19 March 2018
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
In the general debate, speakers said the Universal Periodic Review remained a remarkable achievement. It was an action-oriented mechanism and platform for assessing achievements as well as challenges to all States in implementing their human rights obligations. Most States asserted their commitment to the Universal Periodic Review. Increased technical assistance was identified as pivotal to ensuring proper implementation of the recommendations. Noting the relevance of the universality of the review process, several speakers voiced concern over attempts to erode the basis of the process and its inter-governmental character. Others regretted that States did not ensure implementation of recommendations. Country specific situations and violations were referred to.
Taking part in the discussion were: Togo, on behalf of the African Group; Viet Nam, on behalf of the Association of South East Asian Nations; Bulgaria, on behalf of the European Union; Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group; South Sudan, on behalf of a group of countries; Russian Federation, on behalf of a group of countries; Tunisia; Cuba; China; Venezuela; Iraq; Georgia; Kenya; Sierra Leone; Israel; Council of Europe; Moldova; Morocco; and Botswana.
Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: International Lesbian and Gay Association, in a joint statement with Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland and International Service for Human Rights; Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture; Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain; Iraqi Development Organization; Alsalam Foundation; European Union of Public Relations; Canners International Permanent Committee; UPR Info; Advocates for Human Rights; Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation; African Regional Agricultural Credit Association; Centre for Environment and Management Studies; International Association for Democracy in Africa; United Schools International; Commission to Study the Organization of Peace; World Environment and Resources Council; Pan African Union for Science and Technology; Organization for Defending Victims of Violence; Conseil international pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l’Homme; World Muslim Congress; Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik; International Human Rights Association of American Minorities; United Villages; Solidarity Switzerland-Guinea; Association of World Citizens; Indian Council of South America; Guinea Medical Mutual Association; Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee; International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Recontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme; Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul; ABC Tamil Oli; Alliance Creative Community Project; Association culturelle des tamouls en France; Association des étudiants tamouls de France; International Solidarity for Africa; International Educational Development; Colombian Commission of Jurists; Tourner la page; Association Thendral; Tamil World; Association for the Victims of the world; L’Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie; Action of Human Movement; International Humanist and Ethical Union; United Nations Watch; Internaitonal-Lawyers.Org; International Buddhist Relief Organisation; Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association; Centre for Organisation Research and Education; Amnesty International; and Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, (in a joint statement with Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries and Réseau International des Droits Humains RIDH).
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This evening, it will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
General Debate on the Universal Periodic Review
Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, reiterated the great importance of the Universal Periodic Review as a cooperative intergovernmental mechanism. However, a number of challenges remained with regard to the implementation of recommendations by States under review, which was why technical assistance had a critical role in implementing recommendations.
Viet Nam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, underlined the importance of the Universal Periodic Review as an intergovernmental, action-oriented mechanism and platform for assessing achievements as well as challenges to all States in implementing their human rights obligations. All States were on an equal footing under the Universal Periodic Review.
Bulgaria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it had been a remarkable achievement that 193 States had had their human rights record examined twice and 42 States three times. Though the number of 57,000 recommendations issued by the States and the average acceptance rate of 73 per cent sounded impressive, for the Universal Periodic Review to have a real impact, effective implementation of the recommendations was crucial.
Jordan, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said it widely approved of the Universal Periodic Review. While it appreciated the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it declared its reservations regarding the website material posted by the Office. It reminded that the Universal Periodic Review process was clearly outlined in paragraphs 15-19 of resolution 51, which stipulated that this process could not be changed unilaterally. It asked the Office to provide objective reasons for such an initiative.
South Sudan, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said these governments were pleased by the support rendered through the Trust Fund, which had enabled them to deepen the understanding of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. This mechanism assisted countries in developing frameworks for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Council and other Member States were strongly encouraged to continue to assist the least developed countries and small island developing States in this direction.
Russian Federation, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, referred to the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights where the Commissioner had underlined some recommendations which he emphasized for States to report on. The group reminded that all recommendations made in the Universal Periodic Review had equal importance, and that providing hierarchy was not acceptable. Sending such letters on behalf of the High Commissioner was not acceptable, especially having in mind that these had been prioritized by civil society groups.
Tunisia said the Universal Periodic Review constituted a tool to strengthen cooperation, and foster dialogue and positive engagement in the Council. It was therefore important to avoid its politicization. It was important to address issues during the Universal Periodic Review, thus enabling countries to build capacity and follow up. It emphasized the vital role in ensuring compliance with international obligations. Tunisia had developed mechanisms to promote the inclusion of civil society and human rights defenders.
