Situations in Myanmar, Iran Dominate Third Committee Discussions, as Experts Address Broader Rights for Minorities, Cultural Freedom Defenders
While many claims of “terrible inhuman violent acts” in Rakhine State had been made in recent months, it was undeniable that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims had fled to Bangladesh following alleged attacks by militants, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) today.
Yanghee Lee was among five mandate-holders presenting reports during interactive dialogues as the Committee examined the human rights situation in Iran, and broader thematic issues of minority rights, human rights defenders and cultural rights.
Myanmar officials had suggested the number of those fleeing had been exaggerated, Ms. Lee said, and called on authorities to permit the Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission access to the region. They should also take steps to let the Rohingya population know they were welcome to return. As it was unlikely a solution would soon be found, she urged the Security Council to include the situation on its agenda.
Myanmar’s representative responded, reiterating his country’s opposition to country-specific mandates. The situation in Rakhine State had drawn the world’s attention, with premeditated terrorist acts of the so-called Rohingya Salvation Army triggering “immense human sufferings and humanitarian problems”. Myanmar could not condone terrorism or human rights violations. If there was evidence, anyone who had breached the law would be brought to justice, he said, expressing Myanmar’s commitment to establishing peace.
Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, said that country was cooperating with her mandate, responding to communications and engaging with her through visiting delegations. However, she expressed concern over executions and reports of torture, as well as harassment, intimidation and prosecution of human rights defenders. She also voiced concern about the situation of ethnic and religious minorities.
In the ensuing dialogue, Iran’s delegate said his country had been the target of a political charade. There were no grounds for producing four reports on the human rights situation in his country. The latest report was the product of a politically motivated mandate, in which the basic principles of impartiality and professionalism had been largely disregarded. On the subject of minorities, he said fabrications implying division were absurd.
The presentations dovetailed with those delivered earlier in the day on thematic questions, notably by Fernand De Varennes, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, who said minority rights were human rights for the world’s most vulnerable people. His priorities over the next three years would include a focus on statelessness, preventing or resolving ethnic conflict, and addressing the rise of intolerance and hate speech.
Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, said those who stood up to corporate abuse were being threatened, harassed or killed. The rising number of attacks against rights defenders working in the field of business could be attributed to a lack of preventive measures, such as consultations, and reactive measures like grievance mechanisms.
Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, said her report focused on the impact of fundamentalism and extremism on the cultural rights of women. Religious fundamentalists sought to punish cultural expression through blasphemy laws and gender discriminatory family laws, among other things. While fundamentalism had emerged from all the world’s religious traditions, opposition to it was not akin to an anti-religious stand, she cautioned.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 26 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4205).
Interactive Dialogues — Minority Issues
FERNAND DE VARENNES, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, said the vision for his mandate over the next three years could be summarized as: minority rights were human rights for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. His four thematic priorities were: statelessness and the human rights of minorities; preventing or resolving ethnic conflicts and promoting inclusiveness and stability; addressing the rise of intolerance and hate speech targeting minorities; and education as a human right for minorities. He aimed to clarify and foster greater responsiveness to the human rights concerns of minorities, pledging to work with States and others in that regard.
He said three thematic studies should be conducted on: the scope and meaning of the term “minority”; a review of State commitments to minority rights; and the economic benefits of protecting the rights of minorities. He pledged to strengthen constructive dialogues with Governments, minorities, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, and contribute to practical solutions. He would also focus on protecting the rights of minority women and children “who were the most vulnerable of vulnerable” in many parts of the world. He announced that his first annual thematic report in 2018 would address statelessness and its relationship to the human rights of minorities, adding that many stateless people were members of linguistic, religious or ethnic minorities.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Switzerland said violence against minority groups was disastrous to communities around the world and asked what role civil society and human rights defenders could play in protecting them.
The representative of Hungary, expressing concern over Ukraine’s education legislation, asked how the Special Rapporteur would facilitate better compliance by States to international commitments for education of minority groups.
The representative of Iraq said his Government was facilitating the return of minority groups to their native communities and protections from violence were being afforded to those groups.
