Viet Nam, Cuba, France, New Zealand, Cyprus, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Iran, Canada, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Sweden, Albania, Colombia, China, Norway, Georgia, Organization of American States, Belgium, United Kingdom, Iceland, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Ireland, Burundi, Syria and Luxembourg.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society representatives: Dominicans for Justice and Peace – Order of Preachers, (in a joint statement with several NGOs1) Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (in a joint statement with several NGOs2), International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (in a joint statement with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; International Commission of Jurists and International Service or Human Rights), Conselho Indigenista Missionario CIMI (in a joint statement with Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) Asociación Civil and Right Livelihood Award Foundation), Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (in a joint statement with Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; Edmund Rice International Limited and Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Projects, European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, Minority Rights Group, Baha’i International Community, European Union of Jewish Students, Presse Embleme Campagne, Fundación para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Human Rights Watch, British Humanist Association, Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society, European Union of Public Relations, European Humanist Federation, “Coup de Pousse” Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud, Victorious Youths Movement, Canners International Permanent Committee, Association of Youths with Vision, Conectas Direitos Humanos, France Libertes: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, Franciscans International (in a joint statement with Geneva for Human Rights – Global Training), Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, World Evangelical Alliance, Sikh Human Rights Group, Society for Threatened Peoples, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists (in a joint statement with International Service or Human Rights and CIVICUS), International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement, B’nai B’rith, Prahar, Center for Environmental and Management Studies. Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, International Lawyers.org, United Nations Watch, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Action international pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, Iraqi Development Organization, and Association for the Advancement of Agricultural Science in Africa.

1Joint statement on behalf of : Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities); Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Franciscans International; Edmund Rice International Limited; Soka Gakkai International; Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University; Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and The Lutheran World Federation.

2Joint statement on behalf of : VIVAT International; Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII; Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul; Geneva for Human Rights – Global Training; Edmund Rice International Limited; Mouvement International d'Apostolate des Milieux Sociaux Independants; New Humanity; Association Points-Cœur; Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco and International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development.

The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of UN Web TV

The Council will meet again on Wednesday, 11 March at 10 a.m. to conclude its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

Remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council

ELISABETH TICHY-FISSLBERGER, President of the Human Rights Council, reminded the delegations of the additional preventive measures adopted by the Bureau of the Council and the United Nations Office at Geneva, following their meeting with representatives of the Swiss authorities on Monday, 9 March, in response to the COVID-19 situation. The rationale behind moving the plenary to the Assembly Hall was to have social distancing, the President explained. She thus asked that delegations only send two persons to the room, and urged them to leave one chair empty between delegates wherever possible. The Bureau of the Council would try to find the biggest rooms for the holding of negotiations in order to create conditions for social distancing.

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Attention of the Government

In the general debate on human rights situations that require the attention of the Council, speakers reiterated the importance of adherence to human rights standards, and denounced the use of torture and mass detention as weapons by States. China was urged to grant access to Xinjiang province, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was called upon to engage with the international community to improve the plight of its people, and Egypt was asked to stop its use of pretrial detention and the trying of minors in adult courts. India was called on to stop the use of hate speech for electoral gains, and to respect the sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir. The Venezuelan Government was urged to stop the intimidation of political opponents, and attacks on human rights defenders speaking out against the plight of civilians in the country. Nicaragua must stop the ill treatment of protestors, and Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and China must end the arbitrary detention of political prisoners. Lebanon must stop the ill-treatment of legitimate protestors. Iran was urged to investigate the violence surrounding political protests in November 2019, and both Iran and Iraq were called on to end systemic attacks against protestors. Libya must stop the widespread abuse of human rights, especially for vulnerable persons, including women, children and refugees.

The plight of civilians in Syria, where fighting in Idlib province had caused nearly one million people to flee their homes over the past three months, was raised. All parties were urged to enable the unhindered delivery of humanitarian relief, and to engage in the political process to end the conflict. The Government of Burundi was urged to end the climate of impunity that existed in the country, and ensure free and fair elections later this year. Iran was called on to ensure fundamental human rights for all its people, regardless of their background or sexual orientation. Recent calls for the illegal annexation of parts of the West Bank were condemned, as was the state of human rights across the occupied Palestinian territories, and all actors were urged to comply with international humanitarian law. In the Sahel region, violent extremist groups had increased attacks fivefold in 2019, and there were calls for the international community to address the issue. The human rights abuses faced by Azerbaijanis from years of occupation by Armenia was raised, as well as the suffering caused by Japan as a result of its history policy of “comfort women”. The guiding principles of human rights should be universality, constructive dialogue, and non-interference in the internal affairs of States. States should avoid confrontation and attacks on sovereign countries, and should not use agenda item four to politicize the human rights debate. Actions should be based on the facts on the ground, rather than baseless generalizations.

The call at the COP25 for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on climate change was welcomed. This mandate holder should take stock of the impact of climate change on human rights, promote policy coherence between climate actions and international human rights obligations, and be the focal point for dialogue with Governments, civil society, international financial institutions, treaty bodies and other Special Procedures. In that respect, the damage to indigenous lands should be mitigated, whereas traditional knowledge should be incorporated in international efforts to build resilience in the face of climate change. The human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir was raised, where the authorities had imposed severe restrictions after the decision to revoke constitutional autonomy on 5 August 2019, including one of the world’s longest Internet shutdowns. There was a serious deterioration in the situation of human rights in Brazil after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as its President, including frequent attacks on minorities and journalists; impunity for human rights violations in Sudan; a worsening situation for religious groups in India, notably Muslims; the persecution of Hinduism by Orthodox Christian extremists in the Russian Federation; the persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran; the arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, Kazaks and other minorities in concentration camps by the Chinese Government; the increase in anti-Semitic sentiments even in the mainstream; and the plight of the Baloch and Pashtun people in Pakistan.

The threat posed by India’s new Citizenship Act to the indigenous peoples in north-eastern India, as well as systematic and widespread violations against peaceful demonstrators in Iraq were raised. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, citizens faced some of the worst crackdowns on dissent, peaceful assembly and campaigns against human rights activists. Growing human rights abuses were taking place in Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan, which demonstrated that the Pakistani authorities still did not take serious action against extremist and terrorist organizations and groups. In the Philippines, the vilification of human rights defenders and their labelling as “terrorists” had escalated, whereas in Maldives there was growing religious extremism that threatened human rights. Also raised was the oppression of the Tamils in Sri Lanka by the Sinhala majority, and the draconian measures taken against West Papuan human rights activists by the Indonesian Government. In light of the inalienable right of the peoples under colonial rule to their self-determination, the United Nations should take all appropriate measures to ensure that right and should appoint a Special Rapporteur to investigate the situation in the Western Sahara. The worrying situation of Julian Assange, who had been detained in the United Kingdom, was noted. Democracies were sending the wrong message and setting an unfortunate precedent by inflicting on him severe mental suffering and psychological torture. If he was convicted, that would be a death sentence for the freedom of the press. Attention was drawn to female genital mutilation, reminding that more than 200 million girls and women were living with the negative effects of that practice, which violated women’s rights. Women continued to face systematic discrimination in law and practice, despite legal reforms. States were still falling short of adopting laws that would guarantee full enjoyment of rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

The European Union bore, together with Turkey, responsibility for the refugees coming from Syria, especially women and children. All Member States should share that responsibility and guarantee them the right to asylum, as well as the cessation of bombing against them in Idlib. Given the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, a question was raised about why the Council would not organize a special session devoted to it. The Israeli and Turkish control of Syrian territories was a flagrant violation of international law, as was the use of the Gulf money to finance more conflicts in the Middle East.

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