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AFTERNOON - Human Rights Council Starts General Debate on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms, Concludes Interactive Dialogue on Report of the Secretary-General on Reprisals

Meeting Summaries

 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started its general debate under agenda item five on human rights bodies and mechanisms. It also concluded its interactive dialogue on the report of the Secretary-General on reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the United Nations.

In the general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms, some speakers said the respect and promotion of human rights were the necessary path to resolving tensions, ending conflicts, and forging lasting peace and development. Special Procedure mandate holders helped to advance human rights in many complementary ways, seeking to contribute to improving legislative reform, access to mechanisms of redress, mainstreaming human rights, facilitating dialogue, and prevention or cessation of human rights violations and abuses. Some speakers said mandate holders must be allowed to carry out their work in full independence, without being subject to harassment or intimidation, and in full respect for their mandate and the code of conduct, following the provisions of the United Nations Charter, using credible and verified sources, and base their work on the principles of cooperation, impartiality, transparency, and accountability. They also said that Special Procedure mandate holders should not target developing countries, and communications from the concerned countries should be taken into consideration. Any behaviour that went beyond the code of conduct undermined the trust in the mandate.

Adequate funding for the United Nations human rights system was fundamental, several speakers said, and allocating resources including voluntary commitments should be equitably done, without any discrimination. Enough resources should be allocated for mechanisms to undertake their mandates on a non-selective basis, ensuring that human rights were promoted. There was a need for strengthened synergies and partnerships, and there was therefore an increased need for funding for the system as a whole. The promotion of dialogue and cooperation was crucial for building trust and cooperation in fulfilling human rights obligations.

Speaking in the general debate were Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Portugal on behalf of a group of countries, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, Latvia on behalf of a group of countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Germany, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, India, China, Armenia, Malaysia, Nepal, Nepal, Indonesia, Pakistan, Benin, Bolivia, Malawi, United States, France, Switzerland on behalf of a group of countries, Israel, Iraq, Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Thailand, Philippines, Tunisia, Bahrain, Dominican Republic, Iran, and Cambodia.

Also speaking were Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, France Libertes : Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, China Foundation for Human Rights Development, European Centre for Law and Justice, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, Human Is Right, Tamil Uzhagam, United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation, Centre Europe - tiers monde, Maloca Internationale, China Society for Human Rights Studies, Integrated Youth Empowerment - Common Initiative Group, Human Rights & Democratic Participation Center "SHAMS", Villages Unis (United Villages), Minority Rights Group, The Organization for Poverty Alleviation and Development, Mother of Hope Cameroon Common Initiative Group, ABC Tamil OliOrganisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, Association culturelle des Tamouls en France, Tumuku Development and Cultural Union, and Le Pont, Association pour les Victimes Du Monde.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive report on the report of the Secretary-General. Ilse Brand Kehris, Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said concerning the methodology used in the report, the information was based on an open call for the submission of allegations of reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations. There was strong and robust methodology used to corroborate the information, and thus only those that were credible appeared in the report, as long as there were no protection concerns in that regard. Many questions concerned various aspects of digital technology, its misuse, and use for reprisals. This was recognised, and surveillance was an important aspect here, as was spyware, a sadly topical issue, as these, and coordinated Internet hostility and attacks were emerging risks, with the impact of silencing voices and punishing those that had spoken up.

In the interactive dialogue on the report, some speakers welcomed the report of the Secretary-General and the recommendations it provided. Those speaking remained concerned that numerous people including civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders faced violations of their human rights, and that these violations were often committed with impunity. A number of speakers condemned actions which sought to intimidate individuals or groups cooperating with the United Nations, stating any case of an alleged reprisal or intimidation needed to be taken with the utmost seriousness, and should be duly investigated. Some speakers said that the report was filled with cases of falsified reprisals, and had become a file to shame the countries of the South. They said that the information provided in the report was unverified and depicted the due handling of cases by the judicial organs of relevant organs as violations against the United Nations, urging the Secretariat to respect the judicial sovereignty of States.