Cuba reaffirmed its commitment to the Universal Periodic Review and urged everyone to continue working to consolidate their work. It expressed concern about the attempts to erode the basis of the Universal Periodic Review and its inter-governmental character. Cuba objected to the publication of video recordings of the adoption of Universal Periodic Review outcomes.
China attached great importance to the Universal Periodic Review and interacted with all stakeholders to promote human rights. It called on all parties to respect the principles of transparency, impartiality and non-politicization when participating in the Universal Periodic Review. Cooperation was vital for the implementation of the recommendations by developing countries.
Venezuela emphasized that the Universal Periodic Review made it possible for countries to address their human rights challenges. Impartiality, non-interference and constructive cooperation among States should govern that mechanism. Venezuela rejected attempts of politicization by certain countries which manipulated human rights issues against the people of the South.
Iraq noted that the Universal Periodic Review could not be considered universal or global without the participation of civil society. It was the most effective tool in the hands of the Human Rights Council. Indeed, it was a tool of prevention that should be further strengthened.
Georgia stressed that the effective implementation of recommendations must be a key policy priority for all States. The Government had developed a national human rights action plan for the period 2018-2020 to incorporate most of the recommendations accepted by Georgia during the previous Universal Periodic Review. A voluntary mid-term report to assess progress was being developed.
Kenya agreed that the Universal Periodic Review was key to United Nations human rights mechanisms. Through it, all countries had made progress in addressing human rights issues. In addressing violations, all sides must be heard and all human rights must be treated on the same footing. Kenya stressed that without the protection of human rights, there would be no development.
Sierra Leone said the Universal Periodic Review had led to Member States taking action against human rights violations. Yet persistent human rights abusers had gone through the Universal Periodic Review process. Success of the process relied on the successful implementation of recommendations. Sierra Leone asked if systematic refusal to consider recommendations could perpetuate conflicts.
Israel said its recent Universal Periodic Review process included discussion with a wide variety of stakeholders. Israeli representatives had participated in honest dialogue in the Human Rights Council. Israel called on Member States to focus on non-politicized dialogue to advance the promotion and protection of human rights.
Iran said the Universal Periodic Review was a cooperative and constructive mechanism based on dialogue and equal treatment of all States. In light of this, all States were invited to engage in constructive dialogue based on the principles of universality and impartiality. The manipulation of human rights mechanisms was not acceptable. The mechanism should preserve its universality in the obligation of States for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Council of Europe said the Universal Periodic Review was a unique process which involved the review of the human rights records of all Member States, designed to ensure equal treatment for every country. The number of recommendations, more than 57,000, and the average acceptance rate, 73 per cent, were impressive. However, for the mechanism to have real impact on the ground, effective implementation of the accepted recommendations from previous cycles was crucial. It was thus important to have recommendations that were action oriented, specific and measureable.
Republic of Moldova highly valued the Universal Periodic Review as one of the most successful mechanisms to advance the promotion and protection of human rights. The Republic of Moldova had undergone evaluation in November 2016, and this exercise had served not only as an important assessment of the State’s maturity to respect its human rights obligations and commitments, but also as a sound foundation for the discussions on the new document – the Third National Human Rights Action Plan.
Morocco said the Universal Periodic Review was an opportunity to take part in constructive dialogue and cooperation as a means of preventing violations. Morocco emphasized the respect of rules which had made the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council such a success. The principle of constructive dialogue had to be respected, and based on objective and reliable information. The debate should not be selective and politicized. All Member States had taken part in the first and second cycles.
Botswana said the Universal Periodic Review remained the largest participatory platform for States to examine and reaffirm collective values, efforts and aspirations. However more could be done to ensure effective participation. The provision of financial support for participation and reporting alone was not enough. There was a need to increase technical assistance, particularly on the implementation of accepted recommendations by least developed countries, small island developing countries and other countries facing special challenges.
International Lesbian and Gay Association, in a joint statement with Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit - COC Nederland and International Service for Human Rights, noted that many human rights defenders could not operate freely. When engaging in follow-up activities, they might risk suffering, intimidation, reprisals or imprisonment. The Bureau was called to create and implement a comprehensive policy on the prevention, prosecution and investigation of reprisal in the Universal Periodic Review follow-up.
Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, in a joint statement, said that the Universal Periodic Review had turned into an opportunity for political committees. Bahrain had accepted numerous recommendations allowing for freedom of expression but had provided an ambiguous report not reflecting reality on the ground. Sudan did not cooperate with the International Criminal Court and had also provided an unrealistic report.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc noted that the United Arab Emirates had failed to address its second cycle recommendations and continued to criminalize the right to free expression, assembly and association. Prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor remained in arbitrary imprisonment and prominent academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith had been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Iraqi Development Organization, in a joint statement, expressed their dismay at the worsening situation in Yemen and continuous violations of human rights there. The raids led by the Saudi alliance had destroyed hundreds of schools and hospitals, resulting in huge numbers of Yemenis being unable to attend school and obtain health protection. An international commission of inquiry had to be established by the Council or the situation in Yemen should be referred to the Security Council.
Alsalam Foundation pointed to Bahrain’s failure to comply with recommendations put forth in its third round Universal Periodic Review. In June of 2017 the Government had shut down the last independent newspaper, a decision that was having noticeable negative effects on the upcoming electoral process. Bahrain was also failing to hold human rights violators accountable.
European Union of Public Relations stressed that everyone had the right to change their freedom of religion or belief. Unfortunately, such freedoms were not enjoyed by the Ahmadi population of Pakistan. No Ahmadi had been found to participate in terrorist activities, yet the level of hate they faced was immense.
Canners International Permanent Committee said Czechia was a successful democracy in which civil rights were generally respected. Electoral institutions carried out their activities in a transparent manner. Civil society organizations were well developed and enjoyed protection from the Government. Czechia had a properly designed social support system.
UPR Info said the Universal Periodic Review implied the participation of all national stakeholders during all phases of the process. The process must be inclusive and recommendations must be context specific. Non-fulfillment of basic rights constituted a breeding ground for social divisions, conflict and extremism.
Advocates for Human Rights said it was important to ensure that human rights organizations had the opportunity to share their expertise with the Council. Member States should consider expanding support and assistance for collaboration with civil society organizations on the Universal Periodic Review advocacy.
Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation said sustainable and strong pressure from States was necessary in order to force Sri Lanka to implement its Universal Periodic Review recommendations. Many had called on Sri Lanka to ratify the Convention against Torture, and had given recommendations on enforced disappearance, achieving accountability for past and present crimes, and speeding up demilitarization and settlement of displaced persons.
African Regional Agricultural Credit Association asked what had the Pakistani authorities done to combat rising intolerance? Over the last several decades, hundreds of thousands of people from religious and sectarian minorities had been attacked, accused of blasphemy, persecuted and targeted, while the Government remained a spectator.
Centre for Environmental and Management Studies said education played a pivotal role in promoting tolerance and pluralism. However, there were countries in the world where the education system was driven by patriarchal and fundamentalist agendas. This was the case in Pakistan where textbooks fuelled the promotion of intolerance and discrimination against religious minorities, creating a situation where non-Muslims were treated as second class citizens.
International Association for Democracy in Africa drew the Council’s attention to blasphemy laws in Pakistan which had been used to crush those with different beliefs. In overall 80 per cent of the cases the accused were later acquitted. Court rooms were hostile, filled with members of extremists and judges were behaving like grieving parties.
United Schools International said that in Switzerland, the Penal Code prohibited any discrimination and Switzerland had been ranked as the ninth most peaceful country in the world. There were no reports of political incriminations. In October 2017, Switzerland had increased aid to Rakhine state and its financial contribution to the Rohingya minority, enabling thousands of people to obtain access to water, food and healthcare.
Commission to Study the Organization of Peace said that forced conversion in Pakistan was a new form of violent extremism, making a mockery of the country’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was affecting Hindu teenage girls the most, and according to estimates at least 1,000 girls had been converted to Islam. This was followed by an expansion of madrassas which played a key role in spreading conversion.
World Environment and Resources Council said that situation in Pakistan was nothing short of a living hell where attacks had been killing hundreds. There had been attacks on Shia mosques, churches and temples, blasphemy allegations and recently there had been two bombings in two churches in Lahore. Pakistan ranked as the fifth worst country in the world when it had come to the persecution of Christians.
Pan African Union for Science and Technology said the human rights situation in Pakistan had become a global human rights concern. The Pakistani military had committed serious violations of human rights, including enforced disappearances. Minorities were facing the brunt of these human rights violations.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence identified the inadequacies of technical and contextual discussions and limited time allotted to non-governmental organizations to participate in discussions as clear shortfalls of the Universal Periodic Review. The organization urged States not to vote for human rights violators for membership in the Human Rights Council.
