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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW

15 March 2019

The Human Rights Council during a midday meeting held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review.

In the discussion, speakers said that the Universal Periodic Review was one of the great successes of the Council in ensuring the universal coverage of human rights.  It was thanks to this process that there was such progress achieved in terms of human rights legislation and this allowed others to learn from best practices.  Delegations affirmed that discussions had to be based on results and far removed from politicization, taking into account national specificities and capacities.  All interventions in this process should be based on open and constructive engagement, not on selectivity or naming and shaming.  Some speakers noted that the process could not be a tool for coercing States and attempts to undermine the very foundation of the Universal Periodic Review were rejected.  The Universal Periodic Review must be carried out objectively and must be protected from double standards within the Human Rights Council.  The efficacy of the Universal Periodic Review greatly depended of the commitment of the State to the Council’s recommendations.  That was why it was important to provide adequate capacity building.  Finally, the importance of national institutions for follow up of recommendations was underlined.

Speaking were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Cuba on behalf of a group of countries, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Romania on behalf of the European Union, India, Cuba, Czech Republic, Tunisia, Iraq, Bahrain, China, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Marshall Islands on behalf of group of countries, Argentina, Syrian Arab Republic, Mongolia, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Maldives, Morocco, Georgia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Islamic Republic of Iran and Colombia.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (in a joint statement with several NGOs1), National Union of Jurists of Cuba, The, Asociacion HazteOir.org, Cuban United Nations Association , National Association of Cuban Economists, Amman Center for Human Rights Studies, Society for Threatened Peoples, Beijing NGO Association for International Exchanges, Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers' Legal Aid and Research Center, Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, All China Women's Federation, China Disabled Person's Federation, The European Centre for Law and Justice, Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The, Health and Environment Program (HEP), European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS), Women's General Association of Macau, The., Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, Africa Culture International, Le Pont, Ingénieurs du Monde, African Green Foundation International, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, World Muslim Congress, Iraqi Development Organization, Alsalam Foundation, Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, United Villages , Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l'homme, United Nations Watch, Edmund Rice International Limited, Alliance Creative Community Project, and Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik.

The Human Rights Council will meet next at 4 p.m. to hold a debate on the mitigation and countering of rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies.

General Debate on the Universal Periodic Review

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, stated that the Universal Periodic Review was one of the great successes of the Council in ensuring the universal coverage of human rights.  States demonstrated sincere efforts to promote human rights, while the role of civil society in supporting the Universal Periodic Review process was appreciated.  All interventions in this process should be based on open and constructive engagement and not on selectivity or naming and shaming.

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, restated its appreciation for the Universal Periodic Review process which enriched the Human Rights Council and enabled countries to make progress on human rights by building on the best practices of other States.  The Review was a key mechanism in international cooperation, and the Arab Group stressed the importance of taking into account the specificities of each country.

Cuba, speaking on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, stressed the need to preserve the Universal Periodic Review as the mechanism to promote human rights internationally, especially in view of the attempts by some countries to politicize its use.  The aim of the Universal Periodic Review was to strengthen the capacity of Member States to adhere to human rights standards, and not to use the mechanism to promote country-specific resolutions.

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) stated that the Universal Periodic Review should be conducted as a result-based or result-oriented procedure aimed at strengthening the capacity of Member States, with their consent, and not a tool for coercing States.  Therefore, the Universal Periodic Review must be carried out objectively and must be protected from double standards within the Human Rights Council.

Romania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reiterated its commitment to the Universal Periodic Review, in order to make long-term improvements to the human rights situations in countries.  The European Union said that, where access was not possible, Rapporteurs could base their findings on the existing reports and research and on the information from local stakeholders.  The European Union strongly opposed all forms of intimidation of stakeholders participating in that process and thanked the Council for monitoring this issue.

India continued to believe that the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was a key instrument in the promotion of human rights by the Human Rights Council.  As part of its upcoming review, the Council should allocate more time to the discussion on the outcomes.  India was doubling its financial contribution to the procedure this year, in line with the view that lack of resources in certain countries was hampering their participation, and therefore their improvement of human rights.

