Wide Participation in Human Rights Council Vital for Investigating Abuses around World, President Tells Third Committee, as Some Decry Double Standards
Representatives of Egypt, Myanmar Reject Entrenched Bias, Polarization, Call for Objectivity, Impartiality
The President of the Human Rights Council highlighted the wide participation of stakeholders in its work — from small island developing States and least developed countries to civil society — as he described its activities for the Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) today.
“Effective participation in the Council’s work remains a priority for all States” said Coly Seck (Senegal), presenting the annual report of the Geneva‑based body. All Member States have now been reviewed twice by the universal periodic review. He cited the particular efforts made by small island developing States and least developed countries to contribute to the Council’s work. Civil society is also a crucial component of its activities, he said, noting that the international community is responsible for ensuring its ability to participate fully.
The Council is also working to improve access to its work for persons with disabilities, he said, noting an increase in the number of its meetings that included sign language interpretation and direct captioning, due in part to efforts by a dedicated task force aimed at improving their experience.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, several delegates discussed coordination between New York and Geneva, with an observer for the European Union welcoming improved cooperation between the Council and its parent, the General Assembly. Botswana’s representative called for strengthening cooperation, while Germany’s delegate wondered if there were actions that could further bridge the gap.
In the wider general debate on human rights concerns, delegates discussed specific aspects of the Council’s work methods, with Iceland’s representative, speaking for the Baltic‑Nordic States, noting that while it could enact reforms in some areas, it had nonetheless passed several key resolutions during 2019 and his Government had not lent its voice to “the chorus of disapproval” about the Assembly’s subsidiary body. Further, the Third Committee was an important venue for building upon its efforts, he said.
Several delegates discussed the advisability of producing country‑specific reports, with Myanmar’s representative warning that recent Council resolutions on his country only “serve the purpose of sowing seeds of mistrust and further polarization among the diverse communities in Rakhine state”. They were created to put pressure on its sovereignty. Current United Nations activity in Myanmar, including visits by the Special Rapporteur, only wastes scarce resources. The Government halted its cooperation, in place since 1992, due to the bias demonstrated by the current Special Rapporteur.
In a similar vein, Egypt’s delegate said that “We must refrain from targeting human rights situations in specific countries”. He further expressed concern over continued polarization of the Council’s work.
Also speaking were representatives Australia (also speaking on behalf of Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland), United Kingdom, India, Yemen, Bangladesh and Oman.
A representative of the International Organization of la Francophonie also spoke.
The Third Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, 5 November, to take action on draft resolutions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today (for background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4266).
Human Rights Council Report
COLY SECK, President of the Human Rights Council, presenting the annual report (document A/74/53), said the Council met in three regular sessions and discussed a range of topics, focusing on those new to the agenda, including the human rights situations in Nicaragua, the Philippines and Venezuela. It decided to create a new fact‑finding mission and will submit a report in 2020. The Council also addressed discrimination against women and girls in the areas of sport, equal pay and the right to development, and continued its focus on technical assistance and capacity‑building in Cambodia, Georgia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Ukraine, Venezuela and Yemen.
Noting that through the universal periodic review, Member States pool best practices for fulfilling their human rights commitments, ensuring impartiality and objectivity, he said all Member States have been reviewed twice, with the third cycle having begun in 2017. Such participation bears witness to their political will, he said, underlining the links among the universal periodic review, technical assistance and capacity building. The Council’s high‑level segment in February and March likewise offers a platform for outlining human rights policies.
He commended efforts by least developed countries and small island developing States to participate in the Council, noting that the special trust fund for these groups allowed for the involvement of 33 delegates from 32 of such countries, including 11 small island developing States that do not have permanent representation in Geneva. Based on positive results in the Caribbean region, the trust fund will organize a workshop for the Pacific region in Fiji in November. To enhance access for persons with disabilities, eight Council meetings featured sign language interpretation and direct captioning, he said, as opposed to one in 2011, noting that work by the task force formed in 2011 to improve such access is fully aligned with the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy. He stressed the need to maintain civil society’s involvement in the Council’s work, and amid allegations of reprisals and intimidation of those cooperating with United Nations human rights mechanisms, to end any such acts.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Spain, associating with European Union, welcomed the systematic inclusion of a gender perspective in the Council’s work, as discrimination on the basis of gender is particularly worrying. It is crucial to ensure that human rights are upheld through mechanisms that allow the international community to act. The representative of Senegal underscored the immense tasks to be tackled in promoting human rights, including poverty, terrorism, environment and health problems, also highlighting the issue of climate change. The representative of Chile said the Council’s response capacity must urgently be enhanced and called for the inclusion of all stakeholders, notably civil society. Along similar lines, the representative of Japan called for enhancing the Council’s efficiency and avoiding duplication of efforts, in particular by rationalizing the number of resolutions. She asked the Council President about the biggest challenge in enhancing efficiency.
