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Human Rights Council concludes its high-level segment after hearing statements from 13 dignitaries

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28 February 2013

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its high-level segment after hearing statements from 13 dignitaries who expressed their concerns about the situation in Mali, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Syria, and highlighted some of the achievements that their countries and organizations had made in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Speaking were Amina Kodjiyana, Minister for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Chad; Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon; Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Alberto Nkutumula, Deputy Minister of Justice of Mozambique; Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates; Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh Basti, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran; Sakina Binti, Vice-Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Mohamed Bushara Dousa, Minister of Justice of Sudan; Luís Brites Pereira, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal; Adama Dieng, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide; Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS; Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat; and Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

During the meeting, many speakers expressed concern about the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mali, and Syria. One speaker said that the violation of human rights in Syria was widespread and systematic and that the international community had a duty towards the victims of the conflict to hold accountable those responsible for heinous crimes. Particular reference was made to the violation of the human rights of vulnerable groups, such as women and persons with disabilities, the importance of education in combating discrimination and racism, and the dangers posed by hate speech and incitement to racial hatred.

Speakers praised the work carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide, and noted the progress which had been made in several parts of the world. Nevertheless, significant challenges remained, and in that regard the international community and the Council in particular should play a full role in ensuring the universal enjoyment of human rights.

At the end of the meeting Egypt, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Azerbaijan, Japan, Armenia, Morocco, Rwanda, and the Republic of Korea spoke in right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work this afternoon at 3 p.m., when it will hold its general segment, to be followed by the presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual report and an interactive dialogue with High Commissioner Navi Pillay.

High-level Segment

AMINA KODJIYANA, Minister for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Chad, said that Chad had made human rights a priority and since 1994 had started setting up a number of institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. Chad held consultations with the majority and opposition political parties, which reinforced the democratic process. Chad had also begun a process of rehabilitation of its prisons to bring them in line with international standards. Efforts had also been made to combat corruption, improve infrastructure and access to education and drinking water, and create development. Special protection measures had been taken for persons with disabilities and persons living with HIV/AIDS. Paying attention to the implementation of international instruments, Chad created in 2005 a Ministry for Human Rights, which organized a Forum on HIV/AIDS in 2012; it had also set up an inter-ministerial technical committee to prepare periodic reports on human rights submitted to international organizations. Chad had also given its agreement for the opening of an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the area of foreign policy, Chad was pursuing fruitful cooperation with countries supporting peace and justice, and had sent a military contingent to Mali. Ms. Kodjiyana highlighted Chad’s candidacy for election as a non-permanent member to the Security Council and for election to the Council of Human Rights for the period 2014-2016.

EMMANUEL ISSOZE NGONDET, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Gabon, said that Gabon had always given pride of place to the universality of human rights and had signed, acceded or ratified various instruments of human rights. The President of Gabon had committed the country to a number of reforms, through the building of strategic infrastructure and the consolidation of a rule of law State. Gabon had set up a mechanism that involved free healthcare for the elderly and also covered pre-natal and maternal care for all women infected by HIV/AIDS. Gabon welcomed the cooperation of States with the Universal Periodic Review as well as the constructive character of exchanges. Attention should now be paid to the follow-up of recommendations. What appeared to be more than ever essential was to give concrete content to the issues of the right to development and Chad encouraged the Council to spare no effort to go into more depth on the right to sustainable development. The question of hostage tacking and their impact was also of major concern. Gabon encouraged the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee to go more into depth in this respect. Gabon was in favour of any measure to strengthen the budget of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to allow for the steady financing of its activities. Gabon also welcomed the initiative of the High Commissioner of organising informal consultations on the reform of treaty bodies. However, the dialogue should be more constructive and not be politicised.

