Week Three of the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council

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GENEVA – The third week started with interactive dialogues on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. Special Procedures presented their reports on country specific mandates followed by statements from Member States.

Commission of Inquiry of Syria

Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on Syria, expressed grave concern over the crisis that had reached new heights of destruction since the Commission started its investigations in July 2012. Syria has consistently refused the Commission access to its territory which forced the Commission to conduct interviews with refugees from neighboring countries.

The world faces a staggering number of 1 million Syrian refugees and 4 million internally displaced persons. A majority of those are children and women, said the Special Rapporteur, and added that host countries are under severe pressure. The government, targeting civilians and hospital settings as well as taking medical and UN personnel hostage, has failed in its responsibility to protect its population. This approach, in grave violation with international humanitarian and human rights law, prevents humanitarian organizations from fulfilling their mandate adding to the already immense plight of the Syrian people. Moreover, both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups are violating the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Syria is a party, by engaging children in their ranks, said Mr. Pinheiro.

Ensuring accountability of all parties for crimes committed is key in the struggle for peace and justice. He reiterated that a solution to the conflict can only be based on inclusive political dialogue and recommended states to support a peace process based on the Geneva Communique outlined by the Action Group for Syria and the Special Peace Envoy Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi.

Syria, speaking as a concerned country, regretted that the Commission continuously disregarded all documents by the Syrian Government. They denounced the report as based on partial information from untrustworthy sources. Turkey and Qatar received criticism for fueling the crisis by opening their borders for the smuggling of arms to anti-Government troops. Unilateral and unfair sanctions by some countries are one of the root causes to the conflict, according to the Syrian representative, who accused countries of trying to dismantle Syria and to make it Israel's puppet.

Interactive Dialogue

Turkey, one of many States supporting an extension of the Commission’s mandate, said that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy and is surviving only through gross human rights violations. The USA condemned the blatant assaults on international law perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. Together with the Nordic countries they also expressed concern over foreign fighters trying to hijack the legitimate struggle of the Syrian people. Libya argued that the International Criminal Court is the appropriate institution to fight against impunity in Syria and was supported by countries including France, Slovenia and Switzerland. Italy and the United Arab Emirates highlighted the immediate need for access by humanitarian organizations to all parts of the country in their efforts to deliver aid. The widespread use of sexual violence targeting women and children in the crisis was highlighted by Chile and Sweden who called upon all parties to respect the human rights norm of State responsibility to protect its citizens.

Cuba and Russia argued that lack of access to the country could not be used as an excuse for an unbalanced report. They regretted that the document did not include an appeal to lift bilateral one-sided sanctions against Syria and rejected any attempt to undermine the sovereignty of the country including all foreign intervention to the crisis.

Special Rapporteur on Iran

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, who was not invited to visit the country, pointed out that human rights violations in Iran continue and expressed particular concern over the deteriorating situation for journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and women’s rights activists. Individuals and their family members who promote human rights are systematically subjected to arrest, harassment and torture. The Special Rapporteur remained troubled about reports on ill-treatment in detention facilities including allegations of torture and the fact that Iran continues to exercise the death penalty, as enshrined in its national legislation. A staggering number of 1000 executions have been reported from January 2011 to December 2012, according to Mr. Shaheed’s report.

He underscored that Iran has taken significant steps in the area of women’s rights advancing health care, literacy and education. Nevertheless, inequality remains a scourge in many other spheres of society and women are underrepresented in public, political and professional life. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has drawn the Iranian government’s attention to the situation urging them to promote women’s participation in decision-making positions. Moreover, ethnic and religious minorities continue to be discriminated against both in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed said that individuals belonging to the Baha’i or Sunni community were particularly restricted in their freedom of religion and belief.

In the report, recommendations to Iran included an appeal to end the use of the death penalty against minors which is prohibited under international law and to effectively cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all other UN human rights mechanisms.

