Statement by H.E. Ambassador Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli President of the Human Rights Council, General Assembly Hall, 2 November 2017, New York
Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to present the annual report of the Human Rights Council to this General Assembly. I would like to begin by congratulating the fifteen recently elected Members of the Human Rights Council. I have full confidence that all Members will work hard to uphold the promotion and protection of human rights.
At the beginning of my Presidency, I expressed the original words that gave life to t my mission in the Council: “to promote the universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind; to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations; to promote the effective coordination and the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system; and to be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation.” These principles of General Assembly resolution 60/251 have guided my Presidency this year.
The work of the Human Rights Council is consolidated in the report before you, which contains the activities as well as the resolutions, decisions, and President’s statements adopted by the Council at its regular sessions this year as well as the special session held in 14 December 2016.
During the year, the Human Rights Council has proactively addressed human rights issues through its country specific as well as thematic mandates. Over the course of its three regular sessions, the Council adopted a total of 114 resolutions, President’s statements and decisions; 80 of which were adopted without a vote. And under its Universal Periodic Review mechanism, the Council will have reviewed by the end of this year the fulfilment by 28 States of their human rights obligations.
I am also happy to report that the Council once again saw increased participation from Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, thanks to the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund that supported 27 delegates and fellows coming from 26 countries.
Among the country-specific situations that the Council addressed this year, the situation in Myanmar deserved special attention. In addition to the report and the oral update of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the Council created during its 34th session the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission “to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State” (resolution 34/22). Subsequent to hearing the oral update of and holding an interactive dialogue with the fact-finding mission during its 36th session, the Council decided to extend its mandate until September 2018 (decision 36/115).
The Human Rights Council also considered the human rights situation in Syria. Interactive dialogues with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic were held during all three of its regular sessions this year. The Council also extended the mandate of the Commission for another year (resolution 34/26). Moreover, the Council held during its 34th session a panel discussion that provided an opportunity for victims to give testimonies including on specific cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, and in September the Council decided “to convene a high-level panel discussion on violations of the human rights of children in the Syrian Arab Republic at the thirty-seventh session” (resolution 36/20) to be held in March 2018.
In light of the findings of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and considering the human rights situation there, the Council held a special session on the situation of human rights in South Sudan on 14 December of last year. During its 34th session in March of this year, the Council considered the comprehensive written report of the Commission on Human Rights, which was followed by an interactive dialogue. The Council subsequently extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights for another year and requested that it, inter alia, “collect and preserve evidence of ... gross violations and abuses of human rights” and “make such information available ... to all transitional justice mechanisms” (resolution 34/25). The Council also urged “the speedy establishment of an independent hybrid court by the African Union Commission to investigate and prosecute those responsible for violations or abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law” (resolution 34/25).
The Council also considered the oral update and the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which was established last year to “conduct a thorough investigation into human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015, including on their extent and whether they may constitute international crimes, with a view to contributing to the fight against impunity” and to “identify alleged perpetrators... with a view to ensuring full accountability” (resolution 33/24). In September, the Council extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry for one year (resolution 36/19). The Council also decided to request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently dispatch a team of three experts to “engage with the Burundian authorities and all other stakeholders ... to collect and preserve information” and to forward it “to the judicial authorities of Burundi ... in order to establish the truth and ensure that the perpetrators of deplorable crimes are all accountable to the judicial authorities of Burundi” (resolution 36/2).
In relation to the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Council decided at its thirty-fourth session to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul “to allow the implementation of relevant recommendations made by the group of independent experts on accountability in its report” (resolution 34/24). Additionally, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was extended for another year (resolution 34/24).
Concerning the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at its 35th session the Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to dispatch a team of international experts, including experts from the region, to collect and preserve information to determine the facts and circumstances ... concerning alleged human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in the Kasai regions” (resolution 35/33).
During this year, the Council also requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to continue to assess progress on the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” (resolution 34/1); and invited the High Commissioner to continue to report on the situations of human rights in Ukraine (resolution 35/31) and in Libya (resolution 34/38). Through a resolution, the Council also requested that Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continue to provide technical assistance to Georgia through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Tbilisi (resolution 34/37).
Regarding the human rights situation in Yemen, the Council in September requested that the High Commissioner establish “a group of eminent international and regional experts with knowledge on human rights law and the context of Yemen”, in order to “monitor and report on the situation of human rights”, make recommendations on improving the protection of human rights and “engage with Yemeni authorities and all stakeholders” (resolution 36/31).
The Council has extended the existing country-specific special procedures mandates on Belarus, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Somalia and the Sudan.
During this year’s high-level panel discussion on promoting the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system, the Council discussed the contribution of human rights to peacebuilding through the enhancement of dialogue and international cooperation for the promotion of human rights. The Council was honoured to have the participation of the President of the General Assembly and the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support in this discussion, which has contributed to sharing experiences between Geneva and New York on issues of common interest.
Throughout 2017, the Human Rights Council has also continued to address a number of global issues, including human rights in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through thematic debates and panel discussions, for example: in panel discussions about the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals in relation to the rights of the child, women’s rights, and integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the HRC and that of its mechanisms.
