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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HEARS FROM 22 DIGNITARIES AS IT CONTINUES ITS HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT

26 February 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon continued with its high-level segment, hearing addresses from 22 dignitaries, who expressed concern at the plight of human rights worldwide and the multilateral order, and spoke about the coordination of international efforts to reinforce human rights, ways to reaffirm the Council as the platform for addressing human rights and strengthen its mechanisms, as well as about the need to defend multilateral institutions.

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, spoke of the physical destruction and disintegrating social fabric he had witnessed in Mosul, Iraq.  He stated that conflict shattered communities and led to discrimination and ostracization.  Exclusion branded people on multiple levels, including being shunned from societies and denied access to basic services, but was also designed as a form of punishment.

Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, recalled that the coordination of international efforts to push forth the reinforcement of human rights, build State capacities and provide them with support was the philosophy that had to remain the driving force of the Council.  Egypt paid the highest attention to initiatives to reinforce the work of the Council. 

Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner on Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, welcomed the package of measures regarding the Council’s efficiency agreed to in December, as well as the improved cross regional confidence and ownership across the Council that it had built.  Better complementarity between the United Nations activities in New York and Geneva was encouraged, as well as mainstreaming of human rights in the United Nations system.

Emanuela Claudia Del Re, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, reiterated Italy’s commitment to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner and to the Universal Periodic Review.  She expressed concern at the systemic, widespread and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria.

Andrej Žernovski, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, said it was fundamental that the Council spare no efforts to prevent human rights violations wherever they may occur.  Silence had never won rights, rather, the desire for freedom from want and fear, as well as for the right to be treated with dignity and respect must guide collective action.

Riad Al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that shouts of “death to Arabs” were heard by Palestinian people on a daily basis from Israeli settlers in Palestinian cities, which were under siege.  In addition to racist threats, acts of destruction were performed by Israeli settlers. 

Dato' Saifuddin bin Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said that major reforms were being undertaken by the Government, and promoting democratic principles, the rule of law, and the principles of sustainability, accountability and non-discrimination were priorities.  Freedom of religion and belief, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were no longer taboo in this new administration. 

Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, noted that “alarm bells” had rung repeatedly in this room about the continuous failure by a number of countries to cooperate with the Office and to grant unimpeded access to international human rights mechanisms.  Reports by the Office clearly showed the deterioration of human rights in illegally annexed Crimea, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.

Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, reaffirmed Nepal’s firm commitment to promoting human rights at home and contributing to fulfil the mandate of the Council as its members.  Nepal held strong faith in principles and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq, said that in combatting terrorism, Iraq had paid a heavy price in terms of human life, but indicated that the rule of law had been re-established, and that security had returned to the country.  The new Iraqi Government had a four-year plan aimed at placing the interest of its citizens at the heart of its efforts. 

Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, stressed that the state of human rights across the world was challenging, as instability and conflict had given rise to a variety of human rights abuses.  The retreat in many advanced democracies, for short-sighted political interests, had undermined inclusivity, tolerance and respect for human rights. 

Carmelo Abela, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion of Malta, noted that last November, Malta had undergone its third Universal Periodic Review, and that, since the 2013 review, Malta had made huge strides in human rights legislation.  This included legal gender recognition, marriage equality, women’s rights, minority rights and child protection, among others. 

Kyaw Tin, Union Minister for International Cooperation of Myanmar, stressed that the Council had to avoid the recurrence of failure of its predecessor, which had been abolished for its shortcomings.  The true picture of Myanmar stood in stark contrast to narratives heard repeatedly in the Council. 

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid of Germany, expressed concern at the plight of human rights worldwide and the multilateral order.  She stated that human rights politics should not only be defensive but that the Council should work on a progressive agenda. 

Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, delivered three main points on democracy and its decline, on women’s rights, and on the need for multilateral cooperation.  For the first time in decades, more people in the world lived in countries with authoritarian tendencies than in countries with democratic progress.  Decline was seen in all dimensions of democracy, and in country reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Paul Teesalu, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, noted that as of 1 January, Estonia had established the National Human Rights Institution, which it hoped would support the Government’s continuing work in promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights in ever more challenging times. 

Martha Delgado Peralta, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico, noted that Mexico was moving towards a new paradigm of respect, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, as a result of an unprecedented democratic process and driven by the new Government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018. 

Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, celebrated the 11 members of the Commonwealth currently serving on the Council, including the Bahamas and Fiji, the only small island developing States on the Council.  She welcomed the adoption of the Georgetown declaration in Guyana in November 2018 by the former beneficiaries of the Trust Fund from the Caribbean region that recognised the role played by the Commonwealth in supporting small island developing States.

Luis Fernando Carranza Cifuentes, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said that the policies and actions of the Guatemalan Government had focused on a zero tolerance for corruption and on modernizing the State, healthcare, education, development and security.  Guatemala was also implementing a national development plan, with goals aligned to the 2030 Agenda. 

Kiyoto Tsuji, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, said that the world order, based on universal values, was confronted with several challenges, and the United Nations had an important role in defending the world order, but could not be left alone.  As a member of the Council from the Asia-Pacific region, Japan had actively engaged in the protection of human rights in the region.

Andrei Dapkiunas, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, stated that the current trend toward hybrid wars, full-scale military conflicts, the war on terror, and their consequences restricted the ability of contemporary civilizations to provide every human being with their right to a decent life, and urged the Council to stop the slide towards a world governed by rationales of national security. 
Yousef A. Al Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, emphasized the need to maintain a focus on cultural diversity, the only guarantor for the future of humanity, and called on the Council to find objective and impartial solutions to human rights problems.  A resurgence of discrimination and xenophobia and an increase in Islamophobia were noted with particular concern. 

The Council will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 February, to continue and conclude its high-level segment. 

High-Level Segment

PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, spoke of the physical destruction and disintegrating social fabric that he had witnessed in Mosul, Iraq.  Conflict shattered communities and led to discrimination and ostracization.  Exclusion branded people on multiple levels, including being shunned from society and denied access to basic services, but this could also be designed as a form of punishment.  International humanitarian law held some of the answers as to how to repair social divisions and avoid intergenerational cycles of violence, as it was crystalized in the principles of impartiality, non-discrimination, inclusion and equality.  He drew attention to the seventieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and urged States to engage more forcefully with each other on how to apply international humanitarian law in today’s complex wars where battles were asymmetric, and distinctions between civilian and fighters were difficult, and as a result civilians were more victimised that ever and stigmatizations were omnipresent.  It was crucial for humanitarian action to be implemented without discrimination, free from criminalization and without being hindered by overblown sovereignty positions, elaborate sanction procedures or counter terrorism measures.  He closed by stating that the world had changed since 1949 and it was time to reach new commitments to minimal standards of humanity and called for advocates of impartiality and humanity to step forward.

SAMEH HASSAN SHOKRY SELIM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, recalled that the coordination of international efforts to push forth the reinforcement of human rights, building State capacities and providing them with support was the philosophy that had to remain the driving force of the Human Rights Council.  It was high time to re-evaluate and correct some practices in the Council because some actors had veered away from the Council’s main goals and had transformed it into an arena for settling political differences, exchanging accusations, and for attempting to impose controversial views, which only deepened differences.  Egypt underscored that human rights were interrelated and indivisible, and that the right to life was the most sacred right, which was currently under grave threat due to terrorist activities.  The Minister regretted that economic, social and cultural rights had been considerably overlooked nowadays, which had motivated Egypt to realize those rights, especially in light of the plight of developing countries.  Guaranteeing those rights was the way for individuals to claim their civil and political rights.  Member States needed to steer away from any politicization and polarization in the Council in order to foster its credibility and legitimacy.   No party was entitled to judge and evaluate others.  The rise of the extreme right and populism in many developed countries threatened to undermine the achievements of multilateral organizations.

CHRISTOS STYLIANIDES, European Commissioner on Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, welcomed the package of measures regarding the efficiency of the Human Rights Council agreed to in December, as well as the improved cross regional confidence and ownership across the Council that it had built.  Mr. Stylianides encouraged better complementarity between United Nations activities in New York, and the activities of the United Nations in Geneva, as well as the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system.  The Commissioner acknowledged the opportunity created by the inter-Korean talks, and remained ready to critically engage with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on concrete improvements, but also invited the Council to approve a resolution recalling the dire human rights situation in “North Korea”, and on this basis, to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  More monitoring and reporting was still needed in Myanmar, given the persisting grave situation in the country for Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.  The European Union would once again table a resolution on the freedom of religion or belief, as intolerance, discrimination and violence against persons belonging to religious minorities remained widespread across the world, and he called on Council members to support this resolution which renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  All States were urged to grant unconditional and unhindered access to the United Nations and its Special Procedures. 

