Human Rights Council opens twenty-second session and starts high-level segment
25 February 2013
Hears Address by Joachim Gauck, President of Germany
The Human Rights Council this morning opened its regular twenty-second session and started its high-level segment, hearing keynote statements from the President of the Council, the President of the General Assembly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Federal Councillor and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, followed by the high-level segment which was addressed by 12 dignitaries, including the President of Germany.
Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council, noted that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said eight years ago that it was not possible to enjoy security without development and development without security, and it was not possible to enjoy either without respect for human rights. This session of the Human Rights Council would hopefully further reinforce the respect for human rights and so the other two pillars of the United Nations, security and development.
Vuk Jeremic, President of the United Nations General Assembly, underlined that the credibility of the Human Rights Council rested on its ability to respond to alleged human rights violations in an impartial manner and said that the instruments and framework for such action were already in place. The focus on civil and political rights alone was not enough and attention to economic, social and cultural rights, including the fundamental right to development, was equally important. The situation in Syria was of grave concern, said Mr. Jeremic, and extended a humanitarian appeal to all sides in the Syrian civil war to bring the fighting to an immediate end.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the promise of respecting all human rights for all people was still a dream for too many and that war crimes continued to be committed in numerous internal conflicts including those continuing in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Sudan and Syria. Despite the extraordinary progress since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, many were still left behind, including migrants, older people, religious and ethnic minorities, and people persecuted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The work here would not be done until the promise of the Vienna Declaration was made real for everyone – no exceptions, no excuses.
Didier Burkhalter, Federal Councillor and Head of the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, invited all States to support the letter sent on 14 January 2013 to the Security Council on behalf of 57 countries, recommending the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, and to extend the mandate of the fact-finding mission to ensure that the violations of international law in this country were documented. The political dialogue was the only solution to the conflict in Mali and Switzerland remained available to provide support to this end.
In his statement to the Human Rights Council, Joachim Gauck, President of Germany, said that the Council had to act on behalf of all humanity in cases where States did not live up to their commitments, and that more could be done to protect human rights in Syria. The fulfilment of basic needs was the prerequisite of human dignity, which also required a say in political life and the effective protection of people’s legal rights, stressed Mr. Gauck and then outlined the four principles guiding Germany: speaking openly about human rights violations, intervening quickly to prevent such violations, taking appropriate action, and helping human rights organizations in their job.
Other dignitaries who addressed the Council in the High-level Segment were Khudheir Mussa Jafar Al Khuzaie, Vice-President of Iraq; Angelino Garzon, Vice-President of Colombia; Zlatko Lagumdžija, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Utoni Nujoma, Minister of Justice of Namibia; Frans Timmermans, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands; Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom; Saad Dine El Otmani, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco; Basile Ikouebe, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Congo; Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey; Ebrahim Ebrahim, Deputy Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa; and Eduardo Zuain, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina.
The Council today is holding a full day of meetings from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. At 1:06 p.m., the Council suspended the high-level segment to hold a high-level panel discussion to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It will continue with its high-level segment at 3 p.m.
REMIGIUSZ ACHILLES HENCZEL, President of the Human Rights Council, expressed deep gratitude to the members of the Human Rights Council for entrusting him with the honour of presiding over the work of this august body. He noted that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said eight years ago that it was not possible to enjoy security without development and development without security, and it was not possible to enjoy either without respect for human rights. The President expressed hope that this session of the Human Rights Council would further reinforce the respect for human rights and so the other two pillars of the United Nations, security and development.
