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Human Rights Council hears statements from 16 dignitaries on third day of its High-Level Segment

Human Rights Council 

27 February 2013

The Human Rights Council today continued its high-level segment and heard addresses from 16 dignitaries who expressed concern about the situations in Syria, Mali, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and outlined some of the efforts their countries were undertaking in the promotion and protection of human rights.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council observed a minute of silence in tribute to Stefan Hesel, a leading figure in the human rights movement, who passed away the previous evening.

Speaking were Eamon Gilmore T.D., Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union; Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium; Rui Carneiro Mangueira, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola; Patrick Chinamasa, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of Zimbabwe; Haae Phoofolo, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, Correctional Services, Law and Constitutional Affairs of Lesotho; Nidal Alkatamine, Minister of Labour of Jordan; Hooria Mashhoyr Ahmed, Minister for Human Rights of Yemen;  Akmal Saidov, Chairman of the National Human Rights Center of Uzbekistan;  Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark; Aminata Toure, Minister of Justice of Senegal; Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights of Sri Lanka;  Roksanda Nincic, Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Cooperation of Serbia; Jullapong Nonsrichai, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand; Kim Bong-hyun, Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs of the Republic of Korea; Ashot Hovakimian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia; and Temir Porras Ponceleon, Vice-Minister of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela.

Speakers expressed concern about the situation in Syria.  The Security Council was called upon to uphold its responsibilities on the situation and the Human Rights Council was urged to come to a unified condemnation of the human rights violations taking place and to support a strong call for accountability.  Concern was expressed about the breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in Mali with support expressed for the High Commissioner’s request for the establishment of a commission of inquiry.  The situation of the Palestinian people continued to be of grave concern, as Israel continued to violate the basic human rights of the Palestinian people with impunity.  Furthermore, there was concern about the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as the situations in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Bahrain and Sri Lanka.

Dignitaries also referred to the importance of the Vienna Declaration and to progress that had been achieved since its adoption, while recognising the challenges still ahead.  They also spoke about developments and challenges in addressing issues of gender-based violence, human trafficking, and the protection of children, among others. 

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Thursday 28 February, at 10 a.m., to conclude its high-level segment before moving on to the general segment.

High-level Segment

EAMON GILMORE, Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called on the Security Council to uphold its responsibilities on the situation in Syria.  He also urged the Human Rights Council to come to a unified condemnation of human rights violations in Syria and to support a strong call for accountability.  European Union Foreign Ministers had been concerned about breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in Mali and had reminded the Malian authorities that they had an overriding responsibility for the protection of their civilian population.  The European Union was alarmed by the recurring reports of torture, summary executions, rape, and the detention of 200,000 persons in prison camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and said that the situation required the continued attention of the international community.  Myanmar had made important progress regarding human rights, democracy, and reconciliation.  Highlighting the universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of all human rights, Mr. Gilmore said that the European Union strongly advocated for the freedom of religion and belief, the advancement of women’s rights and the rights of the child.
DIDIER REYNDERS, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, said that the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was an opportunity to revisit the challenges it confronted, including its financing which was an urgent matter.  Belgium favoured stable, predictable and transparent financing of the activities of the Office and called for a re-prioritization of activities and the increase of the portion of the United Nations regular budget allocated for human rights activities.  Another major challenge for the High Commissioner was to increase the ability to react to crisis and emergency situations, but it was important to say that States had the primary responsibility to respond to crises.  The search for a solution in Syria was rendered more complicated by the attitude of the Syrian authorities.  Belgium was committed to fight against impunity and supported the work of the Commission of Inquiry.  The east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was another situation of concern, with grave and multiple violations of human rights, and in particular gender-based violence and recruitment of child soldiers.  Belgium favoured the deployment of observers in Mali and supported the High Commissioner’s request for establishment of a Commission of Inquiry for crimes and human rights violations committed in this country. 

RUI JORGE CARNEIRO MANGUEIRA, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola, said that despite the efforts of the international community, armed conflicts and the economic and financial crises had affected the full enjoyment of human rights around the world.  Angola called upon the international community to continue its efforts to guarantee and safeguard those rights.  The African Union had adopted several instruments to reinforce peace, security, consolidated democracy, good governance, rule of law and fundamental human rights.  The international community should continue to support the efforts of African countries aimed at strengthening democracy, rule of law and economic development.  Despite the efforts of the Angolan Government there were still several challenges ahead and goals to be achieved for the effective implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  Angola had done its best to promote good governance and the respect for human rights, rule of law and fundamental freedoms.  Concern was expressed about the conflict in Syria and Angola had appealed for a political and peaceful settlement of that conflict.  As for the situation in Mali, Angola fully supported efforts made by the African Union and the international community that aimed to put an end to that conflict.  It also supported the efforts of the Palestinian people and the international community that aimed to bring lasting peace to the people of Palestine.  The post-2015 agenda should continue its efforts on integrated economic growth, social inclusion and protection of the environment.  Political democracy could only be effective if combined with economic democracy and the right to development.