EKMELEDDIN IHSANOGLU, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission had been established at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and it had identified the rights of women and children, human rights education and the right to development as its priorities. The situations in Syria, Mali and Myanmar were of particular concern and Mr. Ihsanoglu stressed the importance of the protection of civilians in armed conflict and the need to ensure that international humanitarian law was not being violated. There was an urgent necessity for the Council to address the long standing and permanent suffering of the Palestinian people and this session must focus on the exacerbating situation of Palestinian prisoners. Further, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was concerned about the human rights situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir and it condemned the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan. Mr. Ihsanoglu called for the urgent implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and the withdrawal of the armed forces of Armenia from the occupied regions of Azerbaijan, including from Nagorny Karabakh. Islamophobia as a contemporary form of racism was a continuing concern and that was why Mr. Ihsanoglu called for an observatory at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to act as an early warning system monitoring instances of Islamophobia, Christianophobia, Judeophobia and all other religions.

ALBERTO NKUTUMULA, Deputy Minister of Justice of Mozambique, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said that the eight countries which made up the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries had taken many initiatives in the field of the promotion and protection of the full enjoyment of human rights, including a training programme for combating trafficking in human beings, a project relating to the Millennium Development Goals, the University Challenge, the Street Children Project, and the political and institutional capacity-building of government officials and non-governmental organizations to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Strategic plans had also been approved in the areas of health and gender equality. One of the remaining challenges was nutritional security in the community space and access to adequate food. Particular importance was attached to the Universal Periodic Review and its cooperative approach of the universal human rights issues. The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries had adopted a resolution on the abolition of the death penalty in their respective countries and encouraged a global abolition of the death penalty. Concern was expressed at the political developments taking place in Guinea-Bissau, where constitutional order should be restored. The impact of armed conflicts, the prevalence of democratic weaknesses in societies, and the uncertainty caused by the international economic situation were matters of serious concern. Further efforts were needed to promote the rights of minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and children.

ANWAR MOHAMMED GARGASH, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said that the United Arab Emirates had a stable political system characterised by a strong relationship between the citizens and the Government. Its legislative and institutional framework had evolved over time in response to the aspirations of its citizens in the light of a modern contemporary State, while staying consistent with its traditions. It had developed specific national strategies, which focused on the empowerment and enhancement of women, motherhood and childhood, and the provision of social services, housing programmes and care for the elderly. It had also made great efforts to bring its national legislation in line with the best international standards, as was shown by the great progress made in improving and expanding labour regulations, human trafficking laws, as well as empowerment of women, protection of children’s rights and the promotion of equality before the law. The United Arab Emirates underlined that the Council should conduct its work in a manner that was transparent, a-political, aiming to achieve cooperation instead of confrontation and it would work with all its partners towards this goal. The establishment of United Nations Women was also commended and the United Arab Emirates had affirmed its strong support through a donation of $ 5 million. It was extremely concerned with the deteriorating situation in Syria. The international community was called upon to assume its humanitarian responsibility.

MOHAMMAD MEHDI AKHONDZADEH BASTI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, said that Iran’s Constitution gave explicit emphasis to all intrinsic pillars of human rights and was an ultimate guide to build a democratic modern society. The Human Rights Council played a critical role in the improvement of the functioning of the United Nations human rights machinery and in creating an environment for constructive dialogue and cooperation to move beyond the prevalent atmosphere of confrontation among Governments. The conclusion of the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review gave hope that confrontation might be replaced with a more cooperative approach at the service of human rights and dignity. The Middle East was now at a highly critical moment and it was not for the outsiders to meddle or manipulate destiny and future which should be a free and democratic one. They needed to avoid repeating the mistakes made in the past to serve their narrow political and economic interests through supporting extremists and terrorists, and foreign military interventions would not yield democracy or respect for human rights. The depth and expanse of the gross and systematic violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in blatant defiance of international law, numerous United Nations resolutions and human rights principles remained a matter of deep concern for all. The Council could rise to the challenge only through relying on the cherished principles of objectivity, impartiality, transparency and consensus, stressed Iran.