Cuba called on all States to continue to work on consolidating the Universal Periodic Review and condemned all attempts to undermine the very foundation of the process.  Cuba opposed the practice of making video summaries of outcome discussions with selective shots, which were published on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner, and stressed that full videos should be provided.  The universality of this mechanism was vital.

Czech Republic said that its strong commitment to the Universal Periodic Review was evident in the voluntary pledges that the country had accepted in 2018.  The Czech Republic had accepted 201 recommendations during its third Universal Periodic Review in 2017, including to eradicate discrimination against Roma and to decrease the number of children in institutional care.

Tunisia said that the Universal Periodic Review played a key role in the Human Rights Council and the development of the human rights system and reiterated its commitment to this mechanism.  The efficacy of the Universal Periodic Review greatly depended on the commitment of the State to implement the accepted recommendations, which underlined the importance of providing adequate capacity-building to States. 

Iraq affirmed the importance of the Universal Periodic Review, based on the principles of neutrality and non-selectivity, and stressed that it was the most effective mechanism for Member States to learn from best practices and to dovetail their national legislation with international obligations.  Iraq was preparing for its third round of the Universal Periodic Review this year.

Bahrain said the Universal Periodic Review provided a unique opportunity for States to showcase their human rights records and the measures taken to improve them.  The success of the mechanism could only be achieved through objectivity and non-selectivity, while recommendations should take into consideration the social, religious, or political realities of the countries concerned.  Technical assistance and capacity-building should be provided in line with countries’ specific needs.

China said the Universal Periodic Review was the best platform to have frank and constructive dialogues and stressed the importance of observing the principles of transparency and non-politicization.  All countries had the right to accept and implement the recommendations according to their capacity.  China recalled that during its latest review, it had accepted 80 per cent of the recommendations made to it.

Marshall Islands, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, acknowledged the importance of the Universal Periodic Review process and drew attention to the challenges that least developed countries and small island developing States faced in reporting to the treaty bodies and in the implementation of recommendations.  The Marshall Islands acknowledged the assistance received thus far and called for continued support to meet their obligations.

Argentina said the Universal Periodic Review was a prime mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights, allowing for the assessment of rights in Member States.  The principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs of States should be paramount.  Argentina regretted the continued flaunting of this principle.  It was in this spirit that Argentina wished to see the country reviews.

Angola, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, reaffirmed the need for objectivity, transparency, non-selectivity and non-politicization in the Universal Periodic Review process, and highlighted the importance of technical assistance in helping States implement the recommendations.  The effective implementation of recommendations also depended on available means, and with this in mind, Angola reiterated its support for the process.

Syrian Arab Republic said that the Universal Periodic Review was the only mechanism that allowed a country situation to be examined on an equal footing, and stressed that the principles of transparency, non-selectivity, and non-politicization must be upheld.  The discussions during the review had to be based on results, take into account national specificities and capacities, and be far removed from politicization.

Mongolia remained strongly committed to the Universal Periodic Review and considered it an important mechanism for the promotion of human rights through dialogue.  Mongolia underwent its second cycle in 2015 and, with the support of the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance, had developed the National Plan of Action 2016-2020 to implement the accepted recommendations.

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) said that the Universal Periodic Review process was carried out on a voluntary basis and on an equal footing and that the principles of sovereignty of States and non-interference in their domestic affairs must be respected.  Capacity-building and technical assistance were indispensable tools to achieve human rights, while the selectivity of procedures and costly country-specific resolutions imposed by some powers were strongly rejected.

Maldives stressed that the responsibility for implementing the recommendations fell on the State concerned, however, technical assistance and capacity-building were important.  Maldives welcomed the initiatives by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on providing training and assistance to Member States upon request and the crucial role of the Voluntary Trust Fund to ensure the participation of small island developing States.

