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Seventieth Session,
47th Meeting (PM)
GA/SHC/4154

At Third Committee Debate, Human Rights Council President Says High Response Level Marked Body’s Active Engagement in Cases of Urgent, Chronic Violations

As the Human Rights Council was moving into its tenth year, its record had testified to a high level of responsiveness while it continued to be actively engaged in cases of urgent and chronic violations, that body’s president told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today while presenting its annual report during an interactive dialogue the preceded a general discussion.

Summarizing decisions made in the course of 2015, Human Rights Council President Joachim Rücker said actions had included taking up 17 panel discussions on issues ranging from the death penalty to unilateral coercive measures, renewing country-specific mandates and establishing two new thematic special procedures on the rights of persons with albinism and on the right to privacy.  In addition to reports presented by the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea and by the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Council had held a special session on human rights abuses and violations committed by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

Turning to the universal periodic review, he encouraged all States to implement previously agreed recommendations and submit their mid-term and follow-up reports.  Despite remaining challenges, he welcomed the “self-restraint” exerted by concerned States, which had contributed to preserving the mechanism’s constructive, consensual and non-politicized nature.

Also drawing attention to the cases of intimidation, threats and reprisals against civil society organizations, he underlined the need for their protection as their work was at the core of the Council and of human rights.

As the Committee began its general discussion, several delegations expressed their continuing commitment to the Council’s work in the protection and promotion of human rights around the world.  Norway’s speaker described the universal periodic review as “one of the most promising tools” of the Council.  In order to close the implementation gap, those human rights tools needed to be sharpened, he stressed.

The representative of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the universal periodic review was the most distinct mechanism to help States fulfil their human rights obligations.  To develop the national capacity and implement the recommendations from that mechanism, the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance must be properly resourced to help States, he stressed.

Some delegations called for the elimination of double standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Cuba’s delegate reiterated her Government’s call against politicization and selectivity when considering human rights issues and condemned the use of unilateral coercive measures as an example of misusing human rights for the advancement of political agendas.

Belarus’ speaker noted that the Human Rights Council was increasingly becoming a platform for artificial confrontation.  She hoped that the body would continue its work on the basis of the principles upon which it and the United Nations had been established.

Also speaking today were representatives of Egypt, United States, Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Iran, China, Ukraine, Pakistan, Sudan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Botswana, Togo, Costa Rica, Latvia, Indonesia, South Africa as well as the European Union.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 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 seventh organizational meeting, and twenty-second and twenty-third sessions, and on its twenty-second special session and twenty-seventh session” (documents A/69/53 and A/68/53/Add.1).

Interactive Dialogue

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, said that as the body entered its tenth year, its record had testified to high responsiveness.  Commending the spirit of compromise that had characterized some of its initiatives, he then summarized some of the Council’s country-specific decisions made in the course of the year, notably on Syria.  The Council had also heard reports from the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea and from the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  In April, it had held a special session on human rights abuses and violations committed by the terrorist group Boko Haram and heard the presentation of the report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had been requested to dispatch missions in Libya, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and South Sudan.  In addition to holding 17 panel discussions on issues such as the death penalty, climate change, unilateral coercive measures and good governance in public service, the Council had renewed country-specific mandates and established two new thematic special procedures on the rights of persons with albinism and on the right to privacy.  The Council also held a panel discussion on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Underlining the importance of cooperation with Special Procedures, he called upon all States that had not yet done so to issue standing invitations to mandate holders and to fully cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, including by implementing their recommendations in an effort to strengthen human rights worldwide.  As the universal periodic review was nearing the end of its second cycle, he said despite remaining challenges, bilateral matters, when compared with the first cycle, tended to be less present in the reviews.  He welcomed the “self-restraint” exerted by concerned States, which had contributed to preserving the constructive, consensual and non-politicized nature of the universal periodic review.  The focus now must remain on the implementation of previously agreed recommendations, he said, encouraging the submission of mid-term and follow-up reports.