EMANUELA CLAUDIA DEL RE, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, expressed concern about the systemic, widespread and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria, called on all parties to refrain from violence and face accountability for crimes, and reiterated Italy’s support for the Special Envoy for Syria and for a political solution to the conflict.  A durable cessation of hostilities in Yemen remained a top priority, though the 2018 Stockholm agreement was an encouraging development.  Italy was concerned about the violations and abuses perpetrated in Rakhine, Myanmar, and called on the Government to ensure that those responsible were held accountable according to international humanitarian law.  Italy hoped for positive developments in the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  The Deputy Minister joined others in calling for a peaceful and inclusive solution to the crisis in Venezuela, based on fully democratic presidential elections, adding that Italy urged the Venezuelan Government to accept humanitarian aid, and announcing a first emergency contribution of 2 million euros.  The Nicaraguan Government was urged to release political detainees and to relaunch the national dialogue.  She reiterated Italy’s priorities during its membership of the Council, including support for the fight against all forms of discrimination as well as commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, including efforts to eradicate harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.  Other issues included the death penalty, the right to freedom of religion or belief, the promotion of rights of people with disabilities, and human trafficking.  The Deputy Minister recognised the key role of civil society in promoting the work of human rights defenders.

ANDREJ ŽERNOVSKI, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, said it was fundamental that the Council spare no efforts to prevent human rights violations wherever they may occur.  Silence, said Mr. Žernovski, had never won rights: rather, the desire for freedom from want and fear, as well as for the right to be treated with dignity and respect, must guide collective action.  The situation of human rights had deteriorated in most parts of the world.  The conflict in Syria was one of the worst and most fearsome in modern history, while the persecution of human rights defenders in Iran was of concern.  In Sri Lanka, North Macedonia welcomed the establishment of the Office for Reparations and expected the Office of Missing Persons to provide answers to the families of the disappeared.  The work of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, which had established gross human rights violations, was supported.  In Venezuela, the serious violations of socio-economic, civil and political rights, arbitrary arrests, and the restriction of freedom of expression were highlighted with concern.  The thematic priorities of North Macedonia would include the advancement of human rights norms; the elimination of torture; the advancement of the rights of women; non-discrimination; freedom of opinion and expression; and the protection of journalists.  The country would be vocal against racism and would continue to act as an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. 

RIAD AL-MALKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that shouts “death to Arabs” were heard by Palestinian people on a daily basis from Israeli settlers in Palestinian cities, which were under siege.  In addition to racist threats, acts of destruction were performed by Israeli settlers.  More than 71 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed but today, they were still defending human rights principles.  Speeches alone were not sufficient, serious action had to be taken.  Denying people their basic rights and the irresponsibility of countries made the world a better place for criminals.  The people of Palestine were marking the Hebron massacre when settler Goldstein came from Brooklyn and murdered 29 people and wounded 150 others at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Israel continued to violate Security Council resolutions.  The fascist right wing Government was seeking to promote its impunity and continued violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  The number of Palestinian martyrs had doubled over the last year, 32,000 martyrs had been wounded and there were still 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.  Despite the resolutions of the United Nations, Israel still enjoyed impunity.  Israel had passed racist laws, including the Racist State law, and it had pirated $ 140 million dollars, which were tax returns of Palestinians, directly undermining the Palestinian leadership and the viability of its institutions.  International silence was encouraging Israel to continue carrying out its crimes.  It was necessity to keep item 7 on the Council’s agenda.

DATO' SAIFUDDIN BIN ABDULLAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said that Malaysia got its first independence in 1957 but in May last year it got its second, in the form of a new government and administration in Kuala Lumpur.  Major reforms were being undertaken by the Government, promoting democratic principles and the rule of law, while the principles of sustainability, accountability and non-discrimination were priorities.  Freedom of religion and belief, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were no longer taboo issues in this new administration.  Malaysia was amending and repealing laws which had been oppressing the Malaysian people, including laws pertaining to freedom of opinion and expression, rights of the child, the rights of indigenous people, the right to health and housing, and women’s rights.  In addition, a moratorium on the death penalty had been signed, stronger checks and balances were carried out in the banking system, and multi stakeholder partnerships in the field of human rights including partnerships with civil society were being promoted.  Concerning the Rohingya in Myanmar, Malaysia believed the perpetrators must be brought to justice, and the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of displaced Rohingya must be ensured.  Malaysia supported the two-State solution for the Israeli Palestinian conflict and warned the Council not to be distracted from the plight of Palestinians and allow Israel to proceed with impunity.  The new Malaysia would do more for the respect of human rights and offered its membership to the Council at a future date. 