VUK JEREMIC, President of the United Nations General Assembly, said that in the past seven years the Council had become the central meeting ground for United Nations Member States to articulate their respective positions on human rights. The Council’s credibility would rest on its ability to respond to alleged human rights violations in an impartial manner. The Council had in place instruments that provided a framework for effective action. Since last September the General Assembly has been working on strengthening the Human Rights Treaty Body System and Iceland and Indonesia, who had been appointed as co-facilitators in that process, had proposed a series of events that would help advance inter-governmental negotiations on how to improve the effective functioning of the System. Narrowly focusing on civil and political rights was insufficient, said Mr. Jeremic. Attention should also be devoted to economic, social and cultural rights, including the fundamental right to development. Mr. Jeremic expressed grave concern at the perpetuation of the bloodbath in Syria, where new allegations of human rights abuses were reported daily, with official statistics putting the death toll at over 70,000 and an estimated twenty percent of the population lacking access to fuel, electricity, food, and water. The immediate cessation of hostilities should be the Council’s priority and should be followed by a political process that would enable the citizens of Syria freely to determine the course of their political future. As President of the General Assembly, Mr. Jeremic extended a humanitarian appeal to all sides in the Syrian civil war to bring the fighting to an immediate end.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this was the start of what was a historically significant year for the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the Human Rights Council, and indeed for the global human rights movement as a whole. The Vienna Declaration was the most significant overarching human rights document produced in the last quarter of a century. It crystalized the underlying principles that human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and took the key notion of universality a step further by committing States to the promotion and protection of all human rights for all people, regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems. Much progress had occurred over the past two decades, but it had to be recognized that the glass was half full, and the promise of respecting all human rights for all people was still a dream for too many.
Despite the truly inspiring advances in combating impunity and ensuring accountability both at the international and national levels, including through transitional justice processes, there were still far too many people with command responsibility who escaped justice for serious crimes and gross human rights violations. Hundreds of thousands of people had died in two genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Palestinian territories were still occupied; massive violations had occurred in Iraq and Sri Lanka; and war crimes continued to be committed in numerous internal conflicts including those continuing in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Sudan and Syria. There should be continued nurturing and strengthening of the system designed to deal with such crimes and violations, and those who committed them. It was also critical that the international community do its utmost to prevent such situations from developing or deteriorating. It was a matter of great concern that so many State authorities continued to ignore or repress civil society organizations, human rights defenders and the media. Such pressure or reprisals against those who rightly sought to engage the international human rights system should never be tolerated.
The United Nations Human Rights system had also grown stronger since the Vienna Conference. The Council had gained credibility for its different modus operandi and in particular for its successful management of the first round of the Universal Periodic Review, and had been increasingly receptive to human rights situations. The combination of independence, expertise and United Nations-bestowed authority was potent. It was critical that all Member States cooperated fully with the Special Procedures, including by accepting visits. The human rights treaty bodies had also grown in number and weight. States were urged to accept more of those crucial treaties during this anniversary year.
The Office of the High Commissioner had grown from a small entity of just over 100 staff and a presence in two countries outside Geneva, to more than 1,000 staff and 58 field presences worldwide. Yet, it continued to receive many requests for assistance that it was unable to satisfy. Ms. Pillay was convinced that it could and should continue to grow and mature in order to carry out fully its mandate to promote and protect the human rights of everyone everywhere. For that to happen further support was needed and, in particular, a higher, more realistic and more sustainable level of funding. Ms. Pillay urged for the advancement of the implementation of the many remarkable international laws and standards that had been developed since the Universal Declaration and the subsequent vigorous boost provided by the Vienna Declaration. While the past 20 years had seen extraordinary progress, it should not be forgotten that there had been those that had been left behind, including migrants, older people, religious and ethnic minorities, people persecuted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, to name a few. The work here would not be done until the promise of the Vienna Declaration was made real for everyone – no exceptions, no excuses.
DIDIER BURKHALTER, Federal Councillor and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said that the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action 20 years ago had led to normative progress and the integration of human rights into global policies, including security and development. Despite institutional progress and the progress in standard setting, human rights continued to be trampled upon. After two years of bloody conflict, Syria had become a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe, where serious crimes were being committed by the parties to the conflict. Switzerland invited all States to support the letter sent on 14 January 2013 to the Security Council on behalf of 57 countries, recommending the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Combating impunity was essential to build sustainable peace in Syria and Switzerland called for the extension of the mandate of the fact-finding mission to ensure that the violations of international law in this country were documented.