The representative of Mexico asked the Special Rapporteur to identify the main challenges faced by States in strengthening legislation to protect the rights of minorities.
The representative of the United States highlighted efforts to advance the interests of Roma people across Europe and expressed concern over the situations faced by minorities in Myanmar and China. She asked how the United States could advocate for the rights of minority groups at the national and regional levels to promote the strengthening of protection frameworks.
The representative of the European Union asked what measures could be implemented to help reduce and eliminate the use of ethnic profiling by law enforcement.
The representative of Austria asked which practices had proved effective in countering narratives of hatred. Noting that women and children were particularly vulnerable, she asked how their participation in protection frameworks could be assured. She also asked how the United Nations role in protecting minorities could be strengthened.
The representative of the Russian Federation said protecting the rights of Russian-speaking minorities across the Baltic region must be a priority for the Special Rapporteur.
The representative of Ukraine pointed to recent decisions by the Russian Federation to limit the use of native languages by minority groups. He said Ukraine upheld the right of minority groups to access education in their native languages.
The representative of Indonesia said communication technology presented challenges in efforts to mitigate hate speech and asked what measures could be taken to prevent its spread.
The representative of China said her Government guaranteed the rights of ethnic minorities and invested in minority communities. Calling statements by the United States regarding minority groups in China “unfounded”, she pointed to violations of minority rights in the United States.
The representative of Norway said minorities were more exposed to violence in conflict zones than other groups. Welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s focus on women, he asked what methods could be used to defend the rights of minority women.
Mr. DE VARENESS, responding, noticed that it had become acceptable to portray some minorities in a negative way, and he hoped to work with State and non-State actors, and the United Nations, to develop mechanisms for addressing hate speech. He urged States to apply laws that prosecuted those who incited hatred and violence against minorities, stressing that enforcement had been a challenge. Some countries had acted to counter hate speech with campaigns celebrating minorities and their contributions. “Diversity and the existence of minorities are facts, but whether some minorities are included are choices,” he stressed.
To better address the vulnerabilities of minorities, he said it was crucial first to acknowledge minorities as a group. The Rohingya, for example, should be recognized as a minority group. “To never use the word minority in relation to Rohingya is to contribute to their invisibility,” he said. “If we do not even acknowledge that they are minorities, there is no focus on how we can better protect their rights.” Moreover, there was a need to recognize that minority children, especially girls, had been excluded and disadvantaged in public school systems. “If we do not highlight this, we are contributing to the vulnerability of minority girls,” he said.
It was also crucial that the United Nations Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minorities develop guidelines to protect such rights, he said, noting that the Forum of Minority Issues, in Geneva, could hold discussions at the regional level. “The way of dealing with religious minorities in Europe is not the same as dealing with minority issues in the Middle East,” he added.
Human Rights Defenders
MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, said rights defenders who stood up to corporate abuse were being threatened, harassed or killed. Between 2015 and 2016, 450 attacks against human rights defenders working in business had been documented, he noted, attacks deliberately carried out to silence those who spoke truth to power. The growing number of threats could be attributed to a lack of preventive measures, such as consultations, and reactive measures like grievance mechanisms. With perpetrators being both State and non-State actors, he expressed regret that those who could end the violence were either turning a blind eye to attacks or directly involved in them.
He welcomed efforts by corporations to develop policies and guidelines on human rights defenders, also noting the development of national business action plans by some States that include sections on civil society and human rights defenders. While Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) based companies were showing progress, a number of non-OECD companies had not joined corporate and social responsibility initiatives. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were a powerful tool for all relevant actors to conduct human rights due diligence, he said, calling for measures to protect defenders. Urging companies to ensure their operations did not have negative impacts on the ground, he said globalization must accompany the expansion of human rights standards.
The representative of Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur for good practices established in Latin America, given the large number of murders of human right defenders in the region.
The representative of the European Union asked the Special Rapporteur for best practices and approaches by businesses to protect human rights defenders.
The representative of Spain asked how consultation mechanisms could be improved so that rights defenders could better carry out their work.
