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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON FOLLOW-UP TO AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE VIENNA DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION

25 September 2017

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held a general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

In the general debate, speakers underlined that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action bore testimony to the power of international law in preserving human rights. These instruments recalled the interdependent nature of human rights and strongly reaffirmed the importance of ensuring the universality, objectivity and non-selectivity of the consideration of human rights issues. Several delegations supported the emphasis of the Vienna Declaration on the indispensable role played by civil society and human rights defenders and journalists to remind Governments of their human rights obligations. It was of great concern that systematic action was being taken by some countries to suppress the activities of civil society.

Speaking were Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group, Estonia on behalf of the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Switzerland on behalf of a group of countries, Ethiopia on behalf of a group of countries, Iraq, Venezuela, Bolivia, United States, South Africa, Philippines, China, Israel, Pakistan, Colombia on behalf of a group of countries, Greece, Russian Federation, Libya, Namibia and Mozambique.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Action Canada for Population and Development, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Canners International Permanent Committee, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales Asociacion, Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, Alsalam Foundation in a joint statement, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, and Association A.M.OR.

Venezuela spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will continue the general debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 26 September.

At 3 p.m., the Council will hold a panel discussion on the impact of racial discrimination on the human rights of women and girls.

General Debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stated that the Vienna Declaration had firmly entrenched the notion of the universality of human rights. The Human Rights Council was thus bound to ensure that the protection of economic, social and cultural rights was on the same footing as the protection of civil and political rights. In many areas, the international community had failed to build on the basis of the Vienna Declaration. There was a need for effective cooperation through genuine dialogue, equal treatment, strengthening of capacity, training and technical assistance.

Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, expressed full commitment to the protection of all human rights, noting that the Vienna Declaration was an essential stage for the protection of all human rights on an equal footing. The Arab Group stressed the importance of all rights enshrined in the international covenants on economic, social and cultural rights, and on civil and political rights, in accordance with the cooperation mechanisms between countries. The Arab Group called on the Council to function in line with its principles of objectivity and non-selectivity, and it condemned all attempts to use the Council for narrow political interests.

Estonia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stated that it fully endorsed the emphasis of the Vienna Declaration on the indispensable role played by civil society, human rights defenders and journalists to remind Governments of their human rights obligations, to claim protection and redress for victims of human rights violations, and to support them in their implementation. It was of great concern that systematic action was being taken by some countries to suppress the activities of civil society.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed the importance of ensuring the universality, objectivity and non-selectivity of the consideration of human rights issues. Human rights, while being dynamic, interdependent and indivisible, must also reflect the development of history and growing human needs. The negation of diversity and multiculturalism could have a far reaching impact on the future of international rights framework.

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, stressed that an important part of the international community was shifting towards a more holistic strategy to address the drugs issue. That had been clearly demonstrated last year at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem. The right to life, including the prohibition of extrajudicial and summary executions, were just two of the main human rights often violated by current drug policies.

Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, recalled that during the panel discussion on the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council in June 2016, the group had focused on the interconnection between the rule of law and human rights. The group of countries was pleased that this theme had been supported by a large number of States in joint statements that included elements on how the rule of law could be strengthened.

Iraq said human rights were the cornerstone of Iraq’s system, and the country had made great strides in upholding universal rights and freedoms. Iraq had joined 8 of the 9 international instruments on human rights, and was convinced of the complementarity among the treaty bodies. Iraq was particularly attached to the rights of women, and women worked in all branches of power. Iraq had also taken measures to help children, including with a child protection authority. With regard to combatting terrorism, Iraq had been ensuring that human rights were incorporated in its anti-terrorism approach.

Venezuela said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reflected that all human rights were interdependent, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was based on the principles of human rights, rightly calling for human dignity. The global capitalist economic crisis continued to place many people in extreme vulnerability. The situation required urgent attention by the international community. Violence continued to affect women and children around the world. Necessary measures should be taken to combat extreme poverty.

Bolivia said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action bore testimony to the power of international law in preserving rights. Bolivia did not accept unilateral coercive measures or laws, or other measures to arbitrarily restrict States. A new world order needed to be chosen, in order to live well. That would lead to respect among nations and harmony on Mother Earth.

United States condemned the election imposed by the Venezuelan Government on 30 July 2017 for the Constituent Assembly, and the use of violence by the Maduro regime against citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. It expressed concern about the political impasse resulting from the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s continued electoral delays, which served as a trigger for further unrest and violence. In Kenya, it expressed condolences for the lives lost to election-related violence.

South Africa noted that it was of paramount importance for the Human Rights Council to draw its inspiration from the Vienna Declaration. It was disconcerting to note that despite major achievements, the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights did not receive the required priority attention within the Council framework. There was an apparent failure to elaborate legally binding conventions on the right to development, the accountability of transnational corporations, private military and security companies, and extractive industries.

Philippines stated that it was currently crafting its third Human Rights Plan which would be launched by the end of 2017. The plan would continue to mainstream the Government’s human rights agenda in its development initiatives to protect all, especially the most vulnerable sectors, including indigenous peoples, children, women, migrant workers, elderly, persons with disabilities, informal urban dwellers, and peasants and farm workers. The plan would also address the country’s obligations under various international treaties.

China recalled that development was a key instrument for promoting the enjoyment of human rights. Poverty and hunger had not been eradicated. If people’s basic living conditions were not met, how was it possible to realize the aspirations of human rights values? In order to realize the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind, joint efforts needed to be taken. It was important to uphold the development philosophy and to pursue a diversified mode of development based on the principle of cooperation.

