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Sixty-ninth session,
45th Meeting (PM)
GA/SHC/4121

Human Rights Council ‘Victim of Its Own Success’ as Non-State Actors Create Added Burden, Top Official Tells Third Committee

Reviewing Body’s Annual Report, Delegates Voice Concerns, Criticisms, Calling for Eliminating Double Standards

Crises perpetrated by non-State actors put additional burden on the Human Rights Council’s agenda, that body’s President told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today as he presented his annual report.

“The Human Rights Council is a victim of its own success,” Baudelaire Ndong Ella (Gabon), President of the Human Rights Council said.  The Council’s work took place in a difficult international context, marked by a number of ongoing crises and conflicts perpetrated by non-State actors, he added, describing special sessions organized to address them.

One special session had been organized to address the human rights violations committed in Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS).  As a result, the Council had decided to urgently send a mission of inquiry of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate the atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated by those non-State actors.

To investigate allegations of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Council met in a special session and appointed a specific Commission of Inquiry.  The Council had also established supplementary mechanisms to respond to urgent human rights violations committed in those territories.  In the Central African Republic, violations committed in connection with the civil war and inter-community violence were examined by the Council, resulting in the appointment of an independent expert to follow up on the human rights situation.

Alongside special sessions, the Council held also its regular sessions, considering 215 reports and organizing 57 interactive dialogues with special mandate holders.  A total of 106 resolutions had been adopted, 65 per cent by consensus and rest by vote.  Among those were texts on the use of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations, the protection of human rights defenders, the death penalty and the protection of privacy in the digital age.  The financial implications of those texts amounted to $30 million, an increase from 60 to 75 per cent in comparison to previous years.  Half of the OHCHR’s resources were allocated to mandates approved by the Council, he said, urging Member States to provide supplementary financing.

As the Committee began its general discussion, a representative of Eritrea was among several speakers who had underlined that the universal periodic review was a valid mechanism in promoting human rights because it put the record of every country, rich or poor, big or small, under scrutiny.  However, he criticized the establishment of a special rapporteur and a Commission of Inquiry for his country, especially given the fact that there were no countries that were devoid of human rights problems.  To depend on the report of one individual and one report to determine the destiny of 5 or 6 or 10 million people was a travesty of justice.  Eritrea had been attacked for thinking outside the box and was being targeted by major powers for its strategic location in the Red Sea along a desirable trade route, he said.

Some delegations, including South Africa, called for the elimination of double standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.  A cooperative, impartial and constructive dialogue to address human rights issues was needed, Cuba’s delegate said, urging the Council not to become a tool to defend the interest of hegemonic powers and interests.

Taking a similar line, China’s representative called on the Human Rights Council to uphold the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, which would, in return, improve its credibility and truly provide a platform for effective dialogue.

Also speaking today were representatives of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Portugal, Morocco, Cameroon, United States, Ireland, Panama, and Belarus, Croatia, United States, Japan, Thailand, Brazil, Senegal, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mauritania, Pakistan, Egypt, Norway, Sudan, Iran, Botswana, Latvia, Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan, as well as the European Union Delegation.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 November, to take action on several draft resolutions.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to hear the presentation by the President of the Human Rights Council of the “Report of the Human Rights Council on its twentieth, twenty-first and twenty-second special sessions and on its twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh sessions” (documents A/69/53 and A/68/53/Add.1).  The report was presented in the General Assembly earlier today in line with resolution 65/281, by which the Assembly had decided to maintain the Council’s status of a subsidiary body and to continue allocation of the agenda item to the Assembly and Third Committee.

Presentation of Report and Interactive Dialogue

BAUDELAIRE NDONG ELLA (Gabon), President of the Human Rights Council, said the body’s eighth cycle had taken place in a difficult international context, marked by a number of crises and conflicts perpetrated by non-State actors.  As for the Council’s work, he reported that it had held three regular sessions, considered 215 reports and organized 57 interactive dialogues with special mandate holders.  It also had organized 22 high-level panels, including on the protection of the family, combating female genital mutilation, the use of drones in counter-terrorism military operations, and on the human rights situation in East Ukraine, as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

The Council, he continued, also held three special sessions, in response to specific violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  Regarding Ethiopia’s invitation, made on behalf of the African Group, the Council had examined the violations committed in the Central African Republic in connection with the civil war and inter-community violence.  An independent expert had been appointed to follow up the human rights situation and to support its stabilization.  The Council also had met at Pakistan’s request, made on behalf of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab Group, to investigate allegations of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which had resulted in the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry. 