The representative of Denmark asked the Special Rapporteur for best practices to ensure the protection of human rights defenders.
The representative of Canada asked about the drivers, sources and risks of exclusion, and about open source resources to promote better consultative processes.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the Special Rapporteur’s mandate overlapped with other special procedures, and that some of his recommendations — such as asking businesses for disclosure of commercial information — were contentious.
The representative of Ireland asked if a global network of international corporations could be established to work with States and non-State actors to foster better understanding of national human rights policies.
The representative of Poland, aligning herself with the European Union, asked what States could do to ensure the protection of human rights defenders.
The representative of the Netherlands, aligning himself with the European Union, asked how States could work together to establish national legislation to hold private enterprises accountable.
The representative of the United States asked how to better protect rights defenders who cooperated with the United Nations from attacks and reprisals.
The representative of Slovenia, noting that women rights defenders faced greater risks, asked how the gender-perspective could be better incorporated into protection mechanisms.
The representative of China said the Special Rapporteur had used unverified information on her country in his report, adding that countries held different views of who rights defenders were, and that anyone who undermined public order should be prosecuted.
The representative of Brazil asked the Special Rapporteur about gaps in protection to be addressed for those working in private business.
The representative of the Council of Europe asked what could be done to strengthen the legitimacy of defenders who had been labelled as spies.
The representatives of Norway, Czech Republic, Cuba, United Kingdom, Colombia, South Africa, Turkey, New Zealand, France, Mexico and Panama also spoke.
Mr. FORST, responding, said achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would not be possible if States failed to protect human rights defenders, adding that defenders must be presented as agents of change, not enemies of States. He said work with other organizations focused on the issue of reprisals, and United Nations mechanisms were being streamlined to ensure improved cooperation on the matter. He noted that allegation letters were being sent to companies, not just States, and companies were replying at a high rate, demonstrating their willingness to engage. Moving into 2018, he said efforts would focus on establishing a world coalition of human rights defenders. Campaigns would pursue the nomination of rights defenders for the Nobel Peace Prize, he concluded.
KARIMA BENNOUNE, Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, said her report focused on the impact of fundamentalism and extremism on the cultural rights of women. Such ideologies sought to roll back women’s equality and penalize women human rights defenders, rejecting equality and the universality of fundamental freedoms. Cultural rights were not tantamount to cultural relativism, but rather, embedded in the universal human rights framework. Religious fundamentalists sought to punish cultural expression through blasphemy laws, gender discriminatory family laws, harassment and violence, she noted, adding that fundamentalism had emerged from all the world’s religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and others. Yet, opposition to fundamentalism was not akin to an anti-religious stand, she cautioned.
Some forms of extremism focused on myths of a homogeneous nation, claims of ethnic or racial superiority or purity, and populist ultra-nationalism directed against liberal and pluralistic democracy, she explained. The defence of cultural rights required tackling fundamentalism and extremism — and arts, education, science and culture were among the best ways to fight them. Supporting women’s rights was essential in that regard. “The gender component is not optional,” she warned. A global trend of fundamentalism and populism posed risks to women rights defenders. Across regions, fundamentalists and extremists promoted cultural stigmatization of women for exercising and advocating for sexual and reproductive rights, creating a culture of shame rather than equality. The defence of non-sexist education was among the most important measures Governments could take to defend women’s rights. “We face a multidirectional global avalanche of misogyny,” she said, “motivated by diverse fundamentalist and extremist ideologies.”
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the Maldives said men and women must work together to defeat extremism. Empowering women and girls, and preventing violence directed towards them, was the foundation of resilient societies capable of standing up to radicalization.
The representative of the Russian Federation said fundamentalism and extremism went beyond the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. She also stated that the Special Rapporteur had not taken into account cultural and religious heritage in her work and denied the respect of certain cultural traditions, such as wearing of traditional clothing.
The representative of France, associating himself with the European Union, said fundamentalists rejected equality between men and women. Protecting the cultural rights of women was a pillar in the fight against extremism, he noted, asking what means the Special Rapporteur would use to promote education as a way to foster gender equality.