EDGARS RINKĒVIČS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, reiterated Latvia’s strong support for the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner and was ready to continue cooperation in promoting human rights and finically contributing to the work of the Office. “Alarm bells” had rung repeatedly in this room after the continuous failure by a number of countries to cooperate with the Office and to grant unimpeded access to international human rights mechanisms.  Reports by the Office clearly showed the deterioration of human rights in illegally annexed Crimea, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.  Latvia reiterated that the Russian Federation must comply with its human rights obligations, ensure impartial investigation and accountability, as well as safety of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, human rights defenders and civil society organizations in Chechnya.  Cooperation with the Special Procedure mandate holders presented a troubling picture.  Sixteen years ago, Latvia had launched the initiative to promote the universality of the standing invitations to all Special Procedures.  Since then, 119 Member States and one Observer State had extended a standing invitation.  Latvia was concerned that 54 journalists were killed in 2018 and three in 2019 and condemned the unacceptable disappearance of the renowned journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The Council had to do all it could to advance the safety of journalists.

PRADEEP KUMAR GYAWALI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, reaffirmed Nepal’s firm commitment to the promotion of human rights at home and to contribute to fulfil the mandate of the Council as its member.  Nepal held strong faith in principles and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  All human rights had to be treated in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and the approach had to remain balanced. Peace and human rights could not be achieved without attaining inclusive development.  The 2030 Agenda and the Global Compact on Migration provided wider platforms to advance the inclusive human rights agenda everywhere.  The work of the Council should rekindle a hope for all those that looked upon the Council as a voice of conscience.  The Universal Periodic Review had successfully evolved as a platform of positive international cooperation in the human rights field.  Nepal represented a unique case of democratic political transformation.  It was one of the pioneering countries to mainstream human rights agendas into national policies and plans through its Human Rights National Action Plan.  Nepal was a uniquely successful case of nationally owned and nationally led peace process and was preparing for amending the laws in consultation with and participation of victims.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Iraq, said that in combatting terrorism, Iraq had paid a heavy price in terms of human life, but indicated that the rule of law had been re-established and security had returned to the country.  The new Iraqi Government had a four-year plan aimed at placing the interests of its citizens at the heart of its efforts.  Mr. Alhakim expressed hope that these efforts would meet the needs of Iraqi citizens, reduce the poverty people were suffering from, and achieve equality between women and men.  Iraq reasserted its intention to pursue cooperation with international judiciary bodies as they sought to protect human rights.  Mr. Alhakim thanked States that had participated in the Kuwait conference on the reconstruction of Iraq.  The Iraqi Government had made women’s empowerment a particular priority, and integrated the issue into all projects for sustainable development.  The Iraqi Government was also endeavouring to protect all minorities, including religious minorities, and to protect their civil and political rights.  Iraq was paying particular attention to human rights at the national level, but also sought to protect these rights at the regional and international levels.  In this light, Iraq called for the protection of Palestinian people who were still in the yoke of the Israeli occupation.  Regarding the crisis in Syria, Iraq supported international efforts aiming to create a conducive environment between different stakeholders in the Syrian crisis.  A political solution was underlined as the only possible solution to the conflict.

RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, stressed that the state of human rights across the world was challenging, as instability and conflict had given rise to a variety of human rights abuses.  In Palestine, basic human rights continued to be denied.  The retreat in many advanced democracies, for short-sighted political interests, had undermined inclusivity, tolerance and respect for human rights.  Meanwhile, multilateral commitments to promote human rights principles, including in the Council, were taking a backseat.  It was a constitutional mandate for Indonesia to contribute in creating a world order, so Indonesia was pleased to present its candidature to the Council for the period 2020-2022.  As one of its founding members, Indonesia would continue its active contribution in line with General Assembly resolution 60/251.  Three points were elaborated on how to reenergise common pursuit of protecting human rights.  First, the Council had to reaffirm itself as the main and trusted platform for addressing human rights concerns, so it was imperative to strengthen the Council’s mechanisms in a unifying and efficient manner.  Second, regional cooperation and mechanisms on human rights had to be strengthened.  In south east Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and countries in the region were at the forefront in safeguarding human rights.  Third, constructive and effective engagement between governments, national human rights institutions and civil society had to be strengthened.