SAKINA BINTI, Vice-Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that a large number of persons were suffering in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo because of continuing warfare in the region of the Great Lakes. War incited by the Group M23, with the support of neighbouring Rwanda, was responsible for the killings and rapes of civilians and had caused almost 2 million internally displaced persons. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had implemented a number of measures to consolidate democracy and promote and protect human rights. Those included setting up an inter-ministerial technical committee for elaborating and following up on human rights reports, a unit that would examine all human rights matters relating to international instruments, various provincial liaison units, a commission responsible for the preparation and follow-up of the Universal Periodic Review, and a unit for the protection of human rights defenders, activists, and witnesses. Furthermore, an action plan had been devised to combat the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, and an independent Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles was being established. The national justice system had a zero tolerance policy vis-à-vis violations of human rights in the country and there was no impunity in that regard. The war which had been imposed on the Democratic Republic of Congo was the main obstacle in the full enjoyment of human rights by its people. The political and financial mobilization of the international community was necessary in order to ensure peace and cooperation in the country and in the region of the Great Lakes.

MOHAMED BUSHARA DOUSA, Minister of Justice of Sudan, said that Sudan had devised a legislative institutional framework for human rights and attached priority to some segments, including women’s rights, combating violence against women and the rights of the child. It was one of the very first countries that had signed both protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Sudan still called on the international community to honour its obligations in accordance with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and assist developing counties to address numerous and intertwined challenges to their advancement in this field. In accordance with the decision to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan, the Government had embarked on devising a strategy and work plan to implement recommendations made, and it appealed for support for assistance, particularly in areas affected by conflict and under reconstruction. The Government had taken exceptional measures with a view of the promotion and protection of human rights in areas affected by the conflict. The situation in Darfur had witnessed significant developments in the context of the Doha peace agreement. Arrangements were currently underway to hold a donor conference in Doha this year. The realisation of justice was also one of the major preoccupations for the Government. Events in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in terms of systematic violations of human rights and international law should not be just condemned and denounced, but seized and perpetrators should be held to account.

LUÍS BRITES PEREIRA, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, said that during its mandate in the United Nations Security Council which had ended last December, Portugal consistently strove to forge dialogue and consensus and this had always been its priority in the Human Rights Council too. Portugal paid special tribute to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights whose impartial and dedicated work embodied the objectives that had led to the creation of her Office 20 years ago. This session of the Human Rights Council must address a number of challenging issues, said Mr. Pereira and focused on the systematic violation of human rights and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria which continued to cause suffering to millions of Syrians and innumerable loss of innocent lives. The international community had a duty to the victims of the conflict to ensure that those responsible for heinous crimes committed in Syria were held accountable for their acts. It was essential that this session of the Human Rights Council adopt a resolution on Syria with strong language on accountability and on preventing impunity. Portugal was a candidate for the 2015-2017 mandate of the Human Rights Council and hoped to receive support for its bid to serve on the Council. In closing, Mr. Pereira expressed hope that this session would decisively contribute to the promotion and protection of the human rights of all human beings.

ADAMA DIENG, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, said that the Human Rights Council was a privileged forum for discussion and action on the matter of genocide, which was not a crime relegated to the past. Lessons from the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sebrenica had not been learnt, and in the face of atrocities still being committed today, the international community had failed to fulfill its promise of “never again”. Both United Nations members and non-United Nations partners should be mobilized to respond to ongoing challenges, and the United Nations system should enhance its collective capacity to respond to genocide crimes. The Office of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide had sharpened its methodology to detect hate speech and to prevent incitement to racism, while it was also investigating the deeper causes of genocide and of relating atrocities. Alerts issued by the Office were taken seriously by the United Nations system and influenced policies and decisions. The responsibility to protect had its rules in the international community and States were responsible for protecting their own population from genocide, among other things, and the factors leading to genocide. The international community must be ready to assist whenever States manifestly failed to prevent such crimes, and action should be taken in accordance with international law. Deep concern was expressed at the dangerous increase in ethnic and religious tensions in Syria, Mali, Sudan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Iraq. The Council had to continue to find ways in order to address the present and future crises that posed a serious threat to populations.