The representative of Morocco said cultural rights must be respected and protected, and diversity promoted in school settings. Noting the safety of social rights defenders was typically ignored, she asked how they could be protected.
The representative of Malta, associating herself with the European Union, expressed reservations about mentions of abortion by the Special Rapporteur, as the practice was illegal in Malta.
The representative of Poland, aligning herself with the European Union, called for thorough analysis of the manipulation of culture by extremist groups.
A representative of the European Union said patriarchal rhetoric by Governments was detrimental to the advancement of women’s rights. Only through the promotion of cultural democracy could the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development be achieved, he stressed.
Ms. BENNOUNE replied that some delegates had misunderstood the approach outlined in her report as a Western one. Stressing that she had taken a universal view of women’s cultural rights, she said she had spoken with women rights defenders around the world and they shared similar views on the rise of fundamentalism and its impacts on women’s cultural rights. “We need to listen to the voices of women on the ground,” she asserted, adding that fundamentalist groups were stamping out minority lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual groups around the world.
She said there was a need to address the punishment of women who did not abide by modest dress codes, pointing out that fundamentalists in many countries tried to enforce dress codes which differed from traditional forms of dress. She also highlighted the need to protect artists who spoke out against fundamentalists, recognize them as rights defenders, and review school curricula to ensure that such stereotypes of women were not purveyed.
YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, said many allegations of “terrible inhuman violent acts” in Rakhine State had been made over the past two months. It was undeniable that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims had fled to Bangladesh, their villages torched following alleged attacks by Rohingya militants. Yet, Government officials suggested the number of those fleeing was being exaggerated. Myanmar had ratified the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, albeit with a declaration relating to the right to self-determination, and she looked forward to working to meet full realization of the Convention.
Calling for constitutional reform and legislative reviews, she said identifying laws that contravened human rights obligations was central to achieving a full democratic transition. She expressed concern over human rights violations related to the creation of special economic zones, with land confiscation emerging as a major concern.
An increasing number of civilians, including children, were being killed or had been injured in escalating clashes between the Armed Forces and ethnic armed groups. Dangerous and dehumanizing speech was also being directed towards the Rohingya communities, inciting violence. It had been cultivated into the minds of the people of Myanmar that the Rohingya were not native to the country, and as such, not eligible for pertinent protections. Reports of violence against Muslims and Christians had been received from across the country, and the number of people fleeing was increasing at an alarming rate, she stressed.
Referring to the events of recent weeks as “devastating”, she called on Myanmar to permit the Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission access to the region, and take steps to let the Rohingya population know they were welcome to return to the country. Acknowledging that a solution in the near future would be unlikely, she urged the General Assembly to remain “seized” of the situation and the Security Council to include the situation in Myanmar as an agenda item.
The representative of Venezuela, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated its view that human rights issues must be addressed through a constructive, non-confrontational, non-politicized, non-selective, dialogue-based approach with objectivity and respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of States, impartiality, non-selectivity and transparency, taking into account the political, historical, social, religious and cultural particularities of each country. The proliferation of country-specific resolutions in the Third Committee was deeply concerning, and greater coherence must be promoted between its work and that of the Human Rights Council to avoid duplication, he said, pointing to the Universal Periodic Review as the main body to review human rights issues.
The representative of Myanmar reiterated his country’s opposition to country-specific mandates, but underscored the Government’s cooperation with successive Special Rapporteurs as part of its cooperation with the United Nations. Myanmar had conveyed to the Special Rapporteur the extensive steps it had taken to promote peace and development, as well as the challenges on the ground. Expressing Myanmar’s commitment to overcoming its challenges, with the goal of achieving a peaceful, democratic and prosperous country for all, he said the Special Rapporteur’s 44 recommendations to the Government had been given full consideration. Myanmar would implement them as the situation on the ground permitted, he said. Her report should have reflected the difficulties of resolving problems that were the legacy of decades of conflict, isolation and underdevelopment.