Conseil international pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l’Homme said that countries of the Gulf, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were committing serious violations of human rights. The organization called for an extraordinary session to discuss the thousands of stateless persons living in Kuwait.
World Muslim Congress commended Pakistan for its willingness to protect the rights of minorities. Pakistan guaranteed seats in legislative bodies at all levels of government for minorities. Pakistan was urged to strictly adhere to the five per cent quota for minorities in the labour market.
Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik noted that despite Iran’s acceptance of the recommendations, they remained without actions and poverty in the country had increased. The minimum wage limit was four times less than the Government’s poverty line. The organization urged the Council to take active steps to hold Member States accountable for their commitments.
International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) reminded that the Human Rights Council had not been successful in holding non-State actors accountable for human rights violations, citing the severely deteriorated human rights situation in Yemen and abuses perpetrated mostly by the Houthi militia. How could the Universal Periodic Review be effective at times of armed conflicts, especially to protect human rights?
United Villages welcomed the efforts of Switzerland to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, despite the constraints of the continental and international context. Switzerland had interacted well with the Universal Periodic Review and the Special Procedures. It had ratified many international conventions and protocols, and accommodated immigrants on humanitarian basis.
Solidarity Switzerland-Guinea urged members of the Human Rights Council to stand up for the justice and legitimate rights of the Sri Lankan State, which was being victimized for human rights violations, and impose a moratorium on pursuing any further measures with respect to Sri Lanka based on resolution 30/1 until fair investigation of human rights issues was complete.
Association of World Citizens highlighted the importance of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism as it had positively contributed to the improvement of human rights. Yemen had accepted a recommendation to ratify the Rome Statute but the coup d’état of Houthi militia had paralyzed the implementation of the recommendations and made the human rights situation disastrous.
Indian Council of South America (CISA) noted that when it came to the Universal Periodic Review of Switzerland, Swiss companies had to be called in for an oversight concerning the negative impact on human rights in conflict areas, namely in occupied Palestine. Switzerland was called on to support the expert advisory committee on illicit funds.
Guinea Medical Mutual Association said that during the war against terrorism there had been suicide attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However, the international accountability that was later advocated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had been highly biased, even now after 30 years of war.
Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee said that the legislative system of Pakistan provided checks and balances but the Government was asked to provide police order in a true sense, providing necessary safeguards against the abuse of power. Media groups had to refrain from hate speech and respect State rules.
International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) said that in some cases States’ political expediency and self-interest were overriding concerns for blatant human rights violations. The Human Rights Council was urged to deepen parliamentary and civil society involvement during the Universal Periodic Review process to render it more inclusive.
Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l'homme (RADDHO) said the high number of recommendations not being implemented by several Member States greatly weakened the Universal Periodic Review process. Empty pledges to prosecute human rights violators were still being made.
Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul said violence against minorities in India were serious concerns. The Government was failing to prosecute those responsible for attacks. Member States had raised concerns over the violence and India had failed to make any tangible commitment to addressing the issue. Critiques of the Government were also leading to increased violence.
ABC Tamil Oli said the Tamil people in Sri Lanka were struggling to make ends meet, while the Government remained unwilling to prosecute the crimes committed against them. The pain and loss suffered by the Tamil community was understood by no one, including the Government. It urged the Council to call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to take seriously the recommendations on abductions and disappearances.
Alliance Creative Community Project said Sri Lanka had always been prejudiced against the Tamil community, even under British colonial rule. Those involved in the pogroms of 1983 had never been brought to justice and the victims had never been compensated for the loss of life and property. Their language, nationality and religion were not respected. The 2009 war had resulted in the genocide of the Tamils. The global powers should be ashamed for supporting the Government of Sri Lanka.
Association culturelle des tamouls en France said the steady de-prioritization of justice was being witnessed in Australia. There was ongoing impunity for those who committed violations and crimes against the 18,000 refugees in the shelters on Manus Island and Nauru who had suffered torture, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings. The Human Rights Council could not remain silent while States weakened this human rights mechanism through empty promises.
Association des etudiants tamoul de France, emphasized the need for Sri Lanka to promote and protect human rights. No progress had been made on any issue concerning the Tamils. On the contrary, in the recently concluded local government elections, Government officials had boasted that they had saved their colleagues from criminal prosecutions. It called upon Sir Lanka to voluntarily accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
International Solidarity for Africa asked that Sri Lanka be referred to the International Criminal Court for an independent investigation of war crimes. The Sri Lankan Government had waged war against the Tamil minority and it was deliberately delaying the pursuit of justice. Any further delay of the delivery of justice would result in the loss of credible evidence of the war crimes.
