Opening of Council's 14th session marked by Gaza flotilla incident
Wednesday, 02 June 2010 10:55


High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerreThe Human Rights Council (the Council) opened its 14th session with an update by Ms Navanethem PIllay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the work by her and her Office (OHCHR). Key themes of Ms Pillay’s update, that were also picked up during the general debate, were the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit, to be held in September 2010, the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development in 2011, and a number of country specific situations. However the general debate was overshadowed by discussion of the attack of Israeli defence forces on a flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip that took place in the early morning, hours before the meeting. Outside of specific themes and issues, many States expressed their continuing support of the independence of the OHCHR (Spain, Lithuania, New Zealand, Morocco) but Algeria and the African Group made reference to a more limited decision-making role of the Office. Algeria stated that the establishment of new OHCHR field offices should take place only after much more in-depth consultations than is currently the practice, while the African Group took the position that there is a compelling need to refer matters of policy to the Council.


On the subject of the MDGs, the High Commissioner’s update highlighted the strong linkage between poverty and the realisation of basic human rights, including access to food, education, and shelter. Ms Pillay also noted that poverty undermines the ability to seek justice when such basic rights are violated. There was widespread agreement during the general debate that the MDGs and human rights are mutually supportive, and that governments share the primary responsibility for MDG realisation. However, many State representatives from developing countries also drew attention to the responsibility of the international community to provide an enabling environment for the achievement of these goals and highlighted the lack of sufficient financial aid for the meeting of the MDGs. They also noted the disproportionate effect of the financial crisis on developing countries (Nigeria on behalf of the African Group, Cuba, Bangladesh, Egypt, China). As with Ms Pillay’s statement, States placed emphasis on the status and role of women with regard to fulfillment of the various MDGs (France, Mexico), and the specific importance of MDG 5, concerning maternal health (Chile, African Union, South Africa, USA). A few States also took the opportunity to highlight their own successes in reaching MDG targets (Cuba, Brazil, Indonesia).


On the related issue of the right to development, Ms Pillay emphasised that the dialogue on this right has reached a ‘critical stage’ and expressed her hope that continuing discussion will focus on the empowerment of individuals and communities to participate fully in making choices that affect their lives. Most States that raised the issue during the general debate welcomed the efforts by the High Commissioner to raise awareness of the right to development before next year’s 25th anniversary of the Declaration, and expressed hope that future negotiations and discussions would make the right a reality (Pakistan on behalf of OIC, African Union, Chile, Qatar, Yemen, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran). Bangladesh and Malaysia specifically noted that there still exists no firm definition of this right, while Canada highlighted the need for practical tools to enable achievement of the right to development, rather than a new legal instrument. Additionally, Slovenia noted that ‘underdevelopment is not an excuse for violations of human rights’.


Those States that had been specifically mentioned in Ms Pillay’s statement took the opportunity to respond to her comments.  Sri Lanka delivered a strongly-worded statement disagreeing with the High Commissioner’s assessment that an international investigation would better serve the purpose of effective and independent reconciliation than the domestic mechanism that Sri Lanka has established. Thailand acknowledged the seriousness of the recent political unrest, and noted that it is open to scrutiny and will not evade its responsibilities. Nigeria stated that the recent sectarian violence in Jos is not related to any human rights violations by the State, and noted that OHCHR did not send a representative to observe the on-going investigations by the State. In response to concerns raised by Ms Pillay on ensuring safeguards to human rights and respecting the work of human rights defenders during election periods in a number of African States, the Sudan and Ethiopia both defended their recent elections as free, fair, and without violent incident. Following a statement by Canada expressing its concern over continued violations of human rights in this regard, the Sudan exercised its right of reply to accuse the Council of ‘politicisation.’ The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) rejected the High Commissioner’s call for further clarification on Japanese abductees, claiming that all outstanding cases had been resolved. Japan used its right of reply to note that at least 12 cases of abduction were outstanding and called on DPRK not to excuse itself from current human rights violations by referring to actions that took place during Japanese colonisation of the Korean peninsula. A series of further exchanges between Japan and DPRK did little to further the discussion.


The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) had already been referenced in the High Commissioner’s statement, however the events surrounding the ‘Gaza Flotilla’ gave the issue much greater prominence during the general debate. A large number of States expressed their condemnation of the actions of the Israeli military (Pakistan, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt, Senegal, Jordan, Spain, Oman, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Turkey, Kuwait, Sudan, Ecuador, Iran, Palestine) while others expressed their concern (Russian Federation, South Africa) or shock (Norway, Slovenia, Austria). Egypt in particular delivered a statement in which it expressed its disappointment that the High Commissioner had ‘condemned’ continuing rocket attacks against Israel, while simply expressing ‘shock’ in regard to the ‘Gaza Flotilla’. Although Israel did not take the floor during the general debate, it did exercise its right of reply to present more details on the incident, noting that the incident took place on a single ship of the flotilla, where Israeli forces met resistance from members of the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a ‘violent organisation operating under cover of humanitarian aid.’


While not specifically raised by Ms Pillay in her update, several States also took the opportunity to comment on the upcoming review of the Council, calling for a strengthened role of the Council (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, UK) while not ‘reopening’ the institution-building package (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Azerbaijan) and not detracting from the on-going work of the Council (China, Austria, Azerbaijan).

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 June 2010 10:52
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