The new Government had made peace and national reconciliation a top priority, he said, and had made progress since taking office eighteen months ago. It had made headway in the peace process, he said, cautioning that democratic change did not happen overnight. The situation in Rakhine State had drawn the world’s attention, he said, with premeditated terrorist acts of the so-called Rohingya Salvation Army triggering “immense human sufferings and humanitarian problems”. Myanmar could not condone terrorism, and condemned human rights violations, he said, adding that, if there was evidence, anyone who breached the law would be brought to justice. The Government was committed to a sustainable solution that would lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within Rakhine State.
Myanmar had also taken heed of the international concern over the humanitarian situation at the border, he said. The Government had identified three tasks to be undertaken promptly: to provide returnees with humanitarian assistance and repatriation; to resettle and rehabilitate all displaced communities; and to establish sustainable peace, stability and development in Rakhine State. Myanmar and Bangladesh were working on the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced persons, while the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management was working with Myanmar to deliver humanitarian assistance. Cooperation with the United Nations was a cornerstone of Myanmar’s foreign policy, he said, adding that the international community’s understanding and support was critically important for the sustainability of Myanmar’s democratic transition.
The representative of Saudi Arabia expressed disappointment about the inhuman practices in Rakhine State. He requested clearer figures on the numbers of people affected by violence and urged permanent solutions to assist refugees.
The representative of Bangladesh said the Special Rapporteur’s report was a grim reminder of the early warning signs of atrocity crimes in Rakhine State, the scant international attention which had paved the way for a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing, marked by extrajudicial killings, systematic sexual violence and widespread arson. Such human rights violations called for a strong international response, he said, urging the General Assembly to send a strong message by adopting relevant resolutions.
The representative of Cuba, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said country-specific special procedures were confrontational and did not promote a respectful environment.
The representative of Liechtenstein welcomed efforts to have the Security Council address the matter, asking the Special Rapporteur about the most promising message the Third Committee could send.
The representative of Switzerland deplored Myanmar’s refusal to allow access to the country as a whole to those seeking to report on the situation. She called on Myanmar to respect all international obligations.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said the issue was complex and his Government remained concerned over the situation in Rakhine State and the neighbouring region.
The representative of the United States expressed outrage over reports of violence by “Burmese” security forces and vigilante groups, stressing that the destruction of Rohingya communities in Rakhine State was well-coordinated and systematic. She called on authorities to end violence and allow unhindered access to the region, also expressing concern over events in Kachin and Shan. “Peace cannot be built on abuse and impunity,” she said, asking about the root causes of conflict and how the international community could help address them.
The representative of Australia called on Myanmar to extend cooperation with fact-finding missions and implement recommendations by the Advisory Committee on Rakhine State. She asked what human rights concerns must be considered when repatriating those who had fled Myanmar.
The representative of France, associating herself with the European Union, asked for an assessment of the implementation of relevant recommendations by the Myanmar authorities.
The representative of the European Union asked what more could be done to ensure the protection of all people in Rakhine State. Citing hate speech against non-Buddhists, he asked how the freedom of expression could be upheld while combating such speech.
The representative of the Czech Republic, associating himself with the European Union, asked how Member States could assist Myanmar in ensuring unhindered access by the United Nations to the region.
The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the importance of dialogue, noting that only political means could resolve the crisis.
The representative of Malaysia, noting deteriorating relations between Myanmar and the United Nations, asked if it would be beneficial for the General Assembly to appoint another mandate holder to compliment the Special Rapporteur’s work.
The representative of Japan stressed the importance of humanitarian access to the region to assist in repatriation and commended Bangladesh’s efforts to respond to the crisis.
The representative of Turkey said it was imperative to end military attacks on civilians and ensure the safe return of displaced persons. Humanitarian assistance to Myanmar and Bangladesh was urgently needed.
The representative of Norway, calling for an end to violence, stressed the need for humanitarian access to Rakhine State and asked how the international community could assist in finding lasting solutions to the crisis.