MICHEL SIDIBE, Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the lessons of AIDS response could lead into the post-2015 era, shaping a new paradigm for development, one centred on and fuelled by human rights. The Human Rights Council was thanked for its tremendous contributions to the AIDS response, having spoken out against HIV-related discrimination, and its call for the right to health and for access to treatment, among others. HIV continued to shine a harsh light on the inequalities of this world. It was outrageous that in 2013, when there were all the tools to beat this epidemic, 1.7 million persons still died each year because they did not have access to treatment. Babies were still born infected in poor countries, but not in rich ones. AIDS was still the leading cause of death among young women. Much more work needed to be done to overcome inequality and exclusion. AIDS response was an instrument for attacking social injustice and for addressing inequalities against the rich and the poor. It had taught that including and participation got development done. Those affected and most at risk could be learned from. Even the most marginalised should be included in AIDS response, even where this was unpopular. The post-2015 development agenda had a lot to learn from the AIDS response. It should explicitly embrace the human rights framework, as well as a rights-based approach to development. Ending AIDS was a human rights legacy for all. AIDS could be halted and reversed if momentum and commitments were maintained through and after 2015.

KAMALESH SHARMA, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said that in 2011, its Heads of Governments had authorized the Commonwealth Ministerial Group to become more proactively engaged in situations of persistent or serious violations of core Commonwealth political values, including human rights. Over the next four years, the Commonwealth Secretariat intended to deepen its strategic partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, strengthen its contribution to the work of the Council and the treaty bodies system, and increase the capacity of Governments, national human rights institutions, parliaments and civil society organizations to engage constructively with the Universal Periodic Review process. It would focus on providing technical assistance to States for the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and would aim to strengthen national human rights institutions not yet fully compliant with the Paris Principles. Raising standards of conduct by law enforcement agencies and the protection of human rights defenders would continue to be areas of focus, with special attention paid to the very serious issues of extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, of police accountability, infringements on the rights of freedom of expression, and undue curtailment of the rights to freedom of peacefully assembles and association. Above all, the Secretariat aimed to contribute to practical action, to work inclusively, and to seek advances in a climate of respect and trust with its Member States.

ANDERS B. JOHNSSON, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that the popular movement across the Arab World gave the world reason to hope, because it demonstrated that people were not prepared to stand by and watch while their rights were being violated, but demanded greater transparency, social justice, and democracy. Democracy advanced equality between men and women, enhanced the participation of women in political life, and ensured transparency and accountability. Democracy did not necessarily mean a complete absence of conflict but, rather, the reconciliation of opposing views in a peaceful manner, not through armed conflict. Basic human rights principles such as participation, accountability, and transparency must underpin any human rights framework. Mr. Johnsson stressed that it was one thing to come up with a plan and another to bring about meaningful change. Today’s shortcomings in sustainable development were the result of a lack of participation, transparency, effective decision-making, insight, and democratic governance. The Inter-Parliamentary Union proposed a new framework which contained a comprehensive goal relating to the capacities and functions of governments. That universal goal should be applied to developed and developing countries, with specific qualitative and quantitative indicators which would help to make progress. The Inter-Parliamentary Union had established global criteria for a democratic parliament and had published tools for parliaments to evaluate their performances against those criteria. Parliaments today were far from egalitarian, with just over 20 per cent of parliament members being women, who continued to face discrimination. Therefore, parliaments should become more sensitive to gender equality issues.

Right of Reply

Egypt, speaking in a right of reply to statements made by Norway and the Czech Republic, said Egypt was astonished by criticism delivered by Norway, which was well aware that the exercise of human rights was a long-term process. Egypt was in a transition period towards democracy and faced many challenges at this stage. It refused an intervention in its internal affairs, particularly concerning the development of the Constitution. With regards to the statement by the Czech Republic, there were more than 30,000 non-governmental organizations working in different sectors in Egypt. Certain foreign agencies were intervening in the application of Egyptian law.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, said that it deeply regretted and rejected the allegations of Ireland. The resolution and inquiry mechanism were only a product of political confrontation pursued by those taking sides with the United States’ hostilities. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also had strong reservations about the inappropriate behaviour of the Republic of Korea. It advised the authorities of the Republic of Korea that this Council was not a place to pursue confrontation against the brothers and sisters of the north and urged them to apologise for hostilities during the great national mourning and abolish the draconian security law, rather than name and shame.