In the Council’s work, the protection of the role of civil society and national human rights institutions transcended the review process.  Civil society was not just “nice to have”, but it was at the core of the Council’s work and of human rights.  He had been apprised of alleged and verified cases of intimidations, threats and reprisals against individuals from civil society organizations, national human rights institutions and even special procedure mandate holders.  He reiterated that the participation of civil society should be preserved and individuals protected from any type of intimidation.  Concluding, he raised the Third Committee’s attention to the fact that the Council faced “significant challenges” in terms of resources, as it continued to adopt a high number of resolutions and decisions with significant resource implications, but without the regular budget needed to keep pace with that growth.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates commented on and asked about the elimination of duplicated efforts, politicization, civil society participation, how to improve the Council’s working methods and how to increase its visibility on the ground.  Questions on establishing a more effective relationship between the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and fostering the universal periodic review mechanism were also raised. 

Mr. RÜCKER thanked delegations who had expressed their support to the work of the Council.  Regarding the issue of politicization, he acknowledged that some States were concerned about country-specific resolutions.  However, the Council had done its part to minimize and eliminate double standards and politicization in that regard.

Turning to improving the working methods of the Council, what could be done was to bring new methods that would foster transparency and improve its efficiency.  On the important role played by civil society members, he said that they acted as a “mirror on the ground” and contributed greatly to the Council’s work.  Concerning its visibility, he encouraged the enhancement of existing cooperation between New York and Geneva. 

Participating in the dialogue were speakers representing Eritrea, United States, Liechtenstein, China, Mexico, Hungary, Sudan, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Morocco and Pakistan.

Statements

VANDI CHIDI MINAH (Sierra Leone), speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed continuing commitment to the Council’s work, as a subsidiary body of the Assembly, and its role in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights around the world.  The universal periodic review remained the most distinct mechanism to help States fulfil their human rights obligations.  Further, the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance for the Implementation of the universal periodic review recommendations must be properly resourced to help States develop the national capacity and expertise to carry out accepted recommendations.

The African Group strongly rejected any attempt to undermine the international human rights system by seeking to impose concepts or notions pertaining to social matters, including private individual conduct, that fell outside the internationally agreed human rights legal framework.  Those attempts were an expression of disregard for the universality of human rights.  He called upon all Member States to refrain from giving priority to the rights of certain individuals, which could result in negative discrimination at the expense of other internationally agreed rights and contradict the principles of non-discrimination and equality.  Turning to the Council’s mandate, he said the African Group agreed with the High Commissioner for Human Rights that there was a deadlock around resolution 24/24, which would continue unless all Member States engaged actively in a comprehensive and transparent consultation process that did not exclude anyone.

NICOLE MILLER, of the European Union, welcomed efforts undertaken by the president of the Human Rights Council to bridge gaps between United Nations activities in Geneva and New York.  Noting that the Council was a key component of the United Nations human rights machinery, she expressed the European Union’s full support to the implementation of its mandate and the strengthening of its effectiveness.

As the Internet became increasingly important, she welcomed the request by the Council President that had emphasized the need to develop, manage and support a more accessible and user-friendly website for the body, translated into all United Nations official languages.  In conclusion, she looked forward in exploring how the Council should contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

AMR ESSAM (Egypt), referring to “hideous terrorist attacks” in several places in the world, said terrorism and extremism had had negative repercussions on human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Egypt welcomed Human Rights Council resolution 28/17 on the effects of terrorism on human rights and said the body should show solidarity with the plight of the victims of terrorism around the world.  Challenges resulting from the expansion of the work of the Council had put increased pressure on its resources and programme of work.  All human rights questions should be addressed in a fair and equitable manner.  Egypt was pleased to see the Council actively engage on matters of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.

STEFANIE AMADEO (United States) said her country placed great importance on the Council’s work.  In that regard, there had been a marked improvement, but its myopic focus on Israel was a matter of concern.  Work on such issues as civil society and human rights defenders was welcomed.  She also welcomed the attention given by the Council to pressing human rights in such countries as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Syria and atrocities carried out by Boko Haram.   In the future, the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories should be handled by the Council as a general agenda item and not as its own agenda item.

