Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Haiti
3 July 2018
Concludes General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, after he presented his report on the development of a national plan of action to implement recommendations of human rights mechanisms in Haiti. The Council also concluded its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.
The High Commissioner reminded that in March 2017, the Human Rights Council had requested that Haiti prepare a national action plan to implement the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms, as well as a timeline for achieving the objectives of that plan. The High Commissioner regretted that there had been very little progress. The country had made strides towards stability, but the prolonged absence of a high-level human rights focal point in the executive branch had impeded progress, and it spoke for the overall lack of strategic and political engagement by the Government for meaningful improvement of the human rights situation in the country.
Haiti, speaking as the concerned country, said that the issue of human rights was one of the fundamental pillars of Haiti, which was committed to democracy and social justice. However, the context too often brought to naught the proper respect for human rights. This was due, inter alia, to the impact of natural disasters and the adverse effect of mass returns of Haitians from abroad. All this had had a very serious effect on the rights to housing and education, and other rights. Material and human resources remained a challenge.
Office de la Protection du Citoyen of Haiti recalled that Haiti had made considerable sacrifices in meeting the requirements of various international human rights mechanisms. Significant progress had been made in the promotion of civil and political rights. However, major concerns remained regarding several social and economic rights.
In the ensuing discussion, delegations urged Haiti to make the improvement of human rights a matter of priority, and regretted that it had not undertaken appropriate measures in the past year. There was still much work to ensure the scrupulous defence of the rule of law, rights for detainees, and appropriate prison conditions. The lack of progress on a national action plan, the non-renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert, and the prolonged absence of a ministerial-level human rights focal point in the Government all represented fundamental obstacles to the creation of an environment in which respect for human rights could thrive in Haiti. At the same time, speakers welcomed the initiative of Haiti to submit a resolution under agenda item 10 to strengthen technical assistance for that country, which it saw as a sign of the political will of the Haitian authorities to overcome human rights challenges.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, France on behalf of a group of countries, Canada, France, Australia, Spain, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, United Kingdom, and Brazil.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Franciscans International, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, and Association of World Citizens.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance. A summary of the first part of the general debate, held on Monday, 2 July, can be read here.
In the general debate, representatives from non-governmental organizations drew attention to concerning human rights situations across the world. Speakers pointed to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action as the foundation for the fight against all forms of discrimination. Victims of discrimination were rights holders and States had a responsibility to uphold their fundamental rights and freedoms.
The following non-governmental organizations took part in the debate: Iraqi Development Organization; Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc; Alsalam Foundation; Organization for Defending Victims of Violence; Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture; United Nations Watch; World Muslim Congress; Association of World Citizens; Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi; Association des étudiants tamouls de France; _Action of Human Movement (AHM); European Humanist Federation; _Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul; L'Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie; Society for Development and Community Empowerment; International Solidarity for Africa; ABC Tamil Oli; Tamil Uzhagam; _Association Thendral; _International Educational Development; Institute for NGO Research; Servas International; Health and Environment Program (HEP); Indian Council of South America (CISA); Shivi Development Society.
The Human Rights Council will next hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the afternoon, it will hear an oral presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Ukraine, to be delivered by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore, followed by an interactive dialogue.
General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Iraqi Development Organization reminded that Bahrain systematically discriminated against its majority Shia population. The Government had moved to suppress Shia religious, social and cultural symbols by targeting Shia clerics, and arresting, detaining and sometimes deporting them. In 2017, the Government had harassed, interrogated, arrested or prosecuted over 700 clerics.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc drew attention to Bahrain’s discriminatory practices against the Shia community and imprisonment of their clerics. The Government was not willing to release imprisoned clerics and arbitrarily withdrew their nationality. The organization called on countries to stop discrimination.