Iran, speaking in a right of reply, rejected allegations made during the high-level segment and reiterated its belief in cooperation on the issue of human rights. Iran continued to report to treaty bodies and had already presented its third periodic report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The appointment of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran came about as a result of a broken system and this inappropriate decision had brought the credibility of the Council in question.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply, said that allegations against Azerbaijan made by Armenia were absurd. Just two days ago, Azerbaijan had marked the anniversary of the 1992 Khojaly Genocide in which hundreds of civilians had been killed by Armenia, and wondered how it was possible to understand the statement that the Armenian President had given to a British journalist during the recent interview, justifying the necessity of such upheavals and the related killings of people.

Japan, speaking in a right of reply, said that it acknowledged that it had caused damage and suffering to people in many countries, particularly to other Asian nations. Japan had expressed deep remorse and a heartfelt apology for victims of the Second World War. The matter of offering realistic relief to former comfort women had been addressed through the Asian Women’s Fund.

Armenia, speaking in a right of reply to Azerbaijan, said that Armenia regretted being involved in a polemical exchange of statements with Azerbaijan, and cited an interview of the Head of State of Azerbaijan on atrocities committed by his country’s armed forces.

Morocco, speaking in a right of reply, said that the Minster of Foreign Affairs of Algeria had raised the question of the Sahara and the latest report of Secretary-General on the protection of human rights there. Quoting paragraph 106 of the observations and recommendations section, that all parties had responsibilities in the area of the protection of human rights, the recommendation was also addressed to Algeria as the host country of the Tindouf camps. On the situation of human rights in Moroccan Sahara, it was fulfilling its international commitments to guarantee the human rights of all the citizens in its territory. Morocco made a fraternal appeal to Algeria to seriously look into the political solution.

Rwanda, speaking in a right of reply to the statement made by the Vice Minister for human rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, specifically with reference to the alleged role of Rwanda in the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, said it wholly rejected this. Rwanda was wholly committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict and said that blame was not where the solution lay. The signing of the Democratic Republic of the Congo peace agreement on 24 February 2013 was an important step in the right direction. Rwanda remained firmly committed to playing a positive role in its implementation and called on the international community to support this implementation.

Republic of Korea, speaking in a right of reply, reiterated its concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea which was one of the worst, but least reported cases in the world, and the political prison camps which were a showcase of systematic human rights violations in this country. Japan was ignoring tremendous pain inflicted on sexual slaves, which had never been properly addressed in international agreements and therefore never properly settled. Japan should shoulder its international responsibility and pay compensation to the victims.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a second right of reply, said it was very unfortunate that Armenia had not listened to the earlier statement of Azerbaijan and said that their remarks would not yield any results. Armenia should comply with the provisions of its own resolution on genocide that it would present during this session.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply to the statement made by the Republic of Korea, said that the continuous allegations of the Republic of Korea would continue to face increasing resistance and rejection because they had nothing to do with human rights. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea called on the Republic of Korea to put an end to the politicization of human rights issues and to address the extra-territorial violations committed by the United States military in the area.

Japan, speaking in a second right of reply to the statement made by the Republic of Korea, said that it would refrain from repeating the statement which it had previously made.

Armenia, speaking in a second right of reply, said that it would not revert to the events of the Khojaly genocide. It was not understood what was meant by the delegation of Azerbaijan about the initiatives of Armenia in the area of the prevention of genocide. Why did Azerbaijan co-sponsor the first resolution co-sponsored by Armenia?

Republic of Korea, speaking in a second right of reply, reiterated that it remained deeply concerned about the gravity of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and urged it to respect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also called upon Japan to recognise its responsibilities and take appropriate measures acceptable to victims as recommended by the international community, and work towards a historical truth of the issue in a civil manner, to help prevent recurrence of such a tragic act.

For use of the information media; not an official record