Another special session, he noted, had been held to discuss the human rights violations committed in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). With the atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated by non-State actors, the Council had decided to urgently send a mission of inquiry of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  It had also appointed or renewed the appointment of 31 special mandate holders and added new thematic mandates, including on the human rights of persons with disabilities and on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights. 

The had also established supplementary mechanisms to respond to urgent human rights violations committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Eritrea, he said, noting its deployment of a team to investigate the abuses in Iraq and to follow up on those allegations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka.  Turning to country-specific situations, he said the Council had followed closely the human rights situations in, among others, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Sudan, Mali, Somalia, Yemen, and South Sudan. 

Turning to the Universal Periodic Review, he noted that 57 countries had been reviewed and that the participation of the countries under consideration had been 100 per cent.  Delegations were represented at the ministerial level, he said, emphasizing that the Periodic Review had gained importance as an essential pillar for the promotion and protection of human rights. 

He reported that 106 resolutions had been adopted, 65 per cent by consensus and 35 by vote.  Among those were texts on the use of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations, the protection of human rights defenders, death penalty and the protection of privacy in digital age.  Some Council resolutions also contained recommendations to the General Assembly, including on the Gaza conflict, on the International Decade of people of African descent, and on Albinism.

The financial implications of those texts, he said, had amounted to 30 million dollars, an increase from 60 to 75 per cent in comparison to previous years.  Half of the OHCHR’s resources were allocated to mandates approved by the Council, he noted, urging Member States to provide supplementary financing. 

“The Human Rights Council is a victim of all its own success”, he said, noting that the number of resolutions, decisions and panels had increased, which affected its workload.  In exploring a possible revision of the Council’s working methods, he stressed that the mandate needed the backing of a strong human rights institution. 

Interactive Dialogue

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates commented on and asked about a more effective institutional relationship between the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, funding of the Office of the High Commissioner, how to improve the Council’s working methods, how to maintain civil society participation, how to foster the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, how to increase the Council’s visibility on the ground and how to best respond human rights crisis around the world.

Mr. NDONG ELLA, thanking delegations who had expressed their support to the work of the Council, addressed questions based on four themes:  the improvement of working methods; civil society participation and consultations with other stakeholders; issues of financing Council’s activities; and the visibility of the Council and its activities.

Regarding the working methods, he said the Council had looked at the work of his predecessor and had decided to bring new methods that would foster transparency.  Despite the difficulty of reviewing working methods, that change needed to take place.  While the Council’s agenda was extremely overloaded, there had been an increase in the amount of decisions and recommendations, arising from the Universal Periodic Review.

Referring to the Council’s resolution 24/24, he underlined that it had partnered with civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to gather their support.  Drawing attention to the important role played by civil society members, who had attended Council meetings and contributed greatly to its work, he warned that there was a growing level of intimidation towards them.

Regarding the funding of the Office of the High Commissioner, he said there was no magic recipe or specific formula to finance the Council.  The United Nations needed to be able to sustain the Council’s activities, pointing out that its regular budget had not kept pace with the increasing number of mandates.

Concerning the Council’s visibility, he encouraged the enhancement of existing cooperation between New York and Geneva.  On the national level, he said “the Council hears more about the problems, but less about the progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights”.  In that regard, he noted that there was always room for improvement.