Alsalam Foundation remained concerned about Saudi Arabia’s continued discrimination against its Shia minority, sentencing Shia activists to death based on bogus religiously-motivated counter-terrorism charges. There were currently at least 45 men on death row, all of them Shia. The organization called on Saudi Arabia to uphold the principles of the Durban Declaration.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence called attention to anti-Muslim hatred in the United Kingdom. The studies proved that the ongoing hate crimes against Muslims caused them psychological difficulties, whereas they also suffered from accessing employment and housing. The organization called on non-governmental organizations in the United Kingdom to study ways to achieve the social inclusion of minorities, including Muslims.
Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture said the Kuwaiti Freedom of Association organization was clearly being persecuted. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait had decided to disband the organization, without prior consultation. The Minister had also opposed the name of the Kuwaiti Liberals organization and had insisted to change its name. After one of its members had expressed his opinion freely, he had been prosecuted.
United Nations Watch had asked the Arab countries a simple question – where are your Jews? The response had been silence. Jewish refugees from Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other Arab countries had suffered deadly pogroms but had not been granted a special agency. The Palestinians were looked after under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. By supporting this organization, the international community was only keeping the conflict alive.
World Muslim Congress said all human beings were born free and equal in dignity. The fight against discrimination needed extensive policies. The systematic discrimination of lower castes had been part of the structure of Indian society for decades. Lower castes were badly treated. Kashmiri Muslims suffered from a deep sense of insecurity and vulnerability and were victims of harassment. They were picked up by police officers under the anti-terrorism act and had to bribe police in order to be set free, even though they were innocent.
Association of World Citizens said it appreciated that the General Assembly had requested the Special Rapporteur to draft a report on racism and neo-Nazism. Even though a strict law was in place in Iran, Mein Kampf was being distributed freely in that country. Hitler was portrayed as a hero who put the Arian race above the others. The Iranians of Arab origin felt alienated while a nostalgia for the Persian heritage grew in this ambiance of Iranian nationalism with an anti-Arab tendency.
Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi said the Durban Declaration had turned victims of discrimination into human rights holders and States into duty bearers. The Government of India must uphold the rights of the people of Assam. The people of the region were being forced to assimilate with illegal migrants. The State had an opportunity to correct the issue.
Association des étudiants tamouls de France said that in August of 2016, the United Nations had stated that Sri Lanka was using its counter-terrorism legislation disproportionately. There were some 100,000 Tamil refugees living in India and Sri Lanka was not taking steps to allow for their return. Sri Lanka was trying to safeguard the dominance given to Buddhists and was neglecting the rights of Tamils.
Action of Human Movement (AHM) said it represented the mothers of persons who had been victims of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka. Government representatives had said they would not prosecute any Sri Lankan soldiers in cases of human rights violations. The organization urged the Human Rights Council to refer the issue faced by the Tamil people to the International Criminal Court.
European Humanist Federation said people around the world were being forced to leave their countries because of their beliefs and the views they held. The organization was particularly worried to see that such people were still not able to freely express their views in their host countries. The Human Rights Council was urged to pay particular attention to the situation of atheist and non-believer asylum seekers.
Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul drew attention to the issue of abducted activists during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009. Their destiny was not known. Families of the disappeared, especially women, were seeking answers regarding their beloved ones. The organization called on the Council to hold those responsible to account, and to help the victims refer their case to the International Criminal Court.
L'Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie noted that the Government of Sri Lanka had failed to repeal and replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act with counter-terrorism legislation in compliance with international standards. The organization called on the Council to urge the Sri Lankan Government to stop using that law against the Tamil people of the north and east of the country, and to allow them to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.
Society for Development and Community Empowerment stressed that the Tamils in Sri Lanka were victims of violations of religious freedom. In March 2010, the Sinhala military had demolished the memorial pillar of Thileepan and had desecrated it further by throwing the remnants in a garbage dump. The military had also destroyed 25 burial grounds of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
International Solidarity for Africa reminded that despite pledging to repeal its Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Government of Sri Lanka continued to utilize it to discriminate against and marginalize the country’s Tamil community. Since the conclusion of genocidal massacres in May 2009, the Sinhala chauvinist Sri Lankan State had taken unparalleled measures to criminalize the commemoration of the Tamil national resistance and to destroy its symbols.
