Human Rights Council
4 March 2016
The Human Rights Council today concluded a clustered interactive dialogue with Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
The clustered interactive dialogue started on Thursday, 3 March, and a summary, including the presentation of the reports, can be read here.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Dieng underlined the importance of involving religious leaders in efforts to prevent genocide. He encouraged the Human Rights Council to strengthen its work on early warnings and prevention, and to discuss how the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide could be better implemented, including through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Forst urged States to look closely to see if laws adopted by their Parliaments hindered human rights defenders’ work and if they were in line with international standards. The issue of reprisals was of great concern and the Human Rights Council had to consider how to put the resolution that had been adopted in this respect into practice.
Janis Karklins, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, in concluding remarks, said both speakers mentioned very serious matters that deserved the Council's attention. In this context he took note with sadness of the assassination of Ms. Bertha Caceres yesterday, as also mentioned by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and welcomed the fact that the authorities had announced an investigation into this case.
In the discussion on the prevention of genocide, speakers reiterated their full support for the mandate of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide, and stressed the importance of his work on early warning for the prevention of genocide.
On human rights defenders, speakers underlined the importance of ensuring that human rights defenders could undertake their legitimate activities without restriction or fear of reprisals. Some speakers said that human rights defenders were not above the law, and had to abide by the national legislation in the countries were they operated.
The following delegations took the floor: Latvia, Morocco, Sweden, Afghanistan, Spain, Honduras, United Kingdom, Denmark, Myanmar, Belgium, Azerbaijan, Ghana, State of Palestine, Chile, Iraq and Kyrgyzstan.
Civil society organization and national human rights institutions also spoke: International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Equality and Human Rights Commission in a joint statement with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Social Service Agency of the Protestant Church in Germany, International Service for Human Rights, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Projects, Iraqi Development Organization, Action Canada for Population and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Alliance Defending Freedom, United Schools International, Aliran, National Consciousness Movement, International Association for Democracy in Africa, Liberation, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Human Rights House Foundation, and Arab Commission for Human Rights.
The Human Rights Council will reconvene at 2.30 p.m. this afternoon to hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
Latvia said greater visibility to threats faced by human rights defenders could have a preventive function, and asked the Special Rapporteur to reflect on how the United Nations could contribute to increasing public awareness of the work of human rights defenders. Latvia expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide and the emphasis he placed on the right to protect victims. Morocco reiterated its full support for the mandate of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide and informed that it had helped finance his office. It was up to States to defend human rights defenders through appropriate legislation. Sweden remained a staunch supporter of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide, and said that preventive warning needed to be put into practice. In the context of the backlash on human rights defenders which was being currently witnessed, Sweden asked the Special Rapporteur how a mechanism to prevent impunity would be constructed.
Afghanistan reiterated that human rights defenders were an important organ of society aiming to protect and promote human rights and freedoms. The Government of Afghanistan was committed to promoting and protecting human rights, and in particular women’s rights, and had ratified all human rights conventions and declarations. Spain stressed the importance of the work of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide on early warning for the prevention of genocide. Spain condemned the growth of persecution and criminalisation of human rights defenders in the context of impunity and commended the Special Rapporteur on the series of practices suggested to protect defenders. Honduras thanked the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for his work in Honduras, and informed that a thorough investigation was being undertaken to clarify the circumstances of the assassination of Bertha Caceres and bring perpetrators to justice. Honduras lived in a climate of violence due to the fact that it was used as a corridor for drug trafficking to North America and was determined to strengthen its combat against structural causes of violence.
United Kingdom stated that protecting people from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing sadly remained a priority. It voiced concern over an increasing global trend to restrict and limit the work of human rights defenders. Denmark reaffirmed its firm support for the work of the Special Adviser. It welcomed the focus of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on the issues of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Myanmar rejected the Special Adviser’s categorization of some of Myanmar’s population as “populations at risk,” noting that there was no ethnic, racial or religious group in danger of being killed. Belgium noted that the Human Rights Council should be able to act free of political considerations in order to prevent genocide and other mass crimes. It asked the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders how to include traditional leaders in his consultations. Azerbaijan noted that it was unfortunate that humankind was repeatedly witnessing massive atrocities. A striking example was the killing of more than 600 innocent Azerbaijanis in February 1992, perpetrated by the political and military leadership of Armenia. Ghana stated that in the face of massive atrocities silence should not be tolerated, and that distinguishing between genocide and mass killings was problematic. As for human rights defenders, States had an obligation to facilitate their work.