CARMELO ABELA, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion of Malta, noted that last November, Malta had undergone its third Universal Periodic Review, and that, since the 2013 review, Malta had made huge strides in human rights legislation.  This included legal gender recognition, marriage equality, women’s rights, minority rights, and child protection, among others.  With regard to women’s rights, Mr. Abela highlighted the setting up of a Council for Women’s Rights in Malta, with the aim of strengthening dialogue between the Government and civil society and mainstreaming equality in all aspects of government processes.  The progress on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Malta was also highlighted: from marriage equality to gender-neutral markers, the advancements made by Malta were said to be the current global “gold standard” by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  In 2018, Malta had launched its second national action plan on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, which focused on the social realities they faced, and the mainstreaming of their rights into society.  Regarding the reception and integration of migrants, Malta was working on improving its reception conditions and capabilities, and was dedicating more resources to asylum matters to quicken procedures, while doing away with detention as much as possible.  Malta was committed to keep striving to advance human rights for all, and, in turn, to live up to its international commitments.

KYAW TIN, Union Minister for International Cooperation of Myanmar, stressed that the Council had to avoid the recurrence of failure of its predecessor, which had been abolished for its shortcomings, including bias against certain nations, application of double standards, selectivity and politicisation of human rights standards.  Every independent mandate holder or mechanism created by the Council had to adhere to the principles of independence, impartiality and integrity.  The true picture of Myanmar stood in stark contrast to narratives heard repeatedly in the Council.  Myanmar was facing numerous challenges in its delicate democratic transition; still the world’s attention was narrowly focused on the northern Rakhine state, wrongfully portrayed as an issue of religious persecution by the massive media campaign launched against Myanmar.  It was neither a religious nor an inter-religious conflict, but a political and economic issue involving prolonged cross-border illegal migration, poverty, lack of rule of law and national security issues.  The Government was committed to finding a solution that would lead to peace and it was implementing the vast majority of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission.  The most pressing issue was to commence the repatriation process and Myanmar was ready to receive the verified returnees in a safe and dignified manner in accordance with bilateral arrangements with Bangladesh.  The report of the Fact Finding Mission had obscured the view of many countries and misled their judgment on this issue.  Myanmar had set up an Independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights and had made significant steps in promoting human rights.

BÄRBEL KOFLER, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid of Germany, informed the Council of Germany’s candidacy to re-join the Human Rights Council for a third term next year.  The Commissioner expressed concern about the plight of human rights worldwide and the multilateral order.  Being a member of both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council would enable Germany to use its voice to advance a comprehensive approach to security, based on the conviction that human rights violations could be both an indicator and a cause for instability.  The shrinking space for civil society participation was a concern, as human rights defenders were being harassed and women and children experienced violence and inequality.  Germany accepted that more had to be done to combat racism and Islamophobia within its own borders.  Human rights politics should not only be defensive, but the Council should work on a progressive agenda.  The Commissioner highlighted several human rights issues of particular concern for Germany, including the strengthening of women’s rights, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and the strengthening of human rights online in this digital age as well as the rights of victims of climate change.  The Commissioner called for the strengthening of competent human rights institutions, by contributing for instance to the United Nations treaty body system, supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and commitment to this Council and encouraging its reform.  Germany, in line with the European Union, believed that human rights concerns should be raised under agenda item 4 and continued to oppose the establishment of a hierarchy between human rights, emphasizing the conviction that socio-economic developments and prosperity were not sustainable if human rights were not respected. 

MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, noted that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, only two women were in the Commission, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Indian writer and independence activist Hansa Mehta, who insisted on an expression which recognized the equality of women and men, resulting in the first article “all human beings are born free”. Three main points were delivered on democracy and its decline, on women’s rights, and on the need for multilateral cooperation.  For the first time in decades, more people in the world lived in countries with authoritarian tendencies than in countries with democratic progress.  Decline was seen in all dimensions of democracy, and in country reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  Strong-armed leaders centralized political power and suppressed dissenting and minority voices. In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were murdered for their work.  This was the highest number ever on record, according to the data from Front Line Defender.   Five years ago, Sweden launched its first feminist foreign policy.  In everything Sweden did, they asked whether women had the same rights, representation and resources as men.  Sweden continued to defend the independence of the human rights system, urged all States to fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the mandate holders, and supported the Council as the premier body for human rights issues.  Democracy, women’s rights and respect for multilateral order were being challenged, and the Council was encouraged to change these developments and not to fall into distrust and polarization.

