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Third Committee hears presentations from five Human Rights Council Rapporteurs, as wide-ranging two-week human rights debate continues

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GA/SHC/3927

GA/SHC/3927/Corr. 1

Sixty-third General Assembly
Third Committee
24th & 25th Meetings (AM & PM)

Address Issues of Violence against Women, Human Rights Defenders, Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Extrajudicial Execution, Right to Education

Halfway through its two-week long discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today challenged five Special Rapporteurs -- experts with a mandate from the Human Rights Council to monitor and recommend solutions to specific human rights problems -- to outline ways to overcome difficulties in turning human rights norms into enforceable national law, in light of international disagreements over the use of military tribunals,the execution of juvenile offenders and other controversial issues.

In its dialogue with three Special Rapporteurs in the morning, on violence against women, the situation of human rights defenders and on the independence of judges and lawyers, respectively, and its dialogue with two Special Rapporteurs in the afternoon on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and on the right to education, delegates to the Committee were told repeatedly that country visits were an opportunity to put serious issues on the table and strengthen Governments' capacity to handle those challenges.

Yakin Ert=FCrk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, whose most recent visits were to Algeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said reliable data on human rights violations against women and girls was "grossly lacking". She stressed that States had a duty to monitor and investigate forced marriage and violence by intimate partners, which constituted common forms of violence against women. The current view was slowly broadening to include crimes not traditionally studied, such as femicide, and ultimately, such data should be used to shed light on why such grave crimes were being committed on the female population. For instance, the rape of women, common enough in peacetime, was particularly exaggerated during times of war. Its root causes should be identified and dealt with.

Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and who had recently visited Togo, noted that those defending human rights were themselves at risk. Especially susceptible to human rights violations were defenders working on the rights of minorities, such as indigenous peoples and people of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. States were accountable for their safety, but because the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was not a binding instrument, the monitoring procedures established by the Human Rights Council -- namely its Universal Periodic Review -- could play an important role in ensuring accountability.

In a similar way, improving monitoring procedures to eliminate impunity was a prominent theme in the statements delivered by Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and of Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Mr. Despouy attributed the problem of impunity to a weak judiciary caused in part by the scant remuneration of judges in some countries, saying it severely affected a judge's ability to be impartial. He said judges should have the right to adequate remuneration to protect them from political or economic pressures and he would make that issue a focus of his work.

In turn, Mr. Alston said the General Assembly should do more to uphold international human rights standards such as the prohibition against executing juvenile offenders. He had received reports suggesting that at least 130 juvenile offenders were on death row in Iran, despite international conventions prohibiting such punishment for minors. In addition, he raised the issue of reforming the criminal justice system in the United States to prevent the execution of innocent people. Fundamental reforms were needed to the United States Military Commissions Act, so that trials of "alien unlawful enemy combatants" connected to that country's war on terror complied with the right to a fair trial.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, said States had the responsibility to come up with protection measures so that the right to obtain an education could be upheld in the case of war or other emergencies. States, donors, and multilateral agencies should acknowledge the right to education as being a legitimate part of any humanitarian response and should consider increasing their education allocation to at least 4.2 per cent of total humanitarian assistance, up from the current level of 1.7 per cent. In addition to addressing the issue of education in emergency situations, he also focused on inclusive education for people with disabilities and urged States to adopt the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. He also briefly touched on his visits to Botswana, Germany, Morocco, Malaysia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Guatemala, and said he would soon travel to Senegal and Paraguay.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 27 October, for a dialogue with the Chairperson of the Working Group on the Right to Development, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food and the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligation of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its wide-ranging discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights, and to engage in a dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, its causes and consequences; the situation of human rights defenders; the independence of judges and lawyers; on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on the right to education.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on violence against women

YAKIN ERT=DCRK, Special Rapporteur, said her report to the Human Rights Council was devoted to indicators on violence against women and State response. Establishing indicators was a human rights obligation, since States must ensure that interventions designed to combat violence against women were based on accurate, empirical data. She also stressed the importance of making the data understandable for non-specialist decision-makers, allowing for public scrutiny of interventions and enabling States to evaluate compliance with international obligations. Reliable data in relation to human rights violations against women and girls was "grossly lacking". While there was no consensus on proposed indicators, current initiatives were striving to go beyond the traditionally narrow focus on intimate partner violence to addressing a wide range of other forms of violence against women.

In her report, she had proposed three types of indicators for measuring violence against women: indicators on grave violence, on femicide and on social tolerance. The first proposal would allow for major forms of violence found across countries to be recorded, such as rape, forced marriage or serious violence caused by intimate partners. As for femicide, she said it was not captured by conventional research methodologies. The third proposal, on "social tolerance", pointed to a need to address factors that promoted or constrained violence, including the context in which it could continue unabated. The objective should be to adopt reliable indicators that were internationally comparable and "context specific". She looked forward to collaborating with Governments and their partners to build on those proposals.

She said she had conducted official visits to Algeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, on which she made reports to the Human Rights Council in March. She had yet to report on visits to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Moldova, the last of which she had visited with the Special Rapporteur on torture. But, press statements were published at the end of the visits. She was expected to visit the Kyrgyz Republic in April 2009.

She explained that she consulted with civil society organizations often, and was encouraged to see that United Nations special procedures and the Human Rights Council were becoming increasingly engaged with civil society. Some examples of consultations she had participated in included those with non-governmental organizations in St. Petersburg, Russia and in New Delhi, India. She would soon attend an African regional consultation in Nairobi.

She said her next report to the Human Rights Council would focus on the political economy of women's rights and its implications for violence against women. She was particularly interested in studying the "tension" between women's economic and social rights and the prevailing macroeconomic policy environment, as well as the problem posed by the apparent characterization of economic and social rights as aspirations, rather than as entitlements.

Since this dialogue would be the last for her in her capacity as Special Rapporteur, she ended by drawing attention to the main achievements of nearly 15 years of work on violence against women. To start with, the mandate had enabled a regular, in-depth review and reporting on violence against women. It had contributed to an increased understanding of, and dissemination of information on, international human rights norms and standards pertaining to women. Both she and her predecessor had underlined the importance of State duty and due diligence to prevent, investigate and prosecute all acts of violence, and offer protection, remedies and reparations to victims. The mandate had allowed for frameworks to be developed and proposed on legislation on domestic violence, and on how to develop and use indicators in policy-making. The mandate had also contributed to greater clarity on the root causes and consequences of violence.

She noted that her report on the intersection of violence against women with HIV/AIDS had demonstrated how women's susceptibility to HIV was exacerbated by unequal power between women and men, and the use of violence to sustain that imbalance. Indeed, the mandate had contributed to the understanding that violence against women should be addressed as part of States' efforts to ensure gender equality and women's empowerment. That marked a "paradigm shift" in the way violence against women had been perceived, moving away from a narrow victimization approach to one of empowerment, and from one stemming from humanitarian concerns to one focusing on realizing the full range of women's human rights.

Recognizing violence against women as a human rights issue had had a transformative impact on furthering norms inherent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly in expanding human rights beyond conventional understandings of violations perpetuated mainly by State actors in the public sphere. It heralded the inclusion of actions by private individuals in the doctrine of State responsibility and introduced new types of crimes, such as domestic violence, marital rape and other such crimes. A study conducted in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the further potential of the mandate would soon be made public. She added that, in order to enhance the effectiveness of the mandate, its work must be complemented with sustainable funding.