ABC Tamil Oli said successive Sri Lankan governments had violated the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the current Government had continued the trend. The Eelam Tamils continued to suffer discrimination despite the defeat of the Tamil Tiger Freedom Fighters. The end of the conflict had opened the door for the Government to put in place policies of institutional and social discrimination.
Tamil Uzhagam said the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in September 2001, was seriously concerned about the ill-treatment, harassment and sexual torture of children. On 14 August 2006, the most gruesome and cruel massacre was the bombing of Chencholai orphanage in Sri Lanka in which 61 girl children had been brutally killed and 170 seriously wounded.
Association Thendral said in the north-east of Sri Lanka, the Tamil community was most affected by a draconian anti-terrorism act which contributed to rape, torture, and murder. Military personnel were present in the daily life of people in that area, and their intervention had become a common hindrance to the people. Development and trade activities were carried out by the military. The Association called on the Government of Sri Lanka to demilitarize the north-east and allow the Tamil people to exercise their self-determination.
International Educational Development stated that there were no elements to define racist regimes in international law. This was a factor in the Human Rights Council’s failure to properly respond to the war in Sri Lanka where clearly a war was being waged against the Tamil people. Additionally, acts of violence against the ethnically different group, namely the Hmong people in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, had been occurring for over 40 years. Concerted efforts by the group in power to undermine the social, economic, political, cultural and religious rights of the Hmong was occurring.
Institute for NGO Research said the Durban Conference had been tarnished by rampant anti-Semitism. The Palestinian Authority routinely spewed anti-Semitic rhetoric, claiming Palestinian victory would be achieved through the murder of Jewish people. The Palestinian Authority must be held to account for flouting the norms outlined in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Servas International was worried that concrete action for the total elimination of discrimination was still missing. The Durban Declaration and its Programme of Action were not being fully implemented. Attacks on migrants and xenophobia were on the rise. The Human Rights Council must work towards the implementation of the Durban Declaration and not make any concessions regarding the document.
Health and Environment Program (HEP) believed Governments must secure development, fight poverty, strengthen education and impose respect and awareness for human rights. All Member States must ratify the Durban Declaration and share good practices on the matter. States must also implement the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.
Indian Council of South America (CISA) said United Nations mechanisms had reviewed the cases of Alaska and Hawaii and recommended that they be addressed at de-colonization meetings. Jurisdiction and sovereignty remained with the people of Alaska and the Government was promoting outright racist land policies. The people of Hawaii called for the removal of stigmatizing resolutions.
Shivi Development Society said the scourge of xenophobia and racism were yet to be rooted out in many parts of the world, including India. Rampant violations of human rights were being perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir, where those who did not believe in certain Islamic concepts faced discrimination. Any Kashmiri Muslim who rejected Wahhabism was targeted by extremist groups.
The Council has before it a report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Development of a national action plan to implement recommendations of human rights mechanisms in Haiti (A/HRC/38/30)
Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Haiti
VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, said that pursuant to the President’s statement 34/1, entitled “situation of human rights in Haiti,” the Council would hold the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on his report on the development of a national plan of action to implement recommendations of human rights mechanisms in Haiti.
Presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded that in March 2017, following the termination of the mandate of the Independent Expert, the Human Rights Council had requested that the Government of Haiti prepare a national action plan to implement the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms, together with a broad range of stakeholders and with the assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as a timeline for achieving the objectives of that plan, and a national mechanism for reporting and monitoring targets and indicators related to human rights. The High Commissioner regretted that there had been very little progress in all those areas. The prolonged absence of a high-level human rights focal point in the executive branch had impeded progress, and it spoke for the overall lack of strategic and political engagement by the Government for meaningful improvement of the human rights situation in the country. While the office of the Ombudsperson had demonstrated dynamism and commitment, the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights had not significantly progressed in its work to establish a framework for action. The first draft of a national human rights plan, drawn up in 2014, stood no closer to finalization. The plan was supposed to address key challenges, including economic and social rights, and the right to development, pervasive illiteracy and poverty.