Participating in the dialogue were speakers representing Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Portugal, Morocco, Cameroon, United States, Ireland, Panama and Belarus, as well as the delegation of the European Union.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), also speaking on behalf of Austria and Slovenia, and associating with the European Union, expressed alarm about the increasing exposure of children to human rights violations in armed conflict, especially in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.  It was essential that the Council assumed a decisive stance towards that issue.  Further, his delegation advocated the principle of equality for all and firmly believed in the obligation to protect all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Croatia also fully supported the Council’s recent adoption of the resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity, which was in itself a great achievement and significant step forward.  This year, the European Union had marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, who were among the most vulnerable groups.  Democratic Governments had an obligation to encourage human rights defenders and create a safe and enabling environment for their work.

JILL DERDERIAN (United States) noted with regret the Human Rights Council’s “myopic focus on Israel”.  She welcomed the increased importance granted to the promotion and protection of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.  She also welcomed the increased attention given to civil society.  Recognizing the pressing human right concerns in various countries and regions, including in Sri Lanka and Iraq, she supported the Council’s attention to violations in Iran, Eritrea and Myanmar, among others.  She also expressed regrets on the scrutiny and bias faced by Israel, emphasizing that the situation should be handled in a general agenda item.  On unilateral sanctions, she said they were issues belonging in the Security Council and not in the Human Rights Council. 

SHAOJUN YAO (China) said the work of the Council had attracted attention and faced multiple challenges.  He commended its work dealing with peoples with disabilities, women and children, the right to development and combating impunity.  He also noted the challenges facing the Council, including a burdened agenda.  The reduction of the time allocated to Member States to discuss issues, the continuing “naming and shaming” of some countries, as well as attitudes of political confrontation could exacerbate those human rights discussions.  He called on the Human Rights Council to uphold the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, which would, in return, improve its credibility and truly provide a platform for effective dialogue.

SHOKO HARUKI (Japan) said that her country had issued a standing invitation to the Council’s special procedures and would continue to fully cooperate with them.  Moreover, together with Ireland, Chile, Sierra Leone and Tunisia, Japan had submitted a resolution on civil society space, which had been adopted at the Human Rights Council.  The resolution recognized the key role of civil society in addressing important issues, including the promotion and protection of human rights, and she looked forward to deepening the discussion on that topic. 

She also expressed her support for the implementation of the Human Rights Council resolution 24/24, and said that the Council must have a budget, even amid constrained resources, to address its necessary mandates.

PARINTHORN APIMYANUNT (Thailand) said that her delegation was pleased to see that the Council’s resolutions in 2014 encompassed a wide range of issues and covered a broad spectrum of society, including the vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized populations.  Thailand, in its capacities as both a former member and an observer country at the Council, had always emphasized the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in order to bridge the gap that still existed among States.  That notion was clearly reflected in the resolution “Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights”, which her country had led annually during the past years.  Further, Thailand firmly believed that human rights must go hand in hand with development.  Her country would work closely with the Council and all members to ensure the protection of the rights of all peoples, she concluded.

GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) noted that since the Vienna Conference it was agreed that there was a single human rights spectrum from economic, social, and cultural rights to political and civil rights.  It was thus startling that, year after year, the resolution on the right to development should be called to a vote in both Geneva and New York.  That was an attitude that should be reviewed in order to re-establish the common purpose of promoting human rights among developed and developing countries.  Noting the Committee’s work in recognizing that human rights and development were mutually reinforcing, he said his country had actively engaged in the negotiations of the resolution on the activities of the so-called “vulture funds”, with a view that reduced debt burdens and increased fiscal capacity contributed to the creation of the necessary conditions for the realization of human rights.

NDEYE OUMY GUEYE (Senegal) said that with human rights a major pillar of the Organization, it was crucial to provide adequate financing for its advancement in its multidimensional forms.  Welcoming the increasing success of the Universal Periodic Review, she said that process ensured equitable treatment of human rights issues.  Senegal reaffirmed that the family was a central unit of society and an important vehicle for education, women’s empowerment and children’s rights.  Her country welcomed the roundtable on the protection of the family.  The General Assembly’s launch the International Decade of Persons of African Descent would be an opportunity to advance the momentum for protecting the rights of people of African descent.  Also crucial was to advocate for all economic, social and cultural rights, including to development. Far from being competitive, that was complementary to other rights.