Speaking in the discussion were Venezuela, Russian Federation, Namibia, China, Czech Republic, Armenia, Malaysia, Indonesia, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Yemen, Georgia, Malawi, Belarus, Denmark, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Tanzania, Ukraine, and Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Also speaking were the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: International Service for Human Rights, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Institute for NGO Research, Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Human Rights House Foundation, and World Organisation Against Torture.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-first regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 30 September when it will conclude the general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms. It will then hold a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review, followed by a general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.

Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on Reprisals

The interactive dialogue with Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Many speakers welcomed the report of the Secretary-General on reprisals and the recommendations it provided. They remained concerned that numerous persons, including civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders faced violations of their human rights, and that these violations were often committed with impunity. The persistent trend of intimidation and reprisals against women was also a concern. Some speakers highlighted the risks and challenges regarding the use of digital platforms which were mentioned in the report, stating that close attention needed to be paid to ensure that new technologies contributed to a broader inclusion within the United Nations system.

A number of speakers condemned actions which sought to intimidate individuals or groups cooperating with the United Nations, stating that any case of an alleged reprisal or intimidation needed to be taken with the utmost seriousness, and should be duly investigated. The United Nations was the final arena in which those defending peace and justice could confront abuses, and States had a responsibility to ensure that the United Nations was a safe space for those who came forward. Intimidation against those communicating with the United Nations denied people their basic rights and impacted those who needed the help of the United Nations the most, including marginalised groups.

Some speakers called on States to release all human rights defenders imprisoned for excising their fundamental freedoms, and for States to refrain from any acts of intimidation and reprisal against human rights defenders. The United Nations was urged to establish protective mechanisms so national human rights institutions could work without reprisals. Some speakers said that the United Nations needed to do more to hold perpetrators of reprisals to account, to ensure the Organization’s legitimacy and effectiveness.

A number of speakers said that the report was filled with cases of falsified reprisals and had become a file to shame the countries of the South. These issues needed to be tackled with objectivity and impartiality. They said that the information provided in the report was unverified and depicted the due handling of cases by the judicial organs of relevant organs as violations against the United Nations, urging the Secretariat to respect the judicial sovereignty of States. Some speakers felt the report did not reflect the comprehensive information provided on certain States, and there was some information which was missing. Some speakers categorically rejected allegations made in the report, stating that the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights needed to be guided by objectivity, and information presented needed to be based on reliable and verified sources.

Concluding Remarks

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said it was a very rich discussion, with strong remarks. On the methodology used in the report, the information was based on an open call for the submission of allegations of reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations. There was strong and robust methodology used to corroborate the information, and thus only those that were credible appeared in the report, as long as there were no protection concerns in that regard. Sadly, this was only the tip of the iceberg. The report also contained an update of cases. On the patterns mentioned in the conclusion, one of the criteria used for patterns were recurring and similar allegations over several reporting periods.

Ms. Brands Kehris said many questions concerned various aspects of digital technology, its misuse, and use for reprisals. This was recognised, and surveillance was an important aspect here, as was spyware, a sadly topical issue, as these and coordinated Internet hostility and attacks were emerging risks, with the impact of silencing voices and punishing those that had spoken up. There was a growing landscape of spyware, and there was evidence that at least 65 Governments had obtained these, and there should be exporting control regimes set up to ensure that they were used appropriately. There were reports that such spyware had been used by Governments to target human rights defenders, journalists, and members of civil society, and this was a clear violation of human rights.

There was a strong need to broaden dialogue and discussions with private sector actors with a view to mitigating risks of reprisals. On how to recreate trust in use of digital technology, this was closely linked to ensuring the confidentiality of the information provided. Encryption was a key enabler of privacy and confidentiality online, however, Governments were either restricting outright encryption, or taking actions that were undermining the security and confidentiality of encrypted messaging. There was also a need to mainstream the gender perspective.

