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

18 March 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

In the discussion, speakers said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action made clear that human rights were universal and indivisible.  The Vienna Declaration also emphasized the importance and constructive role played by national human rights institutions in protecting human rights.  In spite of progress made in the human rights system, there were many shortcomings preventing the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  Some States noted that democracy, development and human rights seemed to be getting sidelined in the pursuit of objectives that were overly political in nature.  Different governance systems around the world had led to different prioritization of human rights issues.  Member States were called on to settle all political conflicts in order to implement the 2030 Agenda without leaving anyone behind.  It was essential that the Council eliminated the manipulation and politicization of human rights.  Some States rejected the use of the issue of human rights to bring political pressure to bear, often with the aim of bringing about regime change.  Some delegations also called on the Council to maintain and support the technical assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Speaking were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Romania on behalf of the European Union, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, United Kingdom on behalf of the rule of law Core Group, Bolivia on behalf of a group of countries, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Australia on behalf of group of countries, Pakistan, India, Cuba, Iraq, Tunisia, Togo, China, Libya, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Russian Federation, Islamic Republic of Iran, Greece, Sudan and Israel.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Action Canada for Population and Development, Friends World Committee for Consultation, Women's General Association of Macau, The, Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society, International Buddhist Relief Organisation, International Humanist and Ethical Union, France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi, iuventum e.V., "Coup de Pousse" Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud (C.D.P-C.E.N.S), African Development Association, Sikh Human Rights Group, Institute for NGO Research, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, World Environment and Resources Council (WERC), Pan African Union for Science and Technology, Asociacion HazteOir.org, European Union of Public Relations, African Regional Agricultural Credit Association, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, United Schools International, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Prahar, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Action of Human Movement (AHM), Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Center for Environmental and Management Studies, and International Association for Democracy in Africa.

The Human Rights Council will next meet on Tuesday, 19 March at 9 a.m. to conclude the general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, to hear the presentation of the report of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and then to hold a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance

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

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, noted that the right to development was an inalienable human right.  Hate campaigns ridiculing religious or cultural symbols were an affront to the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and an incitement to violence.  Speedy elimination of racism and all forms of xenophobia must be a priority task for the international community.  The recent attacks on mosques in New Zealand were examples of terrorism motivated by hate speech and false narratives demonizing Muslims around the world.

Romania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stated that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action established the indispensable role played by human rights defenders.  The European Union condemned any attempt to outlaw non-governmental organizations by way of any arbitrary judicial measures.  New and emerging technologies were key to addressing many of the issues set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, but could also open the door to new forms of inequalities.  Therefore, the Council should address the interface between human rights and new technologies.

Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, remained concerned about challenges and discrimination faced by migrants and their families across the world, and called on States to reconsider their stance on the Global Compact on Migration, to cooperate in that area and to eliminate obstacles to the right to development.  Over the past 25 years, despite economic and political difficulties, the Group had continued to work towards improving human rights.  It called on all countries to uphold their responsibilities to protect human rights.

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, noted that the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was a milestone in the history of human rights.  The Arab Group had taken a positive and constructive approach vis-à-vis that document, in interaction with all relevant United Nations mechanisms.  The Arab Group encouraged the Human Rights Council to evaluate the experiences of the Arab countries in accordance with their capacities and their cultural specificities.  The suffering of the Palestinian people under the yoke of the Israeli occupation remained a priority of the Arab Group.

United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of the Rule of Law Group, said that the implementation of the rule of law by national Governments was key for the protection and guarantee of fundamental freedoms.  It was particularly important for the protection of children and young people, who were disproportionately impacted by rights violations.  The rule of law group urged States to ensure that institutions of governance allowed children to participate in proceedings and access justice.