KHIANE PHANSOURIVONG (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said that the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism should uphold the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, non-discrimination, avoidance of double standards and non-politicization.  His Government had assigned relevant ministries and agencies to incorporate the review’s recommendations relevant to their respective roles and functions.  Furthermore, his country had ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2012, and was currently preparing for the second cycle of a Universal Periodic Review, scheduled for January and February 2015.  It had also decided to present, for the first time, its candidature to the Human Rights Council for the term 2016–2018, he concluded.

The Chair invited the representative of Mauritania to speak on behalf of the African Group.  Raising a point of order, the delegate of South Africa said that for a statement to be delivered on behalf of the African Group, it had to be approved by the entire membership.  The statement about to be delivered by the delegate of Mauritania contained items that were not in line with the policies of her delegation.  The delivery of that statement was not sanctioned by the Group, she said.

Responding, the representative of Mauritania said that the African Group had approved his draft statement that morning, with the exception of South Africa.  Therefore, he said, his statement was being delivered on behalf of all countries of the African Group, with the exception of South Africa.

The Chair stated that since there was no procedure in place for delivering a statement on behalf of a Group in that manner, the Group should conduct internal discussions to resolve the matter.  In the meantime, the Third Committee would proceed with the speakers’ list.

TSHOLOFELO TSHEOLE (South Africa) said that the principle of non-discrimination remained the cornerstone of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Council’s work.  Turning to the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she said that the area of economic, social and cultural rights needed to be further reinforced and strengthened.  It was also critical that programmes, decisions and resolutions were fully implemented and funds were allocated in that respect.  Concluding, she emphasized that the issue of reprisals must be dealt wisely, calling for impartiality and the elimination of double standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba) said the Council needed to solve the issue of double standards.  He encouraged a cooperative, impartial and constructive dialogue to address human rights issues, noting that the Council should not become a tool to defend the interest of hegemonic powers and interests.  For its part, his country would continue to promote and protect human rights, making sure that they were accessible to all.

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan) said that his country had favoured a balanced approach that had placed a focus on civil and political as well economic, social, and cultural rights.  Discussions on the post-2015 agenda at the United Nations had made it very clear that rights could not be fully protected without eliminating poverty and promoting inclusive growth and empowering all sections of society.  Pakistan hoped that the Council worked more vigorously to work towards the realization of the right to development.  In March, the Human Rights Council had adopted resolution 25/22 and had expressed concern about the use of armed drones leading to violations of international laws.  Armed drone strikes had a devastating impact on children, families and communities, affecting safety, education and religious practices.  The use of armed drones in Pakistan’s territories violated the country’s sovereignty and he called for the immediate cessation of such attacks.  The Human Rights Council should coordinate with other human rights bodies to protect civilians who were under attack from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS).

EMAD MORCOS MATTAR (Egypt) said that the Human Rights Council had an important role to play in supporting the efforts of Member States to promote human rights.  The Council should conduct its work while maintaining a balanced approach, avoiding politicization, selectivity and double standards.  It was crucial to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.  Egypt was concerned about the politicization of Council resolutions and the attempt to enforce certain controversial notions, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, through the Council without building an international consensus.  Such challenges were leading the Organization away from cooperation and towards a confrontation.  The international community must ensure that human rights were not reduced to the “trusteeship of a few”.

ERLING HOEM (Norway) said the Council remained relevant and able to make important decisions.  Cross-regional agreements and alliances increased its relevance and credibility, and conducting its business in that way had become the rule rather than the exception.  His delegation was grateful for the extended mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, as well as the condemnation of reprisals, and the increasing partnership with civil society.  However, those gains in the Council’s “normative sphere” had not been translated into an improved situation for civil society and human rights defenders.  Member States had a responsibility to support the work of OHCHR and the Council.

MOHAMED ZAKARIA (Sudan) said his Government had promoted several initiatives to promote and protect the rights of children, persons with disabilities, and women.  He pointed, in particular, Sudan’s accession to the relevant conventions with a view to enacting effective national laws.  Reiterating his country’s cooperation with all mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights, he listed relevant national accomplishments.  The Special Procedures mandate should be carried out without politicization and with respect for the code of conduct for mandate-holders. 