State of Palestine said that human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had been targeted, arbitrarily arrested and persecuted by the occupying power Israel, in violation of international law and with longstanding impunity. Chile said that the international community’s progress in developing mechanisms for preventing and punishing the crime of genocide had highlighted the vital role of combatting discrimination and hatred through education. The Latin American Network for the prevention of genocide could serve as a model and a good practice. Iraq said that hundreds of mass graves had been discovered in Iraq, proving that the former regime had perpetrated atrocities, and expressed the Government’s determination to identify the victims, with the support of the international community. Kyrgyzstan said that it ensured freedom of expression and had a vibrant civil society.
International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights expressed concerns that members and staff of national human rights institutions had themselves been subject to threats, intimidation or reprisals, and fully supported the recommendation by Mr. Forst that action plans to protect defenders should be developed. Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, speaking in a joint video-statement, regretted that the Trade Union Bill currently going through the British Parliament included a number of provisions that may interfere with the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and echoed concerns about the United Kingdom’s surveillance of protests and protestors.
Social Service Agency of the Protestant Church in Germany said it was gravely concerned that, despite positive steps taken by some States to improve protection mechanisms, huge protection gaps remained, even in Member States of the Human Rights Council. Some of these were the Philippines, Mexico, Burundi, and Egypt. International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of severals NGOs1, joined the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in expressing his sadness and outrage following the murder yesterday morning of Bertha Caceres in Honduras, and called on Honduras to guarantee a thorough and impartial investigation of this crime. It was key that States develop and implement specific national laws and mechanisms to protect defenders and investigate and ensure accountability. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Projects said that in Burundi, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, brutal torture, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings had worsened since 2015 while the Burundi Government resumed its seat in the room of the Human Rights Council. Scores of human rights defenders and journalists had fled the country, and others hid from international and independent monitoring missions following the visit of the Special Rapporteur, in fear of reprisals.
Iraqi Development Organization, referred to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and underlined the ongoing arbitrary arrests and harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. The Government of Bahrain had confiscated the passports of several prominent human rights defenders, had used cameras to follow them, and hindered them from their work. Action Canada for Population and Development said the diversity of women human rights defenders in particular needed to be explored further as women who did not fit the stereotypical definitions of “women” were further marginalized by the denial of their existence, by the penalties they endured and for the use of their bodies. States should endeavour to work hand in hand with human rights defenders. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that repressive measures used by the Government against rights organizations and defenders in Egypt formed part of a larger effort by the Government to shut down the public space and stifle civil society. At least 13 defenders had been banned from traveling, including prominent rights defenders Hossam Baghat, Gamal Eid, and Esraa Abdel Fattah. Alliance Defending Freedom shared the concerns of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide raised in relation to the fate of Christians and other religious groups in the Middle East persecuted by the so-called Islamic State. It called upon the United Nations to formally recognize this as genocide and called upon the Special Adviser and the international community to take steps to bring the evidence to the attention of the Security Council and support their referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.
United Schools International said despite international legal frameworks, genocide of vulnerable groups, in particular minority groups, continued unabated in countries like Pakistan and South Sudan, where there was scant respect for human rights. In Pakistan there was a targeted killing of the Shia minority that could be termed as a silent genocide while in South Sudan, new episodes of atrocities were witnessed in Juba and Bor. Aliran, National Consciousness Movement, said in 2015 human rights in Malaysia had seen further deterioration and the ruling party, Umno, had carried out a wide-spread crackdown on rights activists, academics, journalists and politicians. Despite the pledge by the Prime Minister to repeal the 1948 Sedition Act which allowed the detention of people accused of intending to overthrow the Government, the Sedition Act had been stepped up and numerous individuals had been investigated and/or charged.