Ms. THOMAS (Cuba) reiterated her Government’s call against politicization, selectivity and double standards when considering human rights issues and called for the universal periodic review to be recognized as the sole universal mechanism to address human rights situations in specific countries.  She underlined the importance of an inclusive and democratic international order and condemned the use of unilateral coercive measures as an example of misusing human rights for the advancement of political agendas.  She stressed the importance of special procedures mandate holders abiding by the principles of objectivity and transparency, as well as the code of conduct adopted by the Council.

OH YOUNGJU (Republic of Korea) commended the Council for the timely and relevant responses to global human rights concerns, and particularly discussions on climate change, migrants and Boko Haram.  She commended the Council for addressing the human rights of the most vulnerable as a matter of utmost importance through several panel discussions and relevant thematic discussions on women and girls, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities.  Referring to the tenth anniversary of the Council in 2016, she stressed the importance for the body to make an honest and objective assessment of its achievements, especially in terms of the impact and effectiveness of the universal periodic review mechanism.  Noting that human rights issues were deeply intertwined with other core United Nations pillars, such as peace, security and development, she expressed support for initiatives aimed at promoting the effective coordination and mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system.

DINARA IZANOVA (Kazakhstan) said human rights issues required joint actions from the international community and called for a more balanced approach when addressing the different categories of rights and assessing information sources relating to country-specific situations.  Furthermore, she expressed her support to efforts aiming at strengthening the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council, and called for further cooperation between its members and country delegations.  Since 2008, she said, Kazakhstan had been making voluntary contributions to the Council’s budget.

LARYSA BELSKAYA (Belarus) said the universal periodic review had been effective in ensuring balanced attention to human rights.  However, the Human Rights Council was increasingly becoming a platform for artificial confrontation.  Some had been trying to use it to settle political scores and to promote standards that had not been internationally agreed upon.  She hoped that the creation of a Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights would help to ensure that States abided by United Nations rules.  Belarus was opposed to the politicization of human rights and her delegation hoped that the Council would continue its work on the basis of the principles upon which it and the United Nations had been established.

OMID ASGHARI OSBOUEI (Iran) said the universal periodic review mechanism was greatly valued by his country, which was pursuing a constructive approach with regard to human rights, both domestically and internationally.  It was regrettable, however, that certain countries had continued to politicize the issue of human rights while turning a blind eye to their own dire situations and those of their allies.  Such “absurd moves” were strongly rejected by Iran, which disassociated itself from the part of the Council’s report that included a so-called resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran.  Recent terrorist attacks were a reminder of the need to promote greater understanding and to forge a global coalition to combat extremism and violence, rather than misguided and politically charged attempts to target selected Member States.

Mr. RAUSTOC (Norway) said people who were defending human rights were under increasing pressure in many countries.  He regretted to say that in some States, capacity constraints had meant that the human rights component of sustainable development had been overlooked.  Such situations called for leadership from all States alongside a relevant and effective Human Rights Council.  One of the most promising tools of the Council was the universal periodic review, he said.  One of the major questions now was how to close the implementation gap, he noted, pointing at the need to sharpen human rights tools to make them as strong and relevant as required.  Another pressing matter was the need to strengthen financial support to the human rights pillar of the United Nations.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) said the Council’s working atmosphere should be improved and that no country should use human rights issues to interfere in the internal affairs of another State, or worse, to use them as a geopolitical tool to exert political pressure.  Diversity should be respected when it came to countries’ efforts to advance human rights and all types of rights should be promoted in a balanced manner.  The Council should respect the choices made by countries regarding their path of development and their model of human rights protection, in light of their national conditions and their people’s will.  The Council should strike a balance between the promotion of civil and political rights and social, economic and cultural rights, particularly the right to development.  It should also enhance technical cooperation and capacity building in the human rights arena.  Prudence was needed in reforming the Council’s working methods, keeping in mind its intergovernmental character and upholding the working principles of Member State ownership.  Reform initiatives and processes should be highly transparent and democratic and involve full consultation with Council members.  He asked how the Council President could further his role in removing double standards in the field of human rights and opposing politicization.  He also wondered how the Council could reverse the current situation of emphasizing civil and political rights while overlooking economic, social and cultural rights, particularly the right to development.