Morocco said that the Universal Periodic Review was a pillar of human rights cooperation and that it was timely to start thinking about the future of this process. A constructive and realistic approach should be taken to making recommendations, by, for example, limiting the number of recommendations provided.

Georgia believed that the Universal Periodic Review was the only human rights mechanism that allowed States to take stock of their human rights record and make improvements thereon.  In April 2018, the Georgian Government had adopted a national action plan to promote human rights, incorporating most of the recommendations contained in its Universal Periodic Review report.

Lebanon reaffirmed its commitment to the Universal Periodic Review process which should remain free from double standards.  The equal treatment of States was paramount as it helped countries develop programmes to implement their recommendations.  Lebanon called for the consolidation of the Universal Periodic Review process and its continued use.

Lesotho acknowledged the Universal Periodic Review as a mechanism that had a great impact on States with regard to the enhancement of their human rights status.  Lesotho had submitted their mid-term report in April 2018 and was ready for the next review in 2020.  Lesotho had welcomed the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation who had visited the country in February 2019.

Islamic Republic of Iran said the Universal Periodic Review process was gradually producing fruitful and tangible results.  There was no doubt that the participation of delegates in the process, and the numerous associated events, helped to improve human rights provisions.  Although all States did not enjoy membership of the Council, equal treatment by the Council on the basis of non-selectivity was the added value of the process.

Colombia said that the examination of outcome reports had demonstrated a shared and common goal of human rights and stressed that the human rights agenda must be surrounded not with rhetorical instruments but with robust, independent and effective mechanisms.  The Universal Periodic Review had helped Colombia to strengthen the implementation of preventive measures in order to materialize the human rights agenda.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, highlighted that freedom of religion or belief did not receive sufficient attention during the Universal Periodic Review.  States should formulate smart recommendations – specific, measurable and time-bound, to enable the implementation over the four or five-year-long reporting period.

National Union of Jurists of Cuba, The recognized attempts made by China to strengthen its legal system and said that promoting human rights in China meant there was huge progress in terms of improving the living standards, health, education, and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.  China promoted balanced human rights development.

Asociacion HazteOir.org said that Mexico suffered a wave of violence and stressed that it could only move to development if family life was promoted, which was undermined by anti-birth policies.  A risky path of euthanasia had to be avoided and palliative care needed to be promoted instead.  Fundamental freedoms and fundamental pillars of humanity had to be upheld.

Cuban United Nations Association highlighted the measures and actions taken by China in human rights education, especially through training of law enforcement and civil servants.  The organization welcomed China’s proactive work in multilateral mechanisms, particularly the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, and combatting terrorism and drug use. 

National Association of Cuban Economists welcomed what the Chinese Government had achieved in the past decades to promote the human rights of the Chinese people, especially poverty reduction in rural areas.  In recent years, China had lifted 10 million people in rural areas out of poverty, whereas 70 per cent of the poverty reduction globally corresponded to China’s success. 

Amman Center for Human Rights Studies expressed serious concern about the continued aggression against the people of Yemen.  Dozens of reports referred to civilian casualties and the outbreaks of cholera and famine because of the horrendous humanitarian situation.  Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates carried direct responsibility for the ongoing siege since March 2015. 

Society for Threatened Peoples said the Universal Periodic Review was meant to include stakeholders, alongside States.  However, they expressed their concern about a joint submission that had been made on China, accepted, but later removed as it had been found to violate a criterion on political impartiality.  The Society disputed this, and believed it was removed due to political pressure from China.

Beijing NGO Association for International Exchanges disagreed with the previous speaker, stating that the situation in Tibet was not as had been described.  Her Association had established a system for entrepreneurship for women called She Loves Tech, in collaboration with a number of international partners.  A partner programme in Nepal had recently been established. 

Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers' Legal Aid and Research Center said that more than one million migrant workers were currently employed in Beijing, and these were often poorly educated and did not know their rights.  The organization worked with such migrant workers to improve their access to legal representation.  They had established a number of regional support centres, and had trained public law lawyers to help those in need.

Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center had witnessed great promotion of human rights in China.  The Government and society were paying more attention to children.  Special institutions and mechanisms were set up to take care of children.  Juvenile protection and the juvenile criminal justice system were improved.  Social indicators of children published by the United Nations Children’s Fund reflected the improvement.

China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation was engaged in international assistance to poverty alleviation in many countries.  The organization was mostly working on sanitation and safe drinking water, as well as other areas identified by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

All China Women's Federation said that the Federation and its local branches had been in close contact with women in China, in order to ensure that women’s voices were heard in Government policies.  New policies had been set up to assess the impact of improvements.  More than 31 provinces had a new organizational set up.   In future, China would make even greater progress in this field. 

China Disabled Person's Federation appreciated the efforts made by the Chinese Government in the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.  There were 85 million persons with disabilities in China, and many laws related to the protection of their rights.  Every five years there was a plan for the protection of their rights.  China was also part of the cooperative mechanisms of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for exchange of experience.

The European Centre for Law and Justice spoke of the case of Pastor Cao San Qiang, a permanent resident of the United States who had for the past two years been wrongfully imprisoned in China for simply living his faith.  The organization pleaded for his freedom and reunification with his family. 

Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The was gravely concerned about Myanmar’s failure to implement the recommendations on freedom of expression and urged the Government to quash the charges against those detained for having expressed their opinion.  It also called on the Government to repeal laws that entrenched structural discrimination against minorities and to reverse its crackdown on freedom of expression.  

Health and Environment Program (HEP) stressed the importance of the Universal Periodic Review process, reflecting that in January, Yemen had presented its report, at a time when the country was under attack from Houthi militias.  Millions of Yemenis lived in areas where Houthi militias operated, blocked aid, and committed abuses against women and children.  They called on the Council to help the Government implement recommendations made to it.

European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience said the rights of religious minorities were restricted in China.  Falun Gong and the Church of Almighty God were outlawed completely.  The extent of China’s control of Tibetan culture and religion was massive, and at least one million Uighurs were imprisoned in Xinjiang.  They called on China to open up and accept a visit of the Special Rapporteur without delay.

China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) said the Universal Periodic Review had helped improve the human rights situation of China, where 55 religious minorities lived, often in remote areas.  The cultures and languages of minorities were protected, such as those of Uighurs and Tibetans.  Any attempt to use human rights as a tool to interfere in the internal affairs of any country was wrong.

Women's General Association of Macau, The. reminded that 30 per cent of women in China had experienced domestic violence. In order to combat domestic violence, China had adopted the first nationwide law in 2016, as an important milestone in the protection of human rights in the country.   

Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture called on the Human Rights Council to play an even more active role in the situation of human rights in certain countries.  In Saudi Arabia, the organization drew attention to the atrocious crimes committed by the Crown Prince, and it noted that women in prison were exposed to ill-treatment and torture. 

Africa Culture International welcomed Senegal’s progress in the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, and the development of infrastructure, especially improvement of the situation of women.  It called on Senegal to continue working to improve the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty and to protect children.

Le Pont recognized progress made by China.  More than 70 per cent of people in China had seen their living conditions improve.  China had achieved the goal of eradication of poverty 10 years ago.  South-South cooperation was supported and Chinese authorities were called upon to continue to defend their territorial integrity and improve human rights.

Ingénieurs du Monde said that the Council was created to ensure universality, neutrality and in order to eliminate double standards.  Many countries, like Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) had spoken against naming and shaming and country specific resolutions.  Why were there more resolutions on Israel than on the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea combined?

African Green Foundation International said that the Universal Periodic Review was created for all countries to be on an equal footing.  The United Kingdom had to recognize that in Sri Lanka there was an ongoing war on terrorism.  There were false allegations in the resolution against Sri Lanka.  The mass graves in the report were misleading and Sinhalese rejected them.   