International Association for Democracy in Africa said that Pakistan was one of the most challenging countries for human rights defenders, who faced risks of killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction, surveillance, threats and harassment, particularly in the provinces of Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Liberation referred to the case of Soni Sori, a human rights defender from India who had been attacked while returning home. It also expressed concerns over the situation of human rights defenders in Western Sahara. International Fellowship of Reconciliation raised the Special Rapporteur’s attention to the situation of human rights defenders in Western Sahara, and referred particularly to the case of a human rights defender who was recently forcibly disappeared. The United Nations peacekeeping mission there should ensure the protection of human rights. Asian Legal Resource Centre said that lawyers and human rights defenders in Bangladesh and China were systematically targeted, and expressed concerns about the misuse of criminal justice by the Governments of Pakistan, India, Nepal and Thailand to harass activists. Human Rights House Foundation condemned the crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan, expressed grave concern that human rights lawyers continued to be harassed by the authorities, and raised concerns over restrictions to freedom of expression in Armenia. Arab Commission for Human Rights insisted on the need to protect populations targeted by the scourge of genocide, and asked what urgent measures could be implemented in reaction to early warnings and for the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect. It regretted that the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders was not available in Arabic.
ADAMA DIENG, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, encouraged the Government of Myanmar to ensure that no one was discriminated against. He welcomed those Governments that had supported his call to involve religious leaders in efforts to prevent genocide. Religious leaders played a crucial role, and their influence should be used in the most positive way. He paid tribute to the courage of religious leaders speaking out against violence. Turning to the situation in Burundi, he emphasized that although the crisis there was political in nature, some leaders were using ethnicity to advance their political interests. It was critical that those perpetrating serious crimes were identified and held to account. There could be no peace without accountability. On South Sudan, he said that the risk of inter-ethnic violence was high, and that the army did not have the capacity to prevent the violence or to protect the population. South Sudan should also address seriously the issue of accountability.
Mr. Dieng underlined the important role that the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms could play, and encouraged it to strengthen its work on early warnings and prevention. Prevention was much cheaper than reaction. He invited the Council to discuss how the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide could be better implemented, including through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. On the Responsibility to Protect, he said that this principle did not create new obligations. On the contrary, it called for the implementation of already existing obligations under international law. States were encouraged to appoint national focal points on the Responsibility to Protect. Regional organizations were critical partners in the prevention of genocide, and were key providers of international cooperation in that regard. Finally, the existence of an active, diverse, free and open civil society, including pluralistic media, was a strong element of genocide prevention.
MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said the current increase in violence against human rights defenders was a sign that the effectiveness of their work was recognized. The Special Rapporteur was supportive of the initiative of Frontline to set up a memorial in the name of defenders. He noted with interest the statement by Germany which regretted the growing trend by some States which continued to adopt laws that criminalised the work of defenders. In reference to the statements by China, Egypt, Venezuela and Cuba who had recalled that defenders were not above the law, he urged States to look closely to see if laws adopted by Parliaments hindered defenders work and if they were in line with international law, and offered his consultation services in this respect. He regretted that Russia and Iran equalled terrorists with defenders and reminded that there was a universally recognised definition in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted in 1998 and embraced by the entire international community, which stated that human rights defenders did not have to belong to an organization. Mr. Forst welcomed the appeal by Slovenia, Uruguay and Sweden for greater cooperation with regional organizations that specialized in human rights.
The Special Rapporteur stated that the issue of reprisals was of great concern and the Human Rights Council had to consider how to put the resolution that had been adopted in this respect into practice, including through the appointment of a representative on the issue of reprisals. He was struck by the increasing number of attacks on human rights defenders, and by things that were said against them in the Human Rights Council. It was true that the deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders was a warning sign that may lead to genocide, as was possibly signalled in Burundi. The Special Rapporteur informed that in the coming months, he intended to involve other defenders in his work and carry out consultations. Links between genocide and early warning about threats to defenders in post-conflict and post-crisis situations would be emphasized in his consultations. He reminded that his report aimed to highlight certain initiatives carried out by States and called on States to look at the report as a way of identifying best practices and identifying one practice which they could advocate.
JANIS KARKLINS, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, said both speakers mentioned very serious matters that deserved the Council's attention. In this context he took note with sadness of the assassination of Ms. Bertha Caceres yesterday,as also mentioned by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and welcomed the fact that the authorities had announced an investigation into this case.
1Joint statement: International Service for Human Rights; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship; Peace Brigades International Switzerland; Front Line, The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) Asociación Civil; Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Genero
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