The international support mission in Mali should have human rights observers on the ground soon; violations of international human rights and humanitarian law must be prevented, investigated and must not remain unpunished. The political dialogue was the only solution to the conflict in Mali and Switzerland remained available to provide support to this end. In closing, Mr. Burkhalter outlined three key challenges and areas of priority action to effectively protect human rights: freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, including the right to peaceful demonstrations, respect of human rights by businesses and the implementation of the Guiding Principles on businesses and human rights, and abolishment of the death penalty.
KHUDHEIR MUSSA JAFAR AL-KHUZAIE, Vice-President of Iraq, said that the work to strengthen and enhance the application of human rights principles world-wide was appreciated. Iraq had made serious efforts to adopt and implement international instruments. It was now preparing its third general election that would take place next April. It was hoped that in doing this better services for its citizens would be ensured. The Iraqi people had lived in poverty and deprivation for many years. The Iraqi Government was thus committed to develop a nation-wide strategy to eliminate poverty over the coming years. The situation of poverty inherited from the previous government was catastrophic. The Government was trying to remedy this and was ready to work closely with the relevant United Nations organizations. Iraq had also worked with other bodies and had ratified fundamental human rights instruments which Iraq was committed to implementing. With regards to developments in the Middle East, those developments had led to the replacement of some of the dictatorships by new regimes. While Iraq supported democratic aspirations in those countries, it continued to suffer heavily at the hands of terrorists and the relevant bodies were called upon to address this problem faced by all countries concerned.
ANGELINO GARZÓN, Vice-President of Colombia, said that Colombia was committed to making further progress in the adoption of a national human rights policy which would be implemented at the national and local level. A recently organized human rights conference had brought together civil society, the national government, and regional authorities. In 2012 Colombia had enacted a Law on Victims and Land Restitution, as a result of which greater focus had been placed on offering compensation and assistance to victims instead of concentrating on the perpetrators of crimes, and collective compensation and reparation had been provided to entire communities. Progress had also been made in protecting human rights activists and defenders, although there was still a long way to go. In Colombia conflict and violence were ongoing and were largely financed through drug money. Illegal armed organizations still kidnapped persons and forcibly recruited children into fighting groups, which seriously undermined the right of citizens to live in peace. Colombia, a country of good practices, was open to international scrutiny and had a great deal to contribute with respect to promoting human rights worldwide. Mr. Garzón urged all countries to comply with their obligations to promote and protect human rights.
ZLATKO LAGUMDŽIJA, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that Bosnia and Herzegovina had the honour of being a member of the Human Rights Council from 2007 to 2010 and that this experience had been very useful in many aspects, such as by increasing the capacity of the institutions to report to the Council, implementing the provisions of the ratified human rights instruments and incorporating its recommendations in action plans. Bosnia and Herzegovina would soon be able to fulfil obligations arising from the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on the Sejdic Finci case and had undertaken steps to establish the national preventive mechanism as per the Convention against Torture and in line with the Paris Principles. Trafficking in human beings was a regional problem and only a regional approach would bring fruitful results. The international community should work together to set up a new post-2015 agenda and enormous technology innovations and more justice and solidarity in international relations should bring extraordinary positive results to the most remote areas and least development countries. The ability of the Human Rights Council to react to urgent situations of human rights violations was crucial and Mr. Lagumdžija urged it to continue to do so. He called on the international community to unite and stop the violence against civilians in Syria with all necessary means.