MOHSEN EMADI (Iran) said his country greatly valued the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which considered the human rights situations of all Member States on an equal footing, without selectivity or discrimination.  Within the four-year timespan, Iran had constantly worked towards further promotion and protection of human rights, through implementation of the Periodic Review’s recommendations.  To that end, the Government had designed new policies and adopted new laws and regulations.  However, despite the existing cooperative mechanisms, certain countries were keen to politicize the human rights issue.  Iran strongly rejected such acts as they were not conducive to the Council’s effective and impartial work.

CHARLES T. NTWAAGAE (Botswana) said that his country, as a member of the Human Rights Council, participated in its proceedings, and its commitment to advancing that body’s work was a top national priority.  Botswana continued to implement the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, including through legislative amendments aimed at promoting human rights.  However, it still required much technical assistance and capacity-building to make significant strides in meeting its human rights obligations.  He also expressed his concern about the “detrimental effect” of the Council’s budgetary constraints on its ability to implement its decisions, and he urged OHCHR to streamline its operations.

JANIS MAZEIKS (Latvia), aligning his delegation with the statement delivered on behalf of the European Union, said that the Human Rights Council was the main universal body for the promotion of human rights around the world.  The Council should continue to provide technical assistance where it was needed most.  His country had demonstrated its commitment to human rights through various bilateral and multilateral initiatives and in January 2015, Latvia would become a member of the Council.  His country was one of the first to issue a standing invitation to all special procedures mandate holders and encouraged all countries to do the same.  The Universal Periodic Review had proven to be a valuable mechanism for scrutinizing human rights issues, he said, noting that Latvia had encouraged all States to preserve the effectiveness of the mechanism by undergoing the review and implementing its recommendations.  After regaining independence, his country had undergone a democratic transition and now was sharing its experience and lessons with other Member States.

WI SEOKYOON (Republic of Korea) noted with appreciation the Council’s approval of more than 100 resolutions in 2014 covering an expanding range of issues, including one on civil society space.  Still, the Council should continue to address existing core human rights concerns and focus on ensuring its own effectiveness, given its limited resources.  He further expressed appreciation for its role in addressing the “dire human rights situation” in Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea through its Commissions of Inquiry.  He hoped that the Commission’s recommendations on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would be implemented.  Commending the Universal Periodic Review as an opportunity for States to examine their own human rights conditions, he said that to ensure the review’s effectiveness, States must translate accepted recommendations into concrete action.

GIRMA ASMEROM TESFAY (Eritrea) said that his country believed that the Universal Periodic Review remained a valid mechanism in promoting human rights because it put the human rights record of every country, rich or poor, big or small, under scrutiny.  Every year, the number of country mandates adopted by the Human Rights Council was growing.  The establishment of a special rapporteur and a Commission of Inquiry for Eritrea was not only redundant but also a waste of time and resources that could not be justified, especially given the fact that there were no countries that were devoid of human rights problems.  The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and other relevant bodies must conduct a thorough discussion as to whether the Council’s funding requests were justified.  To depend on the report of one individual and on only one report to determine the destiny of 5 or 6 or 10 million people was a travesty of justice.  Eritrea had been attacked for thinking outside the box and was being targeted by major powers for its strategic location in the Red Sea along a desirable trade route.  His country was the most peaceful country in a very volatile region.  It must be commended, not attacked, he concluded.

ELVIRA AZIMOVA (Kazakhstan) said that the Council was the basic platform for dialogue on thematic issues relating to human rights.  Her country fully supported the Council’s work and would continue to participate fully in that work.  Eight special rapporteurs had visited Kazakhstan so far.  The country had also taken various steps to promote human rights nationwide.  Since the establishment of the Council, her country had shown itself to be effective.  The Universal Periodic Review was not only a dialogue between diplomats, but it also involved experts and specialists.  Her country recognized that the Council must continue to work on building trust among the membership by searching for consensus decisions and preventing the politicization of human rights issues.  It was necessary to continually improve the working methods of the Council and the special procedures.

For information media. Not an official record.