The representative of the Maldives welcomed resolution 41/21, which emphasizes the adverse effects of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, an issue that is real for the Maldives, where extreme weather events induced by climate change disrupt the regular supply of essential commodities to remote islands, threating food security.
The representative of Indonesia called for impartiality and non‑politization in the Council, as well as effective cooperation, dialogue and inclusivity, stressing the need to invest in conflict preventive action. The representative of Burundi likewise said dialogue and cooperation represent the only way to ensure the promotion of human rights. She rejected any resolution or machinery that targets specific countries and disassociates from those parts of the report which include Burundi.
Some delegates called for better coordination between Geneva and New York, and welcomed the President’s focus on the issue of reprisals, with the representative of Ireland calling 2019 a challenging period for human rights. An observer for the European Union, welcoming the enhanced contact between Geneva and New York, said the Council has faithfully implemented its mandate and asked the President what more can be done to prevent reprisals. The representative of Germany meanwhile pointed to the close link between peace and security, on the one hand, and human rights on the other, enquiring about steps that can be taken to bridge the gap between New York and Geneva. The representative of Botswana expressed concern over budgetary cuts undermining the Council’s work and called for greater cooperation with the Third Committee.
The representative of China said the Council faces multiple challenges stemming from politicization, the practice of “naming and shaming” and double standards. Underscoring the importance of respecting State sovereignty, he said there is much to be done to enhance the Council’s efficiency and urged it to abide by the United Nations Charter principles.
Mr. SECK replied by drawing attention to the Council’s prevention role, calling its capacity to pre‑empt violations a precious tool. The Council should prevent rather than punish, he added. While the Council is not spared from the financial situation, it is nonetheless determined to prevent and propose remedies to violations. The main challenge is to make the Council effective so it can take on more human rights issues and mandates. When facing challenges, it is necessary to be innovative and flexible, he said, noting that he will pass on this advice to his successor. It is also crucial that economic, social and cultural rights are born in mind in the process.
He stressed that the Council President must not be associated with any region or group, but rather be neutral and listen to everyone’s opinion. The Council’s efficiency and effectiveness involves delicate negotiations, he asserted, pointing to significant progress to be unveiled at its organizational session. He underlined the importance of better coordination between Geneva and New York, pointing to an informal paper on this matter which can serve as a reference point for improving that process. The Council’s work in Geneva is linked to that of the Security Council in New work. Civil society and human rights defenders must be given the fullest possibility to interact with the Council, so it can understand what is happening on the ground.
Also speaking were representatives of Morocco, Italy, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Angola, Iran, Latvia, El Salvador and Argentina.
JÖRUNDUR VALTÝSSON (Iceland), on behalf of the Nordic‑Baltic countries, said that two of the eight Nordic‑Baltic countries are members of the Human Rights Council, while others aspire to serve on it or have already done so. The Council can be more efficient and effective, and aspects of its work should be reformed; however, he said, “we have not lent our voices to the chorus of disapproval”. The Council has proven itself to be a crucial forum this year. He outlined a number of important resolutions it has passed in 2019, including on the situations in Venezuela and Yemen, as well as on environmental human rights defenders, with the situation in Saudi Arabia being addressed through joint statements. He stressed that mirroring and building on these efforts in the Third and Fifth Committees is of utmost importance.
NATALIE COHEN (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland, said that while being a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, a large majority of the Council’s decisions are taken autonomously and immediately implemented. Where necessary, the Third and Fifth Committees can act comprehensively and quickly on the decisions taken by the Council. However, it is the responsibility of the Assembly plenary to take action on the Council’s report, addendum and recommendations. It is not for the Committees to reopen these decisions, she said.