General Debate on Agenda Item Five on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

In the general debate, many speakers said the respect and promotion of human rights were the necessary path to resolving tensions, ending conflicts and forging lasting peace and development. It was the task of the Human Rights Council to cooperate with human rights bodies and mechanisms across the United Nations system to make these words come true. There was a need for much more concerted action to address global challenges, and this action should be anchored in respect for international law and the protection of human rights.

Special Procedure mandate holders helped to advance human rights in many complementary ways, seeking to contribute to improving legislative reform, access to mechanisms of redress, mainstreaming human rights, facilitating dialogue, and prevention or cessation of human rights violations and abuses. A number of speakers said mandate holders must be allowed to carry out their work in full independence, without being subject to harassment or intimidation, and in full respect for their mandate and the code of conduct, following the provisions of the United Nations Charter, using credible and verified sources, and base their work on the principles of cooperation, impartiality, transparency, and accountability.

A number of speakers said mandate holders should also possess high moral character, and a respect for human rights, as well as for the spirit in which the mandate was created. They should not target developing countries, and communications from the concerned countries should be taken into consideration. Any behaviour that went beyond the code of conduct undermined the trust in the mandate.

Some speakers said non-cooperation and selective cooperation by States seriously hindered the ability of the Special Procedures to fulfil their mandates. The issuing of a standing invitation should result in genuine and non-selective cooperation with the Special Procedures. Current members and candidate States of the Human Rights Council should extend a standing invitation to the Council’s mechanisms, and once this commitment was made, honour it. All States should continue to cooperate with and assist the Special Procedure mandate holders in the performance of their tasks and promote an open, constructive and transparent dialogue in the Council.

Human rights treaty bodies safeguarded the constant engagement in human rights issues, assessing the implementation of human rights treaties and providing recommendations, as well as in ensuring accountability. The Universal Periodic Review played a very important role in improving the human rights situation in all countries and addressed human rights violations wherever they occurred; it was one of the most successful mechanisms of the Council in which all United Nations Member States participated in a transparent and constructive manner to review human rights situations on the ground.

However, speakers said, all the recommendations emanating from these bodies, as well as human rights laws and standards, would have little impact on persons’ lives if they were not implemented and assessed at the national level. They categorically rejected any attempts to discredit and undermine the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realisation, by all people, of all human rights, as enshrined in General Assembly resolution 48/141. The work of the human rights mechanisms needed to avoid politicisation, selectivity, bias and double standards.

Adequate funding for the United Nations human rights system was fundamental, several speakers said, and allocating resources including voluntary commitments should be equitably done, without any discrimination. Enough resources should be allocated for mechanisms to undertake their mandates on a non-selective basis, ensuring that human rights were promoted. There was a need for strengthened synergies and partnerships, and there was therefore an increased need for funding for the system as a whole. The promotion of dialogue and cooperation was crucial for building trust and cooperation in fulfilling human rights obligations. There should be the largest possible participation in Human Rights Council sessions, which was not necessarily possible for developing countries, and there was a need for greater support in this regard.

Many speakers said there should be an immediate end to all acts of reprisal against civil society organizations, whose work was vital for the work of the United Nations. More must be done to safeguard the people who protected and advanced human rights, and, in particular, ensure that those who spoke the truth at the United Nations, including in the Council room, were protected from reprisals. It was essential to preserve the system that allowed human rights defenders to continue speaking out independently without fear of censure.

The Social Forum was a unique place for dialogue between civil society organizations and States, which could make contributions thereto in a constructive spirit. Human rights bodies and mechanisms should place working with States at the centre and core of their work. There ought to be greater effort made to ensure a gender balance in the representation of the Office of the High Commissioner, the mandate holders, and to ensure that the gender perspective was taken fully into account, just as there should be a fairer geographical representation in these bodies.

 

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media;
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

 

HRC22.106E