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc said Saudi Arabia had often misused the Council to cover up their actions against human rights.  Since 2009, Saudi Arabia had condemned to death 440 individuals.  Repeated attempts by Saudi Arabia to misuse anti-terrorism laws against human rights activists, and the case of Jamal Khashoggi must lead the Council to be more vigilant.

World Muslim Congress condemned the terrorist attacks carried out in New Zealand today.  India, under its religious extremist Government, had white washed numerous crimes against minorities.  One of the biggest human rights abuses in the world today was the mass graves India had created in Kashmir.  It was deplorable that India arrogantly refused to engage with United Nations Special Procedures.

Iraqi Development Organization protested against the attitudes of the Saudi Government, and called on them to pay attention to the catastrophic situation in Yemen.  The embargo underway affected more than 27,000 people in hospitals.  Bombardments had caused thousands of victims, many children amongst them.  They called for the passing on of this dossier to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

Alsalam Foundation reminded that since 2004, Saudi Arabia had executed 500 persons, 60 per cent of them on drug-related charges.  The organization asked whether there were any ways to hold Saudi Arabia accountable and to help those detained on drug-related charges.

Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme stated that Saudi Arabia was the worst model in the world when it came to human rights, as if it were still a feudal society.  The organization also called attention to human rights violations in Kuwait.  The Council should look into the human rights situations in those countries.

Organization for Defending Victims of Violence noted that the Universal Periodic Review recommendations were linked more to countries’ political tendencies than the human rights record.  Such a selective approach resulted in skewed reports.  The organization called on countries to submit only the recommendations that were focused on human rights.

United Villages said they did not get a chance to speak during the Universal Periodic Review of Saudi Arabia.  They were following the situation in Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia had issued numerous laws and regulations and many amendments were made during the reporting period.  The crime of terrorism was defined in explicit terms.

Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l'homme said that they were under the impression that all that happened during the Universal Periodic Review was countries congratulating each other.  Universal indicators had to be created.  There were many countries responsible for human rights situations so there had to be international inquiries.  There was a new form of Chinese slavery in Chinese companies in Africa.

United Nations Watch said the Human Rights Council in the past 13 years had never established a single commission of inquiry on Saudi Arabia and never adopted a condemnatory resolution on that country.  At this session, the Council would hear seven reports on Israel, two on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, two on the Islamic Republic of Iran, one on the Syrian Arab Republic, and none on Algeria, China, Iraq, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Somalia, Turkey, Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

Edmund Rice International Limited stated that Zambia had one of the highest rates in the world on child marriage, with 17 per cent of girls aged 15-19 already married.  The negative impact of teenage pregnancy on the health of the mother and infant was well documented, as was the impact on a girl child’s right to education.  They called on the Zambian Government to improve publicity campaigns to combat this.

Alliance Creative Community Project stated that India had been urged to abolish the death penalty during its last cycle of Universal Periodic Review, but it continued to use it.  They wished to draw attention to the seven Tamils in the Rajiv Ghandi assassination, who had been held in jail for almost three decades.  The convicts were not the real perpetrators.  India should persuade the Government of Tamil Nadu to release them.
 
Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik stated that persons with disabilities in Iran were one of the most marginalized groups in society.  Iran had made no significant efforts to implement five recommendations from the first cycle and 11 from the second cycle on this matter.  For the Universal Periodic Review to stay a strong mechanism, it was important that these measures were implemented.

Right of Reply

United Kingdom, speaking in a right of reply, responded to the statement made by Mauritius during the adoption of its Universal Periodic Review, regarding the United Nations General Assembly resolution 71/289, in which it requested an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice regarding British territory in the Indian Ocean.  The United Kingdom’s Government was looking at it carefully. 


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1Joint statement on behalf of: VIVAT International, Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Alliance Defending Freedom, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, The - (ERLC), Jubilee Campaign, World Evangelical Alliance, Alliance Defending Freedom, Center for Inquiry, European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, and International Council of Jewish Women.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/43E