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

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

GENEVA - The 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council started in Geneva on Monday 25 February with the opening statement of the President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz Henczel. He highlighted the interdependence of the UN pillars and welcomed over 85 dignitaries from all regions of the world to the High Level Segment of the session. He stated that the number of participating ministers is an encouraging sign of the paramount importance States attach to human rights.

Opening statements

Following Mr. Henczel's statement, Vuk Jeremic, President of the United Nations General Asseembly, took the floor. He drew attention to the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA) which states that all human rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. In this regard, the Councils credibility rests on its capacity to address human rights situations in an impartial way. Mr. Jeremic referred to the key importance of the ongoing efforts of strengthening the treaty body system. He also urged States to pay increased attention to economic, social and cultural rights including the right to development.

He encouraged the international community to keep the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals at the heart of its efforts. States must show continued commitment to Sustainable Development Goals consistent with the Post 2015 agenda.

The world is now facing a staggering number of Syrian refugees (over 860 000) and an even higher number of internally displaces persons. The international community has failed to put an end to the carnage. The cessation of hostilities should be the Council’s priority, Mr. Jeremic said, extending a humanitarian appeal to all sides in the war to bring the fighting to an immediate end.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay stressed that the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the Sahel region have made the importance of economic, social and cultural rights even more significant. The process continues with a focus on the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, she said.

She commended States for the fact that CEDAW is the second most ratified treaty. Concern remains, however, over women still being subject to discrimination and violence to a shocking degree. The High Commissioner emphasized the positive development of an increasing number of National Human Rights Institutions and Special Procedures and applauded States allowing visits from independent experts. She called for continued collaboration by all States during the ongoing second cycle of the Universal Period Review.

NGOs, human rights defenders and free press worldwide face amplified pressure and restrictions from States. She strongly condemned reprisals targeting those who interact with UN human rights mechanisms, or in other ways protect and promote human rights. Another topic of concern was the lack of funds available for the Office for Human Rights. Ms. Pillay stressed the importance of a higher, more realistic and sustainable level of funding from States in order for the Office to fully carry out its mandate.

High Level Segment

Dignitaries from 85 countries participated in the High Level Segment running from Monday to Thursday. A broad range of topics were discussed including the need to step up efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals. Iraq, Namibia and South Africa were joined by many countries stressing the importance of MDGs in striving to reshape the world and to upgrade peoples’ quality of life. Several countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany and the United Kingdom drew attention to the positive effects of the UPR and urged all States to engage effectively with the second cycle of the mechanism.

Argentina, Iran, Pakistan and Gabon highlighted that economic, social and cultural rights must be on an equal footing with civil and political rights. States reaffirmed that all human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated and thus must be given the same attention by the international community.

Another topic discussed was LGBT rights. States including Colombia, Ireland and the Netherlands said that these rights must remain on the agenda of the Human Rights Council.

Many states applauded NGOs for their essential work raising awareness of human rights violations around the world. Hence there was widespread concern of the deteriorating situation for NGOs and human rights defenders. Germany and other States pointed out that these groups and individuals are under increased pressure from governments and harassed or even criminalized in many parts of the world. German President Joachim Gauck, stated that reprisals targeting people who seek to strengthen human rights should never be tolerated.

Bahrain, Pakistan and the United Kingdom shared their growing concern over increasing discrimination based on religious orientation. They called upon States to combat this infringement of peoples’ right to freedom of religion or belief. 

An extensive list of States voiced their grave concerns over the appalling crimes against humanity in Syria. More than 180.000 Syrian refugees are currently sheltered in 17 camps in Turkey. According to the OHCHR, 75% of these are women and children. Turkey said that the regime in Syria has lost its legitimacy and that it survives only through threats and massacres against its own citizens.

Annual Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that “2012 has been a daunting year for human rights.” Gross human rights abuses and a culture of impunity had resulted in thousands of deaths and an appalling number of internally displaced persons in places including Syria, Mali and the Sahel region, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The economic crisis has had adverse effects for human rights worldwide. But austerity measures must never be used as an excuse by States to derail from their legal obligation regarding the protection of the rights of their populations. 

One of the main issues during 2012 was the one of combatting incitement to national, racial and religious hatred. Consequently OHCHR supported several national action plans against racism and racial discrimination in countries including Benin, Ecuador, Mauritania and Moldova. Discriminatory acts often target the most vulnerable such as indigenous peoples, minorities, persons of African Descent and persons with disabilities. In this regard, gender equality and women’s rights remain high on her agenda, Ms. Pillay said.

Moreover, she underlined the need for special attention to xenophobia and public perceptions of migrants. Border guards play a significant role in this regard and her Office supports technical assistance for developing human rights training material for them.  Ms. Pillay stressed the importance of integrating human rights in UN peacekeeping operations. Tackling impunity is key to achieve sustainable peace and to overcome social violence and organized crime.The Universal Periodic Review is an essential part of the UN human rights machinery shedding light on human rights situations that otherwise might have gone unnoticed, she said, urging States the engage effectively with the second cycle.

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