PAUL TEESALU, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, noted that as of 1 January, Estonia had established the National Human Rights Institution, which it hoped would support Estonia’s continuing work in promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights in ever more challenging times.  Human rights were underlined as the cornerstone of sustainable development, with 90 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals linked to international human rights principles.  The empowerment of women and girls, as well as their full enjoyment of human rights were emphasized as a prerequisite for inclusive and peaceful societies.  Unequal power relations and stereotypes were noted as some of the root causes of gender-based violence, which was seen as systemic in nature and occurring across a range of settings, both online and offline.  Estonia also emphasized the importance of ensuring sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education, crucial tools for preventing maternal mortality and morbidity.  Estonia welcomed the growing emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the work of the United Nations, including the recent emphasis on fighting sexual harassment in all settings.  Estonia hoped to contribute to the better inclusion of civil society in United Nations activities.  Mr. Teesalu expressed concern for the increasing lack of Internet freedom thanks to a model of extensive censorship and automated surveillance systems embraced by several countries. 

MARTHA DELGADO PERALTA, Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights for Mexico, noted that Mexico was moving towards a new paradigm of respect, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms as a result of an unprecedented democratic process and driven by the new Government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018.  This new paradigm promoted an egalitarian, prosperous society that was respectful of human rights.   A key pillar of Mexico’s foreign policy was the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, particularly those facing vulnerability.  The Mexican Government was committed to achieving a true transformation of the country’s social fabric, one in which Mexican people could recognize and value the importance of respecting the human rights and dignity of all, the rule of law, and non-discrimination.  Last December, Mexico had established the Commission of Truth to investigate the case of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who disappeared in 2014, and to also ensure that such grave human rights violations were not repeated.  Mexican authorities at the highest level had offered a public apology to journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro in keeping with a resolution from the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Mexico would also implement the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls.  Regarding the elimination of discrimination, the recently created National Institute for Indigenous Peoples had already launched its national programme for 2018-2024.  Mexico faced serious challenges at the national level and it had no intention of neglecting them.

PATRICIA SCOTLAND, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, celebrated the 11 members of the Commonwealth currently serving on the Council, including the Bahamas and Fiji, the only small island developing States on the Council.  She welcomed the adoption of the Georgetown declaration in Guyana in November 2018 by the former beneficiaries of the Trust Fund from the Caribbean region, which recognised the role played by the Commonwealth in supporting small island developing States, and enhancing their participation and the visibility of their work to the Council.  Another key area of work for the Commonwealth in supporting small island developing States was addressing the more than 10-year back log in treaty body reporting.  The Commonwealth continued to focus on building national institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles, especially in small island developing States.  This year marked the seventieth anniversary of the Commonwealth in its current iteration, the theme of the anniversary was “A Connected Commonwealth”, which required them to look ahead to advancing the dignity and equality of all.  The rights of marginalised groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, people with disabilities, indigenous people and religious minorities were of particular concern, both within the Commonwealth and globally.  The Secretary-General expressed concern that human rights defenders and the civil society space they occupied was under threat and stated that the ability to voice dissent and hold governments to account was crucial for both the enjoyment of human rights but also the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Human rights and climate change were inextricably connected and the Commonwealth remained committed to pursuing climate justice.