CHAN AYE, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, said Council resolutions on the human rights situation in his country adopted during its fortieth and forty‑second sessions were crafted with a clear intent of bringing more international pressure to bear on undermining its sovereignty and integrity. “It would also serve the purpose of sowing seeds of mistrust and further polarization among the diverse communities in Rakhine state,” he added. This politically motivated action wastes scarce United Nations resources, especially given the ongoing liquidity crisis. Despite Myanmar’s opposition to the establishment of the country‑specific mechanism, it has cooperated with the Council since 1992. The Special Rapporteur visited Myanmar six times, from 2014 to 2017. However, Myanmar terminated its cooperation with the current Special Rapporteur “when her attitude became totally unbalanced and biased.” The Government will continue to work with the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy who has visited the country eight times since 2018, he said, pressing the Council to focus on enhancing technical cooperation, notably by helping countries develop their national institutions.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom), turning first to Venezuela, called for a robust international response to the Maduro regime’s rights violations and welcomed the Council’s fact‑finding mission. On Syria, he expressed concern about appalling abuses that continue to be exposed and welcomed the investigation by the board of inquiry into attacks on civilian infrastructure. On Sudan, he welcomed the extension in September of the mandate of its Independent Expert, and of the planned opening of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Khartoum. On Myanmar, he urged all international partners to respond to findings of domestic and international accountability mechanisms and welcomed the Government’s stated commitment to develop its human rights approach with the Special Representative. More broadly, he expressed support for the mandate on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, recalling that the United Kingdom had raised concerns over the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Chechnya in March.
PAULOMI TRIPATHI (India) said the Council’s use of the universal periodic review has encouraged States to recognize and address gaps in human rights protection. The mechanism must be strengthened by allotting sufficient time for fruitful exchanges of views. The special procedures are important in fostering genuine dialogue to strengthen the capacity of Member States, she said, underscoring the need for mandate holders to remain truly independent and impartial, and carry out their tasks with responsibility and sensitivity, in line with their mandates. The selection and appointment of mandate holders should be based on equitable representation of different legal systems. The Council should keep prioritizing its work to use its limited resources most efficiently. India’s engagement with the Council has been guided by the significance of consultation among States in framing the international human rights discourse and action.
ABUBAKER ALI ABUBAKER BA ABBAD (Yemen) said a coup d’état is the cause of the situation his country faces today. The report of the expert group has made no effort to verify the truth; it lacks objectivity, neutrality, and credibility, and relies on information drawn the media and biased non‑governmental organizations. Further, the experts made no distinction between the militia and the Government and provide absolutely no proof of the Yemenite or coalition Government’s hand in arbitrary arrests, torture or the raping of children. The report represents “an instrumentalization of human rights in Yemen”, he stressed, adding that his country prefers to discuss matters under item 10 of the Council, as it requires technical help to resolve its issues. He called for peaceful solutions to the conflict, hailing the release of kidnapped persons and prisoners in Sweden, and commending efforts by the Special Envoy.
SHAH ASIF RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said that as a current member of the Human Rights Council, his country supports its work from within; however, there is a need to bring coherence to the work carried out in Geneva and to bring in more consensus through facilitation in New York for the wider membership. He thanked the Council for adopting a strong resolution on the situation in Myanmar in September, noting that once that consensus language is adopted by the Third Committee, Member States can demonstrate their continued support and solidarity for Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. He expressed deep regret that neither the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar nor the United Nations Independent International Fact‑Finding Mission on Myanmar has been allowed access to the country and hoped that full, unfettered access will be given to ensure accountability for all atrocities. For its part, Bangladesh has cooperated with the Special Rapporteur and the Fact‑Finding Mission for the past year.
TAIMUR AL SAID (Oman), pointing to conventions ratified by his country — including on the rights of the child, children in armed conflict, trafficking in children and child pornography — said various committees have been established to promote these instruments. Among other efforts, he highlighted Government programmes to improve the quality of life and health of those with special needs, including widows, orphans, people with disabilities and the elderly, underscoring Oman’s commitment to international conventions and to making progress.
MOHAMED ABDELRAHMAN MOHAMED MOUSSA (Egypt) welcomed the proposals put forward regarding the review of the Council’s work, which are in line with the institution‑building package. Any agreement reached on such measures should respect the wide array of views and concerns of all Member States and be adopted by consensus. “We express our concern at the continued polarization of the deliberations and work of the Council,” he said, calling for upholding the principles of non‑politicization, non‑selectivity, objectivity, universality and international cooperation. “We must refrain from targeting human rights situations in specific countries.” All issues on the agenda must be treated equally. He affirmed the universality, interrelatedness and interdependence of all human rights, pointing to Egypt’s initiatives within the Council focused on the rights of youth and protection of the family, as well as concerning terrorism and human rights.
Ms. MALOUCHE, International Organization of la Francophonie, said members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Groups of States had collectively raised their voices about the cessation of meetings summaries in French by the United Nations Information Service at the forty‑second session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 27 September. Providing this service in two working languages of the United Nations fosters a more equitable ability of delegations to follow the work of the Council. “We are aware of the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations in Geneva, and the efforts it has already undertaken to guarantee multilingualism,” she said, adding that her organization continues to hope for the reinstatement of full coverage of the Council’s sessions.