PATRICK CHINAMASA, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of Zimbabwe, said that Zimbabwe had taken significant steps to consolidate democracy and human rights, including a recent agreement on a new people-driven constitution, which paved the way for a constitutional referendum and national elections.  In addition, a Media Commission, an Anti-Corruption Commission and an Electoral Commission were now operational.  Zimbabwe was also implementing an Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Programme in order to improve the standard of living of all its people.  In light of these developments, Mr. Chinamasa said that it was a travesty of justice that certain members of the Council continued to impose illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.  It was imperative that the sanctions were lifted unconditionally to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe determined their destiny unfettered.  Regarding Syria, Zimbabwe stressed the importance of dialogue aimed at resolving the differences of the Syrian people without foreign interference.  It was a matter of grave concern that Israel continued to violate the basic human rights of the Palestinian people with impunity.  Zimbabweans remained opposed to the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and it was a criminal offence for anyone to be caught in homosexual activity in Zimbabwe.      

HAAE PHOOFOLO, Minister of Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights of Lesotho, said that the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was an opportune moment to take stock of achievements, shortcomings and the challenges that lay ahead in its implementation.  In Lesotho, the Government was dedicated to achieve the principles of gender equality and non-discrimination and was taking action to address gender-based violence which was on the increase and remained one of the main challenges facing women in the country.  Measures had been adopted to combat human trafficking, while the best interest of the child remained at the core of the Government’s agenda.  The comprehensive Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 provided for the right to education, health and opinion for all children and also provided for the protection of children against exploitation and the prohibition of child labour in industrial undertakings.  Disability issues were treated as human rights and development issues.  Despite challenges it faced, such as poverty, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, Lesotho would continue to implement the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and discharge its obligations under international law to the best of its ability.

NIDAL ALKATAMINE, Minister of Labour of Jordan, said that the Human Rights Council had sought to fulfill its mandate and hold special meetings to consider human rights situations when the need arose.  It affirmed the need to continue that practice but also to ensure the full implementation and follow up of all decisions of the Council whether adopted in regular or special sessions.  For more than a year Jordan had carried out a number of Constitutional reforms.  Parliamentary elections were held in January 2013 establishing a new phase of change and reform.  Jordan believed that promoting human rights meant bringing together elements of the Government and all members of civil society.  Civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations played a crucial role.  The question of Palestine was at the core of the conflict in the region.  A just solution had to be found and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people had to be met.  The deterioration of the humanitarian situation for the Syrian population was of great concern for all and Jordan called for all efforts to be exerted to end this crisis.  The international community had to meet the international aspiration to protect human rights and the wish of peoples to live in freedom, dignity, peace and equal rights.  The Council had to increase international respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all and deal with all violations of human rights.  Jordan believed in the leading role of the Council in the promotion and protection of human rights and that efforts should be continued to promote the noble objectives for which it had been established. 

HOORIA MASHHOYR AHMED, Minister for Human Rights of Yemen, said that Yemen had conducted presidential elections in February 2012 and had also set up a Military and Security Committee to address security imbalances in the country.  Despite huge progress achieved in politics and security, many challenges still lay ahead, such as addressing the danger of armed groups and ensuring the safe and free movement of Yemeni citizens across the country.  Radical groups had resorted to violence in order to destabilize the country and to thwart Yemen’s efforts to address problems with the south.  Measures had been taken to bring together all actors concerned to resolve the issue.  The recruitment of child soldiers and the reintegration of former child soldiers in society were issues that Yemen took very seriously.  The global economic crisis and adverse political conditions in the country had led to an increase in the number of Yemeni refugees.  Over 10 million persons were suffering from access to food and sanitation and over 3 million children did not have access to education.  To address those problems investment and economic recovery was needed.  Labour-poor countries could also absorb Yemeni labour, which was experienced in the fields of agriculture and construction.  Yemen had adopted a national strategy to prevent, criminalize, and punish terrorist crimes. 
AKMAL SAIDOV, Chairman of the National Human Rights Centre of Uzbekistan, said that Uzbekistan was the first Central Asian State to establish a national human rights institution and on the basis of its own development model it had achieved significant results in legislative, institutional, educational and monitoring areas for the promotion and protection of human rights.  Literacy rates were among the highest in the world, and the Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education had been achieved.  Despite the continuing global economic and financial crises, the country was maintaining continuous and stable economic growth and its gross domestic product had been increased twofold since 2008.  A growing role in human rights protection was being played by civil society organizations which were actively involved in the design and adoption of legislative acts and State programmes dealing with rights and freedoms.  Uzbekistan was working closely with the Council’s Special Procedures and had provided answers to the mandate holders in the field of cultural rights, torture and enforced disappearances and the right of freedom of assembly.  To further its democratic reforms, seven laws had been adopted, including on investigative activities of the police forces and the changes in electoral legislation to ensure greater transparency and openness in the process.  Finally, Uzbekistan welcomed the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the establishment of national human rights institutions and suggested that a compilation of best practices on establishment of national human rights institutions be made.

