Highlights of Week Three of the 19th Regular Session of the HRC

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Human Rights Council in Room XX
Human Rights Council in Room XX

Week Three at the Human Rights Council was lively – maybe a bit too lively: the South Korean MPs' arms were broken by UN Security Guards when they tried to approach the North Korean diplomat after the discussion of human rights in the DPRK condemning the oppression of refugees. Debates included the situation of human rights in Libya, the DPRK, Myanmar, Iran and Syria under Agenda Item 4, as well as the consideration of UPR reports of 18 States under Item 6. Another highlight marked the Panel to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the declaration on the rights of minorities.


Human Rights Situations that require the Council’s attention

Monday, 12 March 2012, marked an intense day of discussions on the human rights situation in the following countries:

Libya: In its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Libya, many speakers of the HRC expressed their concern about human rights violations committed by all sides but were encouraged that the interim Government in Libya had established the National Council on Civil Liberties and Human Rights and the National Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission under the Transitional Justice Law. Speakers demanded that all serious human rights violations had to be investigated and those responsible had to be held accountable. The international community as well as all mechanisms of the HRC were encouraged to support Libya in facing the difficult challenges and supporting Libya in its democratic transition.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, deplored a deteriorated situation of human rights in the country and highlighted the urgent need for food assistance for more than six million people. There were still 20 executions reported to have been carried out in 2011 and there was no progress in resolving the question of the abduction of foreign nationals; the protection of refugees was of deep concern, too. Read his report. However, the DPRK stated that it did not recognise the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and dismissed his report as a document of political ploy full of unfounded and irrational allegations.

Myanmar: The Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, stated that during his recent visit to Myanmar he perceived the positive impact of recent reforms, new policies and legislation adopted by the Government - as outlined in his report. On the other hand, grave human rights concerns remain: the lack of an independent and effective judiciary, legal reforms as well as poverty and food insecurity. Moreover, the ongoing conflict with some armed ethnic groups was the core of serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and internal displacement. Myanmar as the country concerned stated its commitment to the irreversibility of its current democratisation and reform process but also declared some of the Rapporteur’s allegations as unsubstantiated.

Islamic Republic of Iran: The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, stated that the apparent unwillingness of the Government to cooperate substantively only heightened concerns about the country’s human rights record. Witnesses reported arrests for activities protected by international law and detention in solitary confinement in the absence of official charges. Read his report here. Iran declared in its statement as a concerned country that Mr Shaheed had confined himself on repeating baseless allegations on human rights violations without paying any attention to the promotional aspects of human rights in the country, running counter the principles of universality, objectivity and non-selectivity. In the interactive dialogue countries expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the alarming rise in the number of executions.

Syria: The Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paolo Pinheiro, said that the intensification of armed confrontation resulted in more and more suffering in Syria, especially in neighbourhoods of Homs, Idlib, Hama, rural Damascus and Dar’a. He stated that it was imperative to break this cycle of violence in order to avert an escalation of the armed confrontation into civil war and deplored that the Commission had not been allowed access to Syria - as outlined in the report. Syria replied that the Government rejected the report of the Commission, which was biased and contained unsubstantiated accusations; the crisis was due to the influence of external parties. Speakers said in the following debate that crimes against humanity may have been committed with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. They supported the call by the High Commissioner to the UN Security Council that the situation in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court. Many States reiterated their support for the joint UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Mr Kofi Annan.

Panel to Commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities

In the panel discussion on 13 March 2012, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the violation of minority rights – including national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities – constituted a wide-scale problem and that the protection of minority rights was a key factor in peace-building. One of the panellists, Ms Izsak, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, said that governments should evaluate their legislation and policies to make sure they were consistent with the Declaration and gather more data on the situation of minorities. In the discussion, speakers said that Muslims were stigmatised in Western countries. The recent wave of expulsion of Roma was deplored. Moreover, many States were concerned that minority groups are often among the poorest and forgotten in development programmes. Building the rule of law was key to protecting minority groups.

Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

In the discussion on 14 March 2012, Ms Izsak said that the Forum on Minority Issues addressed the issues of women and girls from minorities in their report: Governments should ensure that domestic legislation, effective political participation and access to justice were adequate to guarantee the protection of minority women. Moreover, ensuring the access to education for women and girls from minority groups remained a considerable challenge.

Universal Periodic Review

For the rest of the week the Council considered UPR reports of 18 States. Among the more controversial ones was the report on Libya. Wael Najem, Deputy Minister of Justice of Libya, said that the majority of recommendations had been accepted except those which were in conflict with Islamic culture and customs. In the discussion States said that the substantive efforts in legislative, constitutional and institutional reforms had to be taken seriously. Civil Society was appalled that the report contained many comments commending the Libyan State during the Gadaffi regime.

In the discussion on Zimbabwe, the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of Zimbabwe said that of the 177 recommendations the State accepted 81 and undertook to consider 31. Recommendations rejected include setting a higher age of criminal responsibility for children and amending the Births and Deaths Registration Act to ensure all children born in Zimbabwe were issued a birth certificate. Several speakers said the Government should reconsider its decision not to investigate all credible allegations related to the 2009 presidential elections in the areas of tortures, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.


The last week of the 19th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council will include a debate on Agenda Item 7, a Panel on HIV/Aids and human rights as well as the voting and adoption on resolutions – hopefully without any more broken arms.

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