Interactive Dialogue

Cuba said that the treatment of Iran is a clear example of discriminatory practices, double standards and the politicization that permeates the Human Rights Council. Concerns for human rights are not the real reason for the attack against Iran, rather USA and their allies seek a regime change so that the West can control the countries' abundant resources, the Cuban representative argued. They were echoed by Syria, who said that Europe and USA have an agenda against Iran which hinders the country from development. Joining the discourse, Belarus and Zimbabwe deemed all country mandates to be selective and impartial without the ability to advance human rights situation. These countries called for an immediate end to the Special Rapporteurs mandate and urged the Council to refer the situation to the Universal Periodic Review.

Other countries including Germany and France took a different approach highlighting the pressing need for Iran to take measures to abolish the death penalty, particularly in relation to juveniles. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom expressed concern over the countries legislative framework that discriminate against women, ethnic and religious minorities. Many States, including Macedonia and Slovakia, were troubled over frequent reports of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners for soliciting confessions.

UPR Considerations

The latter half of the week was dedicated to adoptions of UPR reports, a good opportunity for civil society organization to effectively engage with the Council and influence States under review.

NGOs are key actors during all stages of the UPR process. In the first phase, an essential role for NGOs is that of raising awareness at the national level of the importance of the UPR and to contribute with information through consultations with government agencies involved in drafting the report. As a watch dog, NGOs play a vital role in the follow-up and implementation of the recommendations from the review and can assist National Human Rights Institutions throughout the UPR process.

UPR Ukraine

Ukraine accepted 115 of its received 147 recommendations. Those not accepted included; ratification of international documents, protection of refugees and asylum-seekers and all recommendations concerning LGBT-rights. Mr. Nazar Kulchytsky, representing Ukraine, stated that in most cases the decision not to accept a recommendation was based on lack of resources and of capability to implement the recommendation. However, not accepted recommendations should merely be viewed upon as a starting point for further studies into the issue, MR. Kulcytsky declared before the Council.

Amnesty International urged Ukraine to take further measures to combat the culture of impunity for criminal misconduct by police including torture. They also called on the country the respect the principle of non-refoulement and stop sending back asylum-seekers and refugees to countries where they risk facing human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch regretted rejected recommendations to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender equality and homophobic laws. In this regard they stressed the need for the government to ensure investigations into all forms of violations against LGBT activists and to hold perpetrators accountable.

UPR Pakistan

Receiving a total of 166 recommendations, Pakistan accepted 126. Recommendations not accepted included a repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws and abolishment of the death penalty. Mr Zamir Akram, representing Pakistan, underscored that his nation is party to seven of the core human rights treaties and will focus on the implementation of these before ratifying other treaties. He agreed with States and NGOs pushing for increased efforts in relation to welfare services for ethnic and religious minorities, saying that more work needs to be implemented in this area.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues condemned reports of persistent insecurity for human rights defenders and journalists and underscored that Pakistan is currently ranked as the third most dangerous country to work in as a correspondent. Other NGOs raised issues involving torture, child marriage and violations of women’s rights.

UPR Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka rejected almost half of its 204 received recommendations including those urging the country to end the scourge of impunity and to ensure transparency and accountability for alleged war crimes. Mr. Mahinda Samarshinge, representing Sri Lanka, underscored the positive achievements of the government accepting 12 recommendations from its own National Action Plan for the implementation of the recommendations set out by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). He said that his country is aiming towards a new era of peace and stability for all Sri Lankans.

Several NGOs delivered strong statements condemning the high rate of not accepted recommendations and expressed grave concern over the government’s unwillingness to implement recommendations from the LLRC. Merely implementing the National Action Plan is not enough since it ignores nearly half of all recommendations made by the LLRC, they said. Amnesty International accused the country of continuously failing to hold perpetrators accountable for war crimes which had led to a culture of impunity. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development regretted together with the International Commission of Jurists the action by some Member States to move the focus in the UPR outcome document from the LLRC to the National Action plan. In particular they were disappointed by Sri Lanka’s rejection of setting up a national investigation on war crimes and enforced disappearances. Finally, Civicus drew the attention to the difficult environment for human rights defenders in the country as they frequently are portrayed as traitors of the nation when carrying out their legitimate work.

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