Israel recalled that through the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Stares had agreed to leave no one behind. However, people still suffered from discrimination and the absence of equality on a daily basis. Israel was concerned about the denial of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ rights and the discrimination against them based on sexual orientation. Persons with disabilities also faced a lot of discrimination.

Pakistan stressed that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Without achieving inclusive and equitable development, both nationally and internationally, the common objective of development for every one could not be achieved. Pakistan continued to undertake initiatives for the effective implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Colombia, speaking on behalf of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay, welcomed the outcome of the report of Mr. Vivit Muntharbhorn, the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which had stressed that having many people involved in a dialogue for sensibilisation and depenalisation of discrimination based on sexual orientation was the key. All Member States of the Council were invited to participate in that process. It was hoped that the next mandate-holder would continue his work.

Greece expressed concern about unremitting waves of violence, discrimination and religious fanaticism, which threatened the universal values of tolerance, and cultural and religious pluralism. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action condemned religious intolerance and terrorism.

Russian Federation said non-discrimination was at the heart of many articles of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and the presumption of innocence was at the heart of a fair trial. The Human Rights Council had recognized the need to restore the rights of those who had suffered unfair trials. The Russian Olympic and Paralympic team had been prevented from participating due to unproven allegations.

Libya restated the importance of the Vienna Declaration locally, nationally and globally in the promotion and protection of human rights. It underscored the importance of international cooperation in that respect. The role of national human rights institutions became increasingly important in countries ravaged by conflicts, such as Libya, in order to promote justice and national reconciliation.

Namibia highlighted that the right to development implied that the people of any country had the right to exercise control over their natural resources. It reminded that the United Nations General Assembly had reaffirmed that natural resources were the heritage of the peoples of non-self-governing territories, and that Governments should take all possible measures to ensure that their permanent sovereignty was fully respected and safeguarded.

Mozambique underlined the importance of the right of people to self-determination and noted that the case in point was the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara.

Action Canada for Population and Development , in a joint statement with several NGOs1,
recalled that through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States had agreed to prioritize the rights of women and girls. The continued obstacles to abortion went against this commitment. The criminalization of abortion was a violation of the right to non-discrimination and to body autonomy. Women continued to be victims of intersecting human rights violations and discrimination. Countries were urged to address the violations of human rights generated by the criminalization of abortion.

Conectas Direitos Humanos drew the attention of the Council to the human rights violations stemming from the so-called war on drugs that had been launched in many countries in Latin America. The war on drugs had fuelled a massive incarceration in the region. Conectas Direitos Humanos welcomed the work of Special Procedures that were exposing human rights violations and encouraged countries to stop any criminal treatment for drug users.

Canners International Permanent Committee stated that the fulfilment of the right to development was essential for the realization of all rights. In Pakistan, the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, touted officially as a major development project, in reality had been aggregating the plight of the local people of Gilgit Baltistan, where China was heavily investing in several projects.

International Humanist and Ethical Union said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action expressed dismay at obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights. The problems of arbitrary arrest and detention were often worsened by blasphemy laws. States were acting in violation of detention articles of international instruments. Member States were urged to condemn cases of arbitrary detention.

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) Asociación Civil, in a joint statement with Penal Reform International, drew the attention of the Human Rights Council to the so-called war on drugs, which had led to human rights violations. Mass incarceration of users had led to violations of rights. The human rights mechanisms were encouraged to address that issue more closely.

Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture condemned torture and enforced disappearance and all denial of people’s rights. Yet people in Bahrain still suffered these violations, in one case affecting a member of civil society who had returned from Geneva. Families of members of civil society cooperating with the United Nations had also been subjected to threats.

Alsalam Foundation drew attention to grave violations of human rights and breaches of the Vienna Declaration in Bahrain. In 2011, hundreds of State officers in that country had been fired because of their participation in peace protests. They remained dismissed and unemployed. Some had been subjected to torture and intimidation.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development said that little had been done by countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address the overall trend of shrinking of civil society space in the region, as well as the rising intolerance and discrimination. That was contrary to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. Regrettably, the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Human Rights Committee lacked implementation authority.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc. drew attention to Saudi Arabia’s continued denial of freedom of expression and association, as some 40 individuals had recently been arrested and held incommunicado. The Government claimed they worked for foreign agents. The organization called on Saudi Arabia to stop its oppression of peaceful demonstrators.

Commission to Study the Organization of Peace said that the human rights of women were inalienable. The full participation of women in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life and the elimination of all discrimination and gender-based violence were the core goals of the international community. In Pakistan though, women’s rights were constantly threatened. Girls and women faced restrictions at all stages of their lives.

Association A.M.OR underlined that education, teaching and knowledge were the only way out for orphans. Association A.M.OR was convinced that orphans were growing up in fear and lacked affection. Everyone should provide affection to orphans in the world.

Right of Reply

Venezuela, speaking in a right of reply in response to the United States, said that Venezuela was a free, sovereign and independent country. Venezuela spoke out against the unilateral coercive measures such as the blockade against Cuba. In recent statements by President Trump, he had threatened an invasion of Venezuela. The United States had a record of violations of human rights because of its imperial designs. Venezuela called for the sovereign and democratic will of the people of Venezuela to be respected.

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1Joint statement on behalf of: Action Canada for Population and Development; Allied Rainbow Communities International; Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) Asociación Civil; Center for Reproductive Rights, Inc.; European Humanist Federation; European Youth Forum; Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland; International Commission of Jurists; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues; International HIV/AIDS Alliance; International Humanist and Ethical Union; International Lesbian and Gay Association; International Planned Parenthood Federation; IPAS; Medecins du Monde – International; Rutgers; Sonke Gender Justice Network; Women Enabled; Women's International Democratic Federation; World Young Women's Christian Association.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/17/148E