The representative of Viet Nam shared concern over recent developments in northern Rakhine State and noted efforts by Myanmar to enhance the rule of law and resolve the issue. She emphasized the need for constructive dialogue with Myanmar and called on all relevant parties to support its efforts to provide assistance to its people.
The representative of Lao People’s Democratic Republic said the international community should pursue dialogue with Myanmar, especially through the Universal Periodic Review. He called for respect of sovereignty and non-politicization of the conflict.
The representative of Mexico asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the role of women in the peace process.
The representative of Ireland, associating herself with the European Union, agreed that all civilians must be protected and all allegations investigated, regardless of the perpetrator.
The representative of Iraq strongly condemned all violations against Rohingya Muslims and called for humanitarian access and return of refugees. She said violations could amount to crimes against humanity and called for the creation of a coalition to fight extremism in Myanmar.
The representative of Indonesia condemned all violence in Myanmar and pledged to remain fully engaged with that country and Bangladesh to address the humanitarian crisis.
The representative of India said the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights rested with States and should be guided by universality, objectivity and non-politicization. Country-specific special procedures without the consent of the relevant country were counterproductive.
The representative of the Netherlands, associating himself with the European Union, called for an immediate end to all violence and the safe return of refugees. Only urgent action by Myanmar could resolve the crisis, he said, asking what immediate action that country could take.
The representative of Thailand said Myanmar had shown commitment to pursuing democratic reconciliation, noting his Government would continue encouraging Myanmar to work with United Nations agencies on the matter.
The representative of Singapore said the issue was rooted in long-standing grievances and immediate action must focus on ceasing hostilities. Long-term solutions were needed to address the conflict and only through positive dialogue could they be found.
The representative of the United Kingdom said it was important to recognize Myanmar’s efforts, but noted that much remained to be done. The international community could not forget the actions of Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State and she asked how the international community could best support efforts to address the crisis.
The representative of China said that dialogue was the main avenue to resolving humanitarian issues. The international community must be objective and patient, she stressed.
The representative of the Maldives asked for recommendations on how the United Nations could gain access to areas in need of humanitarian assistance and for her opinion on the need to establish a dedicated country office.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea expressed strong opposition to politically motivated country-specific special procedures. He demanded that Myanmar’s work to protect its people be fully acknowledged.
Ms. LEE began her response by describing the most productive measures the international community could take towards resolving the situation in Rakhine State. The General Assembly should remain seized of the situation in Rakhine and beyond, she said, and unfettered humanitarian and media access granted to all affected areas. The Fact-Finding Mission should be allowed in as soon as possible, before events evolved to a different scale. To questions about causes, she said they had originated in the historical marginalization of the Rohingya community, adding that systematic discrimination in law, policy and practice was another major contributor.
To questions about human rights concerns other than the exodus, she cautioned against building a mega-camp and advocated immediate attention be given to the needs of unaccompanied children. There were thousands of unaccompanied orphan children in Cox’s Bazaar, and it was important for the international community to address their plight. Children in the camps should not be trafficked or sexually exploited, and she warned that, compounded with their recent traumatization and decades-long hardship, they presented prime ground for radicalization. To a question on her recommendations, she said she had presented a list of legislative reforms to the Government, noting that some of the laws had come from the long colonial period, while others dated back 100 years and were inapplicable in modern times. Giving an example of recommendations being implemented on the ground, she noted it had been recommended that camps for internally displaced people be shut down as a matter of urgency.
On the subject of hate speech, she said it was not only Muslims who were victims, but Christians as well. During Ramadan, Rohingya had not been allowed to pray in mosques or in madrasas, so they prayed in the streets, which had caused friction. Hate speech was a problematic area, she said, coupled with the development of technology, and it was a priority to be addressed. She underscored that no one would like to see the democratic process of Myanmar derailed, calling for all to be included in the country’s democratic transition.