Bolivia (Plurinational State of), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said it would like to move towards an international world order that was equitable, democratic, inclusive and fair.  Such an international world order would promote multilateralism and would repudiate unilateral course.  The group reiterated its commitment to political agreement, cooperation and incorporation of others’ ideas.  The group insisted that unilateral actions undermined the United Nations Charter and international law.  Climate change was exacerbated by the capitalist system and the international community should act quickly.  The group of countries thus called for full implementation of the Paris Agreement.

United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action made clear that human rights were universal.  Human rights in Chechnya were being violated, particularly the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  The group of countries called on the Russian authorities to take action concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  All persons arrested based on their sexual orientation had to be released and torture of such persons had to stop.

Australia, speaking on behalf of group of countries, highlighted the inherent dignity of all members of the human family.  All people were born free and equal in dignity and in rights.  Nowadays there were many challenges in realizing those rights.  Australia affirmed that all human rights had to be treated in a fair and equal manner.  All States had a duty to protect all human rights.  Australia called on all United Nations members to take effective measures to that end.

Pakistan reminded that the 2030 Agenda provided the international community with a framework to work together for inclusive development and the promotion of all human rights.  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 objective of “leaving no one behind” would not be achieved.  Pakistan had taken many concrete steps towards poverty alleviation, inclusive and sustainable development, and regional connectivity.

India stated that it seemed that democracy, development and human rights were sidelined in the pursuit of objectives that were overtly political in nature.  Different governance systems around the world had led to different prioritization of human rights issues.  The role of the Human Rights Council in providing capacity building and technical assistance would be useful to address the implementation gaps by States in terms of their human rights obligations.  

Cuba lamented the continued increase in xenophobia and discrimination around the world, 25 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  The recent xenophobic attack in New Zealand unfortunately was a demonstration of that trend.  It was essential that the Human Rights Council eliminated the manipulation and politicization of human rights by developed countries.  Cuba rejected the use of human rights to impose political pressure on developing countries, often with the aim of bringing about regime change.

Iraq believed that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was a milestone in the establishment and protection of human rights.  Since embracing democratic governance in 2003, human rights had been deeply rooted in Iraq.  The rights of the child, women and of non-governmental organizations were all important to Iraq’s government.  Iraq had made great strides in building democratic institutions despite the security challenges that it faced.

Tunisia reaffirmed its commitment to the principles enshrined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and called on the international community to maintain the momentum of that declaration, especially given the current complexities and challenges.  In spite of the progress made in the human rights system, there were many shortcomings preventing the implementation of the Vienna Declaration.  Tunisia called on Member States to set aside all political conflicts in order to implement the 2030 Agenda without leaving anyone behind.  It also underlined the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights. 

Togo said that during the time of constant challenges, rising hatred and racist speech against migrant groups, it reaffirmed its commitment to the principles and values enshrined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  The realization of economic, social and cultural rights was a precondition for achieving other rights.  Togo called on the Council to maintain and support the technical assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and informed that it had launched an ambitious national plan to combat violations of human rights.

China insisted that States should defend multilateralism and appealed to all Member States to adhere to the United Nations Charter, abide by the principles of non-selectivity and non-politicization, and follow the requirements of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  States should use the 2030 Agenda as an opportunity to implement the right to development through a people-centred approach in order to improve people’s wellbeing and living standards.

Libya highlighted the importance of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which constituted an inclusive framework for all stakeholders at all levels.  It also reiterated the importance of objectivity, non-selectivity and non-politicization, and drew attention to the construction cooperation between national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and Governments in order to mainstream human rights in policies, laws and programmes, especially in countries experiencing instability.  The Government of Libya was seeking to provide the right conditions for the good functioning of its institutions. 

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) underlined that selective and partial use of human rights was part of the strategy of some of the world powers to impose their vision on the south.  There was a criminal imposition by certain States of universal coercive measures, in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter.  Venezuela called for effective measures to be adopted in order to eradicate poverty.  The international community had to pursue the right to development, as well as to fight for an equitable and democratic international order, based on the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Russian Federation reminded that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action mentioned several times that international cooperation was needed for the successful realization of human rights.  Unfortunately, after the Vienna conference attempts had been made to exclude States from promoting human rights through interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States.  International fora were brazenly used for that purpose by a group of countries, as demonstrated by the United Kingdom.  That practice had to be changed and dialogue needed to be restored.