UTONI NUJOMA, Minister of Justice of Namibia, said that reports by Amnesty International showed that the number of death penalty executions was on the increase. This was alarming and signified the need to strengthen the dialogue with the countries concerned. The treaty body system was urged to bear in mind the national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds while promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, in line with the Vienna Declaration. The Office of the High Commissioner should deliberate further on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of natural and other disasters. Namibia also called for the end of the use of drones, which violated international law. The international community was called upon to continue supporting Mali to restore peace and democracy to the nation and to ensure its territorial integrity. The Malian Governmental was called upon to establish structures for national reconciliation and to seek technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner. In a globalized world, racial harmony should be encouraged in order to promote the human rights of all individuals, and institutions concerned should take serious measures to stop racial discrimination in sports. Namibia was committed to a robust and effective Human Rights Council and had decided to present its candidature to the Council for the period 2014-2016.
FRANS TIMMERMANS, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, said that the Netherlands’ vision was that human rights were universal and that no country was beyond scrutiny. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights had opened its doors last year and the country’s second Universal Periodic Review report was submitted then. Mr. Timmermans stressed the importance of engaging societies at large in the implementation process and in a dialogue on human rights, which necessitated a strong and effective international system for human rights. As long as the violation of human rights continued, more had to be done to alleviate the suffering of people in places such as Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Mr. Timmermans called on the Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. The priorities of the Netherlands’ human rights strategy were the protection of non-governmental organization representatives and human rights defenders, the promotion of women’s rights, and combating all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was important to foster inclusive societies, in which human rights were respected and every individual enjoyed the freedom to live according to his or her identity of choice, which was essential for ensuring harmony, stability, and prosperity.
BARONESS SAYEEDA WARSI, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said that preventing sexual violence in conflict was one of the issues where greater international focus and leadership were needed. The international community must do more to protect victims, prevent the use of rape in conflict, provide better support to victims, and end the culture of impunity for those crimes. The atrocities in Syria could not continue and those responsible for the worst violations and abuses must be held to account, including through the International Criminal Court. The reports of systematic and widespread human rights abuses in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, particularly the continued use of political prison camps, were of extreme concern, and during this session of the Council the United Kingdom would present, together with the European Union and Japan, a resolution which would call for an end of those abhorrent practices. The Government of Myanmar should translate the positive commitments on human rights into action, resolve the issue of Rohingya citizenship, ensure stronger security and more effective coordination of humanitarian assistance, and address impunity. The United Kingdom would focus in 2013 on thematic concerns that affected individuals globally, including freedom of religion or belief, where a shared understanding could be built on what needed to be done to protect this right and combat intolerance.
SAAD DINE EL OTHMANI, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, said that Morocco had made strategic choices to strengthen democracy and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It had also presented its candidacy for membership of the Council for the period 2014-2016. Morocco’s contribution to the promotion of the human rights system had been crowned by the invitation of the special procedures and the interactions with recommendations and observations made by the United Nations mechanisms. Morocco had also ratified the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and had launched the procedure for the ratification of the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, among other instruments. Morocco urged the international community to support Mali in overcoming the unprecedented crisis. It had also followed with deep concern the deteriorating situation in Syria and deplored the grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. There was also a need for a just and comprehensive solution to the situation regarding Palestine, and guaranteeing its people’s legitimate rights. Morocco was deeply concerned about reports by various mechanisms of the Human Rights Council which confirmed the lack of amelioration of the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
JOACHIM GAUCK, President of Germany, said that the Council had to act on behalf of all humanity in cases where States did not live up to their commitments, and that more could be done to protect human rights in Syria. He underlined the importance of transparency in the way that the Council carried out its duties and said that it was vital that violations from around the world be brought to light. Human rights were far too often violated and ignored even in cases where they were enshrined in law. The death penalty, violence against women, discrimination on the basis of colour or origin, and the intimidation of human rights defenders were examples of that. Having lived in East Germany, Mr. Gauck said that he personally knew what it meant to be deprived of basic freedoms and asked the Council always to remember the people who suffered under inhumane regimes. Censorship of the press, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, torture, and suppression of person freedoms were not acceptable practices. Respect for human dignity should be the paramount value governing the work of the Council, said Mr. Gauck. Societies in transition needed to change step by step in order to abandon authoritarian rule and embrace democracy. Not only were human rights universal but they were also indivisible. The fulfillment of basic needs was the prerequisite of human dignity, which also required a say in political life and the effective protection of people’s legal rights. Germany would always support the work of the Council and in doing so it would particularly promote understanding between regions. Four guiding principles were important to Germany, including speaking openly about human rights violations, intervening quickly to prevent such violations, taking appropriate action, and helping human rights organizations in their job.