The impact of recent climate change, and natural disasters, had further set back the cause of development, and 36,500 people remained displaced from the 2010 earthquake, in often precarious conditions. There also remained a range of challenges in the field of transitional justice, such as impunity for the grave and extensive human rights violations committed by successive regimes. Moreover, legislative and institutional reforms were urgently needed, with concrete measures to address the severe overcrowding in prisons. The High Commissioner’s Office continued to be concerned about repeated allegations of human rights violations committed by members of the police force, which undermined public trust in justice. Those were frequently compounded by failure to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable. Progress in improving the human rights situation in Haiti was essential. The country had made strides towards stability, which could be ensured only by protecting and promoting human rights. In conclusion, the High Commissioner extended the continued support of his Office and recommended that the Council continue to be frequently appraised about the progress of the preparation and implementation of the action plan, as well as on the human rights situation in Haiti.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Haiti, speaking as the concerned country, said human rights were one of the fundamental pillars in Haiti, which was committed to democracy and social justice. However, the context too often brought to naught the proper respect for human rights. This was due, inter alia, to the impact of natural disasters and the adverse effect of mass returns of Haitians from abroad. All this had had a very serious effect on the rights to housing and education, and other rights. The Government had been asked by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to draft a National Plan to implement the recommendations from the treaty bodies and Special Procedure mechanisms. In this respect, a process to recruit a National Expert was under way. This Expert would work on the drafting of the National Plan. He would be the coordinator between the Interdepartmental Office for Human Rights and the international human rights institutions based in Haiti. Material and human resources, however, remained a challenge.
Preparations were under way with a view to the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Work was also under way to submit a report to the Human Rights Committee. Haiti reassured the Human Rights Council that since the current President had assumed office, there had been stability in the country. However, there was a need to fight corruption in the public service, and the Government had implemented a series of efforts in this regard. Since May 2018, in an effort to combat pre-trial detention, three examining magistrates had been elected to a body to this effect. The body had identified many detainees without dossiers. Alongside that, the initial appeal courts were being organised. Given the sky-rocketing insecurity in certain areas, governmental agencies were doing all that was in their power to stabilize the situation. The Caravan for Change was a public policy programme launched by the President which aimed to benefit the national economy, and sought sustainable solutions to fulfil economic and social rights, including the right to development, of the people of Haiti. Haiti would continue to call for technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and would continue to cooperate with all relevant bodies in order to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights. The new Cholera Control Strategy was intended to support the Government’s efforts to combat the cholera epidemic.
Office de la Protection du Citoyen recalled that Haiti had made considerable sacrifices in meeting the requirements of various international human rights mechanisms. Significant progress had been made in the promotion of civil and political rights. However, major concerns remained regarding several social and economic rights. Greater efforts were needed to guarantee a minimum level of social wellbeing. Failure to access basic social services meant people lived in unsafe environments. The Office drew attention to ongoing pre-trial detention practices and the need to increase engagement with vulnerable sectors of society.
Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Haiti
European Union called on the Government of Haiti to make the improvement of human rights a matter of priority, and regretted that Haiti had not undertaken appropriate measures in the past year. What were the fields in which technical assistance could be most efficient? France, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, welcomed the initiative of Haiti to submit a resolution under agenda item 10 to strengthen the technical assistance for that country, which it saw as a sign of the political will of the Haitian authorities to overcome human rights challenges. The group of countries asked the High Commissioner about the timeline for delivering technical assistance to Haiti. Canada commended the will of the Government of Haiti to implement the recommendations of international mechanisms, and supported Haiti’s resolution requesting technical assistance and capacity-building. Furthermore, Canada underlined the key role played by the Office of Ombudsperson in Haiti.