CHRISTIAN FRIIS BACH, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark, said that human rights norms were goals in their own rights and were a powerful tool and it would be a mistake not to use them as the basis for dialogue and for the development of societies.  The decade-long discussion about which human rights were most important was fortunately behind them and there was a new, shared understanding of the interrelation between those rights.  It was shocking that it was still necessary to argue for women’s right to decide over their own bodies.  It was also crucial to continuously fight for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  With regards to Syria, Denmark supported the extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry.  The Security Council should step up to its responsibility and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.   Denmark would continue to closely follow the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain and it called on the international community to apply pressure on the Bahraini Government.  The situation in Mali was also of utmost concern.  The capacity to monitor the global implementation of human rights norms was everyone’s responsibility.  Denmark also hoped to see a process leading to accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.  Denmark was concerned about the on-going budget cuts and urged this session to show restraint in mandating the Office of the High Commissioner with new and costly tasks.

AMINATA TOURE, Minister of Justice of Senegal, said that in Africa as elsewhere in the world, including the Occupied Palestinian Territories, significant challenges remained and mobilization was needed to deal with human rights violations, climate change, corruption and illicit enrichment.  Fundamental freedoms were ignored because of prejudices which fed xenophobia, discrimination, and intolerance.  Vulnerable groups including women and children needed better protection of their basic rights.  Senegal had taken important steps to ensure the enjoyment of rights through the rigorous implementation of policies covering all areas of economic and social life.  A law on gender equality was passed in 2010 to ensure that women occupied the place they deserved in society.  As a result, the new National Assembly now had 65 women and 85 men.  A programme was underway to put an end to the exploitation of children.  Senegal had also taken measures to improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities, to ensure better access to social services, to promote sustainable growth, to reduce poverty, and to combat impunity and torture.  Results had been achieved with the help of civil society.  Concerning Mali, the Council had an important role to play in the area in order to fulfill its mandate.
MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights of Sri Lanka, said that the Government was doing its utmost to promote and protect the human rights of all its citizens, particularly in light of the end of the armed conflict in the country almost four years ago.  In September 2012, the last batch of internally displaced persons had been resettled, bringing the number of resettled persons to almost 250,000 after which there were no more internally displaced persons or displaced persons camps in the island.  Sri Lanka treated former child soldiers as victims not as perpetrators and was now delisted by the United Nations Secretary-General from Annex II of the Security Council resolution 1612 on children and armed conflicts.  Despite the gains in Sri Lanka, remnants of the terrorist organization continued to undermine the ongoing peace and reconciliation process.  Parts of the international community had fallen prey to those efforts based on disinformation and this had resulted in the biased and unequal treatment of Sri Lanka at times.  The March 2012 Council’s resolution 19/2 on Sri Lanka had been entirely unnecessary, unwarranted and unfair and Sri Lanka strongly objected to any unjust approach to be adopted by the Council.  Encouraging debate on any country-specific resolution by virtue of a selective process ran counter to the founding principles of the Council.  It was the Government’s responsibility to resolve domestic issues and unwarranted internationalization of such issues undermined the local reconciliation process in Sri Lanka.

ROKSANDA NINCIC, Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Cooperation of Serbia, said Serbia was primarily concerned with the best interest of its own citizens.  The fight against corruption and reform of the judiciary were amongst the top priorities of the Government.  Serbia was currently in the process of legislative reforms and implementation of the strategies and action plans already adopted, and had paid special attention to the most vulnerable groups, including children, persons with disabilities, minorities, refugees and internally displaced persons still living in displacement.  Serbia was still the country with the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Europe.  Even though the number of refugees had been reduced primarily through their integration into Serbia, there were still more than 66,000 refugees and over 210,000 internally displaced persons in the country today.  A Joint Regional Housing Programme on durable housing solutions for refugees and displaced persons was now being implemented.  Serbia drew attention to the human rights situation in the Province of Kosovo and Metohija, which remained a matter of great concern for it.  Due to lack of basic security conditions, Serbian internally displaced persons continued to be deprived of the right to safe return to their homes and property in Kosovo and Metohija.  Serbia emphasised the high importance of conducting a full and effective investigation of the allegations regarding the killing of people for the purpose of organ trafficking brought forward in the 2010 report of the Rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