International Educational Development questioned the efficacy of the Universal Periodic Review in promoting compliance with human rights standards and noted the high demands on the time and resources of the Council, the secretariat, civil society and States. The Universal Periodic Review was not one for actually addressing pressing issues as it had no teeth. An example was the situation of the Hmong peoples in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
Colombian Commission of Jurists reminded of Colombia’s refusal to ratify the Optional Protocols to the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2013 Colombia had made a commitment to civil society to establish a joint follow-up mechanism for the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, which it had failed to implement.
Tourner la page noted that the United Nations had failed to protect the Tamils of Sri Lanka from genocide. The terrible massacre of Tamils by the Sri Lankan armed forces justified their right to self-determination. The Universal Periodic Review sessions did not allow for the participation of civil society. The organization thus asked for proper implementation of the recommendations by the Sri Lankan Government.
Association Thendral said that two years after the passing of the resolution on Sri Lanka, there were still no signs of rendering justice to Tamil victims. Sri Lankan armed forces had grabbed land in north and east Sri Lanka, denying Tamils of their right to settle on their land. The Council was asked to address the issue and urge Sri Lanka to sign the Statute of the International Criminal Court
Tamil World spoke of a case of abduction by Sri Lankan forces, where a ransom had to be paid and a whole family had been subjected to military harassment. Eleven persons had been kidnapped and killed and no one had been held accountable, and the Council was asked to address this and similar issues.
Association for the Victims of the world said that Universal Periodic Review had to consider the rights of people with Down Syndrome. A human rights respecting world should not approve the practice of terminating pregnancies. There was a need for a paradigm shift to include people with Down Syndrome and not regard them as objects of charity but rather promote inclusive policies.
L’Observatoire Mauritanien des droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie stated that it was about time to render justice to Tamil victims and address some of the worst crimes in the twenty-first century committed by the Sri Lankan Government, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. An international inquiry had to be conducted. The life of rehabilitated war participants had to be ensured in a dignified way.
Action of Human Movement (AHM) said that following Sri Lanka’s previous Universal Periodic Review, the Government had made commitments to address issues of missing persons and of judicial irregularities. Eight years after the genocide of Tamils, the Government had failed to follow-up on these commitments.
International Humanist and Ethical Union said impunity for vigilante violence and forced conversions in Pakistan were serious human rights concerns. The country’s blasphemy laws allowed authorities to charge a disproportionate amount of minorities. These laws violated the right to free expression and legitimized the persecution of minorities.
United Nations Watch was alarmed by the misuse of the Universal Periodic Review process for individual praise. The Human Rights Council was mandated to address violations of human rights. The Universal Periodic Review was meant to be a tool to that end and not a shield for human rights violators.
International-Lawyers.Org stressed the importance of the Universal Periodic Review in relation to pursuing an end to the use of the death penalty. While recommendations were made to Iraq to stop use of the practice, little had been done to implement relevant recommendations. In many States, the death penalty remained a tool of oppression.
International Buddhist Relief Organization rejected the claims by the Tamil groups for undermining sovereignty and putting unitary status in danger. The majority of Tamil-speaking minorities lived outside the north east of Sri Lanka. As such, if land territory was based on ethnicity, this would promote racism. Such a move would be detrimental towards consolidating the rule of law in the country.
Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association MBOSCUDA said the Universal Periodic Review was an effort to promote and protect all. Switzerland had recommended that India review all recommendations. Many had asked India to ratify the conventions it had not acceded to. India had accepted these recommendations. The Association asked the international community to make States act on the recommendations that they had accepted.
Centre for Organization Research and Education said the Universal Periodic Review mechanism had become important. India had to promote more resources for the promotion and protection of human rights. Though it had increased the budget on minorities’ affairs by 12 per cent, challenges remained. The Centre suggested that India learn from Switzerland to raise awareness on minority issues.
Amnesty International found the claims of progress by Egypt to be completely unfounded, given the significant deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt since 2014. Authorities continued to forcibly disappear detainees for as long as seven months, subjecting them to torture and unfair trials, including military trials which may lead to death sentences.
Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, in a joint statement with Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries and Réseau International des Droits Humains (RIDH), drew attention to the fact that reprisals continued to take place against human rights defenders, such as in Guatemala where the Government asked for the source of financing of civil society organizations. It was important that the Council act urgently and send a signal to the Government of Guatemala to stop attacks on human rights defenders.
For use of the information media; not an official record