IHOR YAREMENKO (Ukraine) believed the grave and systemic character of the problem with the observance of human rights in Crimea by the Russian occupying authorities required a separate detailed Commission report.  From every rostrum in the world, the Ukraine had repeated the names of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, Olexandr Kolchenko and other Ukrainians — political prisoners of the Russian regime, illegally held by the Kremlin in its prisons.  He called upon Member States to increase their pressure on the Russian authorities to make them immediately release all Ukrainian citizens.  The Ukrainian Government had developed a national human rights strategy that enveloped the best international experience and practices.  The Ukrainian Government was grateful to international human rights bodies, including the United Nations, for providing technical assistance in developing the strategy and drafting a national action plan.  He reconfirmed the Ukraine’s intention to become a Council member for the 2018-2010 period and actively help to improve the body’s working methods.

DIYAR KHAN (Pakistan) said the Council should not allow political considerations to undermine the inviolability of the agenda items that guided its work.  Unfortunately, human rights issues had continued to be politicized and undue attention was being given to controversial notions that were not universally recognized.  Country-specific resolutions had been used for the naming and shaming of Member States.  An ever-increasing number of new initiatives had over-stretched the Council’s work, reducing time available for dialogue regarding special procedures.  The proliferation of special procedures had also put an extra burden on already strained OHCHR resources.  Welcoming the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the work of the Council, he said there had been an unchecked tendency on their part to deviate from topics of discussion.  Steps should be taken by the Council President and OHCHR to curb those negative developments.

IDREES MOHAMMED ALI MOHAMMED SAEED (Sudan) expressed condolences to the people and Government of France following the recent attacks, which his country condemned.  The international community was called upon to fight against terrorism and to put an end to its consequences.  He welcomed the resolution dealing with unilateral coercive measures and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on that issue.  The international character of human rights required international treatment, with respect for the specificities of States.  Any attempts by the Council to adopt unfounded positions with regard to sexual identity were rejected.  The Council should remain within its mandate, improve the working methods of its special mechanisms and ensure that the code of conduct was respected.  Sudan would continue to work with the Council as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.

SARA AL-SAAD (Qatar) said her delegation supported the work of the President of the Human Rights Council and OHCHR.  She reaffirmed Qatar’s commitment, as a member of the Human Rights Council, to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights at the regional and international levels.  Providing an overview of national efforts, she presented a range of initiatives that her Government had undertaken in that regard in the field of human rights.

SABARULLAH KHAN (Sri Lanka) said his Government was committed to working closely with the United Nations and the international community to strengthen good governance, the rule of law and human rights.  Many constructive measures had been taken during the past nine months towards achieving reconciliation and peacebuilding.  Sri Lanka had invited the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence to visit the country in April.  Sri Lanka was currently hosting the Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances and he hoped the High Commissioner for Human Rights would visit soon as well.  It was understood that, under the “Change Initiative”, the OHCHR Bangkok office would be strengthened, but financial constraints and its dependence on voluntary contributions were matters of concern.  As such, he recommended that the Office’s funding be provided by the regular budget of the United Nations.