BASILE IKOUEBE, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Congo, said a lot of uncertainty had appeared vis-à-vis the resolve to depoliticise the subject of human rights and pay the same level of attention to all human rights. Some did not always give the right to development the same importance given to civil and political rights, although it was essential. It was the duty of the international community to promote the emergence of an enabling international environment for the realisation of all human rights. Political crises and humanitarian disasters had led to upheavals and to flagrant violations of individual human rights. The Republic of the Congo had declared 2013 as the year of basic education and vocational training. A subject of concern for all nations was corruption and it had become a global scourge with disastrous consequences. In 2007 the Republic of the Congo had set up a national commission to combat corruption and fraud, and a charter had been signed among Congolese associations, religious denominations, the private sector and unions, with a view to a unified fight against corruption.
AHMET DAVUTOGLU, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, said that the humanitarian tragedy was still going on in Syria before the eyes of the international community. Syria had become a scene of appalling human rights violations. Turkey remained committed to supporting the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria in order to deter violations of human rights and lay the foundations for future accountability and it was doing its utmost to shoulder a large part of the humanitarian catastrophe, including providing assistance to Syrians in refugee camps and cities in Turkeys. Over $ 600 million had been spent and that was more than the total support of all European Union countries including their declared commitments. Perpetrators of human rights violations must know that there would be no impunity. Even in times of war there were rules and the international community should join efforts to bring an immediate end to crimes against the Syrian people; perpetrators should not go unpunished. The Council should also focus on the suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, which had been a bleeding wound in the conscience of humanity since the United Nations was founded. It was the illegal settlements that deprived the Palestinians of their native territory by systematically grabbing their land, occupied since 1967.
EBRAHIM EBRAHIM, Deputy Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, said that it was critical that the Human Rights Council was seen as an independent mechanism for the entrenchment of human rights throughout the world and that more must be done to address contemporary forms of racism which were still prevalent in many areas of the world. South Africa was looking forward to continuing work with the Council in pursuit of the elaboration of complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and was fully committed to fighting discrimination, eradicating gender-based violence and protecting the rights of the gay and lesbian community. South Africa was gravely concerned about the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people. It called on the Council to implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, and ensure that the Council’s efforts to combat impunity were reinforced and so contribute to the restoration of its credibility. It was regrettable that the United Nations process led by Mr. Brahimi had been unable to find a credible Syrian-led and owned political process and Mr. Ebrahim urged all parties to stop the violence and enter into negotiations without preconditions. South Africa was greatly concerned about the state of the budget of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and would continue to advocate for the funding of its programmes from the regular budget of the United Nations, to eliminate politicization of the programme of this critical Office.
EDUARDO ZUAIN, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina, said that Argentina’s election to the Council for the period 2013-2015 had also taken place after its election as a non-permanent Member of the Security Council. Argentina reiterated the responsibility it attached to its election to two important bodies in the United Nations and its international responsibility in the field of human rights, concerning truth and reconciliation as well as other emerging issues. Argentina was in the process of strengthening its human rights policy, including legislation on a number of issues such as social inclusion and respect for economic and social rights, gender identity, same-sex marriages, and cross-cutting policies such as the national anti-discrimination plan, and other measures to combat discrimination in Argentina. A new stage in the fight against impunity had placed Argentina in a leadership position on issues such as the prevention of genocide, the teaching and remembrance of the Holocaust as a mean to preventing massive atrocities, and normative developments related to enforced disappearances. Respect for the rights of migrants was fundamental, as well as taking effective measures towards eliminating discrimination, xenophobia or racism.
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