High Commissioner's update to the 15th session of the Council brings reprisals to the fore
Thursday, 16 September 2010 09:50


The Human Rights Council (the Council) opened its 15th session with a comprehensive update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay, on the work carried out by her and her Office (OHCHR). Key issues of Ms Pillay’s opening statement, that were also mentioned during the general debate, were the upcoming Council review, reprisals and violent attacks against human rights defenders and the need to protect them in their important work, and the lack of discussion and follow up of the various reports submitted by OHCHR.


The upcoming review of the Council was a recurring issue during the general debate. In general States showed commitment to working on the review of the Council in a constructive manner. However, disagreement about whether or not to reopen the institution-building package remains, with many States stressing that the delicate balance achieved during the negotiations in 2006 about the Council’s mechanisms and procedures should not be put at risk (Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Nigeria on behalf of the African Group, China, Uganda, Philippines, Iran, Indonesia, Azerbaijan).


States also raised the role of the special procedures, with many underlining the need for the special procedures to operate independently, and emphasising the importance of the work they do (Algeria, Australia, Austria, Belgium on behalf of the European Union (EU), Costa Rica, Chile, France, Mexico). While some States urged more cooperation with the special procedures and called on States to issue standing invitations (Austria, Czech Republic, Poland), others (Iran, Libya, Nigeria on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan) called on the special procedures not to exceed their mandates and to abide by the Code of Conduct. The UK expressly stated their support for the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan.


The seriousness of the issue of reprisals and attacks against human rights defenders and the crucial role played by human rights defenders, journalists, civil society activists, and national human rights institutions in protecting and promoting human rights were broadly acknowledged. Several States shared the view expressed by Ms Pillay that there is a need to ensure the safety and protection of defenders and witnesses that cooperate with UN mandated fact-finding missions (Poland, Egypt on behalf of NAM, Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Belgium on behalf of the EU, Mexico, Republic of Korea, UK, Jordan, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Moldova, Hungary, Chile, Germany, Lithuania, New Zealand, Austria Slovenia, Morocco, Czech Republic) and called for the Council to implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to systematically address the issue of reprisals and abuse of human rights defenders.


Syria (on behalf of the Arab Group) expressed surprise and disagreement with the High Commissioner for having named Arab countries among those which restrict the functioning of civil society. It stressed the group’s commitment to ensuring the promotion of human rights, including civil rights, in conformity with international human rights obligations. However, at the same time it made it clear that the cultural or religious norms of each country should be respected.


States such as Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Norway, Switzerland, Hungary, India, Algeria, South Africa and Ireland, shared the concern expressed by the High Commissioner on the lack of due consideration of reports submitted by OHCHR. In particular, Algeria stated that the high number of reports prepared for the 15th Session of the Council on different issues make it impossible for delegations to concentrate properly on all, all the more so when many reports are available only in one language.


There was mixed feedback on OHCHR’s mapping exercise of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1993 to 2003. While Switzerland welcomed the report, which will be released on 1 October, considering that it should serve as the basis to combat impunity and to put in place reparation mechanisms, Uganda expressed disappointment with OHCHR’s lack of transparency saying that it had carried out secret investigations without the authorisation of the countries concerned.


Belgium, the UK, the USA and Austria commended OHCHR’s prompt response to the escalation of violence in Kyrgyzstan. Austria asked whether it was possible to carry out an investigation into the violence and offered its support in this respect. However, the High Commissioner, in line with past practice, did not reply to any comments or questions raised during the debate.


Some countries, particularly those belonging to the African and Asian groups (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Nigeria on behalf of African Group, Qatar, Brazil, Bangladesh, Algeria, South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Sudan) expressed disappointment and regret that the High Commissioner did not mention the recent discriminatory events (such as the burning of Korans in the US) directed against Islam. Algeria noted that the High Commissioner did not mention increasing incidents of Islamophobia and the Sudan expressed hopes that future OHCHR reports would mention the negative references made towards Islam. In highlighting serious acts of defamation against Muslims, Qatar called upon the High Commissioner to make the resolution on ‘defamation of religions’ one of her Office’s priorities.


The session offered a first indication of the way in which the new President of the Council, Sihasak Phuangketkeow (Thailand) will carry out his role as Chair. The intervention of the NGO Society for Threatened People was repeatedly interrupted by a point of order from the Chinese delegation. In response the President appealed to speakers to keep to the agenda item, that is, the update by the High Commissioner. After several further interruptions the President then insisted that the NGO in question should refrain from mentioning specific countries, except by way of ‘example’. Moreover, the President was very flexible in terms of time allowed to States (for example allowing Belgium to speak for more than 15 minutes without interruption), while at least one NGO was cut off for speaking for more than two minutes.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 September 2010 15:38
© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2018