France encouraged Haiti to strengthen the rule of law and to cooperate with the High Commissioner’s Office, whose assistance should make it possible to implement the recommendations of human rights mechanisms. It recommended that Haiti reduce the time spent in pre-trial detention and that it improve detention conditions. Australia noted Haiti’s progress in addressing challenges related to human rights and the rule of law, and acknowledged its efforts to draft a national human rights action plan. However, it remained concerned about the lack of progress in strengthening the rule of law institutions, including the judiciary and prisons. Spain welcomed Haiti’s acceptance of the recommendations and the establishment of legal mechanisms to ratify the pending international conventions. But there was still much work to ensure scrupulous defence of the rule of law, rights for detainees, and appropriate prison conditions.
Venezuela was fulfilling its responsibility to assist Haiti in efforts to overcome poverty. Venezuela had forgiven some of Haiti’s foreign debt. Haiti had been the victim of natural disasters that had seriously affected its infrastructure. The country required assistance to repair crucial infrastructure and cholera victims must receive compensation. Mexico reiterated the importance of strengthening technical assistance to States that required it. Mexico recognized that Haiti faced ongoing human rights challenges and assistance from United Nations mechanisms was very important. Mexico asked how technical assistance could truly be translated to action on the ground.
Cuba reiterated that in any discussion that was held about the situation in Haiti, it was important to always heed the needs and priorities of the country and its people. Rebuilding and development of Haiti was still lacking after centuries of colonialism. Cuba continued to cooperate with Haiti to promote economic, social and cultural rights through programmes which fully respected the sovereign rights of the people. United Kingdom said the human right situation in Haiti was complex and challenging. The lack of progress on a national action plan, the non-renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert, and the prolonged absence of a Ministerial level human rights focal point in the Government, all represented fundamental obstacles to the creation of an environment in which respect for human rights could thrive. Brazil welcomed the report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reasserted its support for human rights in Haiti. As leader of the military force of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Brazil had made a major contribution to advancing the values of solidarity and respect within Haitian society. It underscored the urgent need to give the country the support it required for capacity building for human rights at the national level.
Franciscans International said prison conditions constituted cruel and degrading treatment in Haiti. There was extreme overcrowding. It expressed concern over the lack of political will to address this situation. It urged the Government to work with civil society organizations in an open, inclusive and transparent manner. International Association of Democratic Lawyers said following the cholera outbreak, the United Nations had denied responsibility despite the evidence that United Nations Peacekeepers had brought the disease to Haiti. After 8 years and over 10,000 deaths, the United Nations had failed to keep its promise. It had started a pilot project with a select group of victims, but refused to start dialogue about an individual payment approach. International Federation of Human Rights Leagues called on the Human Rights Council to monitor the situation in Haiti, where more than half the population lived on less than 1 dollar a day, and thousands still lived in camps after the earthquake. This situation had also affected the operation of the judiciary. As a result, 75 per cent of the population were awaiting trial in prisons, which constituted cruel and degrading treatment.
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme fully supported technical assistance being given to the Government by the High Commissioner’s office. With progress in Haiti being slow, the international community must step up cooperation. The organization asked how the impact of existing resources could be maximised. Association of World Citizens said Haiti required the special attention of the Human Rights Council and regretted that the mandate on the country was discontinued. A large section of the population lived under the poverty line, a major concern in a country routinely affected by natural disasters.
Concluding Remarks by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his Office supported the elaboration and swift implementation of a national human rights plan of action in Haiti. Support would be given to Haiti to achieve that objective. The High Commissioner welcomed the announcement of the designation of a high-level focal point to act as an intermediary in the preparation of the national action plan. This was essential in enabling the promotion and protection of human rights in Haiti. The preparation of the plan must be swift and dynamic. On the creation of the military, Haitian civil society had raised concerns over entities overlooking the process. Workshops were contributing to ensure that members of the inter-ministerial committee on human rights had the necessary tools to meet Haiti’s human rights obligations. The High Commissioner underlined that success was only possible through the continued political will of the Haitian authorities.
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