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Human Rights Council concludes general debate on technical assistance and capacity building

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MORNING

26 March 2015

Adopts Outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Gambia

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its general debate on technical assistance and capacity building and adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Gambia.

During the general debate, speakers agreed that the primary responsibility to protect human rights rested with States, but underlined the crucial importance of capacity building and technical assistance. Some speakers highlighted concerns regarding specific country situations, and demanded that some of them be considered under item four of the agenda of the Human Rights Council and be monitored by Special Rapporteurs.

Speaking were Maldives as well as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Advocates for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc., Alsalam Foundation, United Nations Watch, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Catholic Child Bureau, Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation, Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme, Amnesty International, International Organization for the Least Developed Countries, and Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik.

The first part of the general debate on technical assistance and capacity building took place on Wednesday, 25 March and a summary can be seen here.

Bahrain and the Holy See spoke in right of reply.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Gambia, in the absence of a delegation.

Mothusi Bruce Rabasha Palai, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, said that following a series of formal and informal exchanges between the authorities of the Gambia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Gambia had eventually provided a position on all recommendations, but no delegation would participate in the adoption of the outcome. The Secretariat would inform the Government of the Gambia of the outcome of the discussion by sharing a summary of statements made.

During the discussion, speakers welcomed the Gambia’s efforts on access to health and education, and demanded that it strengthen its efforts for combatting female genital mutilation. Speakers expressed concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and harassment of human rights defenders and about the homosexuality bill. They raised concerns about the Gambia’s lack of investigation of allegations of torture, and demanded that the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council be allowed access to detention facilities.

Speaking were Kuwait, Libya, Sierra Leone, Togo, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Botswana, China, Cuba, Ghana, and Sudan.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Article 19 in a joint statement with International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Amnesty International, World Alliance for Citizen Participation-CIVICUS, and Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme.

The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Gambia.

The Human Rights Council will reconvene at noon today, to start taking action on draft resolutions and decisions.

Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review of the Gambia

MOTHUSI BRUCE RABASHA PALAI, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, said the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review outcome of the Gambia had been scheduled to take place on 18 March, but had to be postponed due to the fact that the Gambia had not indicated a clear position on all recommendations made during the review. A series of formal and informal exchanges had taken place between the authorities of the Gambia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to try to ensure that such a position was communicated during this session of the Council. The Gambia eventually provided a position on all recommendations, but no delegation would participate in the adoption of the outcome. The Secretariat would inform the Government of the Gambia of the outcome of the discussion by sharing a summary of statements made.

Kuwait commended the progress made by the Gambia to promote human rights, education and health. The establishment of a national institution was a positive development, but it had to be in line with international standards.

Libya appreciated the Gambia’s acceptance of most recommendations, which confirmed the Gambia’s commitment to human rights.

Sierra Leone commended the Gambia’s efforts to participate in the Universal Periodic Review process, but regretted that it had not accepted all recommendations. It called on the Gambia to raise the legal age for marriage to 18 in order to better protect girls from harmful practices.

Togo commended the Gambia’s efforts to abide by its international obligations, and encouraged the Government to maintain the well-being of its people. It invited the international community to provide adequate support to the Gambia and to adopt its Universal Periodic review report.

United Kingdom recognized the Gambia’s adaption of some recommendations, but regretted that the Gambia did not allow the Special Representative on torture to visit the country. It encouraged the Government to ensure full cooperation with United Nations special mechanisms. It remained concerned by the homosexuality bill.

United States said it was deeply concerned about human rights abuses in the Gambia, and supported recommendations from Spain and the United Kingdom to investigate torture allegations. It urged the Government of the Gambia to give access to and cooperate with United Nations Special Procedures.

Venezuela welcomed the human rights progress of the Gambia, noting that it was one of the first African countries to provide free primary school education, thus meeting the Millennium Development Goals. It recommended the adoption of the report.

Botswana thanked the Government of the Gambia for the updated information on the adoption of recommendations. It commended its efforts in creating awareness of sexual exploitation of children, measures to reduce poverty, and a programme for accelerated growth and economic development.

China welcomed the fact that the Gambia had positively and constructively engaged with the Universal Periodic Review process, and its commitment to promote economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. It expressed hope that the Gambia would continue to develop its economy, reduce poverty and improve the standard of living.

Cuba thanked the Government of the Gambia for the replies it had provided, and commended its education reforms underway, activities to improve the situation of persons with disabilities, the combat against human trafficking, and conditions of detainees. Cuba recommended that the Gambia’s Universal Periodic Review report be adopted.

Ghana enjoyed efforts by the Gambia to ensure access to education, and called on the Gambia to further its efforts to combat female genital mutilation, including through awareness raising campaigns.

Sudan welcomed that the Gambia had accepted most recommendations, including the two recommendations made by Sudan.

Article 19, in a joint statement with International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, urged the Gambia to urgently accept and implement recommendations relating to freedom of expression and the death penalty. It also called on the acceptation of recommendations relating to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, who were victims of violence in the country.

Amnesty International called on the Gambia to allow access to prisons by Special Procedures, and urged the Gambia to investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Amnesty International raised concerns about human rights defenders from the Gambia not engaging with the Universal Periodic Review in fear of reprisals.

World Alliance for Citizen Participation-CIVICUS welcomed the decision of the Gambia to accept several recommendations aimed at improving respect of fundamental freedoms. However, ongoing violations and restrictions of civil liberties, intimidation of journalists and regular suspensions of media outlets and radio stations were worrying

Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme welcomed several advancements that had taken place in the Gambia such as in the area of education where Gambia had achieved its Millennium Development Goal. However, the human rights situations had deteriorated. The fate of persons accused of the attempted coup was concerning.