ASMA JAHANGIR, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, said the report she was presenting was her first since assuming the mandate and covered the first six months of 2017. Iran was cooperating with her mandate, responding to communications and engaging with the Special Rapporteur through visiting delegations. Reviewing positive developments, she said local elections had a high participation rate, and also noted the authorities’ stated intentions to use the Charter on Citizens’ Rights as human rights guidelines for the executive branch. However, she expressed concern over the rate of executions, with at least four juvenile offenders executed since the beginning of the year, and 86 more known to be on death row. Reports of torture were also deeply concerning, as were those of harassment, intimidation and prosecution of human rights defenders.
She continued to receive reports of violations against the freedom of expression, with numerous journalists describing harassment and intimidation by State agents. There was an emerging pattern of arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals, she said, noting that her report detailed individual cases. She welcomed pledges by President Hassan Rouhani on the rights of women, but noted that “vehement” reactions to social media campaigns protesting mandatory dress codes, among other factors, indicated that much work remained to realize those commitments. She also voiced concern about the situation of ethnic and religious minorities, as she had received reports of their arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and prosecution. Her report contained recommendations to reform the judicial system, and she suggested that killings committed in 1998 be addressed. Her mandate’s ongoing dialogue with Iran required an enabling political environment, at both national and global levels.
The representative of Iran said his country had been the target of a political charade, adding that there were no grounds for producing four reports on the human rights situation in Iran, as duplication did not give credibility. The latest report of the Special Rapporteur was the product of a politically motivated mandate, in which the basic principles of impartiality and professionalism had been largely disregarded. A prejudiced mandate had brought about a biased outcome. The bigoted Muslim ban by the United States had not been touched upon, nor had the imposition of illegal sanctions under dubious pretexts. The report had further disregarded Iranians who had fallen victim to terrorists.
On the subject of minorities, he said fabrications implying division were absurd. Belonging to a minority did not imply impunity, and followers of all faiths enjoyed equal freedom to worship in Iran. The report ignored the United States’ exploitation of its own citizens with Iranian backgrounds, and it should call for an end to the abuse of those individuals. Regarding illicit drug trafficking, the report was not concerned with police officers murdered by drug traffickers, he said, adding that drug users were not criminalized in Iran, but noting that capital punishment was sanctioned in the law. No country was perfect, and no country could abandon its way of life to appease those wishing to impose their own. While Iran continued to denounce country-specific Rapporteurs, it had extended invitations to three thematic Rapporteurs. Iran welcomed dialogue and sought meaningful engagement with serious partners, but the present report did not serve that purpose.
The representative of the United States expressed concern over Iran’s denial of a country visit to the Special Rapporteur, condemning Iran for imprisoning peaceful activists and unjustly detaining foreign nationals.
The representative of Saudi Arabia said Iran was suffering from inadequate policies and supporting terrorist practices around the world. Iran also was denying massacres from 1987 and called on the international community to investigate those incidents. “All problems” in the Middle East stemmed from Iran.
The representative of Japan said his Government was holding regular dialogue with Iran to improve the human rights situation. Dialogue included discussions on women’s empowerment and he asked about the highest priority issue for promoting women’s rights in Iran.
The representative of Eritrea said only universality and objectivity could advance human rights, stressing the relevance of the Universal Periodic Review and describing country-specific mandates as counterproductive.
The representative of Papua New Guinea, referring to sources used by the Special Rapporteur in her report, asked about their credibility and the criteria used in selecting them. He also asked about the reasons for Iran’s lack of response to the Special Rapporteur’s communications and about other approaches being used to engage with Iran.
The representative of the United Kingdom supported calls to freeze use of the death penalty in Iran and expressed concern over the treatment of religious minorities in that country. She asked what efforts were being taken to implement Iran’s Charter on Citizens’ Rights.
The representative of Pakistan said free and impartial elections affirmed Iran’s commitment to the democratic process. He called for non-interference in internal State affairs and said greater efforts were needed to prevent duplicated efforts on the matter.
The representative of Syria said the Special Rapporteur over-stepped her mandate, jeopardizing the credibility of human rights mechanisms. He said only the Human Rights Council should deal with such issues.