BOKANI SESINYI (Botswana) said her country had continuously supported special procedures and mandate holders of the Council and acceded to requests for country visits, including from special rapporteurs on issues concerning indigenous peoples, cultural rights, water and sanitation.  Botswana believed mandate holders contributed significantly to the Council’s work and other human rights mechanisms, including the work of the Assembly.  While acknowledging the Council’s good work, Botswana held different views on certain issues, such as the death penalty.  It was unfortunate that some resolutions, such as those on the death penalty and extrajudicial killings, had placed the issue on the human rights agenda, even though it was clearly understood to be a matter of each country’s criminal justice system.  Botswana believed the death penalty was not a human rights issue, but a matter of a country’s criminal justice system and every country had the sovereign right to independently decide its own system, including the retention or abolition of the death penalty, in consultation with its people and according to its unique circumstances.  Consequently, there was no normative basis for the direction the issue was taking in the Council.

EDEM KOMI AMOUDOKPO (Togo), associating with the African Group, recalled his country’s recent election as member of the Human Rights Council and reiterated a commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights as a key component of its national policy.  In that regard, the Government had engaged during the past decade in a series of reforms in order to bring its national legislation in line with international standards.  In particular, the new criminal code included a criminalization of torture and other ill treatment and provisions relating to armed conflicts and terrorism.  Further, a new law allowed the National Human Rights Commission to engage in torture prevention and support efforts to combat impunity.  He also referred to the revision of the family code and initiatives to promote truth, justice and reconciliation.

VERONICA GARCIA GUTIERREZ (Costa Rica), welcoming that the Council had strengthened its ability to address concerns worldwide, expressed support for the consolidation of the universal periodic review process.  Her delegation also supported the work undertaken by the President to improve the Council’s effectiveness.  She then reiterated her support to maintaining the independence and impartiality of OHCHR, which was crucial for the fulfilment of its mandate.  That required efforts to increase its resources.  Similarly, she called for the implementation of General Assembly resolution 68/268 on strengthening the treaty body system and underlined its importance.  She expressed concerns at growing acts of terrorism, the current refugee crisis and the vulnerability of women and children and highlighted the international community’s responsibility to address those challenges.

Mr. PANTELEJEVS (Latvia), aligning with the European Union, welcomed efforts to improve coordination between the Council and the Third Committee.  He hoped that the “Change Initiative” would contribute to improving the effectiveness of OHCHR.  Latvia, a member of the Council until 2017, was committed to its efficacy.  Her delegation, however, was concerned about the situation in illegally annexed Crimea.  Standing invitations had been issued by Latvia with regard to special procedures.  Such invitations were only a first step towards genuine cooperation.  As a member of the Council, Latvia had been focusing on gender equality and it also firmly supported freedom of expression, both online and offline.

ACHSANUL HABIB (Indonesia) expressed deepest condolences to the families of victims of recent acts of terrorism.  The Council had been instrumental in the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.  However, it was critically important that its work be carried out in accordance with its mandate, and that it boosted the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in an equitable manner.  There was no one-size-fits-all response to human rights matters.  The universal periodic review was an important mechanism for fostering democracy and human rights alongside similar processes at the national and regional levels.  Any recommendations emanating from a review should be realistic and capable of being implemented.  It was important for all mandate holders to work in a spirit of partnership and for special mechanisms to act in line with the code of conduct.

EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa), clarifying his Government’s position with regard to the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, said that discrimination based on such grounds was explicitly prohibited under the Constitution.  South Africa was guided by the desire to advance human rights standards.  It was important that the Human Rights Council ensured the protection of the rights of all.  What was also important was that all human rights were addressed in a fair and equal manner, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development, with a view to giving true meaning to the principles of universality, indivisibility and inter-relatedness of all human rights.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Russian Federation, exercising the right of reply in response to remarks made by the representatives of Ukraine and Latvia, recalled that Crimea had become a part of the Russian Federation as a result of a free and democratic referendum by the people there, realizing their right to self-determination in accordance with international law.  The result of the referendum was unequivocal.  All the inhabitants of Crimea, including those belonging to minorities, were protected by the Russian Federation’s commitment under international human rights law.  That included the right to seek recourse and use any other remedy, he said.

Ukraine’s speaker, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that there was no such thing as the “people of Crimea” and expressed his determination to keep bringing that issue to the attention of the United Nations until Crimea became again a part of Ukraine.

For information media. Not an official record.