The Vice-President said that out of 171 recommendations, the Gambia accepted 93 and noted 78. The Human Rights Council then adopted the Universal Periodic Review of the Gambia.

GENERAL DEBATE ON TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY BUILDING

Maldives fully agreed that the primary responsibility to protect human rights rested with States, but underlined the crucial importance of capacity building and technical assistance while respecting States’ sovereignty. Maldives underlined the importance of constructive dialogue and cooperation within the Human Rights Council, and noted that small States had specific technical assistance needs.

Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, through a video presentation, said that the Afghan Government needed to be encouraged and supported by the United Nations and the rest of the international community to ensure the full implementation of all recommendations. Assistance and solidarity needed to be maintained.

International Federation for Human Rights was extremely concerned about the gravity of the human rights situation in South Sudan. Some of the violations could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Federation called on the Council to respond to the call for the creation of a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on the situation.

Human Rights Watch said that human rights in Libya had regressed sharply in 2014 and the Council’s efforts through technical assistance were inadequate. The Council should create an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations in Libya. It should also establish a Special Rapporteur to monitor and publicly report on violations in South Sudan.

Advocates for Human Rights said that technical assistance for civil society should not be limited to facilitating civil society engagement with government bodies. Member States should not discount technical assistance and capacity building provided by civil society. This was often more effective. The Advocates were building the capacity of their partners through a new resource called “Human Rights Tools for a Changing World” which was available for free download.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights stressed the urgency for an investigative mechanism on ongoing gross violations in Libya. The escalation of the ongoing armed conflict had resulted in the death of several hundred individuals, in addition to the internal displacement of more than 400,000 people across 25 cities. An adequately resourced and independent mechanism of inquiry should be set up.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc. called special attention to situations in which States had yet to implement recommendations by the Council or other mandate holders. Such a situation could be seen in Saudi Arabia, where the Government had made little effort to concretely address concerns of judicial transparency and independence.

Alsalam Foundation, in a joint of statement, called for the establishment of a substantive, robust and sustained framework and programme of action for enhanced technical cooperation between the Office of the High Commissioner and Bahrain. Bahrain continued to demonstrate a clear need to address widespread human rights concerns, as security forces still carried out violent raids and had expelled a leading Shia religious figure.

United Nations Watch was deeply concerned about the human rights situation in South Sudan, including ethnic killings of civilians. It was also deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, and the significant acts of civilian casualties, violence against women and torture there. On Libya, abuses by armed groups and attacks on the judicial system undermined the possibility for reform. The Council should establish Special Rapporteurs to monitor the situation in those countries.

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development underscored the importance of continuing to promote human rights education through the Technical Cooperation Programme of the Office of the High Commissioner. It underlined the importance of the media, and called on States to ensure the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek and provide information, which was vital for the full realization of human rights.

International Catholic Child Bureau, in a joint statement with several NGOs1,addressed juvenile justice in Colombia and Guatemala. Colombia should provide resources for alternative measures to detention, and ensure that children were detained separately from adults. In Guatemala, poor detention conditions, the high rate of children detained with adults and gender-based violence were issues of concern. Guatemala should strengthen its justice system and comply with international standards relating to juvenile justice.

Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation said Sri Lanka continued to block access to the investigative team of the Office of the High Commissioner. The Council had to ensure that Sri Lanka did not treat the delay for the release of the investigative mission report as an opportunity to undermine the level of technical assistance provided. The Council had to develop a mechanism for justice.

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme said political dialogue was needed in Guinea in order to avoid a crisis. It appealed to the international community to provide assistance to Guinea which suffered from Ebola. It called upon the conflicting parties in South Sudan to engage in a constructive inclusive dialogue and to respect the peace agreement. The situation in Libya was of high concern.

Amnesty International said that Sri Lanka should take specific measures to improve the human rights situation, including publishing the names and locations of all detainees and permitting family visits; charging and trying detainees promptly in accordance with international standards or releasing them; repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act; and acceding to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

International Organization for the Least Developed Countries said that the improvement of technical cooperation and the strengthening of capacities in the human rights area would be a major achievement for the international community. International cooperation was indispensable for the effective promotion and protection of human rights.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik raised concern about pervasive impunity of those who practiced violence against women, including violence and torture in prisons. Such violence had to be treated seriously by all States. It was the Afghanistan Government’s responsibility to protect the life of all its citizens, and it should implement the High Commissioner’s recommendations for a concrete two-year plan to improve the status of the elimination of violence against women.

Right of Reply

Bahrain attached great importance to cooperation with United Nations mechanisms, and looked forward to continuing to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights through the technical cooperation programme. This cooperation had led to positive achievements, and was a moral duty for Bahrain. Bahrain worked closely with partners to implement recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review, and had set up a mechanism to hold perpetrators of torture accountable. Bahraini law guaranteed the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, as well as equality before the law without discrimination based on gender or ethnicity. Freedom of religion and freedom of assembly were protected and had to be exercised in accordance with the law.

Holy See stressed the importance of respecting international law and Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Holy See welcomed the adoption of the Minsk Agreement and called on all parties to respect the cease-fire. It underlined the important role played by the United Nations in addressing the humanitarian needs in affected areas. It was concerned about the social emergency faced by the population in these areas, and about the situation of displaced persons.

  1. Joint statement: International Catholic Child Bureau; Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul; International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture); and Dominicans for Justice and Peace - Order of Preachers

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