Week two of the 21st Session of the Human Rights Council

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The second week of the HRC’s 21th session began with the report of the independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This week, the Human Rights Council held a panel discussion on indigenous peoples and access to justice. The latter half of the week focused on the consideration of UPR reports as well as a panel discussion commemorating International Nelson Mandela Day.

Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Mr. Paulo Pinheiro, chairperson of the Commission, presented the report stating that the human rights situation in Syria has severely deteriorated. He regretted that the lack of access to Syria hampered the Commission's ability to fulfill its mandate and stressed the importance of further investigations in the country. Two and half million Syrians are now in need of immediate humanitarian aid. Heinous crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights are perpetrated by government force's committing war crimes including torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and abductions. Both the Commission of Inquiry and states acknowledged that war crimes were also perpetrated by anti-governmental forces (the Free Syrian Army) but maintained that government forces bear the primary responsibility for the crisis in Syria. Mr. Pinheiro expressed grave concern about the conflict spilling over to neighboring countries and endangering peace and security in the region.

A number of states commended the Commission of Inquiry for its comprehensive report and committed to support the commission with increased resources.Several states called for referral of the situation to the ICC. At the same time several states urged the UN and its Human Rights Council to act with one unified voice on the situation and regretted its present failure to do so. The Syrian representative, who was not present during the opening remarks, spoke as a concerned country regretting that the report was neither accurate nor objective. He expressed disappointment that the state’s cooperation with the OHCHR was ignored in the report.

Panel discussion on the access to justice for indigenous peoples

The panel moderated by Mr. S. James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples focused on the lack of equal access to criminal justice and pointed to some specific topics of concern:

  • Inadequate translations of documents and court sessions into local languages
  • Deficit of law education amongst indigenous people
  • High level of illiteracy amongst indigenous people
  • Long and expensive journeys from remote villages to courts often located in the capital

The panel highlighted the close connection between self-determination and access to justice and stated that the key to indigenous peoples’ enjoyment of human rights is taking their culture and traditions into account. Mr. Anaya turned to external implications and expressed concern about:

  • Racism and discrimination of indigenous people
  • The disproportionately high numbers of indigenous people in detention
  • Social marginalization setting human rights for indigenous peoples at great risks

He reiterated that states bear the primary responsibility for promoting and protecting indigenous peoples’ human rights and should ensure adequate representation of indigenous peoples in all state institutions and juridical bodies.

Consideration of UPR Reports

Sessions focused on the consideration of reports from the UPR Working Group on the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Brazil, India, Philippines, Morocco, Algeria, Poland and Finland.

During the consideration of the report on Bahrain, the state representative reaffirmed his government’s strong support to the UPR mechanism and expressed full commitment to ensure that human rights for all citizens are respected. The country accepted 90 % of the Working Group’s recommendations including recommendations on empowerment of women and children. Since the last session of the Human Rights Council the country had established a Supreme Court for Women and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. With regard to the recent events in Bahrain, the state urged all actors to take part in inclusive political dialogue aiming at reconciliation.

Many states, including Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Qatar and Yemen, complimented the country for strengthening human rights standards and applauded the intention to implement of the vast majority of the Working Groups recommendations. Austria, United States and United Kingdom expressed grave concern about the lack of improvements of the human rights situation on the ground and recommended Bahrain to take necessary steps towards freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. These states, among others, also condemned all forms of torture and reprisals against human rights defenders in the country.

NGOs contributed to the discussion with a number of statements and accused the Bahraini government of widespread human rights violations including reprisals against human rights defenders, arbitrary arrests and corporal punishment of prisoners. NGOs strongly condemned instances where individuals were sent to prison for participating in peaceful protests and demanded authorities to hold high ranking officials accountable for human rights violations. Regrettably episodes of harassment and intimidation of NGO representatives from Bahrain announcing human rights violations in the country occurred during the session.

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