JULLAPONG NONSRICHAI, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, said that Thailand believed that human rights should go hand in hand with economic development and democracy.  The situation in many regions, including Mali, demanded the Council’s urgent attention.  The dire situation of the Syrian people remained a grave concern for Thailand.  The Council must condemn the ongoing violation of human rights and call on all sides to put an end to all forms of violence so that the Syrian people could determine their own destiny.  Progress recently made in Myanmar was a positive sign.  Greater attention should be paid to technical assistance and cooperation in enhancing human rights.  The balance between work on economic, social, and cultural rights and on civil and political rights needed to be improved.  The international community had to make the final push to realize the Millennium Development Goals and advance consultations on the post-2015 development agenda.  Thailand had taken steps to improve human rights at regional and national levels, including by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, working to withdraw reservations on human rights instruments, ensuring the rights of vulnerable groups, and meaningfully participating in the Universal Periodic Review.  The country was also determined to improve the conditions of migrant workers and address allegations of human trafficking.  Thailand was going to stand for re-election to the Council for the term 2015-2017.       
KIM BONG-HYUN, Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs of the Republic of Korea, noted the encouraging start of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and said it must be sustained and moved forward by ensuring the universality and effectiveness of the process.  Last year the Council had reaffirmed its leading role within the United Nations to address serious human rights situations, notably with regard to the events in Syria.  The Republic of Korea urged an immediate end to all violence in Syria and expressed hope that the Syrian-led inclusive transition process would begin without delay.  This year marked another memorable twentieth anniversary, that of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.  Women in situations of armed conflict were particularly vulnerable to violence, especially sexual violence, and the Republic of Korea urged the United Nations and all Member States to end crimes of sexual violence and sexual slavery which could constitute crimes against humanity.  The situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea continued to deteriorate and the High Commissioner had recently urged the international community to take stronger action by raising the need for an international inquiry into the human rights situation in this country.  The Republic of Korea remained concerned about abductees and prisoners from the Korean War and about asylum seekers and refugees from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, who needed help in their pursuit of new lives.

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, stressed the importance of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and said that one of its biggest achievements was the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Armenia was confident that in a world full of turmoil and change cooperation was needed to promote and protect human rights for all, everywhere.  The Vienna Declaration stressed the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.  The principle of self-determination was binding and recognised in international law without exception.  Last year Armenia had continued the process of implementation of its international human rights commitments with the realization of legal and institutional reforms aimed at the protection of human rights, including the development of a comprehensive national human rights strategy.   The protection of the most vulnerable groups was among the priority areas of the strategy.  On February 18 2013, Armenian citizens had implemented their right to vote.  The new electoral code of 2011 ensured the conduct of democratic elections.  To build a better future it was important to learn the lessons of the past.  Armenia welcomed the genocide prevention initiatives undertaken by the international community, which remained one of the top priorities of its Foreign Ministry’s agenda.  Armenia would present a draft resolution on the prevention of genocide.  The Government of Azerbaijan systematically manipulated and falsified the facts. 

TEMIR PORRAS PONCELEÓN, Vice-Minister of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, said that the successful results of the review of Venezuela at the latest Universal Periodic Review were now the fundamental guide for the national strategy for the promotion of human rights in the country.  In October 2012 a historic record was broken in Venezuela, achieving a popular participation of 82 per cent in presidential elections which led to a new democratic victory for Hugo Chavez.  On 27 February Venezuela had been elected for the first time as a member to the Council.  On the same date in 1989 an unprecedented social explosion had taken place to protest the violation of economic and social rights of the people of Venezuela, who were made to pay for the bankruptcy which had been the result of the neo-liberal policies followed by a corrupt, foreign-based bourgeoisie previously in power.  The demonstrations of 27 February 1989 were a milestone for Venezuelan history because that patriotic rebellion led to the rebirth of the country.  Venezuela had since ensured the enjoyment and full exercise of political, economic and social rights in a framework which guaranteed personal freedoms.  Thanks to Hugo Chavez Venezuela had built a society of equals and a democracy which combated all forms of injustice and had achieved spectacular levels in eradicating poverty and inequality.  The power in Venezuela lay with the people, who had specific tools to exercise it.  A very popular slogan in the streets of Caracas was “We are all Chavez”.  Venezuela would set up a Truth Commission with a view to shedding light on the atrocious crimes of 1989, including murders, disappearances and acts of torture, and many other crimes which had been carried out in past decades.       

For use of the information media; not an official record