Islamic Republic of Iran recalled that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action underlined the basic principle of non-politicization and non-selectivity.  Iran expressed disappointment about the politicization of human rights as manifested by country-specific resolutions.  It was concerned about frequent violation of human rights by the United States through the imposition of sanctions.  Unilateral coercive measures violated international law and international human rights law, including the right to life.  

Greece said it was committed to all human rights, and refused cultural relativism.  Greece considered it a high priority to ensure that human rights protection remained high on the Council’s agenda.  It believed that cooperating with the human rights mandate was essential; Greece had received four visits in 2018.  States bore the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights, and through State action and international cooperation, human rights could be achieved.

Sudan noted that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reminded the international community that human rights were indivisible.  Sudan had made great strides in adopting a democratic system.  Thanks to the national dialogue, the Constitution provided a leading role to women.  Sudan believed that all human rights were part and parcel of the Sudanese Constitution and legislation.  Sudan was making steps forward in the defence of human rights.  It rejected all discrimination based on race or gender, and supported justice and the rule of law.

Israel affirmed its support for the indivisible nature of human rights, but reflected that historical and cultural backgrounds must be borne in mind.  It was the duty of all States to promote and protect all human rights, regardless of their cultural background.  However, such declarations could be just empty words.  In the beginning of 2019, Malaysia had decided to ban the Israeli Paralympic swimming team from participating in the 2019 Paralympic Swimming Championships.  Israel noted that the use of human rights for political purposes should not be permitted by the United Nations.

Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, in a video statement, spoke about the progress made to raise public awareness of the death penalty, and the principles of non-discrimination and equality.  Public opinion was a driver for the reintroduction of the death penalty.  In response, the Commission had intensified its information campaign citing evidence that the death penalty did not deter crime. 

Action Canada for Population and Development said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action prioritized the realization of all women’s human rights and highlighted the need of an intersectionality lens to achieve that.  The absence of intersectional language in legal and semi-legal spaces obscured and devalued the experiences of people whose identities consisted of multiple attributes, such as black women. 

Friends World Committee for Consultation welcomed the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration, and noted that its implementation should be carried out in consultation with civil society and migrants themselves in order to achieve functional and ambitious bodies of follow up and review.  The failure to embrace the Global Compact as a tool for positive change would send the message to migrants worldwide that they are exempt from human rights.

Women's General Association of Macau, The informed that according to All-China Women’s Federation, 30 per cent of 270 million families had experienced domestic violence.  In order to combat domestic abuse and to safeguard family harmony, China had adopted the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, thus making significant progress in the promotion of human rights in China.  Policies had also been introduced to protect members of families, including women and children.

Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society noted that the crime rate in marginalized areas of society was disproportionally high and adolescents were especially at risk to be engaged in misdemeanour, violence and felony.  In Iran, out of the many factors contributing, some obvious ones were the direct economic situation, the drug epidemic and dysfunctional families.  Limited access to education was highly correlated with juvenile delinquency.

International Buddhist Relief Organisation underlined that the international community knew that Tamil terrorists were the worst human rights violators.  They were enlisted as the most ruthless terrorist organization and banned in 32 countries.  The origin of the resolution against Sri Lanka was the report of Marzuki Darusman.  Nowadays, the United Kingdom brought up that resolution again just to please the separatist Tamil diaspora.  The international community was still silent about the crimes committed by Tamil terrorists.

International Humanist and Ethical Union reminded that many countries infringed the human rights of women and girls who sought abortions, and called for the immediate release of women imprisoned under those circumstances.  The bans on abortion could be draconian in countries such as Chile, Malta and El Salvador where even miscarriages could be considered suspicious.  Medical doctors were required to report anyone suspected of attempting to terminate a pregnancy.  Those draconian laws violated the fundamental rights of women and girls.