The representative of Ireland, associating himself with the European Union, expressed concern over the alarming rate of executions in Iran and called for a moratorium on the practice. He also expressed concern over lack of progress in the promotion of women’s rights.
The representative of Burundi, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said increasing trends to politicize human rights undermined such efforts in many countries.
The representative of Norway expressed concern over executions in Iran, particularly those of juveniles, and asked if there were signs of changes regarding the practice.
The representative of Germany, associating himself with the European Union, acknowledged Iran’s efforts to host refugees, but expressed concern over executions and urged the lifting of all death sentences issued to minors. He asked what engagement the Special Rapporteur was pursuing with Iran.
The representative of Canada, expressing concern over the execution of minors and mistreatment of minority groups, expressed hope Iran would engage with the international community.
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed his disapproval of country-specific mandates, saying patronizing countries would not improve the human rights situation. Rather than isolating Member States, the international community should work constructively.
The representative of Switzerland, noting violations to human rights in Iran, including corporal punishment, asked how the criminal code concerning minors was being amended.
The representative of Belarus welcomed Iran’s human rights efforts following the Universal Periodic Review cycles. He said country-specific mandates not recognized by countries in question did not have access to such countries. Reports by such mandates distorted realities on the ground, he said.
The representative of China said countries must engage constructively to promote human rights and stressed her Government was against the imposition of such mandates without consent of the concerned country.
The representative of Cuba said political motivations underlying country-specific mandates were not in line with the spirit of cooperation. He called on States to prevent the politicization of human rights.
The representative of the European Union referred to the alarming rate of executions in Iran, requesting information on drug legislation that would not use the death penalty.
The representative of the Czech Republic, associating himself with the European Union, welcomed positive changes in the human rights situation in Iran and the high rate of participation in presidential elections. He said he was appalled at the alarming rate of executions and asked for recommendations on ways to increase dialogue.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said he strongly opposed politically-motivated country-specific procedures and called for recognition of progress in Iran.
The representative of Venezuela said country-specific procedures contradicted the principle of universality on which human rights themes should be addressed. She said the Universal Periodic Review process should be given priority in dealing with human rights issues.
The representative of Zimbabwe expressed concern over country-specific reports and called for dialogue to resolve human rights concerns in any State.
Ms. JAHANGIR, responding, said meetings and dialogues with representatives of Iran had paved the way for a mutual understanding of the situation. She expressed concern about the flaunting of the rule of law, saying Iran should invite her to visit. In the critical areas of due process and the lack of judicial independence, even a visit by a thematic Special Rapporteur would be able to bring out the concerns she felt. She had received information from Iranians living inside and outside the country, which was then checked, and if it could not be verified, it was omitted from the report, she said.
Women’s rights were a concern because the Charter for Citizens’ Rights said certain rights ought to be respected, she said. Thus, the laws and policies discriminating against women must be struck down. The Charter was comprehensive, and if enforced, could alleviate the miseries people felt from violations of their rights. As far as the juvenile death penalty was concerned, she cited a case involving two juveniles, due to be executed, and the Government’s positive role in helping the aggrieved families find forgiveness. She expressed concern about violations of the freedom of expression and acts of intimidation.
The representative of Iran said it was not difficult to prepare a more substantive, less erroneous report than the one presented. Complacency and arrogance had led to lack of sound judgment. Stressing that the United States suffered from “historical amnesia”, he cited sadistic abuse of prisoners, regime change, mass espionage, unilateralism and unconditional support to Israel in that context. Moreover, he said Saudi Arabia had killed more children in Yemen than Al Qaida, Nusra and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh) combined. That country also fuelled sectarianism in the Persian Gulf. At the global level, all major terrorist groups had been inspired by teachings from Saudi Arabia, if not financed. Saudis could not forever “play the Iran card” to hide their human rights record, he said, adding that Iran continued to believe the mandate was counterproductive to human rights in Iran, and expressed regret that the Special Rapporteur had found herself in a game which had nothing to do with human rights.
Ms. JAHANGIR, responding but cut off by Iran’s delegate on a point of order, thanked that delegate.