In other panel discussions, including intersessional ones, the following topics were discussed: climate change; public health and access to medicines; unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents; racial profiling and incitement to hatred including in the context of migration; the death penalty; the role of local governments; the effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of all human rights; unilateral coercive measures; and the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls. Through these discussions, the Council promoted universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
This year, the Council established a new mandate of the special procedures, that being the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members (resolution 35/9). The Council, however, did not extend the mandates of the Independent Expert on Côte d’Ivoire and the Independent Expert on Haiti.
I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize that the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council not only provide one of the main sources of reliable information on human rights issues and situations around the world and a solid basis for the dialogues and debates at the Council, but also contribute significantly to the United Nation’s early warnings and prevention efforts. It is important for all countries to cooperate and give access to these Special Procedure mandate holders to carry out their work efficiently.
I am pleased to inform you that, to date, 118 Member States and 1 Observer State have extended a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. However, I am concerned by the position of some States to not cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms or to cooperate only with a selected few. I call upon all States that have not yet done so to issue standing invitations to the Special Procedure mandate-holders and to fully cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms.
Allow me now to turn to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the peer review mechanism that is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the Human Rights Council. The third cycle of the UPR commenced last May, and we will open the 28th session of the Working Group of the UPR next Monday. With 100% participation over the first two cycles, the UPR is a true celebration of the principle of universality. We have witnessed very positive developments - for example: an increased focus on follow up and implementation of recommendations at the national level; and the use by States of their development assistance to facilitate follow up action at country level. In addition, so far 66 States have submitted, on a voluntary basis, UPR mid-term reports in relation to recommendations put forward during the first and second cycles. I hope that these good practices continue, and are strengthened throughout the third cycle. I wish to highlight that I am very pleased that the Secretary-General, in his reports to the current session of the General Assembly, has highlighted the importance of the UPR process in connection with to the Sustainable Development Goals.
During its 35th session, the Human Rights Council acknowledged the crucial role that parliaments play in incorporating international commitments into national policies and laws, including by supporting the implementation of recommendations supported by the States concerned in the framework of the UPR, and adopted a resolution on the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its UPR.
The active participation of civil society and national human rights institutions is a core aspect of the work of the Human Rights Council. In addition to providing us with first-hand information from the ground, interjecting unique perspectives into our discussions and drawing our attention to urgent human rights situations, they play a fundamental role in follow-up and capacity-building efforts in their home countries.
I wish to inform you that I have received allegations of intimidations, threats and reprisals against individuals who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, upon which I have followed up directly with concerned States.
It is essential that representatives of duly accredited civil society and national human rights institutions be provided with safe space to allow their voices to be heard as well as to interact with other stakeholders. I thus regularly remind States that acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals or groups that participate in the work of the Council or its mechanisms are unacceptable, and I call on them to take all necessary measures to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts.
This year the Human Rights Council adopted several resolutions with recommendations made to the General Assembly.
Through the resolution adopted last March on the human rights situation in Syria, the Human Rights Council recommended that the General Assembly submit the reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to the Security Council for appropriate action (resolution 34/26).
In its resolution on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, adopted by the last March, the Council recommended to the General Assembly to “remain apprised of the matter until it is satisfied that appropriate action with regard to implementing the recommendations made by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in its report has been or is being taken appropriately at the national or international levels to ensure justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators” (resolution 34/28).
The Council also recommended in March “that the General Assembly invite States located in the regions where people of African descent live and of which they are citizens to offer to host regional conferences on the establishment of the forum [on people of African descent], with the participation of people of African descent, with a view to making substantive contributions on the format, structure and content of the proposed forum” (resolution 34/33).
Moreover, through its resolution 35/1 on the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted during its 35th session, the Council invited the General Assembly “to consider holding a special commemorative meeting on the occasion of the anniversaries in 2018”.
Finally, with regards to the situations of human rights in Eritrea and Burundi, the Council has requested the General Assembly to submit the reports and the oral updates of the respective commissions of inquiry to all relevant organs of the United Nations for consideration and appropriate action (resolution 35/35 and resolution 36/19 respectively).
Before concluding, I wish to highlight the increasing challenges that the Human Rights Council is facing with regard to the growing gap between the workload entailed in servicing the Human Rights Council and the resources allocated to the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.
With a view to finding solutions to this issue, a Joint Task Force was established in May of this year, made up of a representative of the Bureau of the Human Rights Council and representatives of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Based on the report and recommendations of the Task Force, in September the Bureau presented to the Council for its consideration various proposed measures including substantive time-saving measures.
Despite holding several consultations on the proposals, including in the framework of a Council meeting on 20 October, it has not been possible to reach consensus on the proposed measures at this stage. Further consultations, including under the leadership of the next Bureau, of the Council will be needed with a view to adopting sustainable measures to allow for the Human Rights Council to carry out its work more efficiently.
In line with what the Secretary-General expressed last January, the interconnected nature of today’s crises requires the international community to connect global efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, not just in words, but in practice. Today, when the world is facing many complex crises with human rights dimensions, the work of the Human Rights Council, as the United Nations premier forum on human rights, is essential to the international community’s efforts to achieve peace, security and development.
I therefore request the full attention and cooperation of all United Nations Member States on this issue.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank the General Assembly for its consistent support of the Human Rights Council and its work and express my sincere hope that this support continues throughout the remainder of this year and in years to come.
I thank you for your attention.