France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand stated that in the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, human rights continued to be denied.  The organization reminded the Council that article 3 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stated that adequate resources must be provided for effective legal protection against human rights violations.  That article and other aspects of the Vienna Declaration were denied to the Sahrawi people.

Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi noted that in the eyes of the Government of India, working in defence of human rights was anti-nationalist.  National security laws were used against human rights activists in the country, and several human rights defenders were on trial.  The organization asked the international community to remind India of its responsibilities and commitments under the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. 

iuventum e.V. asked Member States to vote for the resolution to promote the work of environmental human rights defenders, and to include practical measures to prevent reprisals against them.  Many concepts were discussed in Geneva and reported by human rights experts.  The organization called on States to come together to ensure a meaningful international environmental law. 

"Coup de Pousse" Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud (C.D.P-C.E.N.S) said that throughout the Kingdom of Morocco natural resources were being used to the benefit of the local population, in accordance with the principles of sustainability and equitable distribution of wealth.  The Sahrawi should also be able to benefit from these resources.  However, the population in Tindouf camps in southern Algeria were subjected to the systematic violation of their fundamental human rights.  The organization called on the Human Rights Council to lift the blockade on the Sahrawi people sequestered in Algeria.
African Development Association drew attention to the Polisario Front’s violations of human rights in the Tindouf camps in southern Algeria, such as oppressive measures, arbitrary detentions, torture and other practices.  The Polisario had continued to operate outside the control of the host State and outside the control of the human rights mechanisms.  Algerian courts had distanced themselves from any case connected to the Tindouf camps.  In accordance with international law, the Algerian State should not stay silent with respect to its responsibilities to the Sahrawi people.

Sikh Human Rights Group recalled that 25 years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, minorities were detained without possibility to express themselves freely.  There were States in which family belonging undermined minority rights.  The organization had proposed a statement of diversity as a way to move forward on the issue of minorities and it called on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to study it.

Institute for NGO Research reminded that the Vienna Declaration provided special rights to children.  Why was the Commission of Inquiry completely silent about the recruitment of Palestinian children by Hamas?  Hamas sent them to Israeli villages on the border, using them as cover so it could cause mayhem.  The Palestinian community gave blessings to such actions.  What was even more alarming was that the Human Rights Council, United Nations and its mechanisms did not say anything about it.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development observed that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action emphasized the importance and constructive role played by national human rights institutions in protecting human rights.  The current trends of shrinking civil space and reprisals against human rights defenders in Asian countries highlighted the critical importance of strengthening those institutions in Asia.

World Environment and Resources Council (WERC) called attention to the continued violations of women’s rights in Pakistan, with practices such as female genital mutilation and honour killings.  Around 1,000 women every year were victims of honour killings, with many more subjected to forced marriages.  Despite all attempts at legislative changes, Pakistan still gave the impression of a country that did not uphold women’s rights.  A bill to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls had been blocked by Parliament.

Pan African Union for Science and Technology cited reports by Human Rights Watch that crimes against women, such as honour killings and forced marriage, were on the increase.  The report of the United Nations on gender equality in Pakistan provided a dismal picture, with 12 per cent of those aged between 16 and 49 deprived of education or employment. The distressing situation of women in Pakistan demonstrated that Pakistan had failed to observe the requirements of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. 

Asociacion HazteOir.org reminded that Catalonia was one of the 19 regions of Spain, and that those wanting independence for Catalonia were not the majority in Spain.  Catalonian politicians were on trial for sedition, rebellion and misspending of public funds, with all legal guarantees.  Many countries across the world, including Germany, Norway, Peru and the United States, had regulated the indivisibility of their countries.  Sovereignty was something belonging to the entire population of the country, and not just to one group.