LUIS FERNANDO CARRANZA CIFUENTES, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said that the policies and actions of the current Guatemalan Government had focused on zero tolerance for corruption and on modernizing the State, healthcare, education, development and security.  Guatemala had made important advances in the promotion of transparency and the fight against corruption, and it had driven necessary reforms and institutional improvements to increase their effectiveness.  Guatemala had also sought to strengthen the independence of criminal prosecution and the justice system through significant budgetary increases to the relevant Government bodies.  In terms of security, Mr. Carranza noted that the homicide rate in Guatemala had fallen by seven per cent thanks to investments in preventing violence.  At the end of March 2018, the Guatemalan army had finalized its support to the civil national police force in civilian security tasks.  Guatemala was also implementing a national development plan, with goals aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Guatemala was working, together with its neighbours, on formulating a development plan to address structural causes of migration, and to protect the human rights of migrants and prevent irregular migration.  Guatemala was cooperating with relevant international human rights mechanisms, and it had submitted five periodic reviews on human rights.  Guatemala also recognized the significant work carried out by human rights defenders, and the authorities had drafted a national policy on human rights defenders.  Finally, the Vice-Minister underlined his country’s commitment to multilateralism, and reiterated that prevention was an essential element to avoid the violation of human rights.

KIYOTO TSUJI, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, reminded that the world order, based on the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law, was confronted with several challenges.  The United Nations had an important role to play in defending and bolstering that world order.  It was crucial that all other stakeholders took coordinated action to guarantee the efficiency of the United Nations in that endeavour.  As a member of the Human Rights Council from the Asia-Pacific region, Japan had actively engaged in the protection of human rights in that region.  While remarkable economic development had been achieved in the Asia-Pacific region, many challenges remained regarding the process of democratization.  People still witnessed violations of basic rights and human rights defenders were supressed.  The situation in Rakhine state was worrisome and Myanmar had to create conducive conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of displaced persons.  The situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was also of concern, including the abductions of Japanese nationals by the “North Korean” authorities.  Japan had been promoting tangible efforts to realize a society where no one would be left behind, through the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Japan was one of the top contributors to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict.  It was also the first country in Asia to accept third-country resettlement of refugees.  As for the issue of comfort women, Mr. Tsuji reminded that Japan had been sincerely dealing with the issue, and that it had reached an agreement with the Republic of Korea in December 2015, confirming that the issue had been resolved finally and irreversibly.  Japan had agreed to contribute $ 9.7 million to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation in 2016.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, stated that the current trend toward hybrid wars, full-scale military conflicts, the war on terror and their consequences restricted the ability of contemporary civilizations to provide every human being with their right to a decent life, and urged the Council to stop the slide towards a world governed by rationales of national security.  In this regard, the President of Belarus had launched a new comprehensive global security dialogue where human rights should play an integral part.  Regrettably, the Council served as a mirror of the ongoing dangerous trends that degraded the system of international law by interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign States.  It was unacceptable that the Human Rights Council should intervene under the pretext of “concern for human rights” in countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua or Syria.  The Council had failed to deliver on the best interests of the majority of its members in terms of the agenda, tools and outcomes.  Belarus called for a reorganisation of the Council so that it could meet the deadlines of the Sustainable Development Agenda.  The rule of law was the responsibility of national governments, and all United Nations entities, including the Council, should contribute to national efforts and operate solely on the basis of national priorities as defined by governments.  The Council should more effectively protect economic and social rights by defending the most vulnerable members of the global society: women, children, the disabled, and victims of armed conflicts and human trafficking.  In closing, the Deputy Minister reiterated Belarus’ belief in the strength of a multilateral approach and expressed hope that the Council would move forward by reducing tensions in interstate relations and changing global trends of increased inequality between and within countries.

YOUSEF A. AL OTHAIMEEN, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, emphasized the need to maintain a focus on cultural diversity, the only guarantor for the future of humanity, and called on the Council to find objective and impartial solutions to human rights problems.  A resurgence of discrimination and xenophobia and an increase in Islamophobia were noted with particular concern.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation had established a plan and a memorandum of understanding with a view to bringing an end to all these acts of discrimination.  Islamophobia and discrimination were noted as being of great concern to all peoples.  Mr. Al Othaimeen underlined that hate speech was being used by Islamic extremists, which underscored the need to strengthen dialogue between religions and bring an end to the human rights scourges of our time.  The plight of the Rohingya minority was highlighted as a grave humanitarian crisis, in agreement with comments from the High Commissioner.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation recognized that the right to self-determination was an essential part of international law, and drew particular attention to minorities in Kashmir and in other Asian countries suffering violations of this right.  Mr. Al Othaimeen underlined the occupation of Palestine as a continuing violation of the human rights of Palestinian people.   The family was highlighted as the basis of every society, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation would support all efforts by the Council to protect the family.  The Organization reasserted its belief in family values, and refuted any other values which would violate human rights. 



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/8E