European Union of Public Relations reminded that gender discrimination was a serious concern for modern societies and a cornerstone of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  However, Pakistan, which was a signatory of the declaration, still lagged behind.  The majority of children without education in Pakistan were girls, due to factors such as gender discrimination, child labour, early marriage, sexual harassment and attacks.  Pakistan did not have any national laws that prevented gender exploitation in employment or gender pay gap.

African Regional Agricultural Credit Association noted that Pakistan, as a signatory of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, had obligations to uphold the rights of women.  With crimes against women, including domestic violence, honour killings, and female genital mutilation, Pakistan was one of the most unsafe countries for women in the world.

Commission to Study the Organization of Peace said that being physically and psychologically healthy was a human right.  In Pakistan, vulnerability engulfed rural children, the elderly and pregnant women.  Pakistan ranked the third highest in the world according to the number of women dying in childbirth.  Women lacked the opportunity to make their own health-related decisions as the authorities did not have their wellbeing at heart.   

United Schools International reminded that Pakistan was signatory of numerous declarations and resolutions on gender equality.  Despite that, Pakistan was not active in implementing measures towards gender equality.  It had one of the lowest rankings in the world when it came to gender equality.  Conditions for women in rural areas were marked by low literacy and unpaid work in the agriculture sector.  

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development stressed that Sudan was still facing undeclared economic sanctions, blatantly implemented by many Western countries.  Sudan also continued to be subjected to systematic campaigns by foreign forces and organizations, aimed at fuelling violence and armed conflict.  Despite promises of development, technical assistance and capacity building, Sudan had not received any significant share of that support.  Although it supported the fight against trafficking and terrorism, Sudan had not received assistance.

Prahar drew attention to the disproportionate burden that indigenous women had had to face for several decades in northern India.  Thousands of women had been widowed as their husbands had been subject to extrajudicial killings.  They were branded as members of terrorist organizations and excluded from social security schemes.  In Manipur they had gone to Supreme court to ask for justice.  The organization urged the Council to ask India to repeal discriminatory practices against indigenous women.

International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations stated that tens of thousands of young people across 120 countries were manifesting against the failure the international community to address climate change.  They were putting pressure on Governments to take decisions to reduce the rising global temperatures.  The Movement called on States to create a Special Rapporteur on climate change, and invited States and civil society groups to suggest discussion proposals for the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

Action of Human Movement (AHM)called attention to 89,000 Tamil war widows and between 60,000 and 80,000 women-led households in Sri Lanka, as a result of the conflict, all vulnerable to psychosocial conditions.  Women who had left their homes for income generating activities frequently faced sexual harassment.  That was the result of a highly militarized environment, and the organization therefore called on the Council to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court and to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Sri Lanka.

Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social denounced constant aggression against Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), stating that the United Sates was attempting to start a civil war in Venezuela and create conditions for a military intervention, despite the fact that the Venezuelan people had democratically chosen their own path.  The organization rejected Colombia’s decision to grant access to its land for the purpose of the so-called medical relief effort.  The only thing that should be on the table was dialogue to preserve peace in Venezuela.

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy insisted that the Tamil diaspora was telling blatant lies about Sri Lanka’s armed forces, who had supplied Tamils with food rations and medicines on the battlefield during the civil war.  There was no single evidence that the Sri Lankan forces had committed any war crimes and those rumours were entirely funded by the Tamil diaspora.

Center for Environmental and Management Studies called for support for all human rights in Pakistan where one third of girls were not attending primary school.  Only 13 per cent of girls were at school.  Women were not expected to appear in the public domain of men so as to keep them under the boots of repression.  Education was considered poison for women. 

International Association for Democracy in Africa said that Pakistan was one of the most unsafe countries for women in the world.  There was an increasing amount of violence against women and girls, including rapes, honour killings, domestic violence, and acid attacks.  In addition, more than 73 per cent of workers, most of them women, had no social protection, and the gender